My semester abroad in Kristiansand
In Germany I study at a small campus, which is like a village with the same faces everyday and where everybody seems to know everybody. After four semesters I had a strong feeling to just break out for a while and see something else.
Since I’m out of school, my English is also very bad, almost to the point of being embarrassing. I’ve heard that Scandinavian people speak English very well, so I could surely practice it in Norway. What I didn’t know was that I would learn and gain so much more here than just improving my language skills…
I didn’t think much about it, when I signed up for an Erasmus place in Kristiansand. The main thing was to get out. I had no idea what would await me. All I knew about Scandinavia was that it’s wealthy and cold. I was not even much excited when I got accepted here. It was when I was standing at the airport in Hamburg waving my father goodbye that I realized I was making a big step now. After four and a half hours, I finally landed. With my suitcase packed with pullovers, big socks and boots, I found myself in sunny Kristiansand. Mistake number one: Not all of Norway is cold like a block of ice.
The bus to Kristiansand was full of Erasmus students. I could feel the excitement. Everything was new: the environment, the people, the language, the first time I payed with my new credit card in a foreign currency. When we arrived at the bus station, the Erasmus buddies were already waiting for us and drove us to our student accommodations. Admittedly, the bus station is not the most beautiful thing in Kristiansand. Also my room was not comparable with my room at home. But it was different and something new, so I was totally happy. Also I was worried, how would my new roommate be? Luckily, she’s a nice Norwegian girl, who also just arrived.
The first weeks were probably the most exciting ones, where we explored our new home. The buddies did a great job. They divided the Erasmus students into small groups and guided us through the campus and the city of Kristiansand. We had a barbecue at the beach at Bertesbukta on a sunny day. We had a “Vorspiel” with little and expensive alcohol. We went to parties at Kick and Harvey’s. We had lunch together at the cafeteria. We got to know fronter, SiA, the photo booth for the student card and the principle Frank with his strong German accent. I have never been together with so many people from so many different countries. I also met people from countries I’ve never met before like Lithuania, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. Some could speak better; some were less good in English. But they all were very friendly and open.
Of course, I was also very curious about my courses. In Germany, I study cultural sciences with media as my main subject and music as my second subject. Here, I took two courses from Arts and Crafts: visual culture and site-related art. Both topics are interesting, but the discussion of the contents is very different from what I am used to in Germany. The main differences are that the level in Germany is higher and the students deal with the topics with a more critical gaze. In Germany we cultivate a culture of long and profound discussions. We have to read and prepare a lot for each day. In the courses I took here, I had the impression that we didn’t take enough time on the theory, but were more focused on doing one practical task after another. From what I’ve read and experienced, you cultivate more a culture of equality in Norway. The level should be so, that every student can keep up with the course. To speak for myself, I am not very satisfied with the study here. That made me miss my “village”-university in Germany.
I focused on enjoying my free time even more. The buddies organized different trips for the Erasmus students. The first trip for me was the hike to Trolltunga in September. Unfortunately, we had bad luck with the weather. It was cold and rainy. The path was accordingly slippery and muddy. After six hours I finally arrived at the top with a friend. I have never done such a tough hike in my life before. It felt dangerous when I stood on the rock with no safeguard, but the view was breathtaking. When my family visited me in October, we went on another hike to Preikestolen. The hike was less tough and the weather was sunny. My brother and me took as many pictures as we could from every angle to catch this amazing moment (and to make our friends in Germany jealous). This was one of the experiences that made me realize how little I have seen of the world and how much more beauty there is to explore.
Besides Kristiansand, I also visited Stavanger, which is a beautiful city. I fell in love with the street “Øvre Holmegate” with the colorful houses from purple to mint green. With a friend from Germany, I spent a weekend in Oslo, which is not typical Norwegian at all to me. Instead of cute wood houses, high-rise buildings dominate. It’s an exciting city with many people on the streets and more multi-cultural. Oslo has lots of activities to offer in comparison to Kristiansand. There are many shops, many museums, bars, clubs and parks. I loved the district “Grünerlokka” with the vintage shops. Also, I enjoyed the Vigeland park with the sculptures which seem to be alive. Close to Kristiansand, I visited Mandal, a sweet city with a beautiful beach.
Norway has a small population with small cities. It takes a long time to move from one place to another, if you don’t fly. This is something I had to get used to. Most of the time, I stayed in Kristiansand. I had school almost every day, usually in the morning. The buddies organized activities like parties, for example the halloween party at Alibiet. Every tuesday we had the coffee hour at three o’clock, where you could sit together and eat waffles for free. Every other week we had the international pub at Østsia, where people from different countries could present their country to the others in a funny way. In my free time, I also went to the cinema, to concerts or went for a walk at Baneheia or in the city and took pictures. But I wished, there would be more cultural offers. All in all, Kristiansand is a calm city. I was sometimes so surprised how calm and empty the streets were in the night or in the morning. I feel like, Norway is more a country to explore the nature in, and go for a hike like in Odderøya. Sometimes, the calmness made me feel a bit depressed in combination with the early darkness at four o’clock in the afternoon in November.
