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Getting there, Experiencing Bø

January 5, 2011

The day before I left for Norway, I learned that I would be traveling alone because the person I booked my plane tickets with was sick and in the hospital. I could easily write an entire post about the fear and dread I felt at the thought of making the journey alone. This was compounded by the fear of loneliness I already had…I would be on a different continent from my family, friends, and beloved cat. Nevertheless, I committed to going. The next morning, my parents and I left at 6 AM for the Minneapolis airport. We shoved my two suitcases (each weighing 50 pounds) and my overly stuffed and heavy backpack in the car, and I left Wisconsin. It was snowing that morning, and it took longer than expected to get to the airport. When I finally did arrive, I had problems checking in for my flight because I have not received my Norwegian visa yet, but I got those sorted out and went to wait in the security line. After saying my tearful goodbyes to my parents, I went through the new body scanner machine and rushes to my gate…ten minutes prior to departure. I wish I could say the rest of my journey was a piece of cake, but it was just beginning.

When I arrived at O’Hare, I had to get to the international terminal which is detached from the rest of the airport. To get there, you have to take a tram and do quite a bit of walking. When I found the terminal, I was pleased at how short the security line was, so I went through and found my gate…forgetting that I had not eaten. Thus, I went back out, ate my last fast food in America (a McDonald’s chicken selects meal), and went to wait in the now extremely long security line. By the time I got back through, it was almost time to board my plane for Sweden. Turns out a four hour layover at O’Hare can go by pretty quickly. While waiting at the gate for my flight to Stockholm, I was already experiencing a bit of culture shock. Everyone was speaking Swedish. Even in the comfort of my home country, I was lost in the language. When they started boarding, I bit my lip, had my boarding pass scanned, and walked through the Jetway. I was greeted in Swedish by the flight attendants, so I politely nodded, and took my free copy of a Swedish newspaper (I really read a lot of that in flight, haha). The aircraft was massive, an Airbus A330, which seated nearly 200 people. I had the window seat next to a Swedish man, who chatted with me a bit throughout the flight. All of the announcements made by the captain and flight attendants were given in Swedish, followed by and abridged version in English. The flight was long. There is no other way to describe it. I had an overnight flight that left at 4:25 PM, so we were served dinner (a mystery stew, crackers and brie, salad [which was more like coleslaw]), and then they shut off the lights. Like all airplanes, the seat was cramped and I couldn’t move my legs. This was made worse by the electrical box under the seat in front of me which further restricted my legroom. I used my coats as a blanket, and sat for 8.25 hours, essentially doing nothing but watching the interactive map on the screen attached to my seat. It showed the location of the plane in real time as well as the air temperature and ground speed of the plane. While we were over Greenland. the temperature was -90 degrees F.

When we landed in Stockholm, it was surreal. I had my passport stamped, and then got lost. I had to go to security again, and found two major differences between the Swedish air security agents and the TSA: the Swedish go very slow. Getting through a line of five people took longer than a line of 50 in the US. Also, you don’t have to take your shoes off to go through the metal detector in Sweden. Once I got past security, I was greeted by a beautiful duty free shopping center while sold everything from Old Spice deodorant in bulk to every variety of Absolut Vodka (which is manufactured in Sweden). This immaculate display of tax-free goods was beautiful to see, but I didn’t have time to shop. The other strange thing about this airport was how silent it was. There were no announcements, and everyone spoke in whispers. Also, I can no verify that Ikea furniture really is Swedish design. The entire airport looked like an Ikea catalogue complete with the cute kitchen implements in the various cafes.

My flight from Stockholm to Oslo was delayed due to a blizzard, so I had time to go into the bathroom and freshen up after about 15 hours of travel. When we arrived in Oslo, we landed on a runway that was buried in about four inches of snow. Velkommen til Norge! I guess this was no big deal. The Oslo airport was also beautiful. From there, I struggled with an electronic kiosk where I purchased a ticket on the high speed express rail to Oslo S, the mail rail station in Oslo. Somehow, none of my bags were lost, and I was able to figure out how to get my ticket and board the train. I got off at Oslo S, followed the crowd of people, and found myself in a very large train station. There was a Burger King, 7-11, some other convenience stores, a grocery store, and some other higher-end shops. I purchased my ticket to Bø, and I waited. Carrying my luggage turned out to be a huge struggle. Because I was alone, I had to carry both of my suitcases everywhere with me. Let me tell you, they were heavy. I got a lot of stares as a I fumbled with my luggage. Each time I got suited up with my backpack and my coats, one of my suitcases would fall, and I would have to reposition them so that I could pull one in each hand. Taking them on the escalator and bathroom were probably the most difficult endeavors. Before I came to Norway, I kept hearing about a local Norwegian favorite, pølser. Pølser is really thing more than a gas station hot dog in either a bun or lefse. This was the cheapest item at the convenience stores in Oslo, so far NOK 34 ($5.84), I was able to get a pølser with ketchup and one half litre of Coca-Cola. Despite its popularity, I would say that pølser is about as good as the roller hot dogs at gas stations across America. Let’s just say my stomach hurt on the train ride after my meal…

After figuring out what platform I needed to get to, I loaded my suitcases onto the train car and dragged them through three other cars to find my sted. My train ticket was printed in Norwegian, so this proved to be difficult. The train ride was fairly boring and long. It was dark by 3 PM, so I couldn’t enjoy the countryside view. The first forty minutes of track were laid through an old silver mine, making the scenery even more dull. I sat next to an older Norwegian man, which proved to be lucky because none of the stop announcements were made in English. He helped me translate, and we shared a few stories.

