By Jack Owen

It takes a lot to go on an exchange, both literally and in terms of courage, especially when you’re in a country that has recently chosen to separate from many of the countries that are your options for that exchange. Whether it is the mountain of forms or the fear of adapting to a different culture, it can be hard to make the first move. However, while I’ll go through a lot of reasons why the exchange was very beneficial for me, the main take away was this: the exchange gives you an opportunity to live for yourself, by yourself, and learning how to build a home yourself. It frees you from the limits of both your country and your childhood home, freeing you to explore all the world has to offer. You may travel to Spain for a week or to Australia for 2 weeks but an exchange isn’t just for leisure, but life. You work hard, you go to the shops, you make new friends and join the actual community of where you’re staying rather than the pseudo-community for tourists. There will be hard times, be it homesickness of just an angry man on a bus (true story), but gradually you learn that if you face what’s getting you down with a strong resolve then each day will be significantly better. For me University freed me of the safety of home, but Bergen freed me of the limits I thought I had. But this is just the wishy-washy memoirs from someone with a few extra years, so read-on for the actual reason you came here: to hear about my experience in Bergen, Norway and why I call myself a Bergen Baker.

Travelling to Bergen – A long day(s) travel

In retrospect, travelling to Bergen is not as hard as I made it. But I personally prefer to have some extra time so accounted for this. I booked an early flight so instead of just getting a train from my uni accommodation I decided to stay at a cheap hotel near the airport and then get up ridiculously early. This worked out well, apart from a few struggles to move from Gatwick airport, my airport, to the hotel which took me about an hour. Eventually I discovered a handy bus straight there and after a trip to a shop for dinner and a snack I settled in for the evening. However, that isn’t to say that it was a gentle evening, as I had one thing that I didn’t want to ignore before leaving. Although I managed to get most things in order before my trip, including my work as the Vice-President of Lifesaving and my finances to support me throughout the trip, one thing I couldn’t finish before leaving was a game of DnD. I had never played before and we had started in January hoping to finish before I had to leave. However, a series of delays meant that we were close but not done, and so on an evening where I should have been sleeping we had one of our last games together. Therefore when I woke up that night to leave for the airport, I could feel that I was running on the energy reserved for those times when you don’t sleep. I got to the airport with time to spare and went to check my bags in… which was when I discovered that the check in for bags didn’t open till 7am, so I had to wait two hours with two heavy bags. Eventually I got checked in and, possessing the feeling of passing the first challenge, prepped myself for the security check. I know this sounds silly but although I’d flown with family and friends before I had never done it on my own so I felt like it was all up to me. Fully stoked I went up to the gates… and in little time was through and having a coffee with a bag of Haribo so big and British-themed you knew you were in the airport. my flight was at 10am so I rested for a few hours, but eventually a series of delays meant that my flight had been on hold till 1. During this time I had binged myself into boredom on Taskmaster and had moved around the seating areas in search of feeling in my bottom. Eventually I couldn’t take it and started doing laps of the building. my final total was in the 30’s but finally it was time and I was one of the first in cue. The rest of the preparations for the journey was easy, and before I knew it I was on the plane having a nice conversation with a family going to Bergen on holiday. Already I felt the freedom I discussed above as when their kid had trouble getting their ears to pop I was able to use my practices from scuba diving to help out and help resolve the issue. They were pleasant company and made the first 30 minutes in Bergen very comfortable.

