Bergen Wrap Up

I don’t think I’ll be going back to Bergen before the end of my Fulbright so I thought I’d go ahead and summarize what I’ve learned about Bergen thus far:

  1. An umbrella is crucial. Also, be prepared to encounter multiple types of weather.
  2. Most things in Bergen and in the wider Bergen area shut down after August/September or have reduced hours. So, if you’re planning a trip to either Bergen or the surrounding area make sure that everything you want to see is actually open.
  3. If you plan on doing any driving check the road conditions. If you cross over Bergen’s mountains you’ll encounter a significant temperature drop and, depending on the time of year, snow and icy conditions.
  4. As for things to do in Bergen, I highly enjoyed Pepperkakebyen (which runs from the end of November to the end of December), Bryggen is nice to walk around, the funicular provides a great view of the city on a clear day, and I’ve heard that the Kode is an amazing art museum.

Ethiopian Food and ETA Musings

One of my favorite parts of our Bergen trip was catching up with some of the other Fulbrighters in town. We managed to meet up with both Kyle and Abby at an excellent Ethiopian restaurant called Selam. If you happen to be searching for spicy food in Norway this is definitely a good option.

Abby is my ETA counterpart in Bergen so I was really excited to see her and compare ETA notes. The first thing I asked her was whether her students were also really quiet. Lud and I had talked about this when I was in Oslo and we’ve both found it difficult to get students to participate. Abby confirmed that she’s experienced the same thing and said that it was really different for her in comparison to her last school. Abby was based at a KIPP school when she was working with Teach for America (TFA), and she said that in KIPP schools students either raise their hands or are punished. In short, she went from a school system where there was no shortage of hands in the air to one where generally only the know-it-alls and Hermione Grangers of the world raise their hands.

We also had to laugh when we realized how similar our schools’ curriculums were. We must both be in an International English class because our students cover the exact same materials, even down to the same movies.

Abby also had a one observation that I found particularly striking. Through her grading experiences at the university and upper secondary school, Abby doesn’t necessarily think that upper secondary schools adequately prepare their students to pass university classes. Even though Abby is working at the second best school in the city, Abby was telling me that the grading system is very flexible and thus it doesn’t necessarily prepare students for the university’s harsher standards. I’ve done grading for NTNU but have yet to do much for Byåsen. Additionally, the majority of my students are international students so it’s hard for me to accurately say if things are similar in Trondheim.

Like Abby pointed out, I have also noticed that grades seem to be pretty flexible, and there is not always a clear rubric that dictates what sort of grades students should receive. At a university level, all of the assignments that I’ve had to grade have only given me three real grading options (pass, fail, fail pending improvement). This can make it a bit more difficult to grade since the bar for a pass is much lower in a pass/fail system. In my opinion this isn’t a good thing because it doesn’t give students a good idea of how well they did or how much they still have left to improve.

Overall, Abby and I have found the grading and feedback system in Norway to be very different from the one in the United States. In the United States, high school students are constantly given assignments and feedback. In contrast to this, I think that my International English students have only had two major assignments this past semester. Also, from what I can tell, homework is never work that is turned in and graded.

American university students also tend to be given more feedback than ones in Norway. In Norway, it’s not uncommon to have a grade be almost completely based on the one final exam.

But, both of us have really enjoyed our time teaching. It’s been interesting working in the Norwegian school system and I can’t wait to see what the spring will bring.

Fantoft, Grieg, and More

The next day we decided to stick a bit closer to Bergen. We took the car on a quick drive out to the local stave church, Fantoft. The church was closed but the three of us still enjoyed getting to walk around the exterior. As you can see, the church and its craftsmanship are pretty incredible considering that it was originally built and designed in 1150.

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Afterwards, we headed to Edvard Grieg’s house. Kyle had warned me that the museum would be closed, but he also said that it would still be worth walking around the property. So we stopped by, and to our great surprise the administrators of the museum even offered to open up the house for us. We didn’t really want to disturb them so we opted not to take them up on their offer, but we did have a good time slipping and sliding around Grieg’s fairly icy property.

