Exams Done and Spring Comes

Yep, as the title suggests, today, as of May 7th I am officially done with my semester at UiO. Well, to be honest I was done May 2nd. But do not fear, a loyal fan of my blog! I will still appease you with some pictures and posts about Norway and maybe other countries now and then, until I go back to Berkeley at least. There is still much to tell about this wonderful country and I am not intending to quit my promotion-campaign-turned-into-a-personal-journal hobby.

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Birch trees and white flowers, looking so gorgeous in harmony. Spring is here to stay.

 

I don’t try to claim that everybody is done as early, since most of the people I know have exams well until the second to last week of May. Some poor unfortunate souls have them until mid-June. I can’t help but feel cruel when I happily grin in response to such questions as “when are you done?”, but I still do anyways.

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A very cute natural flower bed near Kringsjå Student Housing.

 

The exams I had were 2 types: in-class 3-hour exams and a take-home exam. Nothing out of ordinary, except for the fact that in 2 of my exams I had to write my long answer exam questions on 3-page carbon paper; that is, when your copies automatically transfer to 2 extra pages that you then have to separate and put in different folders… Basically, a whole new deal of bureaucracy I never witnessed before in exam rooms. Not a fan, but tolerable. You can take one of the copies of your exam paper with you, as well as the exam questions. Probably you could burn them or frame them, depends on the level of stress you experienced before.

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The street next to the university but stop is perfectly decorated for sunbathing enthusiasts.

 

There are also computer exams and longer in-class exams. Yes, longer does mean 6 hours in some cases. I would not imagine a nightmare worse than that but UiO allows food in auditoriums during those extremely long exams. So again, tolerable.

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The view from my window now encompasses a green tree! Some things change, but my phone’s awful camera does not (nor do my camera skills).

 

Grading is apparently very strict here, and they say that “very very few receive As” and that “you need to be exceptional.” Not sure I am in the exceptional very-few bunch, but I have yet to receive all of my grades. Unless you are going to apply for post-grad studies, the chances are that you wouldn’t need a transcript from here anyways. Then all you need to do is pass, which might be a reachable goal.

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A fun fact: The grass on these tracks is sprinkled with water at night. Norway certainly does not have any issues with drought, but it does have some serious commitment to aesthetics.

 

Enough about the exams. While I was going back and forth from my single-room student housing and single-person cubicle in the library, somewhere in between the spring knocked some last greyness off trees and covered the whole city with leaves and flowers. Before that happened we did have a few days with snow (while the skies were blue and the sun was shining) and hail (again, with blues skies) and rain showers (blue skies, but sometimes grey). I was impressed.

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The beautiful Water of Parish (Sognsvann) and its surroundings. Which Parish? I have got no clue. 
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A walk to Sognsvann is great at any time of the day, but the time when the Sun is about to set is my favorite, I think.
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Yes. Very nice indeed.
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I rock island. And the actual island on the lake behind it, inhabiting many many noisy birds. Yeah, the strip of land right there, if you can tell it apart.

 

Very cute signs all around town about “sleeping tulips that would awake in spring” came true.

 

As for me, the weather is always something to complain about–I find above 15ºC (59ºF) too hot.

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This is not a music festival, unfortunately. A sunny Saturday afternoon everybody in Oslo gets out of their rooms and sits on random hills around town.
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A very peculiar tree and more people. This one at least is a park. Bustling and swarming with people grilling their pølser (sausages) and eating them with thin, pita-like bread and calling that “hot dogs”. Abomination.

 

 

 

As of now, I am trying to enjoy the weather without complaining, which is a life-lesson for me to learn. I am also trying to figure out my summer plans which are currently travel and work, in that particular order. Which means if I had figured out the travel part, I have yet to figure out the work part to fill up some holes in my budget that would most probably appear.

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I’m very happy I don’t have pollen allergies.
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Spring in Grünerløkka, the hip district of the city. In particular, take note of these hip cows advertising real milk chocolate.

 

Have a very good weekend!

Today’s poem is an excerpt from Jan Erik Vold’s poem called “Elk”. Check out the full poem here (it’s worth giving a read). Poetry International Rotterdam calls him “the poet” of Norway. You might want to give his work a look and decide for yourself.

