Bergen Continued

Our first stop today was Bryggen, or the historic part of Bergen. Bryggen used to be the site of warehouses, businesses, and homes. Today it is a tourist attraction with stores selling things ranging from stuffed bears to embroidery.

IMG_0170

Because Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains it comes as no surprise that one of the most popular things to do here is hike. Thus we duly headed to the nearest mountain, Mount Fløyen, and took the lazy way up, the funicular railway. Luckily we were blessed with a sunny day and the view at the top was spectacular.

IMG_3782  IMG_0149  IMG_0151

 From what I’ve learned so far hiking is a huge Norwegian pastime so once we reached the top we saw plenty of hikers coming up and down the mountain. Instead of taking the funicular back down the mountain we decided to be slightly more active and walk down. One perk of walking was being able to picking and eating the wild raspberries on the way down.

IMG_3774  IMG_3747  IMG_3751

 After walking down we spent the rest of our time walking around Bergen. Funnily enough I got a strange reminder of home when we stumbled upon an American car show. Most of the cars were quite old, but all of them were in excellent condition and it was nice to walk around and admire old Ford Mustangs.

Off To Bergen

If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a HUGE Lonely Planet fan. I am the kind of traveller who reads all of Lonely Planet, takes notes, and then packs it with her on the eventual trip. Lonely Planet is basically my travel Bible. If you have ever had the pleasure of opening a Lonely Planet guidebook, you know that pretty much the first thing you will read is a list of top experiences in your travel country. One of the many reasons why I was really excited for my roundabout journey to Trondheim was that I would be experiencing at least four of this top experiences on my trip. Today that experience was the Oslo-Bergen Railway, or a seven hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen. Now I know that a seven hour trip sounds insane, especially when a flight between the two cities would take less than an hour, but it is often called one of the most beautiful train rides in the world (and as of right now I’m inclined to agree).

IMG_3671   IMG_3676   IMG_3678   IMG_3704IMG_3729   IMG_3705

Yup, those seven hours didn’t look too bad at all. In other exciting news, I am now in Bergen! Bergen is Norway’s second biggest city and is surrounded by mountains and fjords, in other words it is beautiful. Because we got in late I can’t really report much else, but here are a few more pics.

IMG_0120   IMG_0135  IMG_0125

Oslo Continued

One of the things that I really wanted to see in Oslo was their famed Opera House. I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of opera. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried opera several times but unfortunately each time I just get frustrated with the fact that I can’t understand what people are singing, even when they are singing in English. So why did I want to visit the Opera House? I wanted to see it because it’s beautiful. The Opera House was opened to the public in 2008 and its architects intended for it to look like a glacier floating on water.

IMG_3603

IMG_3597          IMG_3638          IMG_3598

I decided early on that I wanted to take a tour of the building and overall it was fascinating to walk through all of the elements of the Opera house and learn more about what goes on inside. The Opera House has 5 different stages which it can use, and it can even conduct outdoor concerts (you can climb up and down the roof so for an outdoor concert they simply line the roof with chairs). The Opera House is the home to both the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and on average if you include all of the work that goes into making the costumes, props, as well as rehearsals for the dancers and singers, a production takes two years to complete. Unfortunately there weren’t any shows on at the Opera House when we visited, but we still got to sit in the main concert hall. One thing that Norwegians are particularly well known for is their commitment to equality, and this really manifests itself in the design of the concert hall. We were told that no matter where you sit in the concert hall the sound should be exactly the same. In addition, the Opera House is intended to be accessible for all people (which makes sense considering the number of tax dollars that went into building it) thus it’s a requirement that for every show there must be 100 tickets available priced at 100 kroner (~16 USD).

After our tour of the opera we went to the Nobel Peace Center. The Nobel Peace Center is not where the actual peace prize is awarded, but is a museum about the Nobel Peace Prize and its winners. When we went the first floor was dedicated to social media and it’s impact on democracy. The main focus was on whether social media encourages productive debates through freedom of speech or whether it hinders debate because there are simply too many voices involved. Some fun facts that I got out of the exhibit are that 41% of the world’s population has access to internet but a staggering 1 in 5 people has a social media account. There was also a section on surveillance and whether or not it is a threat to democracy. Yes, there was even a piece on the NSA and Edward Snowden.

