Backstreet’s Back, Alright!

Just kidding. The Backstreet Boys are in fact not back, but I am!

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I am back in Bergen, and this time it is indefinitely. I received the offer for that “big-girl-job,” took it, and moved myself back to Norway. I have to say I still quite don’t know how I feel about it. Some days I think heck yeah! I live in Europe, this is awesome! Other times, pictures of the Chicago skyline fill me with homesickness. But I think that’s just how it goes.

When I was leaving for Bergen, nearly two months ago, I had just graduated from college, where I got all that knowledge. In the US, this is a huge celebration filled with ceremonies and receptions, speakers and formalities, caps and gowns. Family flies in and friends gather to remember the good ol’ times of the early college years. I was feeling all the warm fuzzies for my university, my friends, my family and my city. A week later I had to get on a plane and I was so not ready. Why leave all that comfort? Well, the ticket was bought, the bags were packed and I was on my way.

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It has been a bit of a whirlwind since I got here. When I arrived at my final destination, my bags had not….they needed more time in Iceland apparently. Rarely do things get completely lost, but when nearly all of your belongings are in two suitcases in airport limbo, it’s a bit unsettling. But alas, they arrived and I got all my bureaucratic things sorted out. Now all that’s left is to learn the language. Jeg lærer norsk!

I moved into a house with 8 other Norwegians and 1 from Sweden, so the incentive to learn the language is definitely there. For those of you who know me at ALL are probably thinking to yourselves….Meredith chose to live with 9 other people?! I know, I’m as shocked as all of you, but it’s a really nice place and it’s a great way to work on my Norwegian and make friends! They’re all students, so they’re keeping me young.

In the meantime, I’ve just been catching up with friends I made last year and going outside, getting to know my neighborhood.

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I’m excited to see what my new life here has in store.

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Homesick for the Holidays

“You know you’ve been in Norway too long when…A stranger on the street smiles at you and you assume that he is: a) drunk b) insane c) American d) all of the above…”

Just a little something I’ve read many places on the internet about different Scandinavian countries.

These are not happy-go-lucky times in Norway. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s dark and it’s dark. Yesterday outside the window at work, I watched the streetlamp turn off at 10am and turn back on around 3pm. No wonder people don’t smile up here! Unless your teeth glow in the dark, it just ain’t gonna matter. No one will see your fine attempts at being personable anyway.

Thanksgiving was a particularly dark day. I tried to make it special, I really did. I brought in sweet potato pie cookies for work, made plans for the weekend, many colleagues said Happy Thanksgiving to me….but there’s something to be said about sharing a special day with those who understand its importance. During my time here, I have shamefully made ZERO American friends. My reasoning? I already know plenty of Americans.

Yes, I realized this was a silly way to think as I desperately made my last attempts at finding pumpkin ANYTHING at the new (and only) Starbucks in Bergen.

Me: “Do you have a Pumpkin Spice Latte?”

Barista: “No, only Christmas drinks.”

Me: “But it’s Thanksgiving (and this is an American company for Pete’s sake)!”

Barista: Just a polite smile. And a heart on my cup. Norwegians are so nice.

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I had visited 5 or 6 stores the weekend before. No canned pumpkin. No actual pumpkin. I didn’t even think to save a full pumpkin from Halloween as canned pumpkin is such a staple in America. Growing up, we always had at least one can in our pantry at all times.

While Thanksgiving was quite the dud of a day, Friendsgiving was amazing. Many of my new European friends came to support me in making and eating my traditional feast the Sunday following Thanksgiving. We gobbled up some Norwegian meatballs, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, tyttebær (lingonberry) jam, peas, a homemade Oreo cake and a sweet potato pie. Had to have an orange pie in there somewhere!1471833_10201830595800131_1579466332_n

I suddenly felt silly for being so glum on Thanksgiving when I had so many new friends to be thankful for! They have taught me so much and are always so patient when I am just NOT understanding why some things are the way they are here. I’m living in a beautiful country with such kindhearted people. This is bar-none the best experience I’ve had in my life and I am so thankful to all of you who helped make this happen.

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Since Europe doesn’t have Thanksgiving to separate Halloween from Christmas, as soon as those spooky ghosts come down the Christmas trees go up! I was celebrating Lysfesten (The Festival of the Lights) before a single bite of stuffing hit my mouth! The festival was complete with friends, carols, fireworks, and torches. Not candles. Torches. Along with umbrellas of course. Velkommen til Bergen. The city where you need to take your umbrella to go see the fireworks. Despite the pouring down rain, a truly festive feeling of Christmas filled Bergen.

