Tunis meets Bergen
“I’m in love with Bergen”, says one of the five Tunisian exchange students that the Department of Foreign Languages has welcomed this spring semester.
They are the first ones to profit from the new Erasmus+-agreement between the University of Bergen and University of Tunis El Manar. Four of the new exchange students were happy to share their experiences in an interview.
Why did you choose to study in Bergen?
Rihab: Actually, we didn’t get to choose (laughs). There was the possibility to apply for this exchange, and we were so lucky to be the ones that got selected. The application process had several steps, and there was a jury who decided which students could take part in this program.
Sonia: There were around 40 students and 5 of them were picked.
How do you like Bergen and the University of Bergen?
Rihab: I’m in love with Bergen, I’m in love with Norway. It’s my first time visiting a Scandinavian country. It’s really amazing.
Khalil: In terms of academia, it’s quite diverse and multicultural. You come to meet international students from all over the world, which is really enriching in itself. Regarding life in Bergen, it’s fascinating as well. It is really such an enriching experience that one has to fully benefit from it.
Sonia: I’m proud to be an exchange student at the University of Bergen. For me this opportunity represents a challenging accomplishment that will necessarily lead to a new state in my academic and professional career. It will also certainly improve my interpersonal skills and maximize my learning outcomes. Studying in Bergen is such a beneficial and fruitful experience because the educational system is fantastic. I am fond of discovering new traditions, customs and cultures. So, my studies at UiB will not only sharpen my academic skills, but I also get acquainted with such an interesting new culture as the Norwegian one. It’s more than just academic studies.
Imène: I like Bergen very much. Oslo seems more modernized to me, but Bergen still has the traditional architectonic structure, and you feel it’s really Norwegian. I learnt about the history of Bergen and discovered that Germans lived there during the Hansa period, I didn’t know that before. I realized quickly that it’s easier to learn Norwegian if you know German. And I like the nature - there are so many nice views from the university buildings when you study, that’s empowering. I also like the buildings on campus – you always find a place to stay when you have free time.
What do you think about the courses and the teaching at the Department of Foreign Languages?
Imène: I like the courses, and I like the fact that everything is on Mi side – that’s new for me because we don’t have that kind of system in Tunis. It’s really good to have some reference after the class. I also like the way of teaching here, the teachers make me want to hear more and sometimes they even make me laugh. We get the chance to search for things ourselves, I like that as well.
Sonia: The courses I am taking here will with no doubt enlarge my critical thinking and my knowledge horizon. For instance, the course on the “Women Writers’ Blazing Worlds” is in many aspects beneficial for me, because as a woman, I will get to know about the different roles of women in society but also the responsibilities that they bear. I will explore different issues like identity and ethnicity. All of my teachers are so amazing – actually, when I will go back to Tunisia, my three professors will have given me so much to remember. I am so grateful for their endless support and efforts that they deplore to make me another and to advise me. I will go back to Tunisia the 28th of June, but that day will be the hardest day for me because I will miss everything here.
How do your studies in Bergen differ from your studies in Tunis?
Khalil: In Tunisia, I am pursuing intercultural studies – a combination of literature, history, culture, civilization and language. Here, I study English literature, but it works in a similar way. To be honest, I find myself quite familiar with the system, because in Tunisia, we were loaded with many courses at the same time. When we got here, we found ourselves quite adjusted to the academic system. It’s working well.
Rihab: We are not having any problems with the level of studies, anyway. As Master’s students in English at UiB, we have only three courses, but with quite a big workload for each course.
Imène: Here, I study only two subjects this semester, German culture and linguistics. At first, I thought it would be really easy because it was only two courses. In Tunis, I study Applied Languages, and we have around 14 mandatory courses at the same time, ranging from language studies to marketing, communication and international trade. I was surprised, but vice versa: Here you have two subjects, but with a bigger syllabus in these two subjects. In Tunis, you have a lot of courses, but less workload for each individual course.
Sonia: Generally, I’ve got the feeling that we are more active here in Bergen than in Tunisia. In Tunis, most courses end with a written examination, a “skoleeksamen”. Here, we have research papers and “hjemmeksamen”, i.e. term papers. I really enjoy writing my research papers. I use the Master’s reading room the whole day. I want to make my family and my professors proud of me and to reflect a good image in Tunisia through my grades.
Did you get in contact with Norwegians?
Khalil: Yes, sure, I already made a lot of friends both at the student accommodation and at the university!
Rihab: Me too, I have found so many Norwegian friends, they are teaching me Norwegian. And I am teaching some of them Arabic. We meet every Thursday, and each time we discuss a particular topic.
Sonia: I make lot of friends, the Norwegians are so friendly. They ask me if we want to go out and they ask if I’m fine – they’re good. And a friend of mine teaches me some basics in Norwegian.
Imène: Almost all my fellow students in the courses are Norwegians and I am feeling well integrated. I am pretty active in international student organizations like AIESEC and ISU. I am also taking Norwegian courses at the Folkeuniversitetet: Jeg snakker norsk! Sometimes I say some words in Norwegian to my Norwegian friends, and they laugh, but then they are happy that I talk to them in Norwegian.
Why should Norwegian students go and study in Tunis?
Imène: I would love them to see my university. They would discover new things, e.g. that there is a lot more courses, but I think it’s about the same workload in Bergen and in Tunis in total. They would also discover that there are two official languages in Tunisia, Arabic and French, and that courses are held in French, Arabic, English and German, depending on the subject. I would really encourage them to try it and experience it themselves.
Sonia: I reckon Norwegian students will enjoy their stay in Tunisia. Apart from that they will learn, there are also a lot of things to do –
Imène: I think Norwegians will love the sun in Tunis. They would love the city, the atmosphere (smiles).
Sonia: We have plenty of beaches, very clean water, sightseeing… I advise them to go, they won’t regret it. It would be an amazing journey for them.
The cooperation with Tunis
When the partnership was initiated in spring 2015, the Department of Foreign Languages was looking for a place to send its Arabic students on exchange and was supported by the Faculty of Humanities and the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies. After the terror attack in Sousse in June 2015, though, the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs officially advised against all journeys to Tunisia which are not strictly necessary. Therefore, the UiB could not send any exchange students to Tunisia in the spring term.
– For us, first of all, it is very important that our students go abroad, but it is also important for us to get people from the outside world to the University of Bergen. I am very happy that the Tunisian students could come. All kind of international contact will help us to improve the teaching, and the students will also improve because they will see other ways of learning and studying, says Åse Johnson, director of the Department of Foreign Languages.
– We have had a good cooperation with our colleagues in Tunis so far, and I hope we will continue that in the future.