“Norwegians are very much used to having their own space.”

This week my roommate and I had an especially clean apartment, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to snap some shots!  There is no competition between the dorms at the University of North Dakota and the apartments at the American College of Norway.  The apartments at the American College of Norway win hands down because…

  1. we have our own laundry machine that doesn’t require quarters
  2. the bathroom has heated floors with 6 settings
  3. we have our own kitchen with plenty of cooking supplies provided
  4. the toilet is water conserving 🙂
  5. we’re a five minute walk away from the school

My only complaint is that I don’t have a Norwegian roommate!  It would certainly be a lot easier to experience the Norwegian culture.  The apartments that all the Americans from UND are living in are different from what the Norwegians have.  There are 18 apartments in the building that I live in and only two others have a shared bedroom and large living space like mine.  The rest have separate bedrooms and a smaller kitchen area.  According to the staff it was only natural to give the Americans apartments with the shared bedrooms because, “Norwegians are very much used to having their own space.”  In addition to the building I live in there are also three university-owned houses for students.

So what is it like living in the apartments?  I have to say it is always eerily quiet, even the weekends are strangely silent.  Every Thursday there is a party and people can be heard throughout the night and into the morning, but other than that rowdy neighbors have never been an issue.

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Since my stay in Norway I have only seen one shower curtain; most of the showers just have glass paneling.  The showers are also considerably smaller.  Putting shampoo on can be a bit of a maneuvering act with such limited elbow room!  The heated floors make up for any lack in the shower though!  If I get water on the floor it dries within minutes.  Since we don’t have a dryer, we have to hang dry all of our clothes.  The heated floors nearly triple the drying time.

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“No, I don’t eat weird things. Like turkey.”

My first shopping excursion started at a grocery store in the mall called Rema 1000 (yes, they have grocery stores in the mall) and ended at a place called Kiwi which is supposedly the cheapest place to get food.  We just got the basics.  Milk, fruit, bread, cheese, lunch meat…etc.  My roommate and I split the price and the total came to be about 27 dollars for each of us which is actually a lot cheaper than I thought it would be.  We came with some of the Norwegians and they were clearly shocked by some of our food choices.  One girl tried to trick us into buying an oily bread spread made out of liver.  I repeatedly asked her what it was but she would only say “Oh, it’s good you will like it!”  These people certainly have their opinions about food!  At one point I heard a girl say, “No, I don’t eat weird things.  Like turkey.”  Turkey?  Weird?  I guess Norwegians don’t eat turkey.

Norwegian bread is made fresh and way better than American bread.  After trying to convince us not to get “American-style” bread at the store with no avail they finally went and bought us some Norwegian style bread and put it into our grocery bags.  I sampled some and I must say there is a noted difference in taste!  I was surprised to find out that there actually isn’t much of a price difference either.

Norway has some foods that are unique to it. Since bread is a staple food here, spreads are very popular. Baconost literally translates to “bacon cheese”.  At first the idea of eating bacon in a tube was unsettling but now I find myself eating it almost every day on crunchy crackers (also very cheap). This is a common lunch here.

The Norwegians who were helping us shop called some of our food choices gross or sketchy.  We weren’t shopping for flavor though; we were on a budget!  Some things here are just not affordable.  Anything really processed is very expensive.  Pop, ice cream, cheese puffs, frozen pizzas…I’ve given them all up.  A package of spaghetti is a little over a buck so I eat a lot of pasta!  Vegetables also seem to be pretty reasonably priced.

In the U.S. we have eggnog, a special drink that we only have at Christmas. Here, they have a Christmas soda called Julebrus which literally translates to mean, “Christmas drink”. I bought a bottle on clearance and it is sweet and fruity.

Oh how I love generic brands! Same product, cheaper price. Target has Up & Up, Walmart has Equate and Suave, and Norway has First Price. It reminds me of the Fisher-Price label.

“Sorry, no cow aboard!”

My journey to Moss, Norway, started in Dickinson, North Dakota, at 7:10 a.m. on the 5th, went through Denver, D.C., Frankfurt, and Oslo and ended around 3 p.m. on the 6th.

Traveling through the U.S. airports was a very typical experience.  There were bursts of stress while boarding a plane followed by hours upon hours with nothing to do but people watch and sleep.  Here and there I would see an eccentrically dressed person.  Who wears six inch heels in an airport?!  Or a full length gown?  Then there’s the free spirit wearing a relic from their last trip to the Orient and packed light.  And, my personal favorite, the occasional lost soul who you see walking quickly towards Gate A one minute and then suddenly reversing and heading back where they came from with an anxious look on their face.  And I can’t forget the obviously travel savvy person with the perfect travel outfit and streamlined suitcase, no doubt headed off to another business endeavor.  But the majority of the people I see are just like me: tired, slightly frazzled, and either wishing they had packed a whole lot less or hoping that getting to their gate doesn’t require any stairs, escalators, or tight squeezes!

