Jakub, Poland

The first time I fell in love with Norway was when I was on the bus to Kristiansand and I could see the lakes, the forest, the nature that Norway is connected to.  

As an exchange student, I will always remember Norway with a warm heart. It gives me feelings that I’ve never experienced to that scale. One of them is freedom: the ability to speak your mind and be yourself without judgement. The second one is safety: the inner feeling that you are protected no matter who you are or from where you are from.  

Studying at UiA gives me hope that there is education wherever you want to study, as opposed to Poland, my home country. In my opinion Polish universities are built on fear that people will not learn anything unless you put many classes and tests in their schedule. When I was studying at UiA, I felt the trust that you came here to learn and expand your knowledge. Also, the most important thing that I learned is that the university is a public university. I felt very welcomed when the pride flag was not only shown during pride month, but for the whole time, even the day when I left my exchange. Worth mentioning too is UiA’s rector Whittaker: a person that I met and talked to. Instead of showing her position or distancing herself from students, she had dinner with the student organizations and sat in the middle of it talking to everyone. 

In terms of student or town activities, I have to say: Unikum is the best organization ever created on the ground of the university. Not only could I write about the topics I am interested in, create and participate in some cool events, but I also bonded with people, creating long lasting relationships through the whole process of student exchange. Except the best place you can go, I attended several drag shows that were perfect. There was energy and fun there. I even tried drag because of the Unikum tries and because of that I connected to the queer drag community.  

Norway will also remind me of the country of the first tries. First time trying drag, first time voting in the polish elections, first time switching pronouns to they/them, first time performing and winning a lipsync, first time going to the drag and burlesque show, first time switching my lifestyle to vegan. So many first tries that I would be scared to try in Poland. This made me braver than I ever was. The bravery to continue with the things that I like. 

Also, there is a special place in my heart for the global lounge. If I had to pick a place where exchange student life is happening, it would definitely be there. The interns, Alicja, Sarah and Van, made the place so cozy and I have to say again: I’m so sorry for putting the soy sauce on the couch! These people answered many of my complicated questions and they help people on every issue which ever existed! 

I love Unikum, my drag and the Global Lounge, 

Jakub 

Michael, England 

A chapter has come to a close for the exchange students of the 2023 Autumn term, some may even feel inclined to view it as the end of an era. While packing away my room and slowly boxing-up memories of the past six months, it was easy to feel down about leaving my new home from home. To myself and others, Norway has come to mean so much. Taking the opportunity to study abroad has quite honestly been the best thing I have ever done for myself. I’ve been continuously shocked by how good life has treated me when adventuring outside of the same-old-same-old. 

I am a second year Fine Art student from the UK and I find it quite safe to say that I found what I’ve been looking for at UiA. The profound comfort which I felt in my day-to-day life in Kristiansand was something new and wholly unexpected to me and my family. Being in Norway felt right, it just suited me. Having never left that small island with the big attitude, I was unaware that leaving home (I mean really leaving home, not just moving to the next city) teaches you things that seem stupidly obvious in perspective. For myself, I found that the degree came second for once. I was able to explore past my paintings and textbooks and instead spend time with precious new friends, something I have only learned to pursue through leaving the (dis)comfort of the UK.  

I have loved the inability to escape nature in Norway, the everyday is rightfully built into and around the natural world: seeing kindergartens on hillsides, with mountainous rocks jutting out into the playground, woodland trails around the back of uni which lead to nowhere and everywhere at the same time, and a close-nit community of student housing, with views you couldn’t hope to find anywhere else. The views are different to back home. We have mountains and forests of course, but they honestly pale in comparison to the wildlife quite literally living on your doorstep. 

Not to sound like I’m trying to win back Norwegian residence (though I certainly wouldn’t turn it down), during the semester I had the pleasure of spending time with the kindest, most welcoming people one could hope to meet. It surprised me how taking this chance landed me in the exact right place to make so many friends and meet the likeminded people I was promised I’d find back in my first year of university. Taking the initiative to meet people was nerve-wracking, but it helped that joining clubs or going to social events were accessible and free here. The paywall in front of societies at UK universities is ridiculous and has prevented me from having a similar experience at my home university. That being said, I might have to suck it up and dish out some money in the coming semester to make the most of my time there. 

I’m so grateful to have been welcomed into Unikum to write articles and proofread: something I’d never envisioned for myself and now don’t want to lose (even from across the sea). In the short time of being there I made memories I’m determined not to forget, and even though I can’t remember every detail of some of the socials (no prizes for guessing why), I know they were some of the best times I’ve ever had. Now, I could continue gushing over Unikum but that would likely push the word count a bit far. So, might I suggest incoming internationals also make note of any Linguistica socials on the calendar. They’re a lovely group of people and I met some of my closest friends through their events. The sheer number of activities and events going on in the city, at the university and at BARE hosted by all of these groups is commendable, and varied in a way which I cannot liken to my experience back home. 

If you haven’t invested in wool, granted, you might be losing a few fingers and toes during the winter. But at least your heart will be warm with the good company you’ll keep. 