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After we had paid homage to Grieg we set off in the car. Chris wanted to check out more of the surrounding Bergen area so we drove out to one of the peninsulas around Bergen past Straume and North towards Ågotnes. Unlike our drive yesterday, there was no snow in sight. I suppose it’s a perk of being right on the water. If you want a better idea of where everything is, it is all pinned on the Map page.

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Because it was rapidly becoming dark, we decided to return the car around 2pm and walk around Bergen (sunset was around 3:30). First we stopped by Bergenhus Fortress which was closed (again most things seem to either have reduced hours or are closed after August/September). After that we walked around Bryggen and spent some time in the shops there. Bryggen was definitely not as bustling as it was when I visited around August, but it was also nice not to be surrounded by tourists. Alix has also been trying to convince me for weeks that I need to wear a hat outside. Well Alix finally won the hat battle in Bryggen. The three of us wandered into a fur shop and with some encouragement from Alix I walked out with a wool and rabbit hat. It wasn’t exactly the tourist item I thought I’d leave Bergen with, but I admit that it has kept me warm.

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Driving in a Winter Wonderland

The next morning started with us experiencing some of Bergen’s infamous rain. Because we had been repeatedly warned about Bergen’s weather, the three of us had packed umbrellas that managed to protect us from the worst of it.

Before the trip started, the three of us had agreed to rent a car for two days. Thankfully Chris knows how to drive in snow. Alix and I are both from California, so the extent of our knowledge when it comes to driving in winter conditions is minimal. In fact, it pretty much consists of what we researched on a maine.gov website when we were trying to figure out how to drive on black ice in the Lofotens.

So, once we sorted things out with the rental car company we left Bergen behind. Alix and I both wanted to see stave churches so I thought we should drive up to the Borgund Stave Church and visit some of the stave churches in Vik if we had time. However, we soon ran into our first logistical difficulty: snow. It hadn’t occurred to any of us just how much snow would be beyond Bergen. Bergen has a pretty mild climate, but as soon as you cross the mountains you enter a completely different world. Snow was absolutely everywhere. For safety reasons, we didn’t drive particularly fast, and to Chris’s credit he did a great job driving. To give you an idea of how treacherous the roads were, we saw one car that had slid off the road and a big rig that overturned. In fact, there was so much snow that the big rig couldn’t even lay on the ground properly. It had slid partially off the road and was at about a 30 degree angle propped up by a snow drift.

IMG_6228  IMG_6246  IMG_6241IMG_6250  IMG_6278  IMG_6286IMG_6292  IMG_6295  IMG_6312Because the Borgund church was just over a three hour drive from Bergen I initially intended for us to make a pitstop at the Stalheim Hotel. The Stalheim has a fantastic view, as you can see from the Google Images picture below.

Naerodalen-Hardanger

Unfortunately, the snow was making it look like the hotel might be the only destination that we would be able to make it to before dark. When we were on about hour three, Alix asked if I could look up the opening hours for the churches and for the hotel. This was where I encountered my second logistical error. All of these things closed around August/September. Turns out most attractions in the wider Bergen area close after the summer holiday season. Whoops.

Thankfully Alix and Chris weren’t too upset about this. Even though we never made it to the churches or the hotel (the driveway was completely blocked with snow) we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery that we saw along the way.

Snowy Bergen and Pepperkakebyen

First a quick PSA. In case you’re wondering why I’ve been traveling more this past month, it’s because things have drastically slowed down at my schools. Classes ended at NTNU on November 21, and December at Byåsen has mostly centered around exams and final projects. The Christmas holiday also helps in terms of giving me more free time. Additionally, I’m prone to separate more jam packed travel days into multiple posts to make things easier to read.

I was excited to travel back to Bergen for a short trip this week. Having talked with Kyle in Oslo, I managed to confirm that not only is Bergen a very rainy city–apparently it’s the rainiest city in Europe! In a fit of irony, the Fulbright Commission happened to give grants to a lot of Portlanders this year, and to the best of my knowledge they all ended up in Bergen with the exception of one person. I suppose that they all feel right at home. So, it was with Kyle’s warnings ringing in my ears that the first thing I packed in my carry-on was an umbrella. To my great surprise however, it wasn’t raining when I arrived in Bergen with Alix and her husband, Chris, it was snowing!