Jan Erik Vold translated the poem himself.

 

You may call me an
elk. I am
no elk but I have
the patience

endurance
strength
of an
elk – an elk’s goodnaturedness. I kick hard

but seldom.
Only
when
necessary.

More about Jan Erik Vold here.

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Tromsø

Tromsø is the Arctic capital of Norway. It’s located on a small island and a bit of the mainland peninsula in North Norway. Tromsø is just there, above the Arctic circle, and every year thousands of people come and go to see Northern lights, midnight sun, and beautiful fjords in that area. My friend Lucy and I were one of the tourists the first weekend of April, when we decided to visit the city to catch the sights of Aurora Borealis before its traces would disappear in the rays of the never-setting Sun.

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The view of the city from the city’s mountain, Storsteinen. The city is very small, as you can see. Hiking up to see this view was an adventure, but now that my bruises are almost gone I have a feeling I wouldn’t mind doing it again. The people who live next to the mountain climb it very often (i.e. every day) like an exercise routine. Norwegians, in general, seem to love exercise as much as I love food.
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At this place called Eidkjosen. Lucy and I passed by this place in order to get to the fjords. We had to wait for the bus for about an hour but we didn’t complain. There was also a Whole Foods-like store that had free samples of smoked fish and fruits. Maybe that is why I didn’t mind waiting?

It has breathtakingly beautiful views. Tromsø’s a tiny city for my standards but I enjoyed staying there because it just has such beautiful nature. I don’t know how it looks during summer, but when I was there I was able to witness mountains covered with shiny-white snow embracing the bluest sea water and I fell in love with that image immediately.

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When we got to Ersfjordbotn, a small village in between mountains, I understood why there even was Norwegian romantic nationalism movement in art in 19th century. It is impossible to see this view and not to want to paint it.
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Ersfjordbotn
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Ersfjodbotn. When we were heading towards the bus station to return to the city as we were slowly freezing, we met a lonely cyclist sliding down this empty road. The possibility to ride in between mountain peaks and calm waters seems very tempting. If only I had enough stamina.

 

Tromsø introduced me to Sami culture. Sami are indigenous people of Scandinavia, who have their own culture and language. Their historical land spans across Northern regions of 4 countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. In Norway they suffered from Norwegianization, a movement from the government to unify Norwegian culture and language which in turn meant to erase Sami culture and language. Now their rights are recognized and protected, and Sami people are rebuilding their cultural values with the support from the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. You can read more about Sami people on Wikipedia, UN regional information center, and this website (informal but informative).

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The view from Storsteinen at the neighboring mountain-hill.

 

Tromsø is one of the places you can go through the Sociology Department’s study abroad program. Therefore, I felt obligated to visit the northernmost university in the world. Well, my friend and I went there because we wanted to see reindeer in captivity at the Arctic biology research center, but shhh. The university’s campus is very modern and curious. Personally, I think I liked the design of the university campus and its buildings much more than those of the University of Oslo.

The library building had a very nice picture collection at randomest places. I enjoyed them a lot.

It also had some weird installations in their reading rooms designed, perhaps, to encourage students to read.

The main administrative building was modern and welcoming, compared to Sproul Hall at least. I liked the big windows, a wall with falling water, and lots of plants towards the entrance.

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As far as I understood, this is a Biology, Fishery, and Economics building. At first glance such collection of faculties seems unusual but I guess it makes sense if you consider Norway’s main products for commerce.
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Reality is merely an illusion, Albeit a very persistent one. -Einstein’s words on something that looks like a garbage bin. I think I like this university.

 

And of course, we were able to see the lights. We were lucky–the weather and solar activity were perfectly calibrated for our visit. But of course, I couldn’t capture the moment on my sad camera on my sad half-broken-but-still-working phone. I will just say that when you see the lines of pure color dancing right above you, you will know exactly why everybody wants to see them at least once in their lives.

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The title of this photo is I Tried My Best

By the way, it is possible to see them in the middle of the city, if the weather is good, and the reason people head out on tours is to escape city lights and clouds in case there are ones above Tromsø. Thanks to our luck and the weather, I was able to lie down on a frozen lake in the middle of the city to see lights perform their dance.