Navigating through the European airports was a little different.  When we got to Frankfurt my first thought was “Oh, this isn’t too bad.”  Au contraire.  We went to the flight board, found which gate we were supposed to go to, and followed the arrows.  Easy enough.  After going through a little line our passports were stamped and we were shuttled off to another section.  There were people in red suits everywhere saying, “this way, this way” with their tired German accents.  We didn’t stop to question that following the general flow of people was wrong until we looked behind us and realized we had just passed a sign that said, “No entry beyond this point.”  Had we accidentally exited the airport?!?!  So we stood in the middle of a flow of people all walking right past us with horrified looks on our faces.  Finally I got the nerve to ask someone and was relieved to find out that we were in the right place after all.

A few of the employees there were rude or condescending to us.  As I boarded the plane from Frankfurt to Oslo, a staff member grabbed my carry-on bag without warning and said, “This is way too big.”  As he pulled it away he shot me a dirty look and added, “And too heavy.”

After traveling through five cities and being in an airplane for around 14 hours I set foot in Oslo, Norway.  I expected the moment to be an adrenaline rush, but honestly my body was still used to Dickinson, North Dakota time and it felt more like 5 a.m. in the morning than 1 p.m. in the afternoon.  All I wanted was a hot shower and a nice warm bed.  I didn’t get to go to sleep until 10:30 p.m. though.  The Housing Director purposely didn’t give us our bedding until later so that we would stay up and start the process of getting rid of jet lag.

The more reserved personalities of Norwegians were evident on the hour and a half bus ride from Oslo to Moss.  Everyone was dead silent.  There were around 25 people on the bus and about 20 of them were sitting in seats by themselves sleeping or lost in their thoughts.  A brother and sister talked to one another briefly and a man had a short phone conversation but that was it.  It was also different because everyone had to wear seat belts.

The flight from Frankfurt to Oslo was really where I started to feel the cultural differences. This is the lunch we were served. The potato salad had extremely strong flavors and the pickle tasted like it was a combination of a sweet and a dill pickle. I asked for milk but the flight attendant shrugged and with a smile said, “Sorry, no cow aboard!”

Reflections Before Norway

Application?  Check.  Scholarships?  Check.  Passport?  Check.  Visa?  Check.  Ticket?  Check.  Registration?  Check.  Textbooks?  Check.  Norway?

I’m a To Do list person.  There are very few things as fulfilling to me as checking off a box and having the confirmation that I am moving forward and making good use of my time.  Come to think of it, I can’t even remember being without a pad and pen for my ever-changing never-ending list.  Never-ending until now.  You’d think that ticking off that very last box would be a wonderful feeling.  But as I made that final check next to textbooks I wasn’t very comforted at all.  There’s nothing left to do but wait until I board the plane to Norway.  I can only do so much research.  And no matter how many times I type in “Norway” to Google I still feel completely unprepared for the journey that’s ahead of me.

Honestly, it really hasn’t even set in yet that I am going to Norway.  Norway.  As I sit here and type this up in my dorm room with the buzz of Balls of Fury playing in the background I’m realizing just how far Norway is from North Dakota.  I’m around 4,047 miles from Norway.  Or I guess as they would say it there…Norway is about 6,512 kilometers away from the United States.  But the distance won’t just be felt geographically.  The culture of Norway is entirely different.  When I was applying for the American College of Norway I kept on reminding myself that 33% of Caucasians in North Dakota are of Norwegian descent.  But Norwegian or not, their link with Norway is realistically speaking very… weak.  In fact nothing that I see on the image search of “Norway” on Google looks very familiar.

The more I read about Norway, the more evident this becomes.  They eat caviar for breakfast?!?!  The maximum prison sentence for a murderer is 20 years?!?!!!!  And worst of all…It is frowned upon to wear sweatpants?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

How am I going to survive?

So after taking a deep breath, a look at the dorms I will be staying in there (I basically get my own apartment with a comforter, pillow, sheets, plates, utensils, and cups supplied, my own kitchen, and my own bathroom…), and perusing the prices of traveling from country to country (roundtrip to Paris from Oslo is only 169 bucks) I felt much better.  Norway is going to demand some definite changes from me.  I’ll have to part with my beloved sweatpants.  And say a tearful good bye to my morning ritual of cereal.

But Norway is without a doubt going to be worth it.  The worst part is waiting…