Eventually I had my bags in hand and started working my way down to the light rail. Back then I had no idea what I was doing and made several mistakes, such as asking to pay at a reception and using a lift that was for staff. However, this does teach you that although we can see the worse in people, those same strangest will often show you kindness more than anger and this was a true relief. I finally got on the light rail, very thankful that most self service machines in Norway have an English option, and after a beautiful journey through the mountains surrounding Bergen I finally got to my home for the next 4 months: Fantoft. My first impression was that this felt like student accommodation, with a shared rubbish area and lots of tall buildings which were very different to the small towns I had seen while travelling on the light rail. However, one big difference to the accommodation I had in my first year was the level of technology available. The doors all had automatic openers so after scanning your key you could get everywhere you were allowed. The bins also had this lock, as did all other facilities on the site. This was great the first time, since with two heavy it was great to have the doors automatically opening for me. However, every day after it was a little annoying to not be able to open it yourself. When I got back it took me a solid day of waiting for doors to open before I got used to doing it myself again. But putting on a brave face, I went into my building. My thoughts were “Nice building…nice hallway…Wow!” as I came into a really nice kitchen and lounge area. I knew I was in a shared flat so this was expected but it was such high quality compared to what I had seen before. I was excited to see what my room was gonna be like so I unlocked the door and saw… a pretty standard room. However, it was nice to know I had this space all to myself and was looking forward to living here. It had a great bathroom, bed with linen but needed pillows and a duvet, a great view and… another bed. This was very confusing until I thought about what my agreement had said. It was a shared room, which in the UK for me meant it was a shared bathroom or kitchen space. Here in Bergen however it was literal. A lot of emotions ran through me but I was surprised by how many of them were positive. I got really excited to get a roommate and establish the roommate relationship which I hadn’t experienced before.

I was the first new person to move in, although there were two girls from Japan who had been there since the last semester. They were Satsuki and Sora, and they were very kind to me when I first moved in. I was still very confused, tired and hungry and they were very comforting, helping me with the issues I had. The main one was mostly my fault: my chargers. When I packed I got very used to a lot of sockets having usb plugs directly in the wall and knowing Bergen’s level of technology from my preparation reading I presumed they would have the same. They didn’t. Therefore, with a dying battery and 1 hour before the shops closed I had to find an adapter. I asked where and Satsuki gave me some places that might have some and with time decreasing I went into the city center. Light was fading and so was my confidence as each shop told me know. I had nearly given up when I found a shop that offered me a new plug, and desperate I said yes. So I managed to get on the light rail and head home, cradling my new plug. I realize now that it was silly but in that moment I felt horrible. I had not wanted to start my stay in this way and although I would have other wobbly days across my stay this was the time when I felt like I may want to go home. My hopes for this experience were 2 things: to make lots of new friends and to become a more independent individual. This showed neither becoming any more true. However, that feeling only lingered for a few minutes. I had been looking down at my feet while getting a little misty in my eyes, when the packed nature of the light rail at that time of day made me look out of the window out of British awkwardness. What I saw dispelled those feeling of despair. The mountains loomed over us, reaching into a sky red from the setting sun. But although they were so massive they also seemed like gentle giants. Down my way in Somerset we have several hills that we say are actually giants in eternal rest, and maybe its because of this that I felt like I was among friends in that moment. It was in that moment that I knew I would see my exchange through to the end, and that even if I ever felt like that again, that I was not achieving what I set out to do, I would always have Bergen itself to keep me company and that the challenge wasn’t being in Bergen, but it was being outside my comfort zone. I came back and had a pizza, went to bed on a spare blanket and pillow and went to bed feeling even more determined than I had been when I first left.