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It was already beginning to look like Christmas, but then a snow storm rolled in last weekend and with it, a little piece of Lombard. Stephanie, my friend teaching English in Spain, arrived despite the many cancelled flights. Unfortunately, her bag did not. I do have to think it’s a conspiracy, because in that bag there was canned pumpkin with my name on it. It’s not like hundreds of people were missing their luggage last Friday night…..

In spite of the lost luggage woes, we had a fantastic time. We walked in a winter wonderland, trudged up a mountain, hung out with some trolls, saw some plundering, chilled in a cave and snacked on some typical Norwegian food…kebabs. We made friends with a cat and a dog, on different occasions of course, and saw a boat house…not a house where you would keep boat stuff… but a house, shaped like a boat.DSCN0524ImageImageDSCN1764

It was a short weekend trip with Steph and I was sad to see her go. But lucky for me! I get to see her again soon as I take my next adventure to Spain. It will be a Feliz Navidad for sure.

God Jul to you all.

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Everyday, Norway.

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So, I realized that I never said what the heck I’m even doing here, in Norway.

Without further ado, I’ll clarify. I have an internship at a company in Bergen called Wema System.  It’s a manufacturing company that produces fuel and AdBlue sensors for trucks and such. So when you see that your fuel tank needs filling, you can now think, “Oh, Meredith works with these kinds of contraptions.” Or not.

I don’t work with the sensors specifically…not my type of engineering. I have a faint idea as to how they work, but could not relay this information because 1. I signed a confidentiality agreement, and 2. My explanation would leave both parties more confused than the beginning of the conversation about fuel sensors.  I work with the process of making the sensors and some sub-assemblies to see how they can be more efficient so that we can make more sensors! It may sound boring to you, but I totally love this stuff. It’s like a puzzle where changing some maneuvers creates greater output.  Word of advice…don’t ever go to the airport with me….I’ll just be complaining to high heaven about how many design flaws there are and how stupid it is that we’re standing in a miserably long motionless line.

Wema’s Bergen office is extremely international. In my department alone, there are 6 nations represented: Spain, Poland, Romania, Greece, America, and Norway, naturally. Every day I learn something new, not only about working in an international company (units get me every time), but also about different cultures: how they celebrate different holidays, what childhood life is like, different traditions, the chocolate etc…

I really enjoy going to work. Over the past 4.5 months that I have been working at Wema, my department, Industrialization, has felt more and more like my family. While there are some frustrations at work that we deal with, cause, well, work is work…a lot of the time it feels more like fun than a job.  My colleagues have been so welcoming and have gotten to know me with such sincerity that I feel comforted even though thousands of miles separate me from my actual family.

So, that’s my weekday life. On weekends, I try and go see new things, explore different parts of Bergen. Last weekend I made it to this glass-blowing shop and even got to try the artisanal art myself! It is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, but definitely something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Today I finally made it to Gamlehaugen, the mansion of the Royal Family when they are visiting Bergen. It’s a whopping 15 minute walk from my dorm and I just managed to make it there today. I’ve tried before, but windy streets + directionally challenged me = very lost American girl that can SEE the mansion, but can never see how to get to it. Today it was windy streets: 0 Meredith: 1, and what a day! So much blue sky that I wondered for a second if I was still in Bergen.

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A Taste of Home

On Friday, the 20th of September, Bergen was invaded by Americans. And not by just any ol’ Yanks…My parents and family friends, the Sankos.

I rushed into town from work to meet them at their hotel and with perfect timing made it there RIGHT as their Flybussen was dropping them off. Of the entire week that they were here, I think this moment was my favorite. Just that pure joy of seeing my parents after so long and knowing that I would get to show them all of the things I love about Norway. It’s a good thing they brought their walking shoes, cause I had an itinerary that was not intended for the weak. I let them take a mini break, since they did just travel for 12+ hours…but then it was chop chop! Outside! The sun was out and so were we! First stop: Nordnesparken for a lovely walk and a beautiful sunset.

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The next day we made the trip up to Fløyen. As soon as we got on the Funicular, it started raining, of course. Thanks Obama. But after waiting just a few minutes at the top, the wind took away the clouds and rain leaving only the breathtaking view of Bergen. It was so much fun. I got to use the view as a 3D map to point out all of the places I have talked about and we even got to play with some trolls.

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The rest of the weekend was spent with some more typical Bergen sight-seeing: Bryggen, Bergenhus Festning, and of course! The sweater shops!

