The highlight of my PhD-experience thus far was attending a summer school course at the University of Oslo. I learned about the Oslo Summer school in comparative social sciences from my fellow PhD student, Lorenza Williams, who attended a course at this university a couple of years ago. I looked at the courses on offer and one course immediately grabbed my attention. The course was called ‘Mixed Methods: Integrating qualitative and quantitative research’. To my knowledge there are no PhD courses focusing on mixed methods in South Africa. This course seemed ideal because my study is a mixed methods study and I am very interested in learning about methodology and teaching it. However, I was hesitant to apply because I have never travelled that far alone, but at Lorenza’s insistence; I applied and was shortly thereafter accepted. After I accepted my place at the course I began searching for funding to attend the course. I approached the Postgraduate and International office.
The PGIO office was incredibly helpful and assisted me in obtaining the funding I needed.Once I received the funding I started planning for the trip right away by searching for flights to Oslo and accommodation in Oslo. Tron Torneby, the coordinator of the summer school in Oslo provided plenty of support by recommending hotels and providing us with details about Oslo. Tron even provided us with details of which trams stopped at the university, which was extremely helpful. The recommended hotel was too pricey so I opted for another hotel in central Oslo within walking distance of the tram that stopped at the University. The flights were painless to book because I used a travel agent. I learned that travelling would take an entire day and multiple stops and flight changes would be required. This seemed daunting but I knew that the experience would be worth it.
South African citizens require a visa in order to visit Norway. A visa application needs to be made three months prior to departure. Unfortunately, the Embassy in Cape Town closed its doors a couple of years ago and all visa applicants have to make the applications in person at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Pretoria. This meant additional flight costs to Pretoria just to obtain a visa. The application process itself ran quite smoothly and my passport with visa was sent to the Norwegian Consulate in Cape Town, saving me from making another trip to Pretoria.
About two months before the course started I received the reading material for the course. There was a substantial amount of reading that had to be completed prior to attending the summer school. I decided that I would read the course material and write the methodology chapter of my thesis concurrently. This strategy also helped me to focus on what I wanted to learn from the course and armed me with some questions for the lecturer.
The currency used in Norway is the Norwegian Krone. If you are travelling to Norway my advice would be not to leave converting your forex to the last minute, as most banks and travel exchange kiosks do not stock the Krone and it takes a day or two to order. Also, let your bank know that you will be travelling in case you need to use your bank cards. If you don’t let the bank know beforehand your credit card usage may be detected as fraudulent and your card may be cancelled.
Travelling to Oslo from Cape Town took an entire day. I flew to Johannesburg, Paris and then Oslo. I bought a good travel guide to help me get around Oslo. Once in Oslo, the transportation was effortless and I took a bus from the airport to the hotel and used the trams daily. I used the seven day transport card which allowed me to use the trams and trains for the week. I used Google transit to plan my routes around Oslo using public transportation. It worked for the most part, except for the first day of the course when I got off the tram at the wrong stop and ended up walking an hour (most of it in the wrong direction) before finding the campus!
The summer school office and courses were housed in Georg Sverdrups Hus, which is the main library building. I was greeted with a warm welcome from Tron and Sara. After months of communicating with Tron via email I was happy to finally meet him. It was also exciting to meet PhD students from different countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Russia, Nepal, Iceland and more. Being the only one at the course from South Africa meant that people often engaged with me to find out more about my home country. I took great pride in telling them about South Africa and informed them that Stellenbosch University also offers summer and winter schools. Some class mates have been to SA and shared their experiences in SA with me and others expressed an interest in attending courses or conferences here.
The course itself was well-planned and I learned so much that will contribute to my PhD. As interesting as the course content was, I also found interacting with my class mates to be a very enriching experience. The course is meant for students conducting their PhD’s in the social sciences and students came from different fields such as psychology, sociology, journalism, economics and political science. Students shared their experiences regarding being PhD students in their home countries and conversation often ventured into topics such as economics and politics as well as social issues. It was fascinating gaining firsthand accounts from people about what it’s like living in other countries.
The co-ordinators of the summer school (Tron and Sara) arranged a guided bus tour for the students one afternoon. We went to Vigeland Sculpture Park, the Viking ship museum and a mini tour of the city. As it was my first time in Oslo, I tried to see as many tourist attractions as I could while I was there. I visited some beautiful and historic sights such as the Nobel Peace Centre, National Gallery, the Palace and Parliament. Oslo is an easy city to get around in, because of the trams, busses and trains, and many of the tourist sites are within walking distance from each other.
Returning to South Africa
My week in Oslo passed by so quickly. Before I knew it I was on my long journey back home. It was an exciting and enriching experience. I gained a wealth of information that will assist me with my PhD and I was able to make some important decisions regarding my study methodology as a result of the course. I am still working on my methodology chapter and have more clarity on certain aspects of my study. The time away also gave me a bit of a break and I have returned with a renewed enthusiasm for my research. I enjoyed engaging with other students and hope to keep in contact with some of them and even welcome them to South Africa sometime in the future.
I would like to thank the Postgraduate & International Office for granting me a Summer School Travel Bursary to attend this course. A special mention has to be made to Tron and Sara from the Oslo Summer School for assisting me from the outset and for producing such a well-organised programme.