I arrived in Bergen on the 10th August feeling terrified and wondering why I had decided to put myself through this. But what I thought would be a difficult first week of adjusting quickly turned into one of the best weeks!
In many blog posts, we often read about the transition to a placement country, cultural differences, newfound independence, language barriers, and unforgettable adventures. However, one aspect that is never discussed is the experience of moving back to the UK after what could possibly be one of the most extraordinary years of your life. This transition can be both comforting and homely, yet also asphyxiating and sad. It brings conflicting emotions, as you navigate between newfound independence and your parents asking if you’ll be okay to sort yourself out for dinner. “Yes mum, I’ve been feeding myself for the past 10 months, I think I can manage one night by myself!” But returning from a year abroad, independence feels more instinctive, and if you’re anything like me, you may feel protective over your ability to navigate this big scary world all by yourself. Therefore, coming back to the familiar confines of my childhood room, which I spent WAY too many hours sitting in during COVID, feels like a regression in personal development.
All the cliches come to mind when trying to answer the question “What did you get from this year? My experience living abroad in Bergen, Norway was incredibly rewarding and life-changing. Undertaking this year abroad has granted me the unique privilege of immersing myself in a new culture and gaining a deeper understanding of the world. Living in Bergen, I have been constantly reminded of the beauty and simplicity of nature, something I will miss incredibly when back in Manchester. The opportunity to explore Norway’s rich history, unique traditions, and pristine natural wonders has broadened my horizons and instilled in me a profound appreciation for the exploration of new cultures. It has been a whirlwind with both the most insatiable highs and devastating lows. It has rounded me as an adult and I will always remember my time in Bergen.
Looking back after the most fantastic year I thought I would write a cheat sheet of things I wish I knew before my year abroad. Some of it will be generic and others will be specific to Bergen, but I hope it helps anyway!
Reflecting upon the past few months in Bergen has been met with an overwhelming sense of happiness, pride, as well as anticipation for the future and sadness that time is passing awfully quickly. Fortunately for me, I have had a solid support network of friends, family, and loved ones that have ensured that each emotion and experience, both the highs and the lows, have been faced with humility and gratitude.
It has been 3 months and 19 days until I boarded the flight at London-Gatwick with a complete stranger on my way to Bergen. 3 months and 19 days later and so much has changed. I have climbed 4 of the 7 mountains surrounding the city. I have travelled around Europe and have more trips to come. I have made incredible friends and I have also cried a couple of times. The past 3 months and 19 days have been incredibly testing; but also monumentally rewarding.
August 1st 2022. It’s exactly a year to the day since I moved to Norway, or the quarantine hotel in Bergen, at least. And what an incredible 10 months it was. I threw myself into Norwegian life, making the most of the ample opportunities on offer. You can read about some of these incredible experiences in my previous blog posts!
However, if I could offer one piece of advice to myself one year ago today, and to anyone about to embark on a year abroad themselves, it would be that it’s ok to go home during your year abroad… Indeed, throughout the year, I felt that there was an immense pressure from fellow students to never go home for a weekend, holiday or week during year abroad, and that if you do, you are ‘failing’ Erasmus. For example, myself and others were constantly criticised for choosing to go home for Christmas in mid December, and not staying in Bergen until the days before Christmas Eve. As if it is some sort of competition for who can stay the maximum amount of days in Norway! I was also worried about missing out on things happening in Norway or that it would have an impact on building friendships with fellow students.
Of course, it is only a 90 minute flight between Bergen and Manchester, and I was fortunate to have financial aid specifically for travel purposes from the Turing Scheme. Nonetheless, during Semester 1, I gave in to this pressure and FOMO, and did not go home to visit friends or family once, which in the end I bitterly regretted because I missed some important family events and 21st birthdays. So, in Semester 2, I took a last minute, cheap flight home for Easter, which allowed me to go back to Norway a week later, refreshed and rejuvenated for my final months there. I also made plans to meet friends from home in a neighbouring Scandinavian country, so that I too could have a holiday and change of scenery (rather than them coming to Bergen).
So, all in all, don’t give in to the pressure to never go home during your time abroad! If your timetable and finances permit it, then I think it’s a great way to boost your mental health and wellbeing. Seeing friends and family, and the change of scenery, might even make you appreciate your year abroad more in the long term.
From quirky Christmas festivities to its rich Viking heritage, Norway is a country packed with culture. Of course, every nation has its own personal traditions. However, the lifestyle and customs within Norwegian society differ from the rest of the world through its unique approach to celebrating its deep-rooted and brilliant history. This is especially reflected every year on the country’s “birthday”, May 17th.
Brazilians have their carnival, the Irish Saint Patrick’s Day. Norway’s answer? On 17 May, they celebrate the signing of the constitution in 1814. In Norway, Constitution Day is HUGE. Indeed, since I arrived in Bergen in August, I have been told about this day so many times by excited and proud Norwegians, and have been looking forward to May 17th throughout the year.