Posts Tagged ‘Oslo’

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Miles:It’s all really the same, except, of course, when it’s not

April 5, 2011

Some things about classes stay the same, regardless of location. There will always be those over-achievers — the ones who’s hands are almost stuck in a raised position, the ones who get extra nervous before each test, the ones who need to be right. There will always be the slackers — the people who probably could have been more productive being at home, the ones there out of a sense of obligation, not because they care about the material. There will also always be the people in-between. Everyone will always want to assume they’re an in-between. Some teachers will be annoying, some will always make you smile. Some you’ll want to impress, some you’ll want to spite.

Then there are the differences. These are what I need to pay attention to. First, because the most important question here is “Hvor kommer du fra?” everyone has a country attached to them. I am carrying the United States with me everywhere. I have met not just people, but representatives from countries. The overachievers in my Norwegian class, for example, aren’t just two women, they’re two Germans. This is the place where, if I’m not careful, stereotypes are born.

There’s also the systematic difference of the education system in Norway. My Norwegian exam is in 10 days. It is my one and only grade for the course. I need an A. Most people in my class are learning Norwegian to pass the exam. They won’t really try too hard to speak it in class because that’s not on the test. They instead obsess about the proper declination of nouns. This is important, sure, but I’m also interested in using my Norwegian to communicate. I’m in Norway. To me, the only respectful thing to do is try to learn Norwegian, particularly because I’ve been presented with the tools needed to do so. That being said, I do also need a good grade on this test, so don’t expect me to be doing much outside of studying Norwegian for the next week.

(Especially since next weekend I’ll be frolicking through fields of tulips in Holland. Insert all sorts of excited faces.)

Things I have learned:

NORWAY FOG IS LIKE NO OTHER. Field of snow pressing against completely foggy sky is the most disorienting thing one can witness on a run. Trust me. It is the moment in my life where I’ve been the least sure of where the ground ends and where the sky begins.

I LIVE BY THE SEA. I knew this. To witness it with my hands, to feel it against my face, though, is to truly discover it. Never underestimate how much I love bodies of water, and how at peace I feel near the ocean/lake/whatever. This is the moment when I begin shopping for houseboats. (I’m only sort of kidding.)

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Miles: Language

April 1, 2011
  • In my Gender Equality class, we talk about major issues. We represent ten mother tongues. We never bothered to define “Gender.”
  • At a party, a woman from Mexico and I start speaking in Spanish. I realize that I’m accidentally sticking Norwegian words into my sentences.
  • My good friend says “Well, this girl, I mean, Woman” then says “Damn, Miles, I can always tell when I’ve broken one of your language rules” joking about how I have chosen to try and refer to my peers as women, not girls.
  • I am asked to, and do, to the best of my ability, perform all the different “American” accents.

If nothing else, this semester I have learned the importance of language. Or rather, I have learned that I have yet to discover the full importance of language. As a writer, clearly I’ve always placed a certain emphasis on words and the power they hold, but here, with the added element of different languages, I’m understanding how many layers go into the simple act of using words.

I don’t really have anything concrete or informative to say. I just feel strongly that language should be paid more attention to. And I want to learn how culture influences language — for example, if one of my friends says something that I perceive, from an American background, to be incredibly offensive, am I obligated to consider whether or not it’s offensive in their culture?

I think I’ve just entered another “too much input, no way to output” mode. It’s officially April. I’m halfway done. I’m nowhere near ready to leave. I keep having to work on preparations for coming back  – job interview, searching craigslist for apartments — and while I’m glad to be prepared, I feel frustrated that the US and my life there is invading my Norway life.

This is why I am currently eating a matpakke with knekkebrød, ost, and hardkokt egg. I will be as Norwegian as possible for the next two months.

Things I have learned:

WHEN YOU EAT SWISS FONDUE, YOU DRINK TEA. Why? To prevent the inevitable cheese hangover that hurts all over, but hurts so good.

 

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Miles: Olso defrost

March 25, 2011

I blinked and now it’s spring. How did that happen?