Initial days in Bergen – Lighter burdens and pockets

I didn’t sleep that well the first night due to not having a good pillow but I slept enough that I was ready for the next day. I had no food so that day I did two things: I went for a shop and I got a pillow. Although I learnt from my mistakes so I spent some time doing research online and found some places to go. With an attitude of an adventurer I found a pillow, and was surprised by how expensive it was. However, there weren’t many shops selling pillows so I did have to go to a pretty swanky place. Then I went food shopping and I finally made a realization of one big difference: unlike in the UK where commercialism means you can get anything with ease in Bergen it is much harder to get stuff as there is one place that has that thing. That and how expensive Bergen is. I knew it was expensive from what I had heard but this was insane. For context: in the UK I like to challenge myself and on a good week I can eat 3 good meals for £8 but most people will spend about £10-20 on a weeks shopping. In Bergen when I was being as sparing as possible it cost me £30-40 for a week’s shopping, which I was very proud to have got down to £20 by the end of my exchange. This first time I had no idea where everything was in the shops since I didn’t know Norwegian so I spent a long time learning where everything was. There were no self service check outs so I also had my first experience of interacting with a Norwegian who starts talking to me in Norwegian. It didn’t help that I looked Norwegian, but they are very nice to you and although I did have some language issues when finding certain food items we usually managed to work it out and they were very kind about it. And so I finally had everything I needed and I was very happy with myself. Although it had been a challenge it was very rewarding overcoming those challenges. I even made a friend from a fellow exchange student who also was having the same issues. I went back and had my first Norwegian meal. My research that I used for my meal plan gave me some common meals that were typically Norwegian and so I hoped they would be relatively cheap as a result. However, I would eventually find that they weren’t themselves cheap but with practice and brand choices you can make them cheap. The example of this that I had for dinner was a hotdog in their traditional bun instead of the ones we know, more like a wrap then a hotdog. However, by using cheaper buns and sausages you can significantly lower the price and still have a delicious meal because no matter what the price they have a way with sausages that make them fantastic. Maybe it’s the price but the food tastes extra nice but what I found the most amazing and now miss after returning is the freshness of their water. Even from the tap it is delightfully fresh and has a great mouth feel.

The first few days I was a little lonely and I could tell as I was actually using my Nintendo Switch. For context, as I didn’t know what to expect I brought it along. For those first few days I used it to fill my time. However, on one specific day I put it away and didn’t use it for the rest of my experience. That was the day the next people moved in. I like to think I’m a people person and can attract people but in those few days I hadn’t managed to become friends with Satsuki and Sora, spending most of their free time in their room rather than with me. This changed when the next two people moved in. They were two German girls who were from the same University. The first was called Samira and we got along like marshmallows and bonfires, although we did face a language barrier as did others. However, what may surprise you is that I was causing the language barrier due to my British accent. It amazed me how well all the other international students could articulate the English language, our common language, and how much what I thought was an easy accent to understand was actually so hard to understand. However, they did enjoy everytime I asked for a “glass of wa’er,” and over time they got used to it. Still, Sami was very sweet with silly me and was so compassionate that during my hard times I would often only be able to tell her due to my stupidly stoic mindset. She also gave wonderful hugs that even now I miss. The other person that moved in that day was a wonderful go-getter called Merle. It took me 1 month to properly pronounce her name but it will take me 1000 times that to forget her. Although she would often be confused at what I was saying since I often used British or American culture-related puns or idioms in my speech, every conversation we had was really fun and just her smile would make me grin ear-to-ear. When they moved in my life in Bergen became one thousand times better as whenever we were free we would talk together. Whenever we ate we would eat together and we would often come up with fun things to do together. I would love it when more people moved in, but I will admit that even if it was just us 3 living together I would have been fine. But for the next 2-3 weeks more people would move in.

The Patchwork Family – Who I lived with

For the sake of not boring you I will sum it up here in the order that I would explain it to my granny whenever she asked who I lived with.

First there was Concetta, a wonderful, beautiful Italian girl who was very talented at drawing and who I felt I could talk about the things that are really dear to me with. My fondest moment with her was when we had just used our position as students to get a student discount to watch a performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra. The music was so moving and awoke memories of my deceased grandfather that had me shaking and in tears. As we left she walked with me and listened as I explained what I was feeling and she helped me calm down. Living with her was Antonia, the most friendly person I met relative to the darkness of her humor. She was a little nervous when she first moved in and did say that she was considering leaving. Knowing the feeling I tried my best to comfort her and to make her feel the peace that I felt looking at those mountains. I was so proud when she finally said that she was sad she was leaving early. What I never told her was that although I was happy to help her, I was also grateful that I had someone to look after myself. My center is resilience but my main joy is in tending to the needs of people and looking after them, so when I felt needed it made me feel more resilient in my own struggles. My fondest moment that I shared with Antonia was early in our friendship. Antonia, bless her heart, made me laugh a lot by refusing to drink non-carbonated drinks. Therefore when our friend found her a soda stream on a second hand app he sent her to find it, and who is the most reliable helper… not me but no one else was available so we went to collect it. It was a long trip but was very pleasant, taking us up into the mountains down roads that we had never explored before. All the while we talked about our lives and had a few laughs. When the journey was finally over I was sort of sad because although I tried to put up the act of the confident conversationalist but at this point I was still too shy to continue it after we had returned. But don’t worry, part of my growth in Bergen was being shy but not letting that limit my experience.

