Isanya Köhne

After a little breather, we’re back! This week we’re traveling back to Northern Europe, to the mysterious Bergen in Norway. Romy, 22 years old and currently studying law at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, did her exchange there not too long ago. “During the time I was researching where to go for my exchange, I came across a lot of pictures on social media from someone who did her exchange in Bergen. It was through that, that I fell in love with the city and nature”.

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Where I thought I wanted to go, was Rome in Italy. The city is beautiful, the food is good, and the weather would be nice. However, when I really contemplated that idea, I realised there were a lot of negative sides of living there too. The city would be ginormous, while I prefer smaller cities. I also wanted to improve my English, but Italians don’t master the language that well. Lastly, I had already seen some of the country. Bergen popped up on social media, and I believed I was sold. I had never been in Scandinavia before, so I had no idea if I’d like it as much. However, after talking with a friend who’d been there, I was convinced that this was my destination. I would go to Bergen, Norway for my exchange.

The procedure leading up to the exchange was pretty straightforward. A motivation letter and an interview with the International Office was required. All the other information I needed could be found on the website of the university. In Bergen, I lived in a student house outside the city centre, in Fantoft. I shared my room and bathroom with another girl and the kitchen with fifteen others. All of them ended up becoming family to me. The student housing organisation has a lot of different accommodation options, and most of the people living there are international students, an Erasmus atmosphere was definitely present. When I arrived, most of my roommates had also just gotten in. This made it very easy to make friends. The only downside to this particular accommodation was that it was quite far away from the city centre, roughly 6 kilometers. Luckily, there was a tram that would stop right in front of our house, and there was also a meeting place, Klubb Fantoft, where different activities were organised such as parties, board game nights, movie nights, breakfasts, etc. There was also a sports hall, a supermarket, and a roof top a little walk away. I managed to find this housing throughout the university. When I arrived, I was incredibly excited to see where I was going to live. I wanted to discover the city and meet my flat mates right away!

Dont fear being alone

I think going on exchange is valuable because you’re going to meet people from different countries and learn new habits. You’ll not only learn more about other cultures, but even more about your own when teaching all the aspects of your own culture to others. When you go abroad for a while and you return to your home country, you’ll look different on your previous culture and habits. Exchange will teach you how to figure things out by yourself in a completely foreign environment. Something I learned during my Erasmus, is that if you want to do something, you should go and do it. If you want to go to a concert and none of your friends want to go, go by yourself. If you want to volunteer somewhere, don’t rely on your friends, do it yourself. It can be scary in the beginning, but you will meet others, and it’ll be worth it. You don’t want to regret anything. The biggest obstacle I faced was living with a roommate that I didn’t know before. Prior to exchange you don’t know the other person and then you’ll have to share a room with them. Luckily, you get used to sharing your room with someone pretty quickly, and most of the time you’ll be somewhere else anyways.

The culture in Norway is not that different from the Netherlands. I was, however, shocked by the price differences for alcohol. If you went to a restaurant or bar it wouldn’t be weird to pay at least 8 or 9 euros for one beer. This was also a reason that most party nights would take place at home rather than outside. If there’s anything that’s also different, it’s that the Norwegians are pretty reserved and that makes it a little difficult to become friends with them. If you start a conversation with them, though, they won’t shy away, so if you really wanted to connect with the locals you could. I was surrounded by so many internationals that I didn’t really feel the need to befriend the Norwegians specifically, but it’s not impossible! Their English is very good, so there’s no language barrier.

When I think of my fondest memory of exchange, I don’t think there’s just one. But in general, I’d say the time I spent with my friends is the time I cherished most. The family dinners in my flat, the bingo evenings, the many hikes, the study times at the airport, watching MTV in Oslo, afterparties on boats, singing Christmas songs during a road trip driving through winter wonderland, there're so many beautiful memories. This picture below was made on my last hike in Norway. The weather was getting worse and it was almost impossible to continue hiking, but we didn’t give in. Snow and ice were falling down on the mountain as we went up and down there. I even fell down twice but the hike was so ridiculous to do, that it just ended up being funny. My friend and I just kept complaining and motivating each other. It was going to be our last hike, so we were determined to finish it.