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My beautiful mother at the top of Rosenkrantz Tower

On Monday, we got out of Bergen to see what Norway has to offer outside of the city with an adventure to Flåm on the Flåmsbana. It was such a cool train ride with twists and turns and views of waterfalls, beautiful mountains, and those random houses that make you wonder, “Who actually lives there?” The way back was by boat down the largest fjord in Norway, Sognefjord. Again, pictures cannot do justice the beauty that we saw on this ferry back to Bergen. If ever you want a moment where you awe at nature with such ferocity that you leave a puddle of drool…plan a trip to Norway.

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Mom and Mrs. Sanko in Flåm nature

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On Tuesday, I let the kids go play on their own as I went to work. It was an interesting experience, going to work on my birthday…I think I’ll avoid it from now on. It was so wonderful though, to get to spend my special day with my parents and friends. I made us some rommegrot and Mrs. Sanko, my fellow chocolate lover, made sure I had brownies for my birthday cake as I was serenaded “Happy Birthday” outside my dorm building. The rest of the evening was spent doing my new favorite activity, walking in the Norwegian nature. Now my parents can picture my surroundings when I tell them I am going for a quick run around the lake, or park, or to see the Fantoft Stavekirke, and I think that is just so cool.

While everyday of the week was an adventure with my parents, Wednesday was a bit different. It was an adventure with food. We Americans got all dolled up and went to the harbor to wait for some guy in a boat. (If you’re Alexis Smith, you’ll understand this as being comparable to meeting the tour group by The Stairs outside of the Vatican…but Bergen is much smaller than Rome, so this was a lot easier.) This guy with the boat happened to be the owner of the restaurant we were going to and drove us, along with 15 employees of Norway’s ‘small’ oil company Statoil, to an island close by. This island is occupied by only this restaurant, Cornelius, and one residence.

As we ate some raw salmon, scallops (that were still moving), and oysters, we listened to the crazy story of how this man acquired such a swank place. It was a crazy story, and I’m not sure how much of it was true…also some of it was in Norwegian. I would try and relay it, but it’s one of those stories where only a certain person can tell it to give the full effect. I can tell you it includes a fish farm, death, betrayal, Seattle, and a rascal of a man. We ate a scrumptious three-course meal as the sun set behind the hills of Hordaland. Sigh.

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It really didn’t hit me that my parents were here until they left. I thought that their visit would be a nice ‘refresher’ and that it would dispel the hint of homesickness I had been feeling. Quite the opposite happened. Now that I have had that taste of home, I feel more homesick. I still love it here in Bergen and am looking forward to my next three months here and the adventures I will undoubtedly have, but I realized how much I really do miss the United States and those people I love that are there. Skype is great, but it can’t give you that hug that one only gets from their mama or that big bear hug a dad gives.

Something to remember: The world is so small. Check out what I found in a local antique shop. Maybe Illinois isn’t so far away after all.

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A Norwegian Walk in the Park

IMG_1211“Norwegians don’t climb up mountains, they push them down.” -a phrase exclaimed this past weekend during the first incline up Romsdalseggen,a mountain ridge in Åndalsnes. I’m not sure that I pushed any mountains down, but I sure did last the 8 hour hike, peaked over cliffs, and used chains to keep my balance as I scaled the mountains during some pretty steep trails. Yes, you may now call me Mountain Woman Meredith. This epic hike was my 4th in the past month, and it made the other three seem like a simple walk in the park.

Week One was Mt. Ulriken (again) followed by Preikestolen during Week Two at IAESTE’s Stavanger Weekend. Preikestolen is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Norway, and I can definitely see why. Pictures can’t do the cliff justice (although, I’ll still show one here), and the overall thrill of sitting at the edge is like no other. There is no railing, no air mattresses at the bottom…no safety anything. Just a 600 meter vertical drop to the ever-so-beautiful Lysefjord. If this was in the United States, there would definitely be a whole fence and safety guards there patrolling. Norway is much simpler. Be smart, or die.

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Week Three included a lovely evening hike after work. When you’re surrounded by nature, it’s quite easy to squeeze in a trek on a weekday. And if I’ve learned anything from the people of Bergen, it’s that good weather is NEVER to be wasted. You must use your time wisely and get outside! So that is what my Swiss colleague and I did. We got outside and walked up Fløyen to enjoy Bergen from greater heights.

