Lillehammer Exchange Semester

Going abroad during covid, my culture shocks in Norway

Going abroad always makes you facing challenges, und usually I’m mostly looking forward to facing these challenges and to grow and learn from them as a person. But this time it was a bit different. With the ongoing pandemic and semester abroad suddenly seemed much riskier and more uncertain. It was that all overarching uncertainty that got me struggling the most. For example, until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t actually know whether my semester abroad would even be possible or not. As well as for us students it was only realistic to search for a country within the EU due to strict travel restriction still being in place at that time.

Aurora near Tromso

So, I choose my semester abroad to take place in Norway, in a small outdoor town called Lillehammer. This was due to always wanting to live for a while in a Scandinavian country and my fellow Norwegians friends from Karls then made me aware of Lillehammer. This is the perfect place for me, especially since I was suffering a lot from the lack of possibility of being active in terms of sports back in Germany since every gym, swimming hall or other was still closed.

Right after my arrival I noticed a big difference to Germany. While in Germany it is mandatory/obligatory to wear masks in every building as well as the public transportation system, in Norway it is only recommended. Hence, almost nobody is wearing a mask anywhere. This was sort of a culture shock for my and it took quite a while to adjust to it, since my hands where always reaching into my pockets to grab my mask, since this was becoming a habit in Germany.

The second culture shock I experienced while grocery shopping and seeing all the high prices. Although there is also the student version of food, which are the stores home brands, which are relatively cheap in comparison to more famous brands. Just some examples for you, a paprika cost about 4 euros each, and a kebab is about 10Euros. I knew that Norway is considered one of the most expensive countries out there, but the reality might hit you a bit different when you are in the country. But quickly we found a solution to the high food prices, we try to cook together with friends. By doing so you can have a nice time with your friends and as a benefit even safe some money.

Another culture shock I faced was trying to meet my fellow students, this can prove to be tricky in Norway due to a cultural problem when it comes to meeting strangers. There is a saying one of my professors referred to that Norwegians are happy when covid is over since they then can go back from 1,5 m distance to their regular 5 m distance when being somewhere. This is deeply rooted in the history of the county with a big landmass and relatively low amounts of population in most regions.

Hiking is a very common thing to do in Norway and some of the Norwegians even take it to the extreme as to do a small hike in their lunch break. Particularly confusing for me was the fact that after a 6 or 8 hour hike, you came across some people running the whole hiking route in running gear. So, after a couple of them passed we found out that is a common sport among many people here to actually go for a run up a hill or along a hiking path. Even if that is including a couple hundred meters in altitude. I am a really happy hiker, but this seems a bit extreme to me.

Exploring the fjords around Bessegge

Studying in Lillehammer

I had the privilege despite covid to have a complete on-site semester. In the beginning we sometimes had to adapt at first due to restrictions on how many people could be in an auditorium per lecture, but it was always possible to be there in person for me and most of the others too. It has been a very nice feeling to finally be back in person at a university and able to use all its features like the library or just to sit in a face-to-face lecture.

The university INN with the campus Lillehammer is a small university with approximately 5,000 students. It’s located a bit outside of town, so either reachable by bus, bike or foot. Or even skies in winter. The infrastructure is very great, and a lot happens in a digitalized format. The university has several large auditoriums, but also smaller sized ones, as well as many studies or group work rooms that you are able to reserve for studying. It also has a very reasonable sized canteen, witch a lot of great food options, but given the high prices in Norway for everything be aware that a meal can cost you between 5 and 8 euros.

The student housing offered for Norwegians and Internationals alike are modernly equipped and spacious. You can choose between more than 6 different student housing complexes throughout the city. I stayed at the Lundebekken dormitory, which was a cozy setting similar to a WG with 4 people sharing one flat.

The orientation week at INN was really well done. Every student was assigned a buddy group that took care of them and introduced them into the university.  It was following the covid restrictions, but we could still gather and do everything in person like a city rally for example and multiple little trips in the surrounding areas. Furthermore, a lot of parties where present at the beginning, so it was easy to get to know the other internationals. Whenever there was a question the international office or one of the buddies were really fast and always helpful with an answer.