When I neared the Bø station, I went to collect my luggage (I could barely lift it at this point). Finally, the train came to a stop, and I set foot in Bø i Telemark for the first time. The town seemed magical. It was snowing, and the smell of campfire was thick in the air. As promised, my adviser and two other students were there to pick me and three other international students up from the station. The other girls were from Lithuania. We loaded our luggage into their Volvos, and they drove us up the hill to Breisås, the student housing. I got dropped off at my dorm. It seems to be pretty nice. I have my own room and bathroom on the first floor of a little house called Elgfaret 31. There is apparently a good view of the mountain from my room, but it was been dark and snowy since I got here, so I cannot vouch for that at the moment. I did some unpacking, and my adviser came back to check on me. I told her my internet wasn’t working, so she called a girl over who might be able to help. With no luck at getting the Ethernet port to work, we went to the grocery store. I could not read any of the food labels, so I just grabbed some bananas, some cereal, bread, a cup of yogurt, and Nutella. I wanted peanut butter, but apparently the Norwegian variety tastes quite bad. Later in the evening, I met two of my housemates who seem nice. I will share a kitchen with them and one other person who I have yet to meet. Finally, I took a shower and went to bed around 8:30 PM Norway time (they are seven hours ahead of Wisconsin). This was the first time I slept in 36 hours: a personal record of consciousness. I woke up intermittently throughout the night, but had my alarm set at 8:30 AM to walk to school with the girl (Nicole) who went to the grocery store with me the night before.

Now, I’m sitting in the school computer lab waiting for her to get out of class. We are going to a store that has a sale on cleaning products (which I need to provide). Although I had anticipated this, the shock of how expensive products are in Norway is a huge part of the culture shock. Essentially, I have to change my entire lifestyle to accommodate the cost of living here. I apologize for the long, probably boring post of my travel experience. It was cathartic for me to write about. Although I fared better than expected, I was highly nervous and upset for most of the journey.

Right now, I’m feeling awfully foolish for not knowing the language or basic phrases. Even though everyone speaks English, I am completely surrounded by people speaking in Norwegian. Everything is a struggle. While purchasing a loaf of bread at the grocery store used to be a simple task for me, I am now crippled by the language barrier. Until I start my language course, I am relying on the help of those around me. So far, most of the locals have been very kind. But like all cultures, there are always a few people who are less patient and willing to help.

There is a copious amount of snow in Bø. They plow it with large tractors that zoom down the winding streets at high speeds. According to Nicole, they show no mercy and will run you down on the sidewalk if you don’t move.

If I get my internet working in my room, I will write more and respond to comments later.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet permalink
    January 5, 2011 12:07 pm

    Lisa, I really enjoyed reading this! So much of your journey to Norway reminds me of mine to France a couple of summers ago. Except my luggage WAS lost by the airline! You’re lucky! Similarly, I was very intimidated and uncertain during my first few days because of the language barrier. I do not speak French and had only memorized about ten “survival phrases” from a podcast during the week before I left (thank goodness one of them was “Where is the suitcase?”). Luckily, the phrases worked and in after a couple of days (and several awkward encounters at stores, hotels, and restaurants), my fear disippated, my luggage arrived, and there I was: world-traveler, able to handle whatever was thrown at me and enjoying every minute.

    The best I can say is keep writing about your experiences and absorb everything you can. You will have so many great stories when you come back–some embarrassing, I’m sure, but funny nonetheless. Don’t let the culture shock keep you from leaving your comfort zone (it’s very tempting). I’m proud of you for going; now it’s up to you to make the most of it.

    Love, Janet

  2. Jackie McGrath permalink
    January 5, 2011 2:29 pm

    Woo hoo!! You are so intrepid. And this is a pleasure to read! Keep ’em coming! Enjoy every detail and roll with the punches.

  3. Mom permalink
    January 6, 2011 4:40 am

    Lisa, what a great story! I am reading it for the third time. I love every detail! Felt like I was with you. I am so impressed with how you are taking it all in! Takk


  4. Anna permalink
    January 7, 2011 2:47 am

    Wow. You are one tough chick. Love you!

  5. Ken McGrath permalink
    January 7, 2011 3:57 pm

    Dear Lisa
    It was great reading about your journey.In a few days you will be caught up with your rest, and feeling much better. Keep us posted on everything, and enjoy your wonderful experience abroad.

    Uncle Ken

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