20 November 2017
Deciding to spend a semester studying overseas has undoubtedly been the greatest experience I’ve had in life to date.
I’m an Environmental Science student at USC and am currently doing part of my study in Sogndal, a town in Norway located along the second largest fjord in the world. Some would describe the area as ‘eye candy’. It’s absolutely incredible. Every morning I am greeted by the mountains, rivers and the ocean. It’s an adventure seekers paradise. With many outdoor activities so easily accessible, it’s common to go on an adventure in your time off and it’s as if there is a contagious vibe to go out and ‘get amongst it’. Norwegians call it “Friluftsliv”: the outdoor way of life. Which leads me to my course.
While studying my electives here, Outdoor Education and Nordic Friluftsliv, I have definitely received my fair share of rain, hail and shine (or snow and gale force winds in my case). As my lecturer – a Scandinavian Bear Grylls – would say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s only bad clothing.” He also believes in the concept of learning by freezing. And the outdoors have largely been my classroom so far, but with winter approaching we will soon be retreating inside for less learning by freezing and more learning by blackboard!
The educational approach here places a high value on authentic/real life experiences and I have certainly encountered plenty of them over the last three months. Some have included: hiking countless kilometres through mountains, forests and roads; picking way too many wild blueberries and raspberries; sea kayaking around the islands in western Norway; making friends with stray sheep and goats; walking and climbing in and on glaciers; seeing the Northern Lights, and endless hours of fishing and general campsite activities. We still have an intro to skiing day and a multi-day winter excursion to come. With that said, the course isn’t all fun and games and we do cover a fair amount of theoretical content. I’m not complaining though!
Part of what has made this experience so great is the people and the culture. Deciding to uproot from where you live and move to the other side of the world for six months brings on a number of emotions. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. But I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I made friends and became comfortable in my new home. I guess being surrounded by so many like-minded people who have a similar interest in the outdoors makes it easy to create friendships and integrate. I have made some friends for life and yet I’ve only known them for three months. When you share the same tent for a few nights every week, you get to know each other quite quickly!
Blending into a different culture is not always smooth sailing however. I still get weird looks from people as I walk down the street in November wearing shorts. People think I must be from the North Pole and are shocked when I say I’m from Australia. Maybe when the snow starts to fall the shorts will be reconsidered.
Probably the biggest challenge I’ve encountered over here is shopping. My first time in a Norwegian supermarket was similar to a ship entering the Bermuda Triangle, I thought I’d never make it out! By the end of the ordeal I had become a guru at using Google Translate and had befriended five older women after asking them to explain food products to me. I thought the battle had been won until the next morning at breakfast when I discovered I'd brought sour milk instead the normal stuff. Devastated, I ate my cornflakes with water – a situation that will bring even the toughest men to tears. It’s safe to say I won’t make that mistake again. Norway 1 Dave 0.
All in all, being an international student is an absolutely incredible experience and I would recommend it to anyone. It's a great way to satisfy the travel bug whilst studying, it’s a great way to fully immerse yourself in a different culture and gain a different insight to your course and it’s a great way to meet new people.
By, David Clancy.
(Studying at the Western Norway of Applied Sciences.)