When I settled into the idea of a semester in Norway, in the back of my mind, I think I figured that it’d be winter forever. Maybe it was self-preservation, maybe it was just ridiculousness—either way, I was ready. I was fully prepared to spend all semester wearing infinite layers and avoiding cold beverages. As a result, I felt incredibly calm about winter in Oslo. I didn’t freak out when it started snowing, I adjusted my walking speeds as needed, and I didn’t complain. I wasn’t waiting for Spring, I was just here, now. (The cross-country skiing helped, I’m sure.)

Because of this, I have been extra-pleasantly surprised by the arrival of spring (save an inherent sadness as I stare longingly at my skis). I know that Oslo is still set to have some cold days and probably a little more snow, but now that it’s made a this short appearance, spring has announced that it’s moving in. I’m excited to witness a greener, warmer Norway.

Classes are heading towards finals time, and the workload is increasing. I only have two weeks left in my norskkurs! I have to give a four-minute presentation in Norwegian next Wednesday. I am going to be talking about mine søstre and how cool they are and how much jeg elsker dem. It’s strange to think that I’m at the point where if I want to continue improving my Norwegian skills, the effort has to come 100% from me. It really forces me to think about the value of the language in my life. It makes me think about what sort of place I want Norway to hold in the rest of my life. (All Answers TBD)

Things I have Learned:

I DON’T NEED TO AGREE. I am getting much better at sitting comfortably in a room with people who I disagree with. Maybe they’re just people I’m at a party with. Maybe they’re my friends. Doesn’t matter. I’m learning that I don’t need to agree with everyone, and having different opinions/morals/etc doesn’t necessarily rule out a friendship. I think they mentioned something about this in Kindergarten. I guess it takes a while for that sort of thing to sink in.

WALKS TO SCHOOL SHOULD ALWAYS BE 80% WALK, 20% DANCE. ‘Nuff said.

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Miles: A 15-person quartet

January 10, 2011

Walking across Sognsvann (not the greatest pic)Apparently in Norway they still believe in Sundays, so very little was open yesterday. I slept in (jet-leg was still kicking my butt) and hung around the flat for awhile.

When I finally decided to move around, my flatmate JB took another international student and me to Sognsvann, a giant lake near my student village. As we approached the lake, we were almost ran over by a stampede of cross-country skiers. I guess Sunday is Ski Day in Oslo. (Really though, every day is Ski day in Oslo.)

Currently the lake is entirely frozen so we walked onto it. I found myself surrounded by trees and white and beauty. I have much more patience for snow here than I did in Minneapolis.

In the evening I met Melvin, another flatmate. He grew up in Singapore and is getting his master’s in Ibsen Studies. He is more than I know how to describe. He’s definitely forcing me to question the way in which language is passed from place to place and how certain slang phrases can lose any sort of “coolness” quickly in the US, but retain validity in other places. (If you’ve read Everything is Illuminated—think Alex Perchov.) One of the first things he asked me was what I thought of the Norwegian girls. I guess its a good thing I’m only staying for 6 months—according to Melvin, after a while “they get stale. All the same face, you know?”

Because I have decided that I must have as many adventures as possible while I’m here, even though I was tired and feeling a little turtle-ish, I agreed to go out with Melvin, Elaine (another flatmate from France) and 5 of Elaine’s friends. We went to a club called Blå (pronounced Bluh—blue in Norwegian). The entrance to the club is in an alley illuminated by a gaudy, sparkly, amazing chandelier. The neighborhood we were in was described to me by Simon, a French student who’s studying Statistics in Norway, as “Alternative” and “full of street art” (Fear not, I made a mental note to return in the daylight with my camera!).

Blå was packed when we arrived. Sunday nights the entrance is free, and it is always the same band — The Frank Znort Quartet. FZQ is a 15 person bluegrass/jazz/weirdness band that sings songs written in slightly off English. Ex: “I love you Banana Split!” The music was dance-y yet something I’m sure I could take my mother to watch. They are constantly switching singers and audience members, some of whom clearly come every Sunday, all have favorites. At least two band members were dressed in drag. One sang a crowd favorite: “Sweet Penetration.” (It was indescribable.) Sadly, I did not win a free CD in their raffle.