While the first floor was fun, I think that by far the most impactful part of the Nobel Peace Center was its segment on the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW has helped destroy 80 percent of the world’s chemical weapons and has recently come into the spotlight for the work it is doing to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. One really happy fact from this exhibit is that when organizations such at the OPCW go to destroy a country’s supply of chemical weapons the host country usually turns over all of their chemical weapons. If chemical weapons are missed it is often because a a small reserve has been forgotten, not because the country was being deliberately negligent.

While it’s very easy to associate chemical weapons with Syria, the OPCW works in many countries and still has a lot of work to do even in Europe. World War I has left its mark on Europe in many ways, one of which is the ‘iron harvest’ or undetonated mines and shells in Flanders. Belgium unearths as much as 100 tons of munitions a year, which is a fact that I personally find both incredible and frightening. Overall I left the exhibit with a very healthy respect for the work that the OPCW does around the world.

IMG_3607

Arrival & Oslo

Fast forward to the present. I am in Norway, and it turns out that I’m not alone–my parents are here! My dad has been dying to get back to Norway ever since he took a trip there 45 years ago, and my mom has never been to Scandinavia. Thus, they both saw my trip as a great reason to travel to Norway (though I think they technically told me that the purpose of the trip was to make sure that I was properly settled in). I can’t complain though since the company is appreciated and going with my parents means that I get to knock a few things off of my Norwegian bucket list early on. The current plan is to fly into Oslo and explore for two days before catching the train to Bergen. After staying in Bergen for a few days we are catching the Hurtigruten ferry up the coast of Norway until we land in Trondheim. After we land I assume that a lot of unpacking and Ikea raiding will commence.

Everything went pretty smoothly once we arrived at in Oslo. Immigration was easy to go through since all they needed was my passport and confirmation from immigration (UDI) that I had been granted a temporary residence permit. The thing that really struck me about the airport was that in between immigration and baggage claim was a large duty free shop. The first thing that they were selling (and that many people were rushing to buy) was alcohol. I was warned before my trip that alcohol in Norway is prohibitively expensive so I had to smile watching people claim their reasonably priced alcohol while they could.

IMG_0093

Note: only 3 of the 5 bags are technically mine

IMG_0097

My first glimpse of Norway

IMG_0098

I kid you not, at least 40% of the duty free store consisted of alcohol

 

You can see a bigger version of all of these photos by clicking on them.

After we checked into our hotel we set off on our first adventure. First stop: Bygdøy (note the partial mastery of the Norwegian keyboard–that and copy and paste). In order to get to there we decided to take a ferry which gave us a great cityscape view of Oslo.

IMG_3491

Bygdøy has most of Oslo’s maritime museums, and I was determined to see the Viking Ship Museum before stopping by the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, also known as the Folkemusem. The Viking Ship Museum was both impressive and small. The main attraction is, yes you guessed it, a huge viking ship. The museum actually has three ships but the other two are smaller, simpler, and more run-down than the main ship. Considering that the Vikings lived from the 8th to the 11th century, the size of these ships and their attention to detail is stunning. While the ships themselves don’t have very complicated designs carved into them, the items that archaeologists managed to preserve from these ships showcase the Vikings’ skill and creativity.

 IMG_3527  IMG_3505  IMG_3524  IMG_3518

The Folkemusem was a completely different experience from the Viking Ship Museum. First of all, it was huge. The museum covers Norwegian history from 1500 onwards and has approximately 34 acres and 160 buildings. Not all of these buildings contain exhibits and many of them are simply traditional Norwegian buildings that you can visit and explore. Most of the buildings we looked at were old Norwegian farmhouses, guest houses, and storage buildings. The thing that initially surprised me was how much more ornate the guest houses were when compared to the farmhouses. The guest house was the first building that I walked into and had drawings painted on the walls and nice furniture. When I then decided to poke my head into the neighboring farmhouse I was expecting something fairly similar. To my surprise the farmhouse was sparse and contained no decorations. When I asked a guide she explained that this was because you want to provide your guest with the best of everything. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures for comparison, but here are a few pictures museum and the exteriors of some of the buildings.

