I’ve been back in Norway for the last three or so weeks, but a combination of sickness and laziness have prevented me from blogging about the present until now. Clearly blogging regularly is not one of my New Year’s resolutions. Anyways, now that I’ve gotten back into the swing of things I’m happy to continue typing out my random thoughts and experiences.
I will say that one of the things that surprised me upon my return to Trondheim was realizing that I consider Norway home. Granted I was sick when I arrived, so being able to sleep in my own bed and consume American meds definitely contributed to my excitement, but not even my tiny college bed and modern medicine could entirely account for the level of happiness that I experienced when I came back. So it seems a bit fitting that I should take a moment and reflect on my experiences thus far and the reasons why I love Norway:
- The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it’s never far away. I wouldn’t label myself as outdoorsy, but I definitely appreciate that nature is never more than a short walk away. Plus, the reindeer are a pretty huge perk.
- As a whole, things function really well here. Things tend to run on time, everything works, wifi is everywhere, and you can accomplish quite a bit (banking, travel arrangements, public transportation, grocery store discounts, etc.) on your smartphone.
- Overall Norwegians seem to be super active, which means that I’m guilted into exercising.
- Norway is an incredibly safe country. I’ve seen five year olds take the bus without assistance and I’ve been told that people regularly leave their young children outside and unattended to nap.
- There is a huge focus here on family and less of a focus on work. Almost everything is built to be child and stroller friendly, there are playgrounds everywhere, and Sunday is pretty much a day dedicated to spending time with your family. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that everything shuts down on Sunday (or is super expensive if it’s open) but it’s still nice to walk around and see a lot of families getting in some quality time by going skiing/hiking/running together. The childcare and other welfare benefits for families are also pretty incredible from what I’ve heard.
- Work scheduling is really flexible. It’s pretty easy for me to lesson plan at home and I’m really able to take ownership of my time. Granted I, as well as most other teachers, probably have a more flexible schedule than most Norwegians, but overall work scheduling seems to be pretty accommodating.
- The small population. Having lived in Los Angeles and Boston for most of my life, I have to say that I enjoy cities. In fact, I’m pretty used to living in crowded areas. That being said, it’s nice to have things be a bit smaller. The biggest perk: public transportation is almost never crowded. Seriously though, Norwegians think having to sit next to someone on the bus qualifies as “crowded.”
- A pretty functional public health system (I promise to blog more on this later).
- I’m pretty sure that I will never live anywhere more expensive, which means that when I travel everything seems ridiculously cheap.
Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some things that I struggle with or critique. I mean people go out of the country just to buy groceries and alcohol. It’s a bit ridiculous. But any country is bound to have its pros and cons, and overall Norway’s pros weigh heavily in its favor.
It’s recently hit me that in the six or so months that I’ve lived in Norway I’ve come to see it as home. And the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to realize that I would actually be quite happy to live here for another few years. Just living here these past six months has shown me why past Norwegian Fulbrighters keep returning to Norway, whether it is to stay permanently or just to visit. And while I don’t intend on moving to Norway permanently, it’s still pretty cool to realize that I’ve fallen in love enough to consider staying for an extended period of time.
The school year has officially started! As an exchange student at NTNU I have the right to take classes here (I even had to fill out a proposed schedule of coursework when I applied). As of right now, it’s looking like I’ll be taking a Norwegian class and a class on gender and Norwegian culture. Neither class starts until next week so I was able to enjoy lazy days and the bliss of sleeping in for most of the week. While my days started later than normal I was able to accomplish a few major things this week:
The Residence Permit
Everyone that I have ever talked to about the residence permit has hated the process. While the process itself is simple enough, it can be time consuming. Once you arrive in your designated city you are told to register at the police station within 7 days (at Trondheim they told me that they could care less about this step and that I should go home). You also have to book an appointment at the police station. Usually these appointments are only available four or more weeks after your arrival, which is less than ideal since I need my residence permit in order to get paid. Luckily NTNU schedules massive blocks of time at the police department for students which means that I was able to get to an appointment this week. I don’t have the physical residence card yet, but it is on its way! If things go well I should be able to open a bank account in about two weeks.
I finally got to meet my contact at Byåsen, the upper secondary school that I’m assigned to. Kirsti (pronounced Shisti) was able to take me on a tour of the campus and tell me a bit more about my role at the school. I’ll primarily be helping her with a class called International English although I may help her with some other classes and will have the chance to work with other teachers at the school, particularly one who is teaching American history.
Another highlight of this meeting was getting the chance to ask about the ongoing teacher’s strike. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I thought that the primary reason for striking was related to teaching schedules. Kirsti quickly shot down that notion and explained that while teaching hours are what is drawing the most media attention, the reality is that it is just one issue out of a series of issues that teachers are protesting. Some of the other things that teachers are upset about are:
- The increased use of testing
- Teachers already don’t get paid for overtime and the government also wants to stop teachers from getting paid when they act as substitutes for other classes
- Currently when teachers reach the age of 55 they are given fewer classes to teach. Now, the government wants to stop this practice, but give new teachers fewer classes to teach. Teachers like the idea of giving new teachers fewer classes, but they also want to keep this same policy for people who are 55+
When this week started I was told that if things remained unaddressed that teachers would go on strike starting on Thursday. Today is Saturday and the strike is still ongoing. When I talked to Kirsti about the strike on Friday she said that it was quite possibly the biggest and most important teachers strike in Norway’s history, making it more unfortunate that I can’t actually read any Norwegian newspapers.
Scheduling & Teaching
I also got the chance to sit down with both Nancy and Kirsti to figure out my schedule for the semester. Unfortunately a lot of Nancy and Kirsti’s classes overlapped so it looks like I’ll be spending the majority of my time this semester on NTNU’s campus and every other Friday at Byåsen with Kirsti. I went with Nancy this Friday to help with our first class, Communication for Engineers. We weren’t able to cover too much in class since it was just the first one, but Nancy talked a lot about how to properly read scientific articles and how we’ll be teaching students how to improve the content and structure of their essays. We also require students to free write for at least 10 minutes and send in their writing at least six times by the end of the semester. I’ve already started to get emails from students, and some of them have some pretty interesting projects that they are working on. Most of the students are working towards their masters degrees and it’s fun learning a bit more about their passions and what they are hoping to achieve by the end of the year.
Lastly, it seems like no week will be complete without some sort of hike so here are a few pictures from the Estenstaddammen and Estenstaddamman lakes.