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Just to show you how much snow there was in April. The house-like structure is actually a slide that is completely buried under snow. Only the top platform remains. Three rods on the right are swings, of course. This was on top of Storsteinen.
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A very beautiful public library in the city center.
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The Arctic Cathedral, or Ishavskatedralen. Apparently its stained glass windows are very beautiful. We decided that its exterior was too grand to digest and did not go in.

I would love to visit Tromsø again to witness the midnight Sun in its full glory.

 

Today I got 2 poems for you. They are written by a famous Sami poet Nils-Aslak Valkeapää.  These are opening and closing poems from his book Trekways of the Wind, or, more precisely of the second book of this trilogy, called Bluethroat, Twitter, Sing. The book was translated by Ralph Salisbury, Lars Nordström, and Harald Gaski in 1994 (first edition).

Hope you can imagine North-Norwegian landscape better when reading these poems. You can read more about Valkeapää here.

Can you hear the sound of life

in the roaring of the creek

in the blowing of the wind

 

That is all I want to say

that is all

 

The redness of evening

Birch tops sway against the sky

The reflection of light in the river

 

Everything remains unsaid

Still

 

 

Bergen

Bergen is one of the cities you can choose to study at through the same program I’m studying abroad in Oslo! (more info here) I had a chance to visit this beautiful city during spring break.

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The city’s view from Fløyen, one of Bergen’s mountains.
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The view of the city from the cable car ride back from Ulriken, the city’s highest mountain.

 

Bergen is the second biggest city in Norway. This country has a very small population indeed, so in fact, Bergen’s total size (including its urban and sub-urban areas) is comparable to San Jose but the population is 4 times smaller. Therefore you’ll rarely see apartment complexes but mostly colorful detached houses.

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The view from across Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a small lake in Bergen’s city center. The side I’m taking the pictures from is the street with Art museums and galleries.
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The famous Bryggen! Bergen’s most famous old part of the city. They say it inspired Arendel, the city from Disney’s Frozen. Picture taken by Kyle 🙂

 

It’s a city surrounded by 7 mountains on one side and the sea on the other. It’s really easy to visit two most popular mountains Fløyen and Ulriken. The first has its own cable funicular (first opened in 1918!); the second can be conquered by riding a cable car to the top. You are free to hike them as well, and you feel like it, you can even hike from one to another.

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The top of Ulriken is covered in snow during the last week of March. The dots on the photo are my camera’s fault but you can imagine they are snowflakes. Which they might as well be, as it was in fact snowing when I was there.
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Another picture in midst of Ulriken. It was very foggy so I couldn’t go far in my not-very-winter shoes. But I managed to find some running water.

 

As Bergen is also surrounded by the sea, there are many fjords around Bergen area. We went on one of the fjord tours and saw this beauty.

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Tour to Ostefjord.

 

Bergen’s very suitable for active lifestyle people but it doesn’t mean that nature is the only thing that it has to offer. While I was there I saw a poster about Bergen’s own Bergenfest, which I think is a music festival. Plus it has a very pleasant 4-building art gallery as well as a modern art museum.

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You can go here and be artsy and cultured. This picture is taken in the first (or last?) Art Gallery building, KODE 4.

 

If I was not so fond of big cities I would have definitely chosen Bergen as my study abroad city. I even think that if I were to choose Bergen I would not feel captured as it usually happens in small cities, as there are so many places to visit in such proximity to the city.

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Bergenhus Fortress. Some of its parts date back to 13th century. You can go inside some of the buildings but by the time we got there they were closed. You can imagine being inside though! Picture taken by Kyle.
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Follow these pretty buildings and in two seconds you’ll end up in Bryggen area. The red and yellow building on the right is Bergen’s Hanseatic museum. Photo taken by Kyle.

 

When you travel from Bergen to Oslo or vice versa make sure to ride the train at least one way. The railway is famous for its scenic views, and I tell you, the views are gorgeous.

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The train goes up the mountain region and at one point it reaches 990m above the sea level. Therefore, snow in late March. PC: Kyle!
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Fjords on the way along the railroad. Or it might just be a lake but still pretty. PC: Kyle.