Next we had Zuzia, a wonderfully funny Polish woman who could get along with about anyone and was one of the few people who never had trouble understanding me. She would often go out on these wonderful hikes and take such gorgeous photos. In many ways it was her photos and stories that inspired me, in the cold embrace of winter and during a time when I was stressed about exams to go out into the cold and do the same hikes. She lived with Samira and were closely tied with Satsuki and Sora for the most harmonious roommates.

Next to them we had Satsuki and Sora. I got a wonderful chance to get to know Sora better during the exam period when the others were free but we still had stuff to prepare for, resulting in everyone going on a 5 day holidays to Voss, a popular Ski resort, while we stayed and worked by day, watching Christmas films at night and talking afterwards. This made her a very special part of my exchange and I really miss her, amplified by the fact that it is so hard for us to see each other. I wish I had gotten to know Satsuki better. Of course we interacted as flat mates but after living together for so long I wish that I wasn’t so shy to just go for it and have done more fun things with her. The main problem I faced was that she was so beautiful, like a porcelain ballerina, and this made me scared that she would see me as some brute and be slightly fearful. Eventually I got over this but I wish I could’ve done it sooner. But that’s what happens on exchanges: you may grow like you planned but there will always be things you need to work on that the exchange won’t change. So if you are ever in doubt if someone will get closer to you on an exchange, for my sake try because if you don’t then nothing will ever happen.

Beyond that we had Eliot, a good friend from Belgium, which was mild-mannered but also knew a good time. He had great compassion while still being able to have a good time. A great time we shared was when a few of the flat went to a little island in the Fjord by swimming to it. The entire experience was an adventure but one of my favorite aspects is that in our group of four he and I were the least prepared and so we were riding the wave of events together. It made him feel like a brother-in-arms and I often look back on the photos of that day in fondness. He lived with Arthus, a French man who was simultaneously the nicest man and the naughtiest. When we first met he came across as quiet but during our parties and nights out it was endearing to see him let loose. He was also responsible for introducing us to a lot of fun fellow French people who’s company I did enjoy. I appreciate that he’s so close and I do intend to visit him when I can. We also bonded over our common interest in the fantasy genre.

Next to them was the closest thing I had to an Englishman (which I’m not sure he’d take as a compliment 😉 ) called Charlie. He was Irish but surprising he was actually born in Southampton. From the first few minutes of meeting him I knew we were gonna get along like a house on fire. He had a special gift for saying things in just the right way to make people smile. Despite his shorter stature he was full of hearty laughter and for many of my favorite times I shared with him. The first time I knew we were gonna be friends was during our first trip to a Norwegian pub. Maybe it was the fine beer or the peaceful night, but the walk back we had such a Bro-ment. He lived with a charming man from the Netherlands called Jelle. My first impression of him was “Wow he’s gorgeous!”, although a lot of people I met from the Netherlands “suffered” from the same affliction. At first this made me nervous, feeling like we were too different to be friends. However, we quickly did become friends and that is something that you only can learn from situations like exchanges. You learn that even if people have had different life experiences or you feel like there’s nothing that could be you in that person’s circle, just by living and putting yourself forward you will find that no one is too far out of reach for you. This was certainly true for me. When I got to know him I found this really friendly guy who was not afraid to ask for what he wanted. I really respected that about him. These two were also so sweet together. Being roommates is an intense situation: you share your private space with someone else and you must have an enormous amount of respect for that person to make it work, and they are the prime example of how to do it right.

