James Wood - Oslo Erasmus Experience 2008

Firstly if you are able definitely try to do Erasmus where ever you end up. It really is so much fun and so refreshing after probably spending a couple of years at university in the same routine..and it's really really good for C.V!

I was in Oslo from August through to 22nd December 2008 and had such a good time. Norway is an amazing country and I think one of Europe's best kept secrets in terms of somewhere to travel. Even if you're not an outdoorsy person you definitely will become one if you decide to go! Oslo is a really attractive little city, probably about the same size as Newcastle if not smaller but this makes it really easy to find your way around but big enough to keep finding new little spots. Norway's very rich and so the city is very clean, quite flashy and everything works very efficiently so it's quite a change from parts of England! It's setting is also amazing in that you have the fjord with lots of little islands on one side of the city and then on the other you have huge forests and lakes up in the hills behind it. The metro network runs through all of it so within 20mins from the city centre you can be in the middle of nowhere. In summer when you arrive it's hot and sunny. People on beaches swimming in the warm fjords and lakes and in winter it's cold and snowy with families cross-country skiing on Sunday afternoons and ice skating on the same lakes you swam in. You can even metro to a ski resort in Winter!

The accommodation they give you is in an old Olympic village which is on the outskirts of the city but it's not bad at all. Bit of a mix between Ricky Road and Henderson Halls but it's right next to massive parks and the forest so actually one morning I woke up to find an Elk and 3 deer right outside my window. Amazing! You usually have a single room within a flat you share with other people...shared kitchen, bathroom etc. The rent's quite cheap about £250 a month which is pretty good, and it's by far the cheapest you can find in Oslo. For this reason there are quite a few Norwegians of all ages not even always students because it's the cheapest there is. This is great because you find as an international student, meeting Norwegians is the hardest part. If you join a sport team or something though it's easy. They usually shove all international students here so you do meet a lot of interesting people from all over the world. It's a bit like first year all over again which is fun. There's always a flat party to go to! The campus also has all the immediate necessities you need like bars, and supermarkets laundry's etc. so it's well thought out.

Norwegians are the nicest people and their English is always excellent. It's can be a bit embarrassing but get stuck into a Norwegian class and they'll appreciate your effort! They can be a little shy and naive sometimes but once you break the ice they're brilliant fun and love to socialize. I also found them to be very loyal. They keep their word even if they haven't known you that long. This comes to light in the first couple of weeks when you're trying to make new friends and organizing to meet people! They're also very attractive! It's true what they say about Scandinavians, even if you're really struggling to settle in you always have that to keep you smiling!

The university is really excellent. Lectures are of high standard but very relax and open. There's often lots of interaction between students and the professors during class which I really enjoyed. I often find in Newcastle sometimes you turn up, write some notes and get out of there as quickly as possible and god forbid if you ever asked a question during a lecture!! ;) I do Politics so Norway being a country outside the E.U. it was an interesting place to see another perspective. Norway is very much into its Environment, even a world leader in terms of their green policies and life there is centred around nature and it's obvious why they want to preserve it! I think if you study Geography or a social science it's fantastic. Some geographers I met looked at a lot of Oil exploration obviously but also loads of Glacial and conservation stuff which most of students hadn't done much of before. The university took them to Helsinki to see some glaciers and then I know two English girls from Bristol who in March are going to Svalbard in the Arctic to go out and sleep for 10 nights on the sea ice where they're doing Geography stuff whilst dodging Polar bears!

So some negatives, but there aren't too many. Norway is far North so in Winter it's really dark. In December before I left, sunrise was at 9am, sunset at 3pm. It can be a bit depressing living in what seems a constant state of twilight for 2months but as soon as the snow comes everyone cheers up a bit. In summer though, the days never end and everyone makes the most of it! The other only really important negative is expense. Norway particularly Oslo being a capital city is extremely expensive. I think it's in the world's top 5 most expensive cities to live. Food is about 25% more expensive and despite Norwegians loving to drink, alcohol is horrendous. In the city centre, you will easily pay £6 for a pint! However, you can get around some of the expense by shopping at local markets for fruit and veg, going out to the docks to buy fish straight off the boats and then the cost of living comes right down and it can be fun;) Some things like fish, are really cheap. Smoked salmon for example is one of the cheapest things you can buy! It's just a pain if you're used to nipping to Tesco's! You do get an Erasmus grant of about £250 a month which doesn't go that far but the university and Norwegian government do help out a lot if you need it. You can also get part time work where the minimum wage is about £12/13 pounds an hour! It's all relative however and you do spend it, but it really helps in keeping finances just about ok. Also, great way to meet new people. I would honestly say that's the only bad thing but you have to keep in mind that Erasmus is a lifetime experience so therefore an investment, which you shouldn't put a price on. Thats what I told friends, family and the bank anyway. Another note to keep in mind is that Norway is tightly regulated and there is a lot of time consuming bureaucracy - one of the draw backs from a hugely state supported society. Things are being done to improve the situation for international students but best to have a Norwegian on hand to help with translation and insider tips as to how things can be fast tracked.

I got back about a month ago and got flung into work so just nice to have a chance to reminisce on what was one of the best times I've ever had. I would really recommend Oslo to you despite it's expense. I met some awesome people, made some great contacts and got to travel Scandinavia (Stockholm, Copenhagen, even Latvia for a weekend!) which I don't think I would have done independently. In many ways it does have everything on the doorstep with its surroundings whilst still being a international capital city. I'm hoping to be in Norway this summer visiting friends and even thinking of possibly doing a Masters in Oslo in the next couple of years so I guess that gives you an idea how much I liked it!

Once again I'm really sorry this got so long but if you ever want to know more or even meet for a chat feel free to get in touch!