 

Last but not least I want to thank my roommates Kyle, Mayleen, Angie, Yurie, and Yujung who traveled from the states to visit me and made this trip to Bergen possible. And to Kyle, for donating pictures for this post. Tusen takk!

 

Another poem by Olav H. Hauge:

Your Way
Translated by Robin Fulton

 

No-one has marked out the road
you are to take
out in the unknown
out in the blue.

This is your road.
Only you
will take it. And there’s no
turning back.

And you haven’t marked your road
either.
And the wind smoothes out your tracks
on desolate hills.

Find the original here.

 

The Orientation Week

The orientation week here is much better than anything I had my first week as an international student at Cal.

Here is the program from the official orientation welcoming event.

orientation program
Hope you can read the program even despite my camera’s blurry filter.

 

They had music programs in between talks! Performed by University of Oslo’s students and staff. I found it amazing.

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A casual soprano performance accompanied by harp. Culture.

 

Before you arrive to Oslo you are organized into buddy groups along with other exchange students. They are called buddy groups not only because you become ‘buddies’ with your group people but also because you get one or two ‘actual’ buddies who are exchange students who have already spent some time in Oslo prior to your arrival (usually a semester) or actual, true Norwegians. Wow. These buddies will act as one of multiple resources that the university provides for you to make your adjustment smoother. All because you can ask questions and they can answer!

buddy week
Ice skating in the city. Cold but worth it. (?)

 

I was put into a buddy group that was consist only of Psychology students (I’m a Psychology/Sociology major). There were other buddy groups that were organized via different principle as well, but you basically end up with exchange students from your own department. If you wanna meet people from other departments, try going to student events, parties, or attend a Norwegian language class. That’ll help!

buddy group
This is a picture of one of the rooms of the National Gallery (which holds the famous Scream by Munch, btw). I went there with a few of my buddy group people. Hope that proves that buddy groups are good places to meet people who would go to galleries with you.

 

The Orientation week here is called Buddy week. The name is different but the essence is the same–many events, and if you attend all of them you’ll be pretty occupied. Still, try. We had ice-skating events (at an open-air rink in between buildings in the middle of Oslo), pub crawls, and movie nights. Pick and choose! My favorite was half a day sightseeing tour on a bus, to which I was late but still enjoyed seeing the city. You get to get off at a few places, which is nice. They say during summer they had events like barbecues by the lake, which sounds amazing but does not mean that the Fall semester is better than Spring, of course.

sognsvann
THE lake. It’s called Sognsvann and is 10-20 minutes away by foot from my student housing. A different student housing is 5 minutes away from this place. It’s really wonderful here, as you can walk around it, jog around it, or ski and hike around/from it.

 

All in all, very enjoyable. Highly recommended not to miss and to come on time for the orientation.

 

Today’s poem is by Olav H. Hauge for a change.

It’s the Dream
Translated by Robin Fulton

It’s the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen,
that it must happen –
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that the mountains will open
that springs will gush –
that the dream will open,
that one morning we will glide into
some little harbour we didn’t know was there.

More on Olav H. Hauge here.

The Classes Start!

Uh-oh, the best part of being a student.

When you register for classes, you’ll find that the system here is very different from that of Berkeley. It’s normal for students here to take 30 credits, which is normally 3 classes. That would make one a full-time student. As I can gather from conversations with Norwegian students, it’s possible to take even less.

schedule
My heaviest load. All of the classes start on different dates, so my last class starts in March! Pretty weird for me, but I’ll take it.

 

Lectures are normally two hours or more, including 15 minutes of late start and 15 minute breaks every 45 minutes, not bad huh? For example, my Gender Studies class starts at 12:15pm and lasts till 2pm, with a break from 1pm – 1:15pm (when my professor is in a good mood). Plus, all classes start at different times! Some of mine started in January, some in February, and my last class starts in March.

 

You’ll find format of big lectures similar to Cal. Smaller classes, however, feel more directed and supervised than those of Berkeley. I.e. there is too little discussion to my taste, thus, little opportunity to challenge and question assigned readings and other materials. It might be the way professors teach or natural Norwegian shyness; I will never know.