IMG_3532   IMG_3545   IMG_3542

After the Folkemuseum we decided to walk around the docks before calling it a day. One thing that struck me was how many modern buildings there are in Oslo. I’ve never been a huge fan of modern architecture but some of the buildings here are just stunning. My favorite building was an apartment building that was right next to the water. Apparently the water is pretty clean because they had a swimming station complete with diving board right into the harbor. Some more pictures below and more to come tomorrow.

IMG_3561   IMG_3572   IMG_3576

Why Norway?

Whenever I tell people that I’ll be spending the next year in Norway they always ask me why. This is a very valid question, especially when you consider that I am from California and that my four years of living in Boston has taught me (and my friends) that I am not the biggest fan of any weather under 60° F (My answer to the conundrum of winter is that I will have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights as well as have the chance to do some great skiing. All in all I figured the perks outweighed the cold.) I’ve included both the short answer to this question and the long answer.

The Short Answer

I was drawn to Norway because its high level of English fluency meant that I would be able to thoroughly interact with students and teach them more about literature and American culture. I also found the egalitarian culture of Norway and its education system really interesting and wanted to have the chance to immerse myself in it for a year.

The Long Answer

After I decided to apply for a Fulbright, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be in Europe. I had spent the past three summers in Asia and knew that I wanted to try something new. My Spanish proficiency wouldn’t have been good enough to qualify in South America, and Africa doesn’t have many ETA programs, which left me with Europe. Furthermore, I had done nearly all of my undergraduate research on Europe and loved learning about it.

Once I had decided on Europe I decided to jumpstart my research on ETA programs by asking my British dad to send me a list of European countries that he thought might be a good fit. Norway was right up towards the top. My dad’s reasoning was that I would like it because it’s beautiful, there’s a high standard of living, and most people are near fluent in English. For me, a high proficiency in English was a huge draw because it would mean teaching kids at a higher level of English and Literature. This was confirmed when I read about how Norwegian ETAs worked with university and secondary school students. Working with students who are near fluent in English means that I will have the opportunity to interact with kids on a deeper more analytical level and that I can do things such as read The Great Gatsby, instead of reviewing the basic concepts of English grammar. Once I realized all of this I did some more research into Norway and its educational system and was completely sold. Overall I think that the question should not be “Why Norway?” but “Why not Norway?”

Why Fulbright?

One question that keeps popping up is: Why did you apply and accept the Fulbright? Or its twin: Why should I apply for a Fulbright? I’ll answer the second question before addressing the first. The unhelpful yet truthful answer is that it’s really up to you and what you’re looking to do. When deciding to apply I think one of the most helpful things to do is to actually sit down and read the mission statement because that is the criteria by which you will be judged and it also tells you what to expect of the fellowship. Fulbright’s mission statement is as follows:

  • Increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
  • Strengthen the ties that unite the United States with other nations.
  • Promote international cooperation for education and cultural advancement.
  • Assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and other countries of the world (Mission Statement)

In short your job as a Fulbrighter is to be a good cultural ambassador.

As for me, I applied to the Fulbright Program because I enjoy teaching and spending time in other countries. I love teaching. One of my favorite things to do is to help a student understand a concept and watch their face light up when they finally get the right answer. I also thought it would be great to live abroad for an extended period of time, especially since I don’t have any major responsibilities or commitments (i.e. husband, kids, or an established career). Lastly, I thought that the Fulbright would make a great transition/gap year. Under my Fulbright contract I’m obligated to work approximately 20 hours a week while my connection to the local university means that I am also able to live in university housing and take classes. I’m part student and part worker. In short, I get to have a small taste of university life while still getting to partake in the “real world.”

As to why I decided to accept the Fulbright, I accepted for all of the reasons listed above and because jobs will always be there. Ultimately, I have the rest of my life to work and if I didn’t take the Fulbright I would always wonder what it would have been like if I did.

The Fulbright Application

August is the season of fellowship applications and I’ve gotten quite a few emails asking about how the Fulbright application process works and requests for any tips that I might have regarding the application. I’ve included most of my advice here, although I’ll address some reoccurring questions in separate posts. It’s also important to know that I specifically applied for the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) program and thus everything included below pertains specifically to the ETA track of the Fulbright.