Next we have the peculiar case. That’s not to say the person in this room is peculiar, far from it, but instead the room itself was sort of life the sphinx’s riddle. At first there was 1 person, then 2, then 1 again and then 2, then finally just one lucky soul with a spare bed. The person who was constant in this was Femke, a gorgeous lady from the Netherlands with a passion for two things: beer and tattoos. It is one of my regrets that I didn’t get one from her, although I look forward to discussing the tattoo I eventually plan on getting. She was a free spirit and a lot of the fun stuff outside our usual activities were her brain child. Again we were very different, me being rather rough and ready but enjoying the wilderness while she gave of an elegant demeanor, almost as graceful as a Duchess but doing everyday activities. However, we still got along well and I learned a lot of stuff I would never had thought to learn from her. Her tattoo parlor was kept empty since her roommates kept leaving. The first person supposed to live there was Mariel, an extremely sweet Mexican girl who I wish I had more time with. We had a few days together, where I showed her around Bergen with some friends and we made a few memories but soon after she left without giving me a proper chance to say goodbye. It was very sad, especially since her course demanded she do the exchange so she would eventually have to do it again. But that is the tough thing about an exchange. In those early days you can feel incredibly alone, and if you cannot find something to anchor you in Bergen then every waking hour turns into a struggle not just to pack up and go home. However, the bright side of this short tale is that although she left Bergen she did not leave our hearts. For some it was just her Bacardi that they appreciated, but I personally refused to say goodbye so easily. So I kept in touch with her. It can be hard and there are times when we’ll go a month without response, and I fear the day when we stop talking, but I am grateful I made this choice as from it I discovered what good friends we could be. We both love ABBA and musicals, we both have an appreciation for art and most of all we both know how to make the other smile. At the end of the day it may feel easier and better just to let your friendships stay on exchange and move on with your life, and that’s a viable option for handling the separation after an exchange. But while it can be a struggle I refuse to give up those friendships and whatever may come from it, even nothing, my life has been made better by this decision. The next person who lived there was another Italian girl called Flavia. I spent even less time with Flavia as she only stayed in the flat for a few days till she could fly home. She had finished her time in Bergen but a falling out with her roommate meant she spent her last days with us. She was nice enough but as quickly as she arrived she was gone again. And so Femke had a room to herself. Sometimes I wondered how she felt about it, and when I asked her she said she liked it, but I did sometimes wonder whether she felt like she was missing out.

My next flat neighbor was Merle but her roommate was someone who quickly became our Italian mother, Gaia. Just like her name suggests she was the most considerate person I’d ever met. She often had this elegance that people usually only get from a well-lived life. She was the oldest of us all but she simultaneously could act younger than us and many years older than us in a split second. It was impossible to dislike her and everyday she just made it even harder. She would be so infused with whatever we decided to do and interact with us as equals despite our age difference. It is something that I did find strange at first and over time there were instances when it became apparent. When it was time for fun and games there would be some nights when an older group would break off and a younger group would play harder. As a man who gets more sensible as he drinks I would often be in the young group but lose the energy to keep up with them, but feel like going to the older group would ruin their mood. This was something I never solved while in Bergen, but we all still had fun and so there was nothing lost from things being this way.

And finally, we have my roommate. It would be in the early days before lots of people had moved in that he would arrive. Back then I had no idea you could contact your roommate ahead of time to get to know them and know when they are arriving so when he walked in my door I was completely unprepared. He introduced himself as Fredrick but asked me to call him Fredi. He was a Danish lad who came with a proper snow coat and bags that seemed to be perfect for a hike around the world. He towered over me and had the lushest blonde hair that he wore long. That Scandinavian blood certainly did him wonders. He only seemed cooler when I discovered he was a wilderness explorer who loved climbing. Honestly, I found it pretty intimidating at first because I felt so inferior to him in so many ways. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my things that made us equal, as I had a great passion for water sports that later he told me he was impressed by and he was never able to outrun me despite his longer legs. However, it’s very human to wish for the things you don’t have and it took me a few weeks to stop looking at what I didn’t have compared to him and start appreciating who he was. But when I did our relationship got so much better. He was a straight laced guy who spoke his mind like no one else. I used to sum it up as blunt as a brick, which used to make him laugh. He would often tell me that he had no time to waste his life tending to the idiosyncrasies of others and I appreciated seeing that.