After we got settled into our Airbnb, Alix, Chris, and I headed out into the city. The thing that I desperately wanted to see on this trip was Pepperkakebyen, a gingerbread replica of Bergen. Residents of Bergen are allowed to bring in gingerbread houses and they are arranged to mimic the city of Bergen. Of course the gingerbread town doesn’t replicate Bergen exactly. There are plenty of world landmarks that make an appearance, such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and St. Basil’s Cathedral, yet happen to be nowhere near Bergen.

Now, my family has been making gingerbread houses for years since it’s our traditional post-Thanksgiving activity. It’s taken a few years, but now our houses no longer look like they’ve been hit by tornadoes. I would even venture to say that now that I have an attention span longer than that of my five year old self, some of our houses even look pretty good. So for me Pepperkakebyen was a must see it Bergen.

I wasn’t disappointed. Getting there was initially a bit confusing. Google Maps had no problem leading us to the building, but the three of us hesitated upon arrival. It looked like the building contained an odd assortment of businesses such as a gym. Alix then skeptically pointed out that there was a sign for a public pool. This renewed my hopes because Pepperkakebyen is actually held at the local pool (the pool is obviously covered and drained). So, after about a minute of searching we found the appropriate entrance.

IMG_6154  IMG_6169  IMG_6184IMG_6182  IMG_6189  IMG_6191IMG_6190  IMG_6208  IMG_6196I was enchanted. My love of gingerbread houses felt very justified as soon as I walked in. There was a real range in how well constructed the gingerbread houses were. Some of them were on the simpler side, while others had windows that looked like they were made out of sugar. We probably spent a solid hour walking around and admiring Pepperkakebyen. To top things off, Pepperkakebyen also had slides! Alix patiently waited for Chris and I to run around and test out the slides. There was both a short slide and a long slide. The long slide was a solid 30-foot drop into the empty pool. I’m personally not the greatest fan of heights, but Chris decided to try out the long slide and seemed to enjoy it.

Once we finished playing around, the three of us headed off to grab some dinner and a good night’s sleep.

More Viewpoints!

In case you’re interested in getting some more perspectives from the other 2014-2015 American Fulbrighters in Norway I thought I’d provide a short list of some of the other blogs my colleagues are writing (and I apologize if I missed anyone). In no particular order:

Roving Scholars

  1. Lud Baldwin (who has also graciously mentioned me on his blog–Thanks Lud!)
  2. Heather Bandeen

Researchers

  1. Kyle Cavagnini
  2. Kari Leibowitz
  3. Sarah Strand

Enjoy!

Hurtigruten

The Hurtigruten ferry line is the odd combination of ferry, cruise, and mail delivery boat. Because Hurtigruten was started as a mail delivery service it stops by both big cities and remote coastal towns. Depending on the kind of experience you are looking for, you can take longer trips that stop by more towns or take shorter ones. I have always loved boats and was really excited to take the ferry up to Trondheim. I got a lovely cabin all to myself and spent the rest of our 3ish day trip admiring the view. The only real downer to this leg of the trip was the mist and fog. Unfortunately it was tough luck catching a clear day, but I’ve included some of the better pictures that I managed to take. All in all our boat, Finnmarken, took us from Bergen to Florø, Måløy, Torvik, Ålesund, Gerianger, Molde, Kirstiansund, and finally Trondheim.

The one other hitch I encountered during this time was an email from the Fulbright Office. Quick aside: the Norwegian Fulbright office is generally amazing. They are always well organized and incredibly responsive with email. For instance they let me know that I moved to the second round of the Fulbright application before the US government did. Anyways, I received an email from them today telling me that the upper secondary school that I’m working at might be affected by a teacher’s strike. While the school itself was still open, the central administrative office in Trondheim was on strike. The email included one of the few English articles available that explained the situation. I must admit that when I first opened the article, I was expecting to see the strike touch upon some of the education issues that frequently appear in the US (testing, curriculum, etc.) but it was actually on how teacher’s should organize their work schedules. Many teachers have a flexible schedule that allows them to do part of their work at home, whereas the government wants to restrict this and mandate a number of hours that teachers must work on campus. For now, it’s just a waiting game to see if things are resolved before the school year starts.

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