Like anything, going on exchange is what you make of it. Not everything has been sunshine and rainbows. So, if you want my advice: stay well away from the bus for tog, check the alcohol laws of any country you plan on living in (tears of a 19 year old), and don’t bother yourself over the superhuman levels of cleanliness the student housing will demand of you. There’s so much else you could spend your time on and, unfortunately, that third issue seems to be something many students have suffered for.  

Something I cannot and will not forget, is the chances I took and the times I told myself to just go and try something, because that’s when I was able to really learn how to live. So, thank you UiA. For me you have been the key to a much less lonely university life (and with any luck, beyond that). I can’t wait to come back, hopefully next time with a higher understanding of simple Norwegian than a grade B. 

Àngels, Spain

My personal experience at UiA as an Erasmus Student was fantastic. The welcome from the Erasmus Student Association (ESN) was extremely useful for both logistical organisation (what I needed to do, what I needed to know, where I had to go…) and social exchanges (activities, barbeques, get togethers, tours…).  

All I knew from friends that had done a semester abroad was “find the people from your own country and stick with them, or you’ll be on your own.” While that was true at UiA for some people, Orientation
Week with buddy groups opened a whole other reality for me. I was
able to meet and become friends with a variety of people. 

Nevertheless, if I had to criticize something, I would mention how luck plays a big role when it comes to the buddies you get. Not only because of the activities that they prepare for you, but also for their involvement with the group. Despite the differences in experiences between buddy groups, the first week of the semester works wonders to meet new people, and if your buddies are not active, be active yourself! ESN organises many events that are open to all international students and those are the best ones in my opinion. Apart from that first week, UiA was a great place to study and socialise. The classes were really easy to follow and absolutely accessible to internationals (as were most of the clubs or activities offered). I consider Kristiansand a great place to spend your semester abroad: easy classes, welcoming university, and a lot of new people to meet from all over the world. 

 

Adam, Scotland 

My name is Adam Zawadzki and I’m studying the MFA Photography course at York St John 

University. After 144 days, I departed Norway for Scotland concluding a truly monumental 

20-week semester overseas that was, quite honestly, one of the greatest experiences of my 

life. I didn’t undertake a study abroad experience during my BA (Hons) Journalism course at 

Edinburgh Napier University, so I really went for this one! 

 

During my time at the University of Agder, watching and listening to the other students I 

met from Norway, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Czech Republic, 

China, Argentina and the United States (and more, of course) transformed my perspective of 

the social, cultural and educational psyche in and out of Europe beyond description. 

 

Kristiansand is so very beautiful. All these students speak English to be able to understand 

each other and the experience of interacting with my language spoken by hundreds of 

different accents has crystallised how essential it is now to be able to speak more than one. 

So, I’ll need to do that as well. I plan to return within the next six months. 

 

I loved the board games and film nights with my fellow international exchange students: 

truly the most wonderful people. I adored clubbing every week with the local nightlife in 

Harvey’s (even though, as the weather worsened, it became more of a mission each time) 

and attending every free food and drinks event I could possibly manage, which I consider 

essential networking. Oh, and regarding the degree, the theory and practice was 

undoubtedly challenging but was as mentally stimulating as it was creatively exciting. 

 

During my time as part of Unikum, the student newspaper, I wrote five film reviews, co- 

wrote five culture calendars and accrued another five certificates. We passed five 

workshops, three assignments and made a music video. We flew drones, hosted movie 

nights and fell over twice on the ice. We hosted six podcast episodes, attended three 

cabin trips (to Nærses, Preikestolen and Hovden) and boarded the Color Line ferry to 

Denmark three times, mainly for the all-you-can-eat buffet, which was bloody gorgeous. 

While the round trip was seven-and-a-half hours, I only ever spent an hour in Denmark each 

time. I met another international exchange student from the United States and because she 

undertook her first study abroad semester at the University of Stirling in Scotland, where I 

come from, we vibed like a house on fire. As such, our trips on the ferry hold very special 

memories for me. 

 

We watched, we listened, we read, we thought and felt our way through uncharted 

territory. Our reward was a new excursion/conversation/experience that made every day 

that we were there so unbelievably exhilarating. We found ourselves in other people who 

we’d never have met if we hadn’t decided to go and explore. Whenever we want to go to 

Norway, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech 

Republic, the United States (or elsewhere in the United Kingdom), there are great and 

glorious new friends there waiting for us to arrive. 

 

We worked harder than ever thought possible and learned more about ourselves than could 

conceivably imagine. Namely, who you are is enough and you can make great friends 

wherever you go in the world regardless of age, race, class, gender and geography. By being 

curious, interested and engaged in others, the courtesy was returned with even greater 

embrace. By saying yes, by showing up, by being yourself. It was everything I thought 

University would, could and should be. It was, as a microcosmic experience of the world we 

live in now; euphoric. 