The Fulbright is a fairly flexible fellowship. Each country has different requirements and different types of Fulbright grants that they offer (thus making it relatively easy to find something that you are truly passionate about). The Fulbright can generally be broken down into three types: 1) English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) 2) Research 3) Some sort of graduate study. The ETA program funds you to teach in the host country that you applied to; however, what kind of teaching you’ll do and the age level you’ll be teaching at is country dependent. There are also other types of Fulbright grants so if you’re interested in a particular country it’s well worth taking a look to see what kind of fellowships they offer. For example, several countries offer grants that support things like the creation of art, music, and in the case of Italy, cooking.

The Application Process

It’s important to know that you apply to a specific country in your application as well as a specific type of grant (i.e. I didn’t generally apply to Norway or the ETA program I specifically applied to Norway’s ETA program). You can apply to multiple grants within Fulbright, but know that you have to complete a separate application for each grant. Once submitted your application is sent to a national committee, and if the national committee approves your application, your application is then sent to your host country for its appraisal. If your application makes it past the national round I’ve heard that your odds are pretty good. If you make it to country round the country you applied to may contact you regarding additional steps in the application process. For example, Norway asked me to have a three person Skype interview. If you’re curious about the acceptance rates for Fulbright grants the Fulbright program posts them for each country on their website.

The Application Itself

Generally speaking you shouldn’t treat your Fulbright essays like college application essays. You want to craft a story around the reasons why you are a qualified applicant and why you want the Fulbright. One thing to have at the back of your mind is the reasons why you stand out as a candidate. What makes you unique from other candidates? Why should they pick you? Once you have answers to those questions try to incorporate your answers into your application. You should have an actual vision of what you want to achieve and articulate that in your essays.

Furthermore, the Fulbright requires three letters of recommendation and may have a language requirement depending on the country that you apply to. With the ETA program it’s also important to note that you should not voice a preference for either location or institution. Host countries will place you at their discretion and are looking for people who are flexible in their preferences so be openminded both mentally and in your application.

The Fulbright Program also has great resources on their website. They offer a checklist for your application components and even offer tips on how to make your application stand out.

June & July

I am officially in Norway! After months of planning and paperwork I have finally arrived. Since graduating I have mostly been concerned with getting a little rest and relaxation, otherwise known as watching The West Wing and working my way through the Game of Thrones books. Unfortunately this has meant that I neglected to update this blog. However, have no fear! Now that I am in Norway I promise to blog regularly.

Before I write about the present, I want to backtrack a little bit and talk about some of the things I’ve been up to and the paperwork that I’ve had to complete in June and July (the rest of this particular post is helpful for Fulbrighters and boring for friends).

Exchange Student Application

One of the first things I needed to address was how I was going to legally live in Norway. In other words: visas and residence permits. Before I really started to look into the paperwork I thought that I would be applying for some type of work visa in Norway (my two summer internships in Asia had required that I apply for work visas so that I could open bank accounts and be paid as a company employee). Funnily enough I was told to apply for what is called a studies resident permit. A studies permit is essentially a residence permit for students. This meant that the first bit of paperwork I needed to fill out in June was an exchange student application to the local university, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

I initially hit a few road bumps with my application because although the application itself was quite simple, I had not put down enough classes in my proposed coursework. I needed four classes per semester to qualify as an exchange student instead of the two classes that I had put down. Once I fixed this part of my application I received an acceptance letter from NTNU.

Residence Permit

Normally if you apply for a residence permit you have to go to the Norwegian consulate in person; however, one great perk of getting the Fulbright is being able to mail in your application. Having the Fulbright also means that I had to work off of two checklists when applying for my residence permit. All in all I was told to send in:

1. My passport and copies of all used pages in the passport
2. My complete immigration application
3. Receipt that I had paid the application fee
4. Application cover letter
5. Fulbright-Hayes authorization letter
6. Acceptance letter from NTNU
7. A copy of my birth certificate
8. Two passport sized photos

The request for documentation of sufficient funds was covered with the Fulbright-Hayes authorization letter and confirmation of housing was also covered with my acceptance letter to NTNU.

The immigration office was incredibly speedy. Within a week or two I had confirmation that my application had been approved and they sent back my passport within days of submitting my application. Now all that remains is to finish getting my permit processed in Trondheim and then I can get the physical permit card.