For us there was a pivotal event that changed our relationship significantly, making us feel much closer. There was this evening where we had gone out to celebrate and came back a little less worse for wear. I have no idea why but Fredi had a traffic cone and was dancing on the table. Being a big lad everyone was worried and when he responded they returned the gesture slightly frightened. This unnerved him so he slunk away into his room. I followed him out of concern and that evening we talked out everything. I finally was blunt with him and explained that it would take time for people to adjust to see him on the inside and not just the giant man before them. I said those things and for the first time I meant them, because till that moment I had felt the same, even if for different reasons. But in his eyes I saw a deep sadness and that wiped away any doubt I had. We spent the rest of the night talking about life stuff, from love to itching to snoring which was mainly me prepping him. You see, I am a particularly bad sleeper, snoring and sometimes singing and dancing. Therefore I wanted to tell him that this was how it was and if it was a problem we could come to a solution. Luckily he found my nighttime behavior very amusing which solved the problem, but it does raise a very good tip that you potential exchangers may overlook. It seems obvious to be blunt with your roommate and just tell them when things were wrong but it instantly became much harder in the moment because we all want an ideal experience and fear that what we say may ruin it. However, put on a brave face and say it because unlike the scenario playing in your head things will be significantly better if you two are open with each other. Fredi even said that his respect for me grew when I actually started voicing my opinions, and it was in this state that we truly lived in harmony.

Now I do have some advice for being a good roommate which I’ll try to be brief with. The first thing I recommend you doing is normalizing what you both need from your private space. To help understand this, here’s me and Fredi’s example. For Fredi the room was a place to privately call his family and to work without interruption, as well as the place he slept. Other than that he would often spend a lot of time in the communal areas or at the gym. For me however my room was the place I went to recharge my social batteries and to truly relax. In order to get along well with people I often put up a bit of a visage that makes me a better conversationalist, but when I’m tired I often let this slip and a very tired me is who’s there. Therefore when I’m in my room my shy quiet side comes out, and that was what Fredi had to get used to. We did have plenty of great talks but day to day he learn to respect my time of recovery and even offered to leave the room if I needed it. In return I did the same for his phone calls and avoided being nosy. It is all rather small things but it is things like this that make living together so much smoother. Another useful tip that I found was to choose one thing the other person did and do it together. For me and Fredi it was climbing for him and baking for me. Without his influence I would have never gone climbing as I found it very difficult and could only really climb rainbow (using all the hand holds for different routes). However, even though it was hard there was a great sense of relief when I reached the top and he really appreciated me doing it with him, as did I since he was my belay and so he was in charge and making sure I didn’t fall. In return sometimes we would cook together, and we made some wonderful meals. A lot of them were English recipes but I always tried to see if I could add any Danish flair to them. It was a wonderful. But sometimes you won’t get a good roommate like Fredi, and sometimes you will have to set boundaries and may even have to move out, but if you make the right steps and work hard often times you can find brotherhood in places you least expect, and although I’d never tell him I would certainly not mind calling him my brother.