Jay, New Zealand (bottom right)

Norway is about as far away from Aotearoa, New Zealand as one can get! But I was set on doing an exchange here as soon as I knew it was possible. First came all the paperwork and waiting to see if I was accepted on UiA’s side, then came the trip itself. On the NZ end my exchange team were warm and helpful at any opportunity, but I was a bit of a guinea pig because they’d had a team change over since they last were able to send a student overseas 2 years ago! So, some things had to be figured out, whereas on the Norway side everything seemed to run as a greased wheel for the admin stuff. 

New Zealand has a similar green image and geology to Norway. As countries I notice we both take pride in our hiking scene. I wish I could have taken full advantage of the trails here but my disabilities held me back. But I was impressed by the walks close to the Kristiansand campus! The lakes are right nearby and are wonderful places to spend time.  

There is so much I could go into about my experience, but here’s two standouts: a positive and a negative. Positive would be the events, with so much more to do than where I am from! Taking advantage of BARE and the university student associations was a fabulous way to meet new people my age. On the flip side, I was shocked to find that there was no print out to come with my grade explaining it, and how it fit into the rubric. I was told I could request it by talking to my head of department, but back home it is defaulted. I think the NZ way is better for transparency and helps me figure out what I need to work on. 

Being disabled I often encounter complications when doing new things, arriving in Norway was no different. I think my biggest hurdle was moving stuff. If it hadn’t been for being able to arrive on arrival day, I have no idea how I would have moved my luggage to my apartment. In the first few weeks I had so much trouble with my groceries but no one I talked to had any advice until someone guided me to the one food delivery service that would work. 

Both countries are quite expensive right now. Norway has a reputation overseas, but in general I found that NZ prices are close. Notably the quality of things in Norway appears to be higher to me, whether that be food (less processed etc), or home goods and clothing. I tried not to count pennies though. Being on an exchange was a once in a life time experience, but I did have to be extra conscious of my spending. Many unforeseen costs come up when you are living away from your home country. You find you cannot borrow things from people. Your stuff breaks. Or you find something isn’t going to work overseas (not being able to pay for things because you cannot have a Norwegian bank account is a real problem.) It’s these sort of things people take for granted when they live somewhere.  

 

Wafa’a, England 

Studying abroad was an opportunity I never thought about because it was something I didn’t know that I would have the chance of taking. It was a whole new experience that I knew nothing of, and from there I knew it would teach me a lot. Whilst I cannot say that the study abroad team at home were always useful, I can say that the team at UiA were able to handle things appropriately and in good timing. What I didn’t expect was everything that studying abroad would bring to me. 

Being away in a new country with a new culture and learning a new language developed me in a personal sense but also in an academic sense. The education system was a pleasant change and one that opened my eyes on the various methods of teaching and assessment – such that I can apply to my studies at home and even in my future career. Aside from those benefits, I learned a lot more about myself in an environment that felt both warm and welcoming. Meeting people from different countries in Norway was a lot more helpful and was a factor that I didn’t think too much of until I associated myself with it.  

What I will say is the concept of the Buddy Groups should be developed. It is an ideal concept in theory, but in practice it is something that needs various changes. For starters, not all of the groups clicked in terms of all creating a small community where questions could be asked and where events within the circle were regularly organised. For some groups such as the one I was placed in, communications ceased within a week or two after the welcome week. That is something that I feel could have been improved. It is important for weekly check-ins and for events that cater to everyone to be offered for a stronger bond to be formed.  

From the start, I knew I would not be living on campus and did have the initial fear of perhaps missing out once again from the ‘full student experience’ especially living 30 minutes away from the university by bus. Back home, I commuted to university and quickly found myself not engaging in social events (possibly for the best to be fair), but I wasn’t too bothered about it. Being in Norway, I wanted to push myself and do things that I never had before. Sure, the travel was a bit of a pain sometimes, but I welcomed it. Travelling there and back still allowed me to be social and gave me a chance to look at Norway from a day-to-day living perspective rather than the tourist’s outlook. Norway felt comforting and was a place where I needed to realise stuff about my own self as well as things that can be applied when I reached home. I will always be thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and will be grateful to the teams that allowed it to happen. It was definitely something I needed. It boosted my independence and sense of self. Studying at UiA was a positive experience and contributed to the sense of learning that I typically go for, and it welcomed me into my 2nd year of university very well. Need an adventure? Take up a study abroad experience.  

 

Freya, England 

My first semester at UiA was amazing. I think the best thing I got out of it was personal growth. I had to have a new level of independence as well as face things which were uncomfortable to me. I managed to do a lot of travelling in semester one which allowed me to tune into my more spontaneous side which is a side I often shy away from.  

I think my biggest challenge was meeting people in many situations. I have found the first people you make friends with are unlikely to be your friends in the end because you sort of rush and force that first friendship. But by the end of the semester, I had made some amazing friends through a shared love of Taylor Swift and I miss them very much.

To all those considering a semester abroad: Do it! You will get to experience so much! What is even more valuable is what you learnabout yourself and how much you will see yourself grow. 

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