Tis The Season

Something I did not expect living in Norway was the enthusiasm for Christmas and the holiday season. As November comes to a close, lights are strung up on trees and on the trimming of houses, and slowly but surely decorated Christmas trees pop up in university buildings and shopping centers. Coffee shops move to bright red to-go cups and grocery stores fill up with advent calendars, Christmas cookies, and something known as “Christmas soda” (it is sickly sweet and sold everywhere).

This also means I got the chance to go to my first Christmas market. My German and Belgian classmates seemed very familiar with them, boasting about the food, the drinks, and the decorations at the markets in their home countries. I’ve never been to anything like it though, but “Jul i Vinterland” exceeded all my expectations.

A wooden sign reading "Jul i Vinterland".
The entrance into Oslo’s Christmas Market.
A pointed tunnel of lights with people walking underneath.
A lit-up walkway next to the market, perfect for pictures.
A person standing under the tunnel of lights.
Me in the walkway.

The market is a big loop of stalls selling food like donuts, churros, sausages, waffles, hot chocolate, and more. There are also stalls selling wool beanies, scarves, and gloves. You can buy Christmas sweaters and tree ornaments. Everything is eye-catching and seasonal. There is a ferris wheel, a carousel, and a giant slide children can slide down. In the center of it all, an ice-skating rink awaits.

A from-below picture of a ferris wheel lit up in blue and pink.
The ferris wheel at the market, right in front of the ice rink (picture taken from ice rink).

When I went, it was immensely crowded, speaking to the market’s popularity. I could not keep my eyes off anything, and my friend and I went on the ice with just our shoes, doing our best to slide around since the skate rental was still closed. I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas, but for the first time in a long time, I got a taste of Christmas joy, and why markets and celebrations are so popular and wonderful!  Everywhere I looked, people were happy and laughing, children fell on the ice and got back up again, and my friend and I stood around a fire, warming our hands and making friends with the strangers beside us.

A fire in a metal bowl, hung up by chains.
One of the multiple fire pits around the market, great for warming up ice skating.

Cady West

Life in Norway

The realization that I have only a few weeks left in Norway has hit me hard. Everywhere I look, I feel like I see aspects of my life in Norway that I’ll miss. Cultural quirks, observations, routines. Some of them are as follows:

  • The corner of the grocery store dedicated to taco supplies. Tortillas, shells, sauce, with meat and cheese in easy reach. Norwegians are one of the largest consumers of tacos in the world, and this has bled into the layout of many grocery stores.
  • Speaking of grocery stores and tortillas, lomper. Lomper is a Norwegian-style tortilla, made from potato and flour. It’s a bit thinner and more flexible than typical tortillas, and has an almost velvety feeling when you touch it. They’re versatile and delicious, and I’m already trying to think how I can get them in the United States.
The storefront of a grocery store, with a sign reading "KIWI mini pris"
Kiwi, a popular and common grocery store in Norway.
Several shelves filled with supplies for tacos, such as shells and seasoning
The infamous corner of the store dedicated to tacos.
  • The dedication to personal space on public transport. As someone who is selfish with the room I take up on public transportation, I feel right at home on a bus in Oslo, where people would rather stand than fill up the empty seat next to someone else. The few times someone has sat down directly next to me, despite other options, I was shocked and felt the side-eyes from those standing around me.
  • The deep love of bundling up. “Cozy”, as a concept, is imbued in Norwegian culture. My personal theory is that no matter the temperature, Norwegians want to feel warm and cozy. As a cold weather lover, I tend to wear just enough layers that I do not freeze. Yet, Norwegians can always be seen in several layers, pulling out their scarves and gloves long before the temperature truly calls for it.
View of a stone gazebo from a sidewalk lined with bare trees.
The perfect opportunity to take a cozy walk.
Students sitting around a small campfire
Another reason to get cozy– lunch outdoors while on a hike!
A wide empty park with grass and a few trees in the distance.
Personal space isn’t just limited to the bus. The park is a great place to be on your own!
  • And my favorite, the greeting of “hei hei” (hey hey). When I first started hearing cashiers in grocery stores, Norwegian students I met, and anyone else I encountered start with “hei hei”, I was almost confused because of how childish it sounded. In the United States, I don’t know anyone who would greet someone else with “hi hi” as opposed to just “hi” of “hey”. Except, now I love it. I feel like I’ve entered into an inside joke when I reply in the same manner at the store checkout. I already know I’ll repeat it until annoyance once my semester here is over, even if just to remember the small ritual.

