The journey for me started with finding a university to apply to. Although I initially was set on going to the Netherlands, Norway began to look more and more attractive so I gave it a go. Norway is not a very popular destination for Stellenbosch exchange students so I was nervous about being by myself but there is something about Scandinavia that has always fascinated me.
I was accepted to Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet or NTNU) in Trondheim. As I was in the process of writing my Master’s thesis, which is a full semester workload, I tried to choose courses that would complement my study. Many of the courses I wanted to take were offered in the autumn semester and not the spring semester, which I attended. I finally was able to enrol for a course in Marine Lipids. Additionally, I did apply for a supervisor at NTNU to help with my research and writing while I was there.
The SU international pre-departure seminar was very useful in helping me to prepare for the upcoming journey. I got a few good insights on how European universities operate, how the other students were planning to tackle their own exchange period. I was able to draw up a plan of what my goals were for the exchange. I also met a fellow Matie that was going to Norway so that gave me an opportunity to compare notes and get into a good mind space.
The visa application process was quite comprehensive but very costly. The visa cost ZAR 8800, so one should consider this when budgeting the available funds. The visa office is quite strict about the amount of time it takes for the visa to be issued so be sure to apply in good time. Norway is one of the countries that I know where the International office offers a bigger bursary due to the high cost of living there. I used the bursary to pay for the visa, rent, a flight ticket and a bus pass. I had a bit left over for groceries for the first couple of months.
I flew to Amsterdam where I had a 14-hour stopover before my next flight! This is good reminder not to book flights at the last minute. Luckily, the airport is quite big and there are quite a few things to keep you occupied in the airport (mainly the library and museum). From Amsterdam, it was another, 2-hour flight to Trondheim.
- Apply for your visa in time. They are not kidding when they say it can take up to 8 weeks.
- Cab from the airport costs ca. ZAR 1500 and bus from the airport costs ca. ZAR 300. Choose wisely and rather land in Trondheim during the day.
Experience at the Host University:
The university hosted an orientation week where we did a lot of the admin as well as socializing. Important information was given about the process of receiving a Norwegian ID, and the mandatory TB test. We were also given the bankcards from the university that had the money we were to use during the year. I did not receive my bankcard during the orientation week as I had transferred the money over a bit later. Luckily, I had some money that I could use in the meantime and I got my card the following week. The orientation week had many fun programmes including an orienteering exercise through the city, a movie night, quiz and a hike to one of the university cabins.
My main work at the university was to write my master’s thesis. I however also signed up for a module because I the course content would be beneficial for my write up. The module was at a PhD level so there were only five of us in the class. The class was given as two-and-a-half-hour interactive seminar with a 15-minute break after 40 minutes. The class was given in English and this is where I met the most Norwegians. The course work was quite manageable and consisted of mostly reading. The final assessment was an oral exam.
I lived in a student village in a house with three other housemates. We all got along very well as well as with our neighbours. We all came from all over the world so it was such a learning experience for all of us. This made it very hard to say goodbye at the end of the semester. It was such an experience making friends again in such a different environment but within no time, it felt like we had known each other for so long.
Trondheim has a very diverse social scene and there is a lot to be done. A very popular winter activity is of course cross-country skiing (Norwegians are born with skis after all). I was able to learn how to and was a wonderful experience filled with laughs, falls and muscle aches and I cannot wait to give it another go. The university’s sports department loaned out skiing equipment among other outdoor supplies at no cost at all. They also rent out cabins (koiene) for hiking and camping so I went with a few friends on an overnight trip. This was an interesting experience for many reasons. We hiked 3km at the end of March (surely it would be spring by this time) through 40cm deep snow to the cabin that had no electricity or running water so we had to melt snow for water. But this is the idea of the cabin trip, to connect with one another and nature. There are also many student communities (linjeforeninger) in the university that organise quizzes, debate nights and parties, which one can join. There are also several historical sites as well as museums for on to visit. I visited a Røros, UNESCO world heritage site outside Trondheim, with my family and that was a memorable experience.
- Winter wear = wool and layers. Wool, not cotton, WOOL.
- Check out NTNUI boomerang to rent skis as well as other outdoor gear for free
- Even though a hike is only 3km on the map, when it snows, that hike is basically 10km.
- Fretex is a cool place to look for winter stuff
- Embrace vegetables, they are good for you
- If you go to IKEA, try to go with a friend. Your arms will thank you.
Return to Stellenbosch:
The return from Norway was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was glad to come back to all my family and friends but on the other hand, I was going to miss all my family and friends there. Overall, I was glad to be back. There are two or three things I needed to readjust to all over again but I was able to get back to my course work quickly. I do however really miss always being five minutes away from a wonderful view of the fjords.
Reflecting on this period, I learned a lot about living in Europe and the ways it is similar and different from Stellenbosch. Particularly living in Norway was such a good experience of seeing a different way of resource management in action. I have also been able to keep in contact with the friends I made during this time, which is something I decided I would intentionally work on.
- Never say, “I will see the northern lights tomorrow.” Bundle up and brace the cold but just do it #SoManyRegrets
- Enjoy the exchange season while you’re there and when you get back, enjoy being back too.