Also, I struggled a lot with the high prices. That certainly affected me in my everyday-life here. In Germany, it’s normal for me to go out and have a drink in a bar or eat in a restaurant. Here, I am hardly able to afford it. While you pay almost 100 kroner for a beer and over 70 kroner for a kebab in Norway, you pay maybe 20 kroner for a beer and 30 kroner for a kebab in Germany. So when I ate out with friends here in Norway, I did that mostly at McDonald’s or Subway where the prices are similar to Germany. Also the prices in the supermarkets are very high, especially when it comes to meat, sweets and alcohol. For me, the meat here often stinks and the sweets are often too sweet anyway. In addition, the selection is smaller than in Germany. Regarding food, I think my home country suits me better.
The cultural differences between different countries were a big topic during my semester in Kristiansand. Living in another country, you become aware of your own culture. So this was often a topic during my conversations. One example: Norwegians never get angry in public. In Germany I often experience how bus drivers get upset with passengers. Connected to cultures are of course also the different languages. In a Norwegian crash course, I learned basic Norwegian. I noticed, that many words sound similar to German (god morgen/guten morgen). I also thought that it’s very difficult to learn Norwegian, although there are many similarities to German. So I realized, how difficult it must be to learn German. I’m also not sure if I like or hate the Norwegian language. Often, it sounds annoying to me as if you would have hiccups. Hence, I realized how awful German also must sound…
Nevertheless, I wished my Norwegian would be better. The only thing that is needed to make me feel completely at home in this country was to have mastered it’s language. Before I came to Norway, I planned to not to be only with Erasmus students, but also to get to know Norwegians to get a complete image of Norway. Not just be a distant tourist. I decided to write for the Unikum magazine, when I saw their stand during the first week of the new semester. Most of the Unikum people are Norwegians. They are very friendly, welcoming and open people. Furthermore, they share the same passion like me: writing and taking pictures. I learned a lot at Unikum: how to design a magazine, how I can write and take pictures in a better way. I’m also happy that we sometimes went out together in bars to celebrate our new magazine.
Each week we have a meeting. I appreciate a lot that we talk most of the time in English, although this only concerns a minority. And the same is true for my courses at school. When I think of myself, I would not like to talk in English at my school in Germany, when there would be an Erasmus student. Now, after my semester here, I think differently about it. I thought I would come to Norway to improve my English. That also happened, but in fact I came to realize that the whole time I was just too scared to speak English. I didn’t believe in my own language skills. Being in an environment where only a few peopleunderstand German, you were forced to speak English to make headway in your everyday life. Also none of the Erasmus students, (unless they come from England or the USA), speaks perfect English, so it was ok to make mistakes and to think for a long time until you find the correct expression. On the other side, I could copy nice sentences and look up words I didn’t understand. For me, it was a very good environment to improve my English.
Five months in a foreign country are of course not very long. Not long enough to learn the Norwegian language in a good way. It’s a limited time, and you were aware of that from the beginning. That’s why you want to make the most out of your semester here and experience as much as you can of course.
When I talk with Norwegians about where they have been so far in Norway, they often tell me that they haven’t seen much yet. First, I was surprised to hear that. How can they miss something amazing like Preikestolen? But when I look at myself, I have to admit that I also haven’t seen much of Germany. For example, I have never been to Munich before at the Oktoberfest. Growing up in Germany, everything seems familiar to me and not so adventurous like Norway. And also, living in my home country gives me the possibility to go to Munich tomorrow or in twenty years. Although, there is not such a short limit being in our home country, I think it would do us good if we would have a more adventurous gaze towards our country and appreciate the beauty of our home.
Five months in a foreign country are not long, but long enough for me to get the feeling of belonging here in a way. It was not just a vacation, but I was part of this country, waking up and going to bed here everyday. While in the beginning, everything was very exciting, at the end, the daily routine dominated. But that isn’t necessarily something bad, but it shows that I got used to this country and feel comfortable here. I am also happy about the encounters I made, sometimes shorter sometimes longer. I don’t know how much of the connections will stay when I come back to Germany, probably only a few. We live in the here and now. That’s just how it is. On one hand I am happy to go back to Germany, and on the other hand I am scared to separate from the life here.
I already know that I will miss all that. From walking to the university, to hiking Preikestolen. From getting upset about the high prices, to getting overwhelmed by the beautiful nature. From the time with people I already know, to new people I met. The wood houses, the endless nature, speaking English, trying to speak Norwegian, eating at McDonald’s because I can’t afford something else. Every small, every big, every bad and every good experience – I will miss it. I could never have imagine how it would be to take a semester abroad, but now I can say: It was the best and most special experience I could make during my studies. I feel like doing one more semester abroad, maybe in France. But before that I have time to think about all this. I want to travel in the northern part of Norway and see the Northern lights. I have to make the most out of my time here.
Text and photo: Quynh Le Nguyen