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.
My alarm goes off at 8:30am. Today is the day we go to Trolltunga! My flatmate, Charlotte, and I have some porridge together and finish making our food for the weekend. At 9am, armed with big rucksacks and excitement, we take a local bus to Bergen Bus Station. Here, we meet the rest of our group. It’s a very random assortment of people, including Myfi, a fellow Geographer at UOM, and her friends from Fantoft student housing. Together, we have people from the UK, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
We are also joined by Sarah (from Germany), who asked on a big Bergen WhatsApp group chat whether anyone would be going to Trolltunga this weekend and if she could join a group. Of course, we invited her on our trip. This is something I really love about Erasmus – everyone is open and inviting, there’s no cliques or exclusions happening here. After all, everyone is in the same boat – most people arriving only knowing a couple of people, and everyone is keen to make friends and explore Norway.
At the bus station, we board a coach which will take us to Odda, a town around 3 hours from Bergen. There are 3 coaches at the station and they are all FULL of Erasmus students. Usually, there is only 1 coach but extra are put on in the summer months due to the popularity of Trolltunga! And yet, 3 still isn’t enough and the bus drivers make frantic calls to arrange another coach. This is one of the last weekends possible to hike to Trolltunga without paying a guide, and the weather forecast is great, so everyone is making the most of it. Luckily, we get seats at the front of a coach.
The bus journey is STUNNING. We go through the mountains and along the fjords, and the coach even boards two ferries, which we were very excited about. You can disembark the coach during the ferry rides to enjoy the views of the fjords. It feels very Norwegian for the coaches to casually board ferries. They really are integrated into the transport system here. It doesn’t cost you any extra, you simply pay for the bus ticket and the ferries are included.
We arrive in the centre of Odda at midday, and there is a frantic rush for shuttle buses to the start of the hike. Companies put on these shuttles/taxis as they know there is high demand and there is a lot of money to be made for them! We bump into Spanish girls that Myfi and I recognise from one of our modules, and they tell us that there is a local bus service which goes to ‘Trolltunga Parking 1’ for a fraction of the price, so we wait for that bus and take it together.
15 minutes later we arrive at ‘Parking 1’. We need to reach ‘Parking 2’ where we then have the option to start the hike, or take a shuttle up a private road to ‘Parking 3’ and begin the hike there. We decide to conserve our energy and start the hike at P3, as most people seem to do. Between P2 and P3 it is an exhausting walk along a steep, bending road, shaped like a hair grip, which everyone has advised us not to do.
We are about 20 students in Parking 1 and a steward with a walkie talkie arranges for us to be picked up and driven to P3. There is nobody else here, as it is an overflow car park for the busiest weekends. He informs us that the shuttle will arrive in 10 minutes and that there will be space for all of us. 10 minutes go by, and then another 10 minutes. The steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Then, a quad bike type vehicle arrives! It looks very cool but we immediately notice that it will only fit 4 people! 4 lucky Spanish girls get onboard. Again, the steward assures us that the shuttle is on its way. Hmmm. It’s been around 30 minutes now. It’s sunny and we aren’t in a rush so the mood is good, but people start to get more and more frustrated. We begin to joke that maybe a Norwegian 10 minutes is more like 45 minutes in real time. It’s hard to be annoyed with the steward though – he’s a student from Odda and this is his summer job. He tells us that P1 is the most boring shift – barely anyone stops here. Private cars can drive straight up to P2, and most of the private shuttles go from Odda to P2/P3. He’s working at P2 tomorrow though and he’s excited. A group of exchange students from Bergen arriving at P1 is the most exciting thing to have happened to him here! We start to eat our lunches, frustrated and keen to get walking.
Eventually a minibus roars down the hill, and we excitedly grab our bags ready to board. But, it drives straight past P1 and in the direction of Odda! We immediately turn to the steward, outraged, and he explains it is going to refuel in Odda and then it will collect us. Hmmm, how do we know that he won’t collect passengers in Odda and go straight past us again?! 10 minutes, our steward tells us. That’s a lie, as we know for a fact that the journey is at least 15 minutes each way! Exasperated, some of our group prepare to start walking, but the steward persuades them to wait, 10 minutes he says, and then we will be collected. As we know it is daylight until late and the hike will only take 4-6 hours (we are camping at the top), we aren’t pressed for time so the situation is annoying, but it won’t impact our weekend or hiking plan.