    Cady West

Learning About Learning

One of the biggest things I have been repeatedly surprised by during my time in Norway is not about any cultural norm or something I had to adjust to, but rather the content of my class, Fairytales and Creativity. It is a class in the education department, and since I am studying history and international relations, I found I am greatly under-prepared for the depth of some of the things we discuss. I do not know what I thought the class would be, maybe focusing more on history and culture.  But every week, I am surprised by how fairy tales and stories can benefit children and how they can be incorporated into a curriculum.

My favorite example is something called the Brotherhood activity. My class used Snow White as an example. The basic premise is that children complete the phrase “Snow White is like all those who….” with descriptors they think apply to the character. This could be as simple as inserting “ are lonely” or “deserve second chances”, but it can also be phrases like “have had to leave their home” or “have experienced the loss of a loved one”. By doing this, children are diving deeper into the story, and often pulling out subtle threads that are not necessarily the central plot or moral lesson. As well, when kids answer with phrases about grief, loss, abuse, or other difficult topics, the activity can often allow them to talk about their own experiences and emotions safely, because they are not talking about themselves. By talking about how Snow White lost her father or was forced to flee her home, children can openly discuss and process heavy topics that might otherwise be hard to face. Learning this activity absolutely blew my mind, but it made perfect sense how using a story to create a space where children can safely talk about complicated topics is useful for teachers to know.

This kind of eye-opening lesson genuinely happens to me every week, and even though I have no plans to become a teacher, I still feel empowered and better off for having learned these things.

Several students in a classroom reading a document on their phones
My classmates and I discussing how a fairytale we have pulled up on our phones can be used in a classroom.
A laptop, coffee cup, and water bottle on a classroom desk
My typical set up in class, taking notes and working on an essay for class.


Bergen in Fall

A lot of people might think the most ideal time to visit Bergen, Norway might be spring or summer, when hiking up to a view of the fjords isn’t accompanied by torrents of rain and the harbor is clear skies only. This would definitely make for better pictures, the kind you see on postcards, but I think Bergen in October is a truer Bergen. The second largest city in Norway, it is also one of the rainiest places in the world, which is the Bergen I experienced on my week off from classes when I took a small trip there.

Picture of Bryggen, a row of colorful houses along the Bergen waterfront
Bryggen, the colorful houses Bergen is known for

During the rare moments when the rain lightens up, or even pauses entirely, Bergen city center is a wonderfully cobble-stoned area to wander, full of the classic colorful houses Bergen is known for, including the historical site Bryggen. Additionally, a history fan like myself can even wander further up the harbor to see the Bergenhus Fortress, a historical fortress with roots in the 13th century.

Bergenhus Fortress, a stone fortress, against a cloudy grey sky
Bergenhus Fortress on a rainy day

What this grand amount of rain means is that there is no shortage of indoor ways to experience Bergen. The most obvious of them being the KODE museums— four art museums surrounding a large lake and quaint gazebo (also beautiful tourist attractions) that showcase some of the best Norwegian art has to offer. Two were open during my visit— the first an exhibit of Paul Cézanne hosted in a Renaissance Revival mansion and the second a whole gallery of famous Norwegian artists, most notably Edward Munch.

a green landscape painting by Paul Cézanne
Farm in Normandy by Paul Cézanne

My favorite way to pass the hours indoors, however, was the University of Bergen’s Cultural History Museum. To put it lightly, it is easy to get lost in there for hours. The collection is endless, from Viking-era jewelry to a glass replica of a Norwegian stave church to a modern-day collection about plastics in the ocean and Norwegian plastic consumption. Every floor and every room offers something new.

