Charmaine Coombs, second year BA History of Art and Design student, reflects on her current exchange experience and offers advice for others thinking of doing the same.
The opportunity to study at the University of Oslo for a semester as a History of Art and Design programme student really interested me as soon as I heard about the opportunity. To live in a different country and to learn something new from a different culture has been something I had been hoping to do for some time. Hearing many good things about Norwegian culture from many good friends of mine made me jump at the chance to take part.
Now I am in the middle of the Erasmus exchange trip, I’m pleased to report that I have not met many challenges that have caused much stress, except for the fact I had a very short summer compared to my peers as the Norwegian term starts in mid-August. This was offset by my huge excitement at the prospect of moving to a new country, which is an experience much better than a holiday.
Being exposed to a new country and culture on your own – I am the only exchange student in Oslo from the University of Brighton this year – could be challenging. Upon arrival, however, I found that there were many exchange students from a wide range of different countries, such as Germany, France, Belgium and many more. Knowing that a wide range of students from a wide range of cultures would be arriving together, the University of Oslo put in place a student buddy system. This is a great first step in making new friends fast! The system randomly groups different nationalities altogether with a few from their own country. On top of this, at the beginning of term, there were frequent city tours and a number of freebies we received helped us international students settle into the area very fast. On arrival I found everyone to be warm and very understanding of our position.
Academic studies at the University of Oslo have been more or less similar to the educational structure at the University of Brighton. Like Brighton, it has been fairly relaxed with very independent learning. There is a high expectation that students are responsible for themselves. One the information is given, it’s all up to you! As an exchange student, I was given a choice of the subjects I wished to take (as long as they were in English, and related broadly to history, art and culture). You are assessed on three modules but you can take as many as you wish providing that they don’t clash on your timetable. Upon arrival, in fact, I had to change my courses due to a clash. This meant I am now taking World Antiquity, International History and Theory of Architecture in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and Introduction to Conservation and Collection Care. This is a prime example of how it is up to the students to keep a record of their calendar and to find their own way. There are, however, many contact points where you can ask for help if needed. The departments best known for this are based in the main library of the university or you can just email a tutor for further guidance.
I’ve found students in Oslo to be very academically focused. With a large amount of learning and preparation entrusted to the student to do, such as buying your own books, attending class (where you have to attend at least 75%), and taking part in student activities that encourage participation. Although these activities differ from class to class, Norwegians can initially seem a little closed-off to newcomers. As a result, with student-run activities, sometimes you might need to ask first instead of them coming to you. Norwegians are notoriously very shy! As I have been told, making small talk isn’t part of who they are, therefore making friends with Norwegians can take time and patience. They have to get to know and trust you before they call you a friend. After speaking to a few locals about this I discovered that the solution is to go out for a beer, which warms up conversation. Furthermore, they Norwegians are not always confident when talking in English. As one of my Norwegian friends puts it, “we are perfectionists; we like to say what we mean how we mean it”.
In conclusion, as a result of the exchange opportunity, I have learned a great many new and different skills such as effective budgeting, making friends and adapting to a new culture. Oslo is a great city and I’ve been really enjoying the amazing scenery Norway has to offer. This exchange has been extraordinary so far. I’ve met fantastic new friends that I am hugely grateful for and have had a life-changing experience that I will never forget.