Finally, the minibus arrives and we all board! We wave goodbye to the unreliable but friendly steward. Everyone is excited and the drive is adrenaline inducing. We roar up to P2 and then it’s a steep, mountainside road up to P3. We are immensely grateful to not be walking, as we whizz past those who have decided to hike from P2. The driver seems mad, revving up the steep road, with a huge cliff drop on one side. We are all looking at each other in complete shock, holding onto our seats for dear life! Luckily, we arrive in one piece.
Finally, around 2 hours after arriving in Odda, and after numerous, numerous ’10 minutes’, we have arrived at P3 and can begin the hike! We take a quick starting photo, and off we go. The first 30 minutes is fine. It’s mostly flat wooden walkways through a rather barren landscape. Light work! But then the ascent begins. We have about 1 hour of steep, steep ascent up what feels like a sheer cliff face. There’s no steps or explicit path, just a very smooth and steep rockface to climb up. With our heavy backpacks and the sun beating down, we walk slowly and take regular breaks. There’s differing levels of speed and fitness in the group, but luckily everyone is encouraging and waits for each other. We overtake some groups while other groups overtake us, but the atmosphere is friendly and everyone is excited. We see many familiar faces – students from Fantoft or who we recognise from our lectures and seminars. There’s hardly any older adults or families compared to the masses of students.
Once we have completed this ascent, which we are told is the worst part of the hike, we take a long break for some well earned lunch. It’s still sunny and t-shirt weather, hopefully we will tan this weekend! We take the opportunity to fill our water bottles up from a nearby stream. We then hike for another 3-4 hours, stopping frequently to take photos and enjoy the views. The scenery is amazing, with a huge fjord to our lefthand side. We can just about make out the rock itself, the Troll’s Tongue, when we are around 2 hours away, which fills us with excitement. Once we have finished all the ascent, there is around an hour of walking on flat ground.
Eventually, we reach the rock!! We enjoy some food while watching people pose on the rock. I had to close my eyes when some idiots decide to do handstands and yoga poses on the rock. An Erasmus student fell of the rock and died a few years ago, safety is no joke. The crowds soon disappear so we take it in turns to carefully take our photos on the rock. I stay well in the middle, no dangling my legs off the side for me!
Then, we find a place to set up camp. Despite the masses of crowds we saw while hiking up, there aren’t that many tents on the plateau and everyone seems nicely spread out. We find a spot with dry ground and beautiful views of the fjord, and install our tents. It’s getting cold at this point to we begin to wrap up warm. Dinner for me is a rice salad which I prepared in Bergen, while some of the boys in our group warm up baked beans on a gas stove to eat with hot dog sausages (grim, in my opinion!). We go for a walk around the plateau in the evening and then we sit around a candle (fires are not allowed) to tell stories and get to know each other better. After all, we have only been in Bergen for a matter of weeks!
As it gets darker and colder, we crawl into our tents for what I can only describe as the coldest night of my life. I am wearing every single item of clothing that I brought on the trip, including my hat, gloves, fleece, thermal base layers, down jacket and two pairs of leggings, and I am still FREEZING.
Sunday 5th September 2021
Breakfast is porridge, as we all complain about how badly we slept and compete with who was the coldest. But, we soon shut up when the sun makes an appearance and we see the magnificent views. We pack up our camp, making sure to leave nothing behind, and head back to the rock for some more photos.
Next, we split into two groups for the journey down – one with those who want to run (yes, run!), and a chill paced group. I take the latter. The walk back down is relatively easy and straightforward. We have more energy for chatting and getting to know each other too. We take a shuttle from P2 to Odda, where we all reconvene. There’s a couple of hours before the coach back to Bergen so we play cards, lay on the grass, and even have a quick swim in the fjord. There’s also time to send some jaw dropping photos to the family WhatsApp group! The coach journey back is almost silent, with most people asleep. We arrive in Bergen, exhausted but buzzing.
