When the idea of going abroad for a semester as part of the ERASMUS scheme was suggested to me, I thought it was a brilliant thing to do. I saw it as an opportunity to replace the gap year that I hadn’t been able to go on because if I had, I would have had to pay the increased tuition fees and let’s face it, who would have wanted that? Suddenly I imagined replacing the bad weather of England with the sun and being able to read all of my books on the beach in some sunny location like Spain.
This daydream was short-lived, however, because the options for a History student like myself did not include Spain, but instead Canada, France, Germany, Poland and Norway. I decided that Canada was perhaps a bit far and if I wanted to go to France or Germany, the lectures would not be in English. Given that my French is limited to “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” and my German to “wunderbar”, these options were not really choices at all! I then decided to apply to Norway as it sounded more exotic in my head than Poland, without really knowing anything about the culture or country.
In retrospect, this was definitely a mistake. It was only after I had been accepted to study in Bergen and arrived here that I found out a few things unexpectedly. Firstly, the weather in Norway is so terrible that it makes the English weather look pleasant. I am someone who before has only ever worn my wellies to Jesters on a regular basis and yet here I wear them as everyday footwear. If it only rains for two hours a day, it’s considered to be a good day! More importantly though is the difference in regards to alcohol. At the grand old age of nineteen, I have been used to getting more than a little merry in Sobar and Jesters for the past year. In Norway, it is illegal to drink spirits if you are under twenty and many bars won’t let you in! In all honesty, I consider this nothing less than a travesty and have been relying on sneaking into bars and getting drunk on wine to reach the appropriate level of tipsiness! It wouldn’t be so bad if Norway wasn’t so expensive. The cheapest bottle of wine costs the equivalent of eight pounds and an after party medium meal at McDonalds will set you back a tenner!
However, this isn’t to say that taking part in the ERASMUS scheme was a bad choice. In fact, it has been one of the best decisions of my life. Whilst I may not party as much as I used to, the simple fact that I can say I have lived in another country is amazing in itself. Plus I’m not a Fresher anymore so should probably get used to not being permanently hung over anyway… The university in Bergen prides itself on attracting a large number of international students and, as a result, my group of friends that I share a kitchen with is ridiculously diverse. Obviously, there is me, the English girl, but also one Spaniard, one Iranian, one Zambian, two Norwegians and two Germans. It sounds like the set-up of a joke and, to be honest, I think I’ve learnt more over that kitchen table about other the countries than I ever did in the twelve years that I studied geography!
The conversations are some of the strangest I’ve ever had – my Iranian flatmate is constantly telling me how England should go to war against Iran, my Norwegian flatmate is baffled as to why the English have carpets, but probably the most controversial conversation was when one of the Germans mentioned the war… As someone who has strictly adhered to the Fawlty Towers principle of not mentioning it, I was paralysed when he did. What on earth should I do? Being typically English, I bumbled about in a manner that Boris Johnson would have been proud of, causing my flatmate to just laugh. Luckily, I accepted that it was fine to joke about it and the Germans wouldn’t get offended as long as you didn’t make the Hitler salute! Since then, I’ve made great friends with everyone in my flat, and plenty of people not in it, from so many different countries, something that I wouldn’t have done in Southampton.
Therefore, I would have to conclude that halfway through my foray abroad, whilst I may miss the “good” weather of England and the constant partying, the beauty of Bergen itself and the fact I’m part of such an international community makes me so glad that I didn’t decide to ignore the email about the ERASMUS scheme. And anyway, whilst I may not be able to get into many of the bars, I’ve managed to get a job as a bartender/bouncer at a club to pass the time, getting to laugh at the drunken people rather than being the one embarrassing myself for once!