Things I have learned:

THE WORD GOOFY IS BOTH DIFFICULT TO TRANSLATE AND A GIANT PART OF MY VOCABULARY. While walking back to the T-bane from Blå, I was talking to Charlotte, one of Elaine’s friends, and I described something as goofy. She asked what that meant. To describe goofy is one thing, to describe goofy with the endearing connotation I mean for it to have is an entirely different task.

I HAVE SOMETHING TO LEARN FROM EVERYONE. Maybe this was obvious to others. I think it becomes clearer when I have to slow down and listen—particularly when I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t speak English as fluently as I do. Simon and I had a great conversation on the difference between French and English. In his words “French has fewer words, so we use more imagery to create words.” (My damn English vocab. I blame you for my lazy writing!). JB and I had a great talk over breakfast on the similarities between our studies—He studies Architecture and oftentimes has to sketch ideas for buildings and designs. We talked about creativity and what sort of music we listen to while working.

(Un)fortunately today is Monday and I need to get out of my pajamas and go see my Campus. I have to pick up an info packet at a student desk. Then I plan to walk around, camera in hand. Also, I should probably go grocery shopping. I can’t be like Melvin and survive on Pizza. Unlike him, I enjoy a nice vegetable.

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Miles: Pizza, brought to me by HECUA

January 9, 2011

I am going to preface all of this by saying that I still am in a “too much input/no brain space for output” mood. Also, my luggage got here! (Of course, right after I bought a ton of emergency socks and boxers…)

Last night, as I was about to pass out in my room and watch tv via my computer, I heard a bunch of people talking in our flat’s kitchen. Okay Miles, I thought, be a big boy and go make friends. (What, doesn’t everyone need to give themselves pep talks sometimes?) So I walk in and introduce myself. One woman asks where I’m from. “Minneapolis,” I say.

“Oh, two of us are from Minnesota,” she says. I scan the room, count four women, and think for a second.

“You all are the HECUA group, aren’t you?” I ask. They nod. Yusssssssss.

Backstory: Last year I did two off-campus study programs sponsored by HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs). My programs were all about arts and creativity and using them to make social change. HECUA programs have many different foci, but all are seeped in the idea of social justice and making change. I could say so much more, but I’ll leave it at this: I love this organization like I love my mother.

When I signed up to study in Norway, I knew there was a HECUA program in Norway. I knew I needed to do something different, so I didn’t sign up. Still, I knew since HECUA was so awesome, they’d surely let me meet the HECUA group. I even knew that the group this semester (a program called Divided States of Europe or DSE) was four women.

I did not know I would find them in my kitchen. As it turns out, I live with two of the women, and the other two are essentially my next-door neighbors. After talking for awhile, they convince me to come with them the next day to get my Norwegian cell phone.

So today the five of us met up with their TA, Jenn, and I got to see Grønland, the immigrant neighborhood, and get my cell phone. Then we all met up with Margareta, the professor, and had pizza. I was entirely expecting to pay for my pizza—after all, I’m not actually in their program and they aren’t in any way responsible for me—but Margareta said it was on HECUA.

In short: Margareta is very very cool and sweet. Also, HECUA takes great care of their alums. It’s the entire attitude of the organization. It’s incredible.

Things I have already noticed:

BABIES ARE EVERYWHERE. It’s common to take your children, however small, anywhere public. Families are everywhere. Young couples with tiny children and no wedding bands. (Yipes. Don’t tell my friend Caitlin.)

CONVERSIONS WILL DRIVE YOU CRAZY. I need to stop dividing the price of everything by six. It doesn’t help me to know how much money I’m spending in US dollars.

Also, the most interesting thing that’s happening to me right now is that I don’t feel grounded yet. I keep trying to convince myself not to leap into vacation mode, but without any sort of responsibility I’m having a hard time. (Yes, I understand quite well that I’ve only been here a day.) I’m just curious to see how I feel when I allow myself to fully be here. I think school will help.

More tomorrow? Clearly I’m avoiding writing anything on paper. Must. Fill. Notebooks. With. Feelings.