But not everyone you become good friends with will be your flatmates. Of course you should meet as many people as you can and often times they can be coursemates, people you meet through events or hobbies, or even just by chance. This was true for us when we accidently met someone who would become a part of our patchwork family. His name was Joe and he started as just a friend of Femke. He was an American doing a year abroad and was the ultimate conversationalist. Either that or he was a giant flirt. But no one could not be attracted to him, he was a sporty man who was very funny and very knowledgeable, being able to have detailed conversations about whatever you were interested in. What was more amazing was that even with a topic he did not know he would always take an interest and try to learn it from you. It was something that I found fascinating and have tried to do so myself because knowing from experience, it’s great when people show that kind of respect while still being a comrade. And so quickly the entire flat adopted him and there were very few days when he wasn’t around. He made excellent coffee too so he and I were the perfect pairing, with him making the coffee and me making the cakes. We would often joke that we should work in a cafe together. But he was often very complementary and really brought out the best in people, usually with a little blushing from the person, which was refreshing and I am very glad to call him a friend. So no matter how you meet people on an exchange, know that with each friendship you make you can find so much more joy in the same amount of time. And it was with these people that I lived. Of course I had coursemates who I spent a lot of time with and other people that I met outside the flat that I still message to this day, but my closest bonds from Bergen come from this wonderful group of people who I shared so many experiences with. The name Patchwork Family actually came from a visitor we had over at our flat, who saw us and thought we looked like a very strange family. So many different faces, accents and attitudes and yet we all still got along like a house on fire, with no drama to speak of after 4 months all together. And so, my Patchwork Family was born.

Flat Life – the Every day workings of a student flat

Everyone’s experience living together will vary greatly. That is to be expected when there are so many factors in play. 16 people means there’s a lot of variability in what the general flat environment could have been. However, one thing that was very beneficial was that by going on an exchange the type of people you live with are naturally inclined towards working together and communal responsibility. It may not always be the case but in our flat everyone respected that they had a part to play in maintaining the space and we all took it very seriously. When everyone had finally moved in one of the first things we did was gathering around out main table and set out a weekly Rota of jobs that had to be done to maintain the flat. There was also a monthly Rota for the more detailed cleaning that only had to be monthly. By doing it in this way we were able to keep our flat fairly clean. What was also key was that everyone recognized the importance of each individual’s stuff, and so we had no need for locks. Towards the end of the year we would pretty much all leave our doors open and leave some of our most precious belongings in the communal space because that’s how close we were. During each year when living in student accommodation I tried to do this but it never got received as well as it did in Bergen. I didn’t even need to initiate the conversation as it was already agreed that this was how we were gonna do it. What made it even better was that these weekly jobs were assigned per room and so you never felt like you were alone with the worst task as you always were sharing the experience with you. A lot of the techniques we used I will continue to use in my future student accommodation. For example, one of the jobs was to shop for the house, which means spending money that potentially is unequal per week. To solve this we used an app called Splitwise where you can record any spending you make on behalf of another and so gives them accountability to pay you back. For us this was perfect as it meant that we could rely on it whenever one person needed something. I don’t like confrontation and people in the past have used that to avoid having to pay me back for stuff, but with Splitwise it’s very hard to say no. I’m not saying use Splitwise specifically but use a system like this because it removes money from the factors which could cause the flat to become disharmonious.

In addition to maintenance another good thing we did to ensure we were all happy together was to have some traditions that we adhered to. For us this was the Sunday dinner, that we all took turns doing. For 16 people it was often took a day’s prep to make it happen, but everyone did it well and it was amazing trying everyone’s food because they all took it upon themselves to show their home culture with this meal. I also took great pride in this meal and so each time it was mine and Fredi’s turn I would take time planning, scheduling and writing out the list for shopping. We would also put these meals into Splitwise so no one was burdened with a more expensive shop which was extra nice. Me and Fredi did it twice. The first time we did a Shepherd’s pie with a Victoria Sponge for after’s. The second was possibly my favorite as we made a proper Sunday Roast which actually lasted all of us 2 days, which was followed by Summer Pudding. For those who re unfamiliar with this dessert, it is relatively simple: a berry juice soaked, white bread pudding filled with a variety of berries. It may sound a little odd but it’s got a wonderful flavour and texture. It’s one of my favorite recipes because I associate it with trips to go see my granny and grandad. My grandad loved it and even now my granny makes it for me whenever I go down. The others had no idea but I made this dessert because by then I really considered them family and I wanted to give them the one thing that I associate with family the most: baking.

What’s the deal with Baking?

