When I first arrived in Tromsø, I had my giant red suitcase, a backpack, and a slip of paper with a name and the bus stop I was supposed to get off at. I knew I was meeting a man named Simen who was my Norwegian sister’s dad’s cousin’s son. I had never met or spoken with him before, but I also had no place to stay for my first night. I got off the bus to find nobody there. Pretty soon this man comes running down the sidewalk to greet me. He was helping an elderly woman with her groceries and then he didn’t see the bus come. He snatched my suitcase and we set off for his house. He gave me a tour of downtown Tromsø, fed me, and helped me figure out how to get to the school the next day. He fed me three meals the next day and then helped me get to my apartment that I would be living in for the next year. All in all, I’m grateful to have met Simen and to have his help for the first few days. I met my three roommates who happened to all be from Norway. I moved into my empty room that still seemed pretty empty after moving in my stuff. Part of that might have had to do with my sleeping bag and wadded up sweatshirt for my bed.
I had missed the international debut week which showed me around town, figured out my classes, helped you with your shopping, and let you meet other international students. Instead, I jumped into the Norwegian student debut week. We went hiking, hung out, and they helped me out with everything I needed. Here are some pictures from the campus!
During my time here, my theme is to focus on the daylight (or lack of) and how the community copes with it. Because Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle, there are several months in the winter time where the sun never rises. When the nights began to shorten every day, it was definitely exciting. They gave a course to the international students on “How to Survive the Darkness”. We were advised to take lots of vitamin supplements, dress warm, and get outside even though it’s dark. There were celebrations to “send off” the sun and the city and houses were covered in lights.
The top left photo and bottom right photo were taken around noon downtown and that is about as light as it would get during that time. The bottom left was the tree lighting celebration and the top right photo was a walking street downtown. Everybody was particularly active and there was a lot going on during those months. A lot of people looked forward to those months because there was a lot going on. It’s also a time where you really appreciate and practice being “koselig” inside. The closest translation is probably cozy, but it’s more than just cozy. It’s that feeling of lighting candles all around the room, drinking tea, having good conversations with friends, feeling warm, and it’s hard to explain, but it’s a really good feeling. Norwegians take being koselig very very seriously. Up North, it’s a survival technique for the dark months. Here is an example of being koselig Christmas style. There are walnuts, Christmas cakes, and Christmas soda with family and candles.
After the excitement of the dark began to die down, I did notice a difference though. Waking up in the morning was almost impossible because when I opened my eyes and saw the dark, all I wanted to do was go back to bed. I noticed that the students and the professors around me became less motivated and everybody was tired all of the time. It was interesting how hard it becomes to get outside and do things when it’s always dark out. The sun returned on January 21st, but we have yet to see it from the island of Tromsø because we are surrounded by mountains. Each day is getting lighter for a longer amount of time though. When it isn’t snowing or raining like crazy you can almost tell. I was lucky enough to have a month long break from the darkness because I spent winter break with my Norwegian family in the South. I spoke with a few international students that stayed in Tromsø during winter break (the darkest days) and they said it wasn’t great. They reported sleeping a lot. I don’t blame them at all. The day that I flew out of Tromsø to Oslo, the sun was sneaking through the clouds with the moon on the other side of the plane.
After a month or so, our days will be more normal again. Then the sunlight will increase about 15 minutes per day until the sun never actually goes down behind the mountains. This gives us midnight sun! Woo! All in all, the dark period wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. The Norwegians have adapted their lifestyle to it and made it something to look forward to. Depression is a problem, but not spoken about very often. However, they have lots of resources to go to if you’re not feeling well and they try to take care of you. My favorite part was the colors of the sky. It wasn’t pitch black, but sort of this blue haze. In the beginning and now that the sun is returning, we get these beautiful pink, orange, purple, blue skies that are beyond words or photographs. There are snow covered mountains and beautiful skies. Norway is very easy on the eyes.
It has been a very interesting opportunity to look at America from the outside. Norwegians are particularly educated on what is happening with our country and political system. To be here during the presidential election was very eye-opening. I was never interested or involved in politics while in the US. I almost felt guilty when the Norwegians knew much more about everything than I did. They would tell me their opinions on a specific manner or ask questions and I had no idea what to say. I started to educate myself and get more involved. I engaged in political conversations, asked questions, listened to opinions from many people of different nationalities, and then I filled out the form for an overseas ballot. I think overall it was fascinating to realize that the world seems much more involved with our politics than we are sometimes. I asked a few people (in the most polite way possible) why they cared so much about our politics and their answers were across the board that it affects them too.
“We are all USA experts!”
While being in Norway, I’ve realized that it is very centered around helping yourself. You have to be able to motivate yourself. You don’t get help choosing classes, with the paperwork, etc. like you would in the states. That was very difficult in the beginning when I was trying to figure everything out. I had to step up and take charge for myself. This improved my leadership skills in a way that was more self-directed than towards others. However, in the beginning of the second semester, I was a leader for the new incoming international students. I had to lead them around and help them out with all of the practical stuff. This helped me with taking charge for others and helping them with what they needed so that they didn’t have to do it by themselves later on.
Being in Norway has raised many questions for me. I am constantly comparing my culture with Norwegian culture which raises a lot of questions. Fortunately, I have plenty of Norwegian friends to ask them questions about differences or opinions on different matters. It has also raised a lot of personal questions on where I want to end up and what I want to do. I do think I would be asking those questions if I was at home as well, but every day raises new questions and hearing about so many different views also makes me question where I stand on different matters as well. I’m so thankful to have this experience and I am so happy that I chose to stay for a year and have 6 more months to learn that much more.