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Miles: Capitalism saves the day

January 8, 2011

I am here! (Here is Oslo, in case you can’t keep up.)

It is almost midnight in my new time zone, which means it’s time for my jet-legged butt to get to sleep. But first, a recap of the trip here:

My first flight was Chicago to Paris. I lucked out an had an entire two seats to myself. This results in me lying in some weird fetal position twist against the seatback sort of thing to try and sleep. I did a pretty damn good job, if I do say so myself. I don’t feel nearly as tired as I thought I would.

The Paris to Oslo flight was extremely average. The language barrier began to kick in, but I kept the anxiety down as best as I could. When I got to Oslo, I was impressing myself with how prepared I was for the transit from the Airport to the University campus. (I had to take a train into the center of Oslo and then a metro to a Campus building to pick up my room key.)

Unbeknownst to me, my luggage decided to stay in Paris. I find myself in the airport with one outfit, nothing to sleep in or on (the dorms don’t provide linens and I had packed a whole set of extra sheets from freshman year), and no idea what to do. As calmly as possible, I continue my journey, get lost, find my way, get my keys, get lost, find my room, get inside, and collapse.

After the now official beginning of study abroad tear-fest 2011, I decide to head back to Oslo center to try and find warm things (a sweatshirt and sheets were the top of my list.) I remembered seeing a lot of businesses in the area and I figure that I can find something.

When I get off the T-Bane (metro), I accidentally walk into a mall. No lie. Suddenly I’m in a food court and there are four levels of stores surrounding me. The oddest part was that I immediately felt comforted. As twisted as the US Capitalistic experience is, having that (albeit disgusting) reminder of home made me relax. I bought a really gross falafel wrap from a stand and got everything I needed.

I don’t really know what I think of anything yet. I feel like I’m taking in so much that there’s no space for me to output about anything. I promise to carry my camera and a tiny notebook so that I can relay everything as well as it deserves to be told.

I will end with this:

Real talk, this place looks like Narnia.

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Miles: “I am not afraid — I was born to do this.”

January 5, 2011

In two days, I will be leaving for Oslo, Norway, where I will be living/breathing/studying/eating/sleeping/writing until June. People have been asking me if I’m excited. “Yeah,” I say, shrugging my shoulders. People have been asking me if I’m nervous. “Yeah,” I say, making a joke. The questions are too simple. I don’t know how to explain it all, or, quite frankly, how to say it without crying.

I am good at doing the easy thing. Somewhere in high school, I created a pattern of comfort, of stagnation. I vividly remember watching a special on MTV about a man who bought a round-the-world plane ticket and traveled for a year and thinking Wow, I’d never want to do that. I mean, how could I? How could I leave my home, leave the people I love? I like doing the simple, I like doing what comes naturally to me. To take giant personal risks scares me more than anything. “Putting myself out there” terrifies me. I like just beinag dependable.

Now, for the most part, I like who I am. I love my giant squishy heart that oftentimes feels just a little too strongly. I like that I am emotional. I like that I’m sensitive. I like that I feel the need to overthink everything and analyze and write and think more. I like me — but now I want more.

During my sophomore year of college, I learned a lot about who I was. I learned about being myself, about being in a relationship, about asking for help. I certainly don’t feel “grown” yet, but I know I’m on my way. I think I’ve also learned that with all sorts of big changes that make me nervous/nauseous/terrified, there is something good at the end, something better. This big change will end in something better.

So all of this growing, plus having a great/stubborn girlfriend who helped show me that studying abroad was something I’d be sad to miss out on, has led me to now. Two days until I leave. I am scared. I know that the deepest part of me is excited, but it is currently being stifled by a layer of fear. This is when I draw on my yoga breaths and try to relax. This is when I try not to cry.

(That stubborn girl? She’ll be in Ecuador all semester. When I told my dad he said, “Wow, that sounds like way more fun.” He was thinkin’ about weather and sunlight and stuff that normal people enjoy. Bah, writers love the dark. It helps with our pain and suffering.)

This blog will be for Norway and those adventures. It will be for feelings about traveling, and maybe things I learn about myself along the way.

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