January 4th, 2013
I am now officially in Norway! It seems strange, almost like a dreamland. I can’t believe I won’t be home for five months. Now that I’m over here, it definitely has hit me harder than I thought it would. Here are just some of my thoughts and observations since I’ve left.
I found the trip to be incredibly stressful. It’s hard being the outsider. Everyone was speaking different languages around me, so on the first plane I just watched movies. My first stop was in Iceland. Iceland’s airport is TINY! The layout, design, and feel of it reminded me of an REI store. I went through customs here, which was super quick and easy--they just asked me where I was flying to next, and that’s it, passport stamped and done.
The second plane was shorter--2 ½hrs--and I was sitting next to an American student going to spend the semester at the University of Oslo; his name was Mika. We actually did quite a few things together (keep reading to find out what). Though it was a shorter flight, it was very uncomfortable. I was fighting leg cramps the whole time (it didn’t help that the person in front of me leaned their seat as far back as it would go and then fell asleep). There was also a baby crying for half of the flight, so definitely not my favorite plane ride.
Got off the plane, got baggage (all of it arrived safe). While I was waiting for the luggage, I pulled out my phone and turned it on and it didn’t work at all (no service, so it was pointless to bring it). Then following the instructions I was given by IPO to get to the ATM, first I went inside to an exchange place. My card was denied, so the attendant showed me the ATM, but when I tried to take out money it was denied. So we went back inside and tried again with different amounts, but it still didn’t work. So she suggested that I try a smaller amount at the ATM and if that didn’t work to try it at a store and take money out that way. I went back to the ATM and was able to get a smaller amount (one thousand Kroner, which is equivalent to about $200), but it wouldn’t let me do any more than that. ( I now have figured out it is because my bank has a limit on the amount I can take out at one time and everything is fine so I am not as stressed about that anymore. )
This money issue made me really nervous, so I wanted to try and look at my bank account to see what the issue was. So I sat down at the Starbucks inside the airport (I figured they would have free Wifi), pulled out my laptop, and tried to get onto the internet, but it’s not free at the airport. To get it free, you have to either have a Norwegian cellphone number or use a Norwegian internet provider at home; otherwise you have to pay with a credit card. Since I was having the issue with my bank, I didn’t want to use my card if I could avoid it.
I ran into Mika again after we parted ways at the gate. He asked me about the internet and I told him; he then went to the information desk to double check and found that I was right. We parted ways again. I then went to purchase a ticket for the Flytoget Express Train that would take me to the Oslo S (Central Train Station). There was a counter and kiosk machines, so I decided to go to the counter so I could try my card to see if it would work. I got up there and asked if I could buy the ticket there. The attendant said yes and then asked if I was a student. That surprised me (though looking back I was wearing a Linfield sweatshirt), but she asked to see my ID, and I did happen to have my Linfield ID on me, so I got a student discount (total was 85KR; $17).
I was waiting for the lift (elevator) down to the platform and met up with Mika again. We were both getting on the Flytoget. I asked him if he got the student discount and he didn’t, so his ticket was twice as much as mine (thank goodness for small miracles, I guess, because everything is expensive here). Anyway, we got on the Flytoget and chatted for the 20-minute train ride into Oslo. It was fun to see the snow all over the ground. Once we got to Oslo S, we parted ways for the final time, but it was nice to have had someone to chat with.
I then went to the ticket counter (I already had my ticket but not the location and time of the train and my seat). I had to pay a small fee to reserve my seat but I was okay with that. I then took a seat because my train was another 2+ hrs. I played Sudoku during this time and ended up helping someone. She sat next to me, was on the phone, and needed to write down a phone number, so I let her use my pencil and book to write on. She was extremely grateful; it felt nice to help someone else for a change.
Once my train finally showed up on the board with what track (spor) to go to, I decided I would use the restroom before walking over. Well, there was only one restroom in the entire building (which is huge) and from what I could see, you had to pay to use it (understandably so, I decided to hold it). When I got to the train, I had troubles because my ticket was all in Norwegian, so I asked someone and she gave me some directions. I did find my seat and was able to store my luggage. By this point, I was exhausted because I was hauling about 130lbs of luggage all day (plus I’d been awake for about 19 hours). I knew the train ride was going to be about two hours but I was sure if I would know when we got there. I battled with falling asleep. I think I did sleep for about a couple of 10-minute stretches, but that was about it. A train employee walked by (it was just slightly after 17:00; 5pm) and she said it was two stops away. I forced myself to stay awake for those next 20 minutes and was able to get up and pull my luggage off the train. Luckily, the student (her name is Mina) who was going to drive me to my apartment was right there and she offered to help with my luggage, which I was extremely grateful for. We had to drop someone else off first, but I got to see a little bit of the town. As we drove up to where I live, she pointed out the nearest grocery store and the meeting place for orientation. Then we went to my apartment (unfortunately, we first went to the wrong building and had to put the luggage back in the car and go to the right one). My key worked and I was able to get inside!
It was about 18:00 hours at this point and Mina had said the store was open until 23:00 so I could go that night. I debated about it. Ultimately, the deciding factor was whether there was toilet paper in the bathroom or not. There was about a third to a fourth of a roll left, so I decided I would go in the morning (plus I did bring a few dry food items with me so I wouldn’t starve). I started unpacking so I could pull out some stuff and then ended up deciding to unpack completely before bed so I could get to a normal sleeping schedule. It took me about two hours to unpack (though it took me probably 6 or 7 hours to pack in the first place). By the time I went to bed it was 21:00 (9pm).
Overall, this traveling day was pretty rough. I was unprepared for it, I think, in the sense that it was different that I expected. I felt a lot of doubt and uncertainty because I couldn’t read things and had asked for help. There was no safety net for me. I had no way to contact any friends or family. I am someone who likes to know how to do things and to be independent, so I definitely have been stepping outside my comfort zone here. I think it will be better once I meet some people and get into a routine with classes; then I won’t feel isolated. Figuring out my bank stuff will also help relieve stress, I think. I am grateful for writing this journal because it is giving me something to do before I have internet access. Reflecting on these things now is helpful so I can understand them better later, I think.
Advice: Always keep your passport in an easily reachable spot. I kept mine deep in my backpack because I was worried about someone stealing it, but it was a pain to pull out (I forgot that I have a money necklace thing that it would fit in that I could tuck in my shirt). Drink a lot of water before and during traveling; I became really parched and now my throat hurts a bit. Expect that you will be confused, tired, and stressed while traveling. It is hard not being able to read signs or understand what other people are saying because everything is in a different language. Bring a travel clock and set it to Norway local time before you leave and pack it in your carry on. I found this useful if I needed to know what time it was.