I’m surprising myself with how much enjoyment I get from these outdoor activities. “City girl” exploring the mystical thing that is Nature. I’m still pretty naive to all this “outdoors stuff” and I tend to ask silly questions like, “Do you go on hikes like this often (the 8 hour one)?” To which I got some reply like, “Everyday after work,” or “This is how I commute to and from work.” Now, you can imagine, gullible me, eyes wide, like WHAT? REALLY? An 8-hour hike is not an everyday, weekday activity. Duly noted and I will not be fooled again!DSCN1128

On top of the 8 hour hike, I also did some canyoning this past weekend (IAESTE’s Mountain Weekend). You know, propelling down the sides of rocks, tight rope walking between ledges and zip-lining into 8°C water. Confession: I was extremely nervous the entire time, but thankfully my brain was like, ‘Meredith, there’s no other way down. You just gotta do it!’ And I’m really glad I did. The one thing I regret was not jumping from 11 meters. I did the 2 and the 5, but decided that I had hit my limit on outdoor activities there. I’m feelin’ only 22. I’ve got time to test my fear of jumping from high places into really cold water.

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About to look in the face of danger (and scream).
Photo courtesy of Dimitri Tschense

To end the weekend right, the Mountain Weekend IAESTE committee made us all dinner fit for vikings. We feasted on homemade rømmegrøt and various meats and homemade bread. I gotta tell ya, these Norwegians know their stuff when it comes to bread. We feasted in a setting that is exactly what I imagined Norway to look like. Mountains, waterfalls, grass on the roofs, antlers attached to the front of the old, wooden house (more like hut).

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These weekends that the IAESTE committees plan are so great because you get to meet people from all over the world and bond pretty quickly since you’re doing such crazy things (and probably need some moral support). What’s sad about these weekends is that once Sunday comes, the reality is that you will probably never see these new friends ever again and Facebook can only do so much. Now, with any large group, you won’t ‘click’ with everyone, making this okay…but for others, you find yourself thinking, ‘Dang! We would be such good friends if we lived near each other, or went to the same school, or this or that!’ and you’re left with just a friend-crush. For those of you who don’t know the term, a friend-crush is when you meet someone that you want to be good friends with, but aren’t. It’s similar to a regular crush in that it’s usually something that you can’t have, cause then you’d be friends already, but it’s in no way romantic.

So, to all of my family, friends, and friend-crushees (especially if you’re in Norway): Be safe, be smart, and don’t die. And always beware of the trolls.

A New Start.

A new start.

This phrase instantly brings to mind Tobias Funke’s latest flub in the most recent season of Arrested Development. However, as I sit here in Café Aura near the city center of Bergen, scrolling through my friends’ graduation pictures, I realize that this phrase signifies so much more. As many of my peers graduated this past weekend (Go ‘Cats!), the phrase new start implies entering the so-called “real life.” Whether this entails a 9-5 career, endless job applications, TFA, grad school, or the ever ambiguous year-off-to-travel, it generally means the scary and intimidating unknown.

While I did not graduate this past weekend, I did enter my own great unknown. Here I am, living in the second largest city of Norway for the next six months. The past few days have been spent traveling around the city, attempting to get situated.

DSCN0831 DSCN0826 DSCN0841  With a trip to the great IKEA and several outings to the local grocery stores, I feel set. I even made myself a meal. The kitchen in my quaint dorm suite is quite a bit different than what I’m used to, so this was a small victory for me. I’d post pictures of this victory…but my level of cooking with my limited kitchen needs a bit more work. I didn’t know anyone upon coming here except for the few people I have been corresponding with in my program, IAESTE. They have made me feel extremely welcome and have helped me get to know the essentials of living in Bergen and even took me to the VilVite! It’s like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry with an option to read and hear things in Norwegian! Everyone speaks in Norwegian, and as I sit here in this coffee shop, I can assure you that I do not understand a single thing. I have picked up on some important phrases, like how to say excuse me and thank you, but most everyone speaks English so this is not really a problem. I’m still working on learning anyhow, ‘cause what’s the point of moving somewhere new if you don’t want to learn?

Other observations thus far, in bullet points! My favorite!

  • People are very much into fitness here, and I write this knowing full well my Nutella jar is already half gone.
  • Bergen is really baby-friendly. A lot of strollers on the Bybanen (light rail). I can’t help thinking of Chicago, and what the Red-line would be like with that many strollers. I guess the ‘L’ is eLevated (see what I did there?), making it harder for parents to get their strollers up the stairs and onto the platform. Interesting to think about.
  • There’s Mexican food and restaurants here! My other favorite! In fact, it’s a tradition for people to make tacos on Friday nights for family dinner.

I have much more to share and even more to learn, but this will have to do for now. Stay tuned!