Cady West

Into The Woods

The waning September month has been marked, for me, by adventures into the Norwegian outdoors, most notably by trips that scream “NORWEGIAN CULTURE”. One of the first things I learned about Norway is the popularity of cabins— second homes, not too fancy, out in the woods that people can escape to. My class took an overnight trip to one to explore storytelling and folklore in a classic setting: around the campfire. A mere five mile trek up the hills through well-traveled trails brought us to a two story cabin, with a well and outdoor bathroom to complete. Just nearby, a designated fire pit sat, waiting for us to use. But outside of our academic goals, this trip taught me a lot about Norwegian culture in connection to nature. For example, all people have the right to hike, explore, and camp on uncultivated Norwegian land, even private land (with few exceptions and regulations). It is through this belief and law that the world opens up to hikers, not needing to worry about trespassing or camping outside of official camping grounds. Additionally, in exploring a forest that had been lived in for centuries by Norwegian and Sami people, it was important for us to learn how the land was used and how folklore arose. We stopped at every new tree to identify it and learn what it was used— building houses, chairs, for instruments? And each rock formation or cliff side was carefully analyzed— could we see trolls (the most notable and classic Norwegian folk creature) in the rocky shapes?

Through this, even in a short time period, we developed a conversation with the woods around us. The same way we spoke fairy tales from our native countries around the fire, the forest spoke back to us.

A large wooden cabin with two students sitting on the porch.
Norwegian outdoors
A view of a sunny hiking path surrounded by green trees
Oslo Climbing Park

Next, my exploration of the Norwegian outdoors took me to Oslo Climbing Park, a vast collection of ropes courses and zip lines far up in the trees, with several of my classmates. We made it just in time for one of the last good days of the season. While it was a tad rainy, and our hands felt frostbitten as we walked ourselves across wooden planks, these next few weeks are the last time to walk these courses for the next several months. In October, the park will become a winter park, where they plan for the ropes courses to be unusable, but snow to fall freely, and park-goers can enjoy a variety of snow sports like skiing and snowboarding.

For me, this trip was about facing my fears:  for a long time, I was scared of heights and had to give up ropes courses and zip lines at a job I loved. When I stepped onto the first platform, what drove me to take the next step was the idea that I hadn’t come here, to Norway or to this climbing park, to let a childhood fear stand in my way of something I knew would be really fun and exciting. The first ropes course made the world open up to me, knowing I was making the most of my time abroad and taking chances I might not otherwise. It would be easy for me to have stepped back, told my friends I would find something else to do, but now I’ll always look back on that trip as the time I faced my fears.

The view from the top of a ropes course, with a student on the platform across the obstacle
View from the top of a ropes course.

Cady West

The Start Of A New Semester

As my first week of classes comes to a close. I already know this semester will be unlike any semester I have had before. For one, I only have a single class at OsloMet, called “Fairytales and Creativity”, and we meet for several hours every day. Second, every day we have different teachers and different classrooms, depending on what topics we are covering that day. Spending so much time focused on one subject— telling stories— allows us to explore an endless amount of mediums for storytelling (music, acting, radio, stop-motion animation, to name a few examples) as well as different subjects regarding storytelling (heroes, monsters, the dynamics between storyteller and audience).

If we are focused on storytelling and group activities, we might occupy a drama classroom. For lectures, a wide auditorium. For the day we spent six hours learning about telling stories utilizing music, we occupied one of the music rooms (rooms that are open to all students, even after hours). My favorite part of the school day, however, is the thirty-to-forty minute lunch break we get, in which my classmates and I swarm the dining hall for coffee and then dutifully turn our our faces to the sun while we sit outdoors, eating packed lunches like we’re children again, and comparing our different lives in different countries.

Two students holding drums in a music classroomA line of students holding drums in a music classroom

But, in addition to school, my classmates and I have found a variety of other things to do in Oslo for the hours we are not acting out fairy tales. Hiking, including urban hiking like city tours, are a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and international students who do not know anyone in the city are always looking for something social to do. This means exploring every bakery within walking distance (of which there are many), or taking a boat out to one of the many nearby islands for a relaxing day on the water.

One thing I’ve learned is that Norwegians spend as much time as possible outside— taking a quick walk or going to the grocery store means passing an endless series of parks, full of joggers, athletes and kids running around. It’s refreshing to see, mostly because I know these areas will quiet down once the weather turns cold. For now, though, I love taking in a city that is so beautiful and so alive.

The sunset view from a rocky beach on Hovedøya, an island right off Oslo
The sunset view from a rocky beach on Hovedøya, an island right off Oslo