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The empty hallway with tables and chairs in Psychology building. Free to use 🙂

 

One major thing that everybody notices when they study abroad in Norway–there is only 1 exam per course and little to no assignments (non if you’re lucky).  Completely different from Berkeley, where having something due every week is a normal thing. Therefore, overall pressure in the beginning of the semester might seem light and almost non-existent. Though students here promise stressful few days as well as sleepless nights before the exam. Exciting things to look forward to!

 

I’ve got to express my love to UiO’s truly wonderful study spaces! Study or Netflix, there are numerous places to sit down and do your thing. Almost all of the hallways have tables and chairs, and there are empty classroom-like spaces for you to use as well. Love it.

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The big hallway in Eilert Sundt’s hus, the Social Sciences building. It has several big tables for people to occupy and eat, sleep, or study. Freedom of choice!
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U1 student cafè-bar in the Soc Sci building’s basement. Did I tell you that every building has its own bar and cafè? It’s completely student run and has 5 kr (~70 cents) coffee. And all those empty tables! What more do you need.

 

Today’s poem is from Ibsen, of course.

Pallid star! Despatch a sign
From the heights eternal! —
For the soul’s eye twinkle, shine
Friendly, though supernal! — —

Must thy symbolled message seek
To rouse yearning merely?
Teach me so that I may tweak
Future’s veil, see clearly! —

From “To the Star” by Henrik Ibsen, trans. by John Northam

Read the whole poem here.

 

Arrival in Oslo

I arrived in Oslo on Monday night, Jan 11th. On UiO’s page there is a detailed description of available services to get from Gardermoen airport to campus where you would have to pick up keys to your housing unit and a nice little welcome package with your semester card in it. More about it later. It was too late to catch a train from the airport, but fortunately there was an airport night bus service. Unfortunately, all I knew about it was that it exists but does not have a set schedule during night hours.

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This is the airport’s lounge. I don’t pretend that the whole airport looks as nice. But it does have the same warm feel to it thanks to wooden floors and wooden wall details. A necessity in this cold country! Credits: TravelingOtter. Retrieved from: here.

As I said, I arrived a little too late. There are 2 main ways to get to the Oslo Central Station (Oslo S) from the airport: the Airport shuttle bus and the Airport shuttle train. You have to get to Oslo S to take public transportation to UiO. Or you can choose to taxi all the way. But because it was night time, I only could choose to taxi all the way or to bus from the airport to Oslo S and then taxi. Not too great of a choice! Plus, I did not want to deal with the after hour key delivery service–as you may recall I had to pick up keys for my dorm. I decided to be original and book a bed at a hostel close to Oslo S for a night and head to UiO in the morning.

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Oslo S. I bet it does look like this in summer. Credits: Grzegorz Wysocki (Own work) Retrieved from here

I knew there was a bus service but I wasn’t sure how it worked. All I knew is that I could purchase a ticket online, which was perfect. But for some reason my card did not work and I decided to figure out everything on the spot. Oh no! Since I didn’t have Norwegian kroners nor a card (Bank of America’s fault) the bus driver overcharged me a lot. So much for a good first impression, Norway. Plus, when I was heading out of the airport I realized that it would have been totally fine to stay the night there. I was considering this option but I was concerned that there would be no space to sit (read: sleep) in the outside hall after I walk out with my luggage. But guess: there are a few wonderful chairs with leg holding flaps! Even if are all occupied, you can sleep on the floor–it’s SUPER clean, of course. And need I say that the airport itself is beautiful? One thing I would have done differently about my arrival is to stay at the airport until morning. Oh well.

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This picture is called “Oslo Airport departure outside.” Do you know now what I mean by wooden details? Credits: fawke. Retrieved from here.

When I finally got to the hostel biting my frosted lips and full of worries, I was able to sleep for a bit. The actual nightmare awaited me when I awoke. IT SNOWED. Yay I love snow, oh wait, I need to carry my luggage through sidewalks that suddenly became snowy fields. They might even compare to snowy paths they climb through in some Oscar-winning movies for dramatic effect and Nature vs. Human contrast. Rolling a suitcase was almost impossible that day–I ended up playing the worst sort of tug of war with my semester-worth of stuff. I won, though. Getting to Blindern, the main campus of UiO was otherwise okay. The easiest way to get there is on T-bane, which is kind of a metro system; for Bay area people–think about it as BART of Oslo. The Blindern stop is 4 stops away from Jernbanetorget, the Central station stop.

