Department of Social Anthropology

An Aussie Reflection of a Year in Bergen

- At UiB I felt much more as though I was being treated as belonging with the department I was studying in rather than just a student.

Kula Kula's pront page picture spring 2016
Dillon Ozuna, 2015.

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Kula Kula is an anthropological journal run by anthropology students at the University of Bergen. Students from both bachelor and master level participate, as well as exchange students. It comes out once each semester, and in the 2016 spring issue Rebecca Doyle-Walker wrote about her experience in Bergen as an exchange student from Australia. You can read the article below. 

An Aussie Reflection of a Year in Bergen

By Rebecca Doyle­Walker

2015 was, for me, a year of wonderful experiences, both educationally and personally, and I have the University of Bergen to thank for that opportunity. My decision to take up the chance to study on exchange in Norway has changed my life in so many ways for the better and I’d like to share with you some of what that journey has taught me.

It was a lovely, warm summer’s evening when I left Melbourne, Australia on 30 December 2014. On 1st January 2015 – after a quick stopover in London to purchase a winter coat (much more heavy­duty than what we have at home), an umbrella and to epically fail to see in the New Year – I arrived in Bergen to begin my semester as an exchange student. I knew I was in for an experience. I just wasn’t sure what that experience would be.

As I wandered out of Bergen International Airport in search of a taxi, it was raining. Newsflash people! The rest of the world doesn’t know it rains 260 days a year in Bergen!! Good work keeping that piece of information to yourselves.

So, my first experience of Bergen was rushing through the rain. I had no idea how used to rushing through the rain I would become. At home if it rains, you get annoyed and tend to change your plans so you don’t have to go out in it. If I’d stuck to that in Bergen, I would never have left my room... Suffice to say, the umbrella I purchased in London was used quite a deal over the next year!

The next few days consisted of all the usual things that international students do – head to the Student Centre to register and get the keys to your accommodation, find your accommodation, move in and then do the traditional trip to IKEA to get all the things you’re going to need that aren’t provided. I was nicely settled by the time Induction day arrived. Now, you know that you’re in Norway when the playing of “Barbie Girl” and A­ha are part of the induction program. That and being introduced to Brown Cheese.

UiB wasn’t first on my list of places to study. That was primarily because I assumed the courses would be taught in Norwegian. I was assured the courses I would be studying would be taught in English ­ well Norwegian­English.

As it turned out, after several attempts to learn some basic words other than ‘hei, hei’ and ‘tusen takk’ I decided that unless you were born Norwegian there was probably no way you could learn the language...my tongue just does not know how to pronounce those extra letters!

In the end, I was blessed. The majority of my fellow international students were from non­English speaking backgrounds and I have a huge amount of admiration for those who managed to keep up with everything while struggling to understand what was being said, doing all their readings in English and then writing their assignments in English sometimes without the use of Google Translate.

The biggest challenge in attending lectures and workshops was learning to understand the different accents and deciphering the “Norwegian­English”. I’ll admit this took a few weeks but I finally managed it so the possible disaster of attending classes and not understanding a word was averted.

One of the best things about studying anthropology as an exchange student is the discussions with your fellow students particularly when examining and dissecting the readings in workshops. It was so good to get different perspectives based on how and where we had all grown up around the world. In one of my workshops we counted thirteen (13) different nationalities, which was fantastic. Even some of the Norwegian students opted to be in the English workshops just so they could work with the international students. I’ve been asked a lot what some of the differences were between studying in Norway and studying in Australia. The short answer is a lot. The long answer is that at UiB I felt much more as though I was being treated as belonging with the department I was studying in rather than just a student.

At UiB, I was able to do the little “special interest” units where I could find out about current research being done by doctorate candidates (and get credit for it). There was the opportunity to attend conferences being hosted by the university in the area I was interested which really surprised me – at my home university, students would not even know about these things happening let alone be able to attend.

And then of course there are the weekly seminars that are open to everyone in the department with guest speakers from around the world. Some were obviously of more interest than others but just having the opportunity to attend them was a privilege.

All of these great opportunities that enhanced my learning experience were complemented by the friendships that I forged during my time at UiB. Being a mature age student I was obviously a little concerned that I would be the “oldie” in the class. I imagine it would be hard for a student who was 20­ish to travel to the other side of the world to study, but at least they would be with other people around their own age. I was pleasantly surprised that I was so openly accepted – it helps that I don’t look as old as I am – and included in many extra­curricular activities. I genuinely did not want to leave UiB and if I had been able to pick up Norwegian I probably would have tried to transfer and complete my studies there.

I did try to “Australia­fy” some of my Norwegian friends – with absolutely no success. Australians are known to be outgoing and friendly, but my striking up conversations with random strangers completely freaked out my introverted Norwegian friends. Apparently it isn’t acceptable behavior to call out to others across the road, talk to people at bus stops or on the bus, speak to people in shops (unless you intend to make a purchase) and you really shouldn’t get too close because Norwegians really value their personal space. Obviously they had as much luck getting me to change my behaviour as I did in getting them to change theirs!

So I thank UiB and the Social Anthropology department for making me feel so welcome and valued as a student and part of the department during my year in Bergen. I appreciate the opportunity that I had to study there and the experience that I gained which is immeasurable and worth so much to me as I move ahead with my studies. I hope to return to do my masters at UiB in the future and to become a part of the community there once again.