University of Calgary


March 26, 2010

Postcard from Norway

Why study abroad?

I really felt a need to just escape the little world that was my life as a student in Calgary. The summer before I applied to go on exchange, I had been outside of North America for the first time, wandering the Australian outback. It made me realize how small my life was and that I could spend it sitting in the library, stressing about reports, exams and grades, cramming all the empirical knowledge I could fit into my brain and still know nothing. I wanted to learn something real.

Why go on an exchange to Norway?

To be honest, I have no idea why I chose Norway. I am often impulsively but unfoundedly decisive about really significant things, like this one has come to be. Besides my Norwegian vocabulary consisting of the three words: Viking, fjord and ski; my only other knowledge of Norway was that the entire country lies farther north than I had ever been and its cross country ski team dominates the World Cup circuit. So when I glanced at the list of exchange partners and the first I saw was University of Oslo, the first thing to come to mind was "Hmm, better pack my skis."

I am now in Norway on my exchange with the University of Oslo. It has allowed me to continue progression in my BSc in chemistry, while at the same time being something completely new. In Norway, I've been able to study primarily in English and take masters level courses, which enable me to choose which very specific topics I would like to learn in a lot of detail. Being at the bachelor level in Europe is also a lot more laid back than in Canada. My full course load is lighter, allowing me to pursue a lot of other activities, including training for skiing.

How would you describe Norway?

The city of Oslo, its people and the lifestyle are a perfect match for me. Upon arrival, the first thing I did was to go for a run. I easily found a forest not 10 minutes from my quite central residence. It is easy to tell how proud Norwegians are of the nature in their country by how it is integrated into the capital city, and how popular it is to spend time there. On that first encounter, I thought the entire population of Oslo must also have been running, cycling, walking, swimming in the lake or… rollerskiing! In Canada, rollerskiing is a very rare sport, practised almost exclusively by elite cross country skiers and biathletes.

It also didn't take long for me to find the university sports club's Langrennsgruppa, a ski club of fellow students my age and similar training capacity. Because of the team mentality, ease of travel in a large group and the immense popularity of competitive skiing here, I've rediscovered the joy of racing. I will be one of 15,000 participants racing the famous and historic 50 kilometre Birkebeinerrennet ski race from Rena to Lillehammer this March. Through the ski club I have found my way into Norwegian homes, with their unique traditions and cultural occasions; seen parts of Norway only seen by locals or avid skiers; had access to the best ski trails and training facilities; and have been made to feel quite at home in this far side of the world.

Besides being notorious for their athletic lifestyle, blond hair, pixie-like facial features and their height, Norwegians are also known for being shy when it comes to strangers. But they make very sincere, open and deep friendships. Talking to strangers on the metro, or even nodding hello to someone you met at a party last week is nearly unheard of, but being invited to Christmas dinner by the family of a good friend is a very natural gesture.

Any new hobbies?

With Tryvann ski resort right in the city, it has been easy for me to really get into alpine skiing this season. I even got a job as an instructor at the ski school there, for both cross-country and alpine courses. Trying Nordic combined (cross country skiing plus ski jumping) and telemark has been exciting, but also reaffirming my affections for the ones I already know.

Any cuisine curiosities?

Norway is not known for its cuisine. This is for a reason. Now one of the richest countries in the world, Norway was once a very poor agricultural society. A common joke amongst Norwegians is that they still eat as if they were still poor farmers. I guess the trademark Norwegian dish would be an open-faced sandwich on knekkebrød (crisp bread such as Ryvita) with some sort of topping (pålegg), often seafood paste from a tube or... brunost! One of the two types of cheese in Norway, this brown goat cheese is caramelized by high temperatures and tastes like rich, salty caramel fudge. Although it is a somewhat acquired taste, after bringing home 5 kilograms of it in my luggage as Christmas gifts, needless to say, it is my new favourite food.

Should you learn Norwegian?

Learning and using Norwegian has been the absolute pleasure of my stay here. People are very accommodating when it comes to speaking English for a foreigner, so it is in no way forced upon a person. But this also makes it quite difficult, as it is so easy just to be lazy and not try. But when the effort is made, of course Norwegians are nearly ecstatic with appreciation. And as a bonus, both written and spoken Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are mutually understandable (for native speakers at least!), so it's like getting 3 languages in one.

Tell us about a trip you were on.

In November 2009, I visited Beitostølen to see the cross country skiing World Cup. Cross country world cups are considered a big deal sporting event here. People camp out in the snow along the course and dress up as Vikings and plant Norwegian flags everywhere. Cheering for Canada and Finland like madmen, while carrying Swedish flags amongst a fully Norwegian crowd; we drew plenty of amused glances and inquiries to our actual nationalities. All this new excitement set against a familiar backdrop of clear pink skies (as the sun is forever only either setting or rising in winter in Norway) over snowy rooftops and mountains in the distance; scenery reminiscent of winters at home in the Rockies.

What are your future plans?

This summer I plan to work in Norway, while taking the final Norwegian language course. In the fall, I would like to write the Bergenstesten which tests for language competency in foreigners who would like to study or work in Norway. After finishing my degree at U of C, I will apply to study medicine here in Oslo. Even if it is not possible for me to study in Norway, I would like to do a residency in northern Norway, as I have heard that area of the country, the land of the midnight sun, is an experience in itself.

For more information on study abroad programs please visit This postcard was supplied by University of Calgary International.

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