Since it has been a while since I have shared an update about our time here in Norway, I thought today would be a good time to do it. From the beginning, we decided to partake in this adventure for what it promised, a once in a lifetime experience for the kids and our family as a whole. We embarked to Norway in hopes of adventure, and we have certainly found it.
What can I say about the weather here in Bergen? It rains! A lot! Almost every day to be precise, and if it’s not raining here it’s skyet. Even with the constant deluge of water from the heavens, about 239 days on average, it is still absolutely gorgeous. Every day, on my way to and from work, I walk across the bridge from Gyldenpris to UiB and I stare at the tops of Mt. Ulriken and Mt. Fløyen. On some days, I cannot see the peaks; all I see are clouds curving like fingers around the rocky faces. Other days, the sun shines brightly and casts long shadows on the mountain behind Ulriken creating a fantastic contrast between the shadow and light.
Because of the weather, we have fully embraced the Norwegian saying, “Det er ikke noe som dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær” (There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes). Each and every morning, no matter what the forecast on my iPhone seeks to tell me, I pack a waterproof backpack cover, rain pants, and rain jacket of some kind. On the days where it is not “supposed,” and I use quotation marks purposefully here, to rain I just wear my hiking shoes. However, on mornings where the clouds open up and release their numerous rain babies all over Bergen, I suit up with my rain pants, over my jeans, my rain boots, and a rain jacket. I pack my shoes (tennis shoes), in my backpack. When I get to work, I make my way through a corridor of open umbrellas in the hall before I make it to my office where I take all of the superfluous clothes off and to get work.
Hailing from the Southern United States where cities have not thoroughly invested in public transportation, we thought the move to Bergen would be a little difficult, considering we would not have a vehicle. However, that has not proven the case. If the weather is too inclimate where we cannot walk somewhere (typically 15-20 minute walk) we pull up the Skyss App on our phone, purchase a billett (ticket), walk outside, and catch either the trusty number 13 or 20 to Festplassen. From there, we either catch the Bybannen (Bergen light rail) to someplace like Lagunen to pick up some groceries or other essentials.
The great thing about the transit system is that we can go anywhere in the city, or the surrounding area, by simply hopping on the bus then the train. A couple of weeks ago we took the bus to Kvarven Fort overlooking the Byfjorden into Bergen. (Pictures below.) Built in the late 1800s, the fort fell quickly during World War II and the Nazis occupied it till the end of the war. Being able to travel to sites like this, within close proximity to our house, has been absolutely amazing. One day, Melissa even went around the city centre chronicling the memorials to Jewish residents of Bergen who the Nazis rounded up on November 26, 1942.
As I have said from the beginning of this journey, the one thing that most excites me about our time in Norway is the experiences that my kids will have. At this point, I think my daughter is getting the most out of being in Bergen. In her class, she has fellow students from around the world: Lithuania, Syria, Sri Lanka, Poland, Somalia, Russia, Vietnam, and Croatia. Some days she has holed herself up in her room and written out various alphabets from Russian, Arabic, Lithuanian, and more. Along with these interactions, she has begun to pick up Norwegian pretty well, speaking it rapidly at times. The ability for her to interact with other kids from around the world has been an amazing opportunity for her to realize that the world does not begin and end with the United States.
Our son, however, is another matter. Since he is in first class, most of his peers do not speak English yet. Likewise, he does not speak Norwegian. At first, he was frustrated at his inability to speak with other kids. He still has problems, but he has been getting better. We’ll catch him singing songs in Norwegian and saying various things. He is still reticent to try and speak Norwegian with other students, but I think he is coming along. He does like going to the woods every Thursday with his class when they go up Løvstakken; however, he gets frustrated when he has to eat his lunch in the rain on the side of Løvstakken, which typically happens, because he says his food gets wet. (Images of top of Løvstakken below. They do not go to the top.)
I knew that teaching in Norway would be different than teaching in the United States. Perhaps the most striking difference between teaching in a higher education setting in Norway and the United States has to do with the forms of assessment. Instead of having periodic assessments such as quizzes, discussion boards, mid-terms, short papers, etc. the classes only have one graded assignment, a final exam. The exam can be a research paper, a take home exam, or a school exam. For my classes, I am giving schools exams. Students go to the testing location and have about 4-5 hours to complete the exam, typically an essay question and possibly some identification items.
Another aspect that is strikingly different from the United States is the length of classes. Each of my classes only meets for 1.5 hours each week. My master’s class only meets 8 weeks. That means that the class only meets for 12 hours the entire semester. In the United States, each class meets for 3 hours a week for about 15-16 weeks, which means roughly 45 hours of face-to-face instruction per semester. At this time, I’m not sure how the limited meeting time and assessment will play out in regard to student achievement. More emphasis falls on the student’s independent learning, which I like, but I have found, especially in my American literature survey classes, that we do not have enough space to fully discuss the text and cultural aspects. I have a feeling this will be problematic.
Norway is expensive. Currently, the exchange rate is $1 to 8.46 NOK.
We knew that finances would be tight going from a two income family to one (since Melissa is unable to find a job here due to language). Being non-contingent faculty, I did not have the luxury of receiving sabbatical pay or part-time salary for this year. Norway is the 6th most expensive country in the world (for comparison, the U.S. is 15th), so that also doesn’t help with already tight finances.
To help offset the costs of this year, I started a Patreon for my blog. I have been writing my blog for over three years, and I know that it has an effect on students and people across the world. I have seen that schools, both K-12 and universities, have used my posts in the classroom. And I have seen that individuals that have accessed the site are from countries around the globe.
I would be very appreciative if you could please consider becoming a patron to my blog.
Stay over the next few weeks for posts on John Ira Jennings and Damian Duffy’s adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Nordicism in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, representation of explorers in John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” Republican Motherhood in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper,” narrative voice in Stephen Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and much much more. Be on the lookout as well for more posts about our time here in Norway.