I’m gonna talk a lot about baking here because it’s one of the things I most strongly associated with my time in Bergen. That, hiking and of course the marine biology that was the reason for going. Before Bergen I did do the occasional bit of baking but I usually only did it when there was an occasion, like a birthday. But after being in Bergen for a few days I realized that I couldn’t rely on British drinking culture to make me popular or to keep me entertained as the alcohol in Bergen was and will probably always be ridiculously expensive. An average pint at a bar cost me £10 and cocktails were worth a mortgage. I’m not saying that I didn’t drink but I certainly drank minimally, usually having no drinks out and 1 beer at home. Even now, a month after the exchange ended, my tolerance is rock bottom. So without this “hobby” to fill my time I decided I would do something else. And fate would have it that a lot of people in the flat had late August birthdays. And so I began making their birthday cakes, getting more ambitious each time. When I started to miss the stuff I use to have at home I also tried making that because I had no chance of finding it in Bergen. I made buttermilk scones and Victoria Sponge cakes; Millionaire’s shortbread that soon became a favorite of the flat that I made repeatedly; and I even tried to make my own clotted cream, although that did fail.

After doing all these different recipes and many more I started to feel this joy in baking. The activity itself was really fun, and the sense of accomplishment was also really nice, but the main attraction was the joy everyone else took in eating my baking. A problem that a lot of my student houses have had is that people are too shy about taking food. It can be sweet but is also the bane of a baker because people not eating what you made is the same as it failing. So when everyone was finishing of the food I put my love into making I naturally got addicted to making them smile. It got so bad that I was baking something different every week, sometimes not even letting everyone finish the first thing before I made something new. But they still kept eating it and it made me so happy. And now I have a new hobby, and while I won’t get the same joy out of it now that I don’t have people like that to eat my baking I still love making them and will continue to practice the things I did worse so that when I meet my flat again I can show them how much I’ve grown. What was also quite a relief was that the flat actually put my baking on Splitwise, meaning that the burden of the expensive food was shared amongst everyone. No ones ever done anything for me like that before and it meant the world to me. So when I refer to myself as a Bergen Baker, it’s not because I’m a particularly good baker or intend to stop studying fish and start a bakery. It’s because baking was what made my time in Bergen so fantastic: it brought me closer with my house, made stronger connections to people I’d just met and gave me a conversation that everyone was happy to have. It’s a lesson that is worth noting: just because you do these experiences for one reason doesn’t mean that those reasons must define your stay. In many ways being doing baking in Bergen was more meaningful to me than the courses I did while in Bergen because while my courses were great for bettering my understanding of aquaculture and all types of fisheries, baking gave me the happiness and strength to grow as a person. And so while I will continue to bake, I will always consider myself a Bergen Baker.

What else can I do?…. in Bergen

As you may have guessed I spent a lot of time baking while in Bergen. However, 4 months is a long time and it’s good to have other activities as well as your course. The main one for anyone going to Bergen in hiking. Unlike my home county of Somerset, Bergen’s landscape is filled with mountainous hiking routes that take you up into the sky. I made the most of this during my early months, going on hikes with my flatmates and the people I had become friends with in Bergen. This included one of the seven hills of Bergen: Ulriken. Ulriken was probably the easiest because it had really well cut stairs made out of stone that led you directly to the summit. That is not to say it was easy for everyone but those with a little endurance were able to manage it without strain and those who were well-practiced hikers could even run up and down it. Although I never did I would have liked to have run up this peak, even if I would’ve been knackered at the peak. And once we were up there we were greeted by what seemed to be an endless rock field that stretched as far as the eye could see, with crevices and small peaks dotted around, as well as the occasional lake and building. It truly was beautiful and made even more so by a beautiful blue sky. It was a little cold at this altitude and the wind certainly didn’t help but we had a wonderful day and I was certainly hooked on the experience.

The next time I would go up one of the seven peaks was when my family were visiting. By then my homesickness had truly faded but it was certainly nice to have them there. They had inter-railed to Bergen to see me and had gone to some wonderful places along the way