Overall, it was a fantastic weekend with wonderful company, incredible views and a great atmosphere. I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Bergen or this part of Norway. And bring maximum warm layers for the night!
The best part of my Year Abroad experience in Bergen has undoubtedly been the opportunity to take weekend trips. They are the perfect chance to explore Norway, try something new, and make memories to last a lifetime (cringe, I know, but true). Here are 5 trips I have taken, of varying budgets, and different styles.
Advice on choosing where to apply to, from a Human Geographer’s perspective.
The IEP application can be an overwhelming and daunting process. The pressure to decide where to go, and where you will be happiest, can seem immense. What if I choose the ‘wrong’ place? What if I hate the city? What if there’s nothing to do I enjoy? All these thoughts were running through my head as I stared at the long list of partner universities on offer to me. As a Geography student, there was over 35 partner university to choose from, across approximately 10 countries, even with Australia and New Zealand off the list (thanks Covid). It was still a long and overwhelming list. Where to begin?
Making your new room feel like home is important, especially if you are going to be living there for the best part of a year. My room at the University of Bergen’s student halls seemed bare and clinical, but within a few weeks it felt like home. Here are some ideas for how to decorate your new room, whilst in a foreign country and on a tight budget.
Print photos of family and friends
Pictures of your family and friends will comfort you when you’re having a down day and missing them, and will also brighten up the bare walls. They also make a nice conversation starter with your new flatmates and friends. Whilst in the UK, I used the Free Prints app to print off a bunch, which then took up minimal space in my luggage. Don’t forget to bring some blu-tac too!
Pack your favourite duvet cover and pillowcase
I chose to pack my favourite duvet cover and pillowcase from home to add a personal and familiar touch to my room. Once I rolled it up tight, it took up surprisingly little space in my luggage. It also meant I had one less thing to buy at Ikea once I had arrived. I brought a duvet cover and pillowcase with fun colours and patterns to brighten up the room, and remind me of home. Make sure to check beforehand whether you will have a single bed or a double bed!
Seek out free stuff
There are plenty of places to find free or super cheap stuff for your room. At my accommodation, previous tenants had left the stuff they didn’t want to take home in the communal areas. Here, my flat mates found a kettle, vacuum cleaner, and a chest of drawers, amongst other things. Unfortunately, once I arrived (after my mandatory hotel quarantine) the best stuff had gone, so instead I kept an eye on the accommodation’s Facebook group, where people would post what they were giving away or selling. I managed to bag a lamp, coat hangers and a bedside table, all for free. Second hand stores and garage sales are also great places to look, as well as your host country’s most popular advertisements website (in Norway, it’s FINN).
When preparing for Bergen I knew that nature and the incredible views were in abundance, however what I did not know was just how quickly you will be thrown into it. Luckily, due to me studying geology and geography, I was somewhat prepared by bringing with me boots, fleeces, hiking trousers and other hiking wear.
Hiking was the best way to meet new people here, as in our accommodation group chat people constantly said they were meeting up to go on hikes and whoever wanted to join was more than welcome. So hiking is definitely the best way to meet people and to explore the stunning scenery that is directly behind your accommodation. I live in Hatleberg which is situated behind multiple hiking paths ready for you to tackle and to start your way through the 7 mountains of Bergen. Within the first few weeks of being there I was already on my way to hike 16km to Trolltunga, one of the most famous view points in Norway. Though the hikes can be tough you are all soon to realise that you can take these hikes as leisurely as you want during summer and have no real rush to the end especially if you are camping. However hiking in winter is a different story as you are racing against the sun.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on equipment, like most students in Norway as it is pretty expensive, you can use BUA. BUA is a hiking rental service and for students under 20 they rent to you for free, from tents, boots to sleeping bags. But even if you are over 20yr it is only around £10 for a sleep bag to rent for a week. You can also pay for a membership with the university hiking group BSI Friluft. The membership means that you can sign up for there weekly hiking trips, whether it be camping, climbing, kayaking, they do it all. If you are a member you can also rent equipment it from them.
If you don’t like hiking don’t let this put you off as you soon adapt and find that everyone is on the same level but obviously you get those people who are use to hiking but remember to take it at your own pace. I have had many enjoyable non hiking trips to city’s and towns and that is what matters as well.