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Not as much snow as there was the day I got to Oslo, but you get the idea.

The process of getting keys was efficient, though we still had to wait for everybody to be processed. Everything has a system: you get a number, wait to be called, get processed and get issued a card. You need to get 2 numbers though, one for a student card with your face on it, which will give you access to all of the campus buildings after hours, and another for the dorm keys. You also get to pick a room for yourself, depending on your preferences: 3 to 9 flatmates sharing a kitchen/bathroom, price range, etc. You can choose any room you prefer among housing units of the student village and room types (furnished vs. unfurnished) you applied for and got assigned before arriving. I was even asked if I preferred a room with a window to the East, although that was my only available choice other factors combined.

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The huge library building with its huge windows is right next to the SiO center (the Student Welfare center) where you pick up keys. I bet it’s there for you to admire its beauty the moment you step on campus.

A day of struggle ended with me having a simple dinner, taking a warm shower, and falling asleep in an instance.

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The view from my room! I’m glad I ‘chose’ the windows to the East. Although I bet that windows to the West are as beautiful.

The moral of this story is that the first days are always tough and that’s okay. Hope you gathered more than just a moral though, and now you know how to get to Blindern, the main campus of UiO.

 

So I hope it would be appropriate to quote Ibsen again, who decades ago wrote words that consoled my mind today:

I will out, I will out, God’s nature’s there,
The joy of a bright spring day;
My bosom bursts, at my cage-bars I tear,
I’ve the wings and the heart for the fray.

I’ve the heart for a battle with worldly woe;
It has fettered me far too long.
Now I must revel and laughing go
With the spring-time’s fluttering throng.

From “Life’s Spring” by Henrik Ibsen, trans. by John Northam

You can read the whole poem here.

First Impressions

I fell in love with the city of Oslo in span of few days. It is a city full of nature, snow, and people. Despite having a busy downtown, Oslo is very widespread; this city consists of patches of house-full areas here and there mixed with patches of untouched white, which would certainly turn blue and green “when it gets too warm,” as Norwegians promise.

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Piles of snow and a beautiful row of trees in front of the Social Sciences building, Eilert Sundts hus.

Oslo also boasts its rich cultural life. There are many museums both in the city center and in the outskirts. There is the first Literature House in the country which was built “to promote the book-reading culture” according to my tour guide on the school-organized bus tour. The House also provides rooms for writing for aspiring authors or amateurs who do not have an office to write. There is an iceberg-like Opera House, where tourists go to climb the rooftop and the locals go to ski down from it. There is a big National Theater, and a huge park dedicated to sculptures of one talented artist.

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The National Theater. There are names of Ibsen, Holberg, and Bjørnson on its facade.
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Thanks Caleb for the picture! A statue from Vigelandsparken–a park dedicated to Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures. Credits: Caleb Coffey

The public transportation is amazingly organized; the bus stops dictate minutes it takes to get to another stop. Similarly organized is a Norwegian student’s life: after a lecture everybody heads to the library in pairs or alone, and never in a flock. If you want to blend in–get up early, before the sun even rises, make breakfast and simple lunch of bread and spread (pålegg) and go out in the cold to have your own private study time before and after lecture in one of the many study spots on- or off-campus. Evenings are usually busy and loud; as a ritual one flies off to a bar, now in a group, to a dark student pub where they sell overpriced beer that’s cheaper compared to other bars, or to a normal pub where they sell simply overpriced beer.

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If you can see beyond the frosty surface, the negative and positive numbers underneath the names of stops are minutes that indicate how long it takes from the black point (the current station) to other stations.
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The view outside the huge main library windows is mesmerizing, but rarely somebody looks up.

I am definitely loving this city.

 

Today’s poetry is from Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

When
comes the real morning?
When golden, the sun’s rays hover
Over the earth’s snow-cover,
And where the shadows nestle,
Wrestle,
Lifting lightward the root enringèd
Till it shall seem an angel wingèd,
Then it is morning,
Real, real morning.
But if the weather is bad
And my spirit sad,
Never morning I know.
No.

From “When Comes the Morning” by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, trans. by A. H. Palmer

Read more here.