Liebe Leserinnen und Leser!

Meine ersten Monate in Norwegen

To my surprise I only got mildly nervous 2 days before the departure date, and even at the airport, neither me, my mom or 11 y.o. brother shed tears for some reason, so leaving Austria behind really wasn’t difficult at all, partially because I felt like I really needed some time of change. Because of this, I have not been properly homesick a single time during the past five months. A change for the better, because I was getting really fed up with school and was kind of struggling in many ways. My first thought after the idea of going on exchange emerged was: “Oh great, Russia as a country would be beneficial, because then I would learn proper Russian, meaning I would not have any more problems with that language in school anymore!” Luckily though, I have received the advice “Don’t go to a country just because of the language.” From a former exchange student on an AFS meeting in Vienna. This piece of advice has contributed massively to me choosing Norway instead, about which I am incredibly glad, because in short, Norway as a country is phenomenal, relative to all other countries I have been to before. The positives by far outweigh the negatives. I often say, Norway is just an upgraded Austria in various aspects.

Now, approx. 171 days after I left Austria on the 16th of August 2019, I feel like doing this exchange year in Norway was the best choice I’ve ever made in my life. This exchange year has helped me massively in terms of personal development, has given me an experience of a lifetime, and has been an overly positive adventure. No exchange year is perfect, I have had a few tough days, but it was nothing compared to all the good days I’ve had. The positives massively outweigh the negatives. I’d say a ratio of 98(positive things) to 2(negative things) is fairly accurate, at least for my exchange year. I would say though, that some of those negative things could be my own fault. An exchange year is only as much as you make of it. For example, my main problem here in Norway is that I find it difficult to meet up with people after school for just a casual hangout or something similar. I have also not been invited to an event or party by Norwegians on my island Nøtterøy for the first five months, even though there’s quite a few nice people I’ve gotten to meet in Norway so far.

When I came to Norway, I had high expectations for the country. Those expectations have been met. The image that I’ve gotten of this country online and the reality that I am experiencing are quite similar. One of the main things that makes me love this country is the fact that no matter who you are, you have a very realistic chance at a good life, given you are willing to put in some work. But not an unhealthy amount. Norwegians, to me, seem to work to live, not the opposite way. The wealth distribution in Norway is amongst the most even on earth relative to other countries, and that can be felt wherever you go. The classic bottom of society like in the U.S., almost does not exist, and it just feels so good to know, that, because basically everyone has, an at least acceptable life, criminal activity is so low, that I could leave my luggage at the airport whilst I go to the toilet and not be afraid that I will not find it when I come back after 3 minutes. The social and economic integrity of this country gives me a great feeling about being here.

My host family in Norway is similar to what I expected. Their way of doing things is not much different from the way I did things whilst living in Austria, which kind of makes sense because both countries are European. Like many Norwegians though, they are very good at controlling their emotions. Not once has there been an occasion where somebody got really emotional (in a negative way). And if that does happen, then it is sometimes hard to notice, because of how subtle many people are in Norway. A good example of this is a moment when I made quite a big Taco, which, in her own words, “really upset” my host mom, but despite that, she only told me after dinner and then also very politely and subtly. I otherwise would never have realized that it upset her. In Norway, basically everybody is given a very similar amount of respect, which, in my opinion makes for a very friendly atmosphere. Approximately an equal amount of respect is present between all people, regardless of age. I feel like Norwegian culture, Norwegian way of doing things is quite easy to adapt to, because the way they go about things just makes sense, and I haven’t encountered anything that is just not okay for me. There are not many negatives I can say about Norwegians in general, apart from the fact that people are sometimes hard to approach and talk to. I also find it quite difficult to get really good friends or people that I hang out with often, here in Norway. The fact that almost everybody has enough money to live in acceptable fashion in Norway, may be part of the reason why they appear to have little stress compared to many other countries as well as such well-rounded behavior. Also, the food at my host family’s place is really good, and we have tacos close to every Friday. Dinners in Norway are the most important meals, and lunch is almost never warm or eaten together, which makes sense, because on most weekdays, dinner is the only time when every family member can comfortably sit down to eat dinner together, from a time management standpoint.

I am unsure as to what I was expecting in terms of school in Norway, but I have to say that I am very positively surprised. The school system here is very flexible, so everyone can choose whether they want to be a hardworking, lazy or somewhere in between student by choosing certain subjects. Also unlike in Austria, the passing percentage on tests is well below 50%. You can pass a test with approximately only 30-35% of the points, which is a really forgiving system. You can fail in subjects, but to do that you have to legitimately give zero effort in that subject. School for me starts at 08:40, but I know of other schools where that’s 08:00, so don’t take the 8:40 for granted. Every lesson is 70 minutes, with always at least a 10-minute break, and a surprisingly long, 25-minute lunch break from 11:10 to 11:35 and luckily at my school, there is even a Ping-Pong table, which is a large source of fun. After the lunch break, there is usually two to three more lessons, so school finishes at 14:30 on average. Also, teachers and students treat each other with mutual respect, and teachers always get called by their first name, which at first, for me, was quite unusual, but now I wish that it was the same back in Austria, because it creates a very very friendly atmosphere at school. In general, pupils in the school I go to, seem to have a much less stressful time on schooldays than many people, including myself, back in Austria.

This is likely caused by the incredibly flexible, modern and efficient school system, which, unlike the Austrian school system, which is in dire need of adjustments to the 21st century, differentiates the hardworking, academically well-performing students from the weaker, lazier ones, without causing those less ambitious students to be under constant unnecessary stress. Not everyone wants to be a biochemist, a mathematician, an engineer, lawyer or doctor. The Norwegian school system seems to be well aware of this. There are 3 different levels of math in Norway, quite hard (R), medium (S) and easy(P). Another example of just how flexible the system is. I am taking the medium one and it is easier by a noticeable margin than math back in Austria. There is also only one type of conventional academic school, (there are more practical, specifically profession focused schools, similar to Lehre in Austria) which means that there is not such an easily noticeable gap between people’s intellect in the conventional school, unlike when you compare Baumschule to Gymnasium. The last three years (13 years in total) are in “Videregående skole”, where people’s age ranges from 16 to 19. The system puts the responsibility largely on the student in these last three years, meaning that if you only do the bare minimum (which is considerably lower than in Austria), you will barely face consequences until later in your life where you might come to the conclusion that it would have been worthwhile to put more effort into school so you could own a Tesla Model S instead of an e-Golf. But it does not stop there. Every single student gets a nice ThinkPad laptop for school (rented at 100eur/year) and I constantly see people blatantly playing video games in class, and even if the teacher notices, action is rarely taken against it. I think that that mentality is absolutely right, because by the time you are 16 or older, you should be well aware of the consequences your choices bring in life. Despite all this, Norway didn’t get to its current good status just by luck, instead, a large amount of the nation’s wealth is derived from the fact that Norway has a lot of oil which is state-owned, meaning that every single citizen enjoys the benefits of great wealth management by their government. So, with that Oil, Norway does possess an advantage by default over many western countries, which could be part of the reason why quite a few things just work better here. The landscape, by the way is gorgeous in many parts of Norway.