I would definitely recommend INN to my fellow students. Overall, I can say that I had a super nice semester abroad and all my prejudices and doubts especially with covid didn’t turn out to be true. I would strongly recommend Lillehammer to students with an interest in a Nordic country as well as sport or nature.

Student clubs and activity possibilities at our partner university INN Lillehammer

But although Norway is definitely an expensive country from a German perspective, it also has a lot to offer. This can be seen in the hiking and cross-country skiing tracks that start right next to the university or the many activities the university offers its students. For example, there is a skiing club, a sports club, a gaming club as well as an outdoors group.  This gives you plenty activities to choose from throughout your exchange semester. But also, in the stunning nature that is always on display.

Besseggen ridge trail

Traveling in Norway

When it comes to traveling in Norway it quickly becomes obvious that Norway is a way bigger country than Germany. So, travel times of up to 8 hours are absolutely normal here. This is not only due to Norway’s sheer size but also the rare population, given that Norway only has a population of about 5.3 million. Considering that Germany has a population of over 85 million, this is quite a difference.

Norway is an absolutely breathtaking country and therefore travel are definitely recommended. You can take a stroll alongside one of the popular fjords or join a boat tour if you want to be a bit less active. But one thing you might want to consider: in Norway it helps tremendously if you rent or bring your own car, since the distances between different cities or sight can vary quite a bit and often take multiple hour of driving. Also, be aware of constantly changing weather conditions that can cause you to endure snow and wind and then a perfectly calm spring weather on the same day.

Crossing one item of my personal bucket list

Seeing the aurora lights, was definitely one of the many highlights of my semester abroad in Norway. We were just eating dinner with a group of friends in Trondheim, when one of us was looking out the window of the house, beautifully located on the outer edge of the town, as we saw them. The first aurora in my life.

The first aurora encounter in my life

It was a phenomenal experience since I dreamed of seeing them since basically my childhood and now, I got the chance to see them finally. It was one of these magical moments in life where you just stand there, head up in the sky and are completely amazed. So, if you ever get the chance to go to a Scandinavian country and see northern light, take the chance I won’t disappoint you.

I was also able to travel to the cities of Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø during my stay. Oslo is a beautiful and very modern city, located directly at the Oslo Fjord. It became one of my all-time favorite cities, since it is super modern and a capital city, yet everything in the city center is super easy to reach on foot or tram. It also really helps if you have friends there that are locals but study at Karls, so you have the best city guide ever.

Favorite studying spot

During my time in Norway, I was also able to reconnect with myself and rediscover old hobbies and sports like hiking, which I did a lot in the past with my family and then kind of forgot about it, as well as just the pure joy of being out in nature and celebrating the small things in life. Also, I was able to try some new sports like climbing, which gave me a good balance to the workload at the university.

Through those sports I was also able to take part in several events as a volunteer. For example, during the Nordic lead Climbing championships, I was able to take part as a climbing judge in an international championship, which was a very nice opportunity to see firsthand some of the best climbers of the world. 

To sum it up

Don’t feel intimidated about Norway as a very expensive travel destination, there are multiple ways to ease your financial situation like scholarships. The only challenge may be getting to know the locals better, as Norwegians are a bit hard to crack culturally. Therefore, don’t try to overwhelm them but give the whole situation some time. With similar interests as well as the multiple extracurricular activities and university groups you will be able to make a lot of Norwegian friends after a while.

It was an incredible time in Norway and Lillehammer will always have a special place in my memories.

The host country is friendly and has a similar culture to Germany, although sometimes it can be hard to open people up to make new friends. But through university or extracurricular activities and shared hobbies after a while it was easy to form solid friendships that will hopefully last much longer than my stay in Norway.

The harbor skyline of Oslo
Camping with the outdoor group in autumn
Hiking in winter wonderland

Overall, I can say that I had a super nice semester abroad and all my prejudices and doubts especially with covid didn’t turn out to be true. I would strongly recommend Lillehammer to students with an interest in a Nordic country as well as Sport or Nature.

Article by Sven Lohmeier *SLO – International Business, 5th semester(KarlsStorytellers)