I’ve been living in Norway for a little over a month, and I really, really like it here so far—the words “soul country” have even crossed my mind, though we’ll see if I’m this positive when my Vitamin D levels start to dip. But the fact that I’ve enjoyed is so much here is a relief, because when I arrived July 7th, just briefly to drop off my stuff before a month of travel, I had a bit of what you may call “cold feet” (read: panic.) You can read a bit about my first experience in Oslo here, but what I left out is that when I had arrived in Ås, a small university town in the middle of a bunch of farms, empty because of summer vacation, and without internet or data on my phone, I more than once thought to myself “what the hell have I done?” (Those thoughts may have included more expletives.) It was only then, really, that it hit me that I had moved to country where I knew almost no one, and that’s most known for being cold and dark. I was glad to get out of here and distract myself with a month of travel, telling myself it would be better when I got back to campus when school started.
And it was. My final adventure before settling back in Ås started the day I was traveling back from Germany, with an announcement from Lufthansa that the flight was overbooked, and anyone that agreed to bump themselves to another flight would get 250 euros. 250 euros!!! I felt like a cartoon, my eyes wide and filling up with euro signs, and agreed to it. Long story short: none of the public transportation things I’d been banking on functioned as I thought they would so the whole thing took hours longer than I’d anticipated, and I ended up walking the last leg, about a mile from the train station in town to my dorm, near midnight, my duffle on my back and my backpack on my front, telling myself that this was worth the money. While back in July, I was initially disappointed in the dormy-ness of my university apartment, I had never been so happy to see a twin bed in a dormy room than when I got back that night.
I had one day to gather myself before a packed week of orientation for international students, which was informative and well-run, and really stressed the fact that Norwegians are not cold, they’re just shy and reserved. The days were packed, and I’ve never in my life had so many consecutive days where all I wanted to do at the end of the day was drink beer. (Luckily, I had none because it’s so expensive and not good here.) Even I, the extrovert, could do nothing but crawl into bed and watch Netflix. I had forgotten how much general fatigue there is when you go to a new country, especially where you don’t speak the language. And after a long day, I’d go to the grocery store to get food, which takes so much more time than I’d allotted, as I had to type out these unfamiliar strings of letters into my Google translate app and the meaning of the object in my hands would reveal itself (“Ach! Margerine, not butter—the horror!”) Normally I love grocery shopping in other countries, slowly going through each aisle and picking up the unfamiliar products and wondering what they’re used for, but I didn’t have the energy, opting instead to quickly grab things I recognized by the images on the packaging and getting out of there.
There’s so much more to say, but I wanted to get to the magical part.
It’s beautiful here, and we’re not even in the beautiful part of the country. The “forest” figures into everyday life here—walking in the forest, mushroom foraging in the forest, berry-gathering in the forest. There are fruit trees and berry bushes everywhere, and unless specifically located in someone’s yard, you are free to pick to your heart’s content. Several people have described that they are from “the other side of the fjord” which to me feels like the Norway version of the other side of the rainbow. On the way to the next fjord-side town over, I was told that the large mounds of earth on the side of the road were Viking burial sites. Many, many people are blonde and handsome. There are separated bike paths on the sides of all major roads. People stop for you at crosswalks. The trains are smooth and run on time, and the have fast and free internet. They're going to give me free health insurance.
Can you believe I got to the fifth paragraph before talking about food? But the time has come. I feel like Norway just knows what I want to be eating, and that is: coffee and cake and waffles. They are ubiquitous here. In fact, any time more than two people plan to meet, coffee and cake seem to appear out of nowhere. And adorable, heart-shaped waffles are basically the national food. To give you an idea, our Agroecology room has the typical corner designated for refreshments, and it contains the standard microwave and drip coffee machine, as well as a waffle iron. (And of course, salmon—the default sandwich is salmon and hardboiled egg, and I’ve never seen a larger frozen fish section in my life.)
There’s much more to write, but I have time—I’ll be here for the whole school year. Right now I’m on my way to Trondheim for the week, for a school project. I’m quite excited about seeing another city in Norway, and the 7-hour drive up is supposed to be lovely.
A note on pronunciation: the town I’m living in, Ås, has the Scandinavian å, which is a sound we don’t have in English, but that I really like a lot (maybe it’s similar to “Minnesota” if you’re making fun of the accent from Minnesota). You can hear what it sounds like, with soothing piano in the background, here. You can listen to that whole video for a taste of what Norwegian sounds like. I also plan to write a post later about Norwegian, and the very little amount of it I’ve learned so far.