'Mobility Programme is a Journey with Yourself'
Now, Olga Giske is a fourth-year student of the Bachelor's programme 'History', but last year, she spent two semesters at the University of Bergen in Norway. During this time, she completed two courses in History, studied Norwegian for a while, went on a trip around Europe with friends and visited seven countries. Find out why Olga decided to participate in the mobility programme, how her student life there went and which European city she liked most of all in the interview.
Why she decided to go
Going on a mobility programme was my childhood dream. When I was 16, I watched a Norwegian TV series about teenagers, and the desire got even stronger. I wanted to see how Norwegian students live and study. I don't know why but I have never taken these dreams seriously. In the second year of studies, on September 6—I even remember the date,—I received a newsletter about the start of the call for academic mobility. I saw this letter and realised: whether it will work out or not, I have to try as I won't lose anything. I applied, and they approved my application!
To go on a mobility programme, I had to collect documents and write a motivation letter. It was clear what to do with the documents—there is a full list on the website of international mobility, you just take it and tick the documents. My study office helped me to collect the documents: they told me what and where to take, and which signatures to get. As for the motivation letter, my friends who had already been on a mobility programme helped me to write it. They recommended me present myself in the letter in the best possible way, which I did: I listed all my achievements for all my life and explained how much I wanted to go to Norway.
I had difficulties taking my chance with the trip. I didn't expect that I would be accepted which is why I did not prepare mentally. When I received a positive answer, there were a lot of doubts: what if I don't make any friends there or my friends here forget me, what if my language proficiency is not enough? The fear disappeared when I got on a plane and felt that it was a start of a new life. I have always dreamt about it: I go to a different country alone, and the journey begins!
How student life went
There were no problems with adaptation. I immediately got into a very warm environment: everyone in my dormitory was friendly and kind. My first friends were people from the dormitory, then I got acquainted with two exchange students from Russia. There was a language barrier because I was embarrassed to make mistakes. But then I thought: 'It's okay, everyone makes mistakes'. And I simply started talking. An advantage of choosing Norway for a mobility programme is that the majority of people there speak English fluently. It is hard to learn Norwegian here—there is no need for it.
At HSE University, I study History which is why in Norway, I also chose such subjects. I had courses in History of the Environment, History of Europe after World War II, several anthropological subjects and Norwegian. The studies are very different there. In Norway, a student has to get 30 academic credits, while each course gives them 15. So everyone studies 2-3 courses within six months. On the one hand, it is great because you have more time for hobbies and other things. But on the other hand, these subjects are much deeper and more comprehensive, there are more theoretical materials. Norwegian universities put a great focus on self-studies.
I did not like some courses much because they included only lectures delivered in a monotonous voice. However, there also were professors who were so passionate about their subject and wanted to teach us something that they came up with various in-class activities. For example, our professor of History of the Environment organised the debates on climate change as a final assignment for us. Each of us represented a country, and we debated whether the Convention on Climate Change should be adopted or not. It was extremely interesting!
What I spent money on
Perhaps, 50% of my expenses consisted of dormitory fees—about 300 euros. I spent other money on food, transport, and trips. There is a good trick with the latter: there are cheap flights from Poland to other countries. For instance, once, I flew from Gdansk to Copenhagen for 500 roubles. I think, 800 euros per month can be enough. And if you have 1000, you can do something flashy.
What places I visited during the mobility programme
Together with the students from Russia, we went on a journey across Europe. We visited Barcelona, Milan, and Rome, from which we went to Poland and then Paris. I also went to Denmark, Lapland, and Berlin, and travelled a lot across Norway: I was in Oslo, Tromsø, and Lofoten—the place was extremely beautiful, though I had no luck with the weather. In Norway, I was impressed by nature most of all: mountains, fjords, and crystal clear water which you can drink from anywhere. There I tried skiing for the first time, which made a very strong impression on me.
There is a very interesting story connected with Tromsø. When we were flying back to Bergen, I saw everyone coming to portholes. I thought: 'There are two options either we are falling or something is going on outside the window'. I came up there too and saw that the whole sky was painted with northern lights—it was unforgettable. We had been disappointed that we couldn't see it during the trip, and it was pure luck! I spent the whole flight looking out the window.
Among all the cities, Berlin is the most memorable for me. I went there to visit my friends who I met in the first semester. They told me about places in the city which the tourists usually miss. I realised that the best trip is a trip together with the locals because they will tell and show you everything you need to know about the country. In Berlin, I lived right in the city centre: it was a 10-minute walk from the Reichstag, I regularly walked in the city centre. I can still remember how the Western and Eastern parts of the city differ—what was divided by the Berlin Wall. In East Berlin, there is more Soviet architecture, and there are a lot of young people, the majority of creative street events are held there.
What surprised me in Norway
There are a lot of exciting things in Norway. The first thing, which impressed me when I came there, was the lack of fences. The locals trust each other a lot, and no one even thinks about the possibility of theft. You can go for a walk at night and feel safe.
On Sundays, nothing works—everyone has to take a rest. At first, I was really mad about it, but then I thought that it was great how work was appreciated in Norway. But if you forget to buy food on Saturday, you will be starving on Sunday.
I was also impressed by Constitution Day. The Norwegians really love their country, this holiday is very important for them. Everyone goes out into the streets, wearing traditional Norwegian clothes: long tunics with national patterns and silver jewellery. There were parades, fireworks and a festive atmosphere in all the cities. We did not have any national costumes, we just wore something with the colours of the Norwegian flag and celebrated with everyone. The Norwegian appreciated it a lot, and on this day, the whole city turned into a big family.
What places to visit in Norway
The first one is Lofoten. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Surreal mountain landscapes, and amazing views. It is hard to describe such things with words—you just have to see them yourself.
The second one is a small village Flåm located on a fjord. There is a famous glass bridge which breaks off in the middle. It is amazingly beautiful, especially in autumn: even mountains turn yellow because forests grow there. The unforgettable scenery!
The third—you should travel on the railway between Bergen and Oslo. The trip takes seven hours, and during this time, you can see plenty of wonderful landscapes, waterfalls, and national parks. We were travelling in June, but in some places, there was still snow. I did not expect that—within seven hours, you see several seasons and lots of stunning places.
What I realised during the mobility programme
Exchange studies have expanded my worldview, and helped me to get to know myself because a mobility programme is a journey with yourself. It is only up to you how this journey will go. I have become much stronger and more mature because six months in another country is the time when you make all the decisions yourself, and fight your fears and resistance.
It seems to me that the main reason why you should go on a mobility programme is networking. Now, I have friends all around the world: in Germany, the USA, Poland, Italy, and France. I know that they will always support and help me.