Waffles in a church

My classes consisted of mostly exchange students and the lectures were very interactive. It was a very international environment, even my teachers were foreigners. The only Norwegian lecturer I had was for my Norwegian course. Because of this my courses were given in a short period of time, one course being only two weeks. This left a lot of free time to go out and explore. I definitely travelled the country, and I would advise people to make time and save money to do that as well. It was easy to connect with the other international students. In the beginning of the year someone had organised a group chat which we could all join, and those chats were always very active. In the beginning, every day someone would ask to do something; go for a hike, to IKEA, discover the city, or have a drink. And every time, around ten people would show up to go hike or grab drinks, and therefore you really got to know the others. I never expected it would be that easy to meet new people.

Each week would look different. There were weeks without any lectures and weeks with quite a lot of them. Sometimes during the weekend, I’d go on a trip to a city or up into a cabin. I volunteered at a beer festival and at the Bergen international Film Festival, which was incredible. At those festivals I met a lot of Norwegians. I’d definitely go for a hike each week on one of the seven mountains of Bergen, I’d have a flat party and I’d go to Klubb Fantoft to hang out with my friends. Lots of people think living in Norway must be expensive. And yes, it definitely can be expensive. But if you know what to buy and where, it can be a lot cheaper. Luckily, there was also a lot organised for students. Every week you’d get free waffles inside the church, Klubb Fantoft would organise a free breakfast each month, and at the beginning they hand out a lot of free things at the university which helped.

Cabin fever

There’s not a thing I regret doing on my exchange. Just like everybody else, I’m telling you to go on exchange if you’re considering it. It’s going to be one of the best experiences of your life. Travel the country, volunteer in the city, hang out with friends. That way you will make your exchange unforgettable without a doubt. If you’re thinking about going to Norway, I would advise you to go on one or more cabin trips. Spread across Norway there are a lot of cabins located in the middle of nature. You’ll have to walk up to one. During my exchange I went to one and we had to walk for seven hours to reach it. You’ll walk through mountains, immersed in nature. You’ll sleep in a primitive cabin, without electricity and running water. So, you’ve got to get back to the basics. Highly recommend doing that.  

I fell in love with Norway when I sat in the tram that was headed to my new house. I was peering outside, the sun was shining, I could see the mountains in the background. It instantly gave me the feeling that I had made the right decision. Later on, when I was going into nature and hiking up the mountains, that’s when I truly fell in love. Returning from my exchange felt incredibly surreal. I didn’t realise that those were my last days in Bergen. I was the last one to return home, so my flat slowly emptied before that and I can’t describe how weird that felt. I’m still in touch with a few of my friends from exchange. We sometimes text and keep each other up to date about our lives. We want to have a reunion soon; we’re just waiting out the current virus. We’re always reminiscing about our time there. There’s one story that comes to mind actually right now. One time my friends and I were leaving a party for volunteers of the beer festival in Bergen. We were walking towards the tram to go home, but then in the harbour we could hear loud music coming from a boat. We were moving to that music and the people on the boat immediately invited us to come join them. So, we did, and it was incredible. We were supposed to go home, but we ended up staying there for a while longer. It’s an experience I won’t forget.

I havent been back since my exchange, but I definitely want to. Because of my exchange Ive decided that I wanted to continue immersing myself in international communities. I want to keep meeting new international students and learn about their cultures and habits. Thats also exactly why Im now part of the board of ESN Nijmegen!” Yes! Thank you, Romy for your elaborate story of your exchange in Norway. All we can imagine right now is those snow-covered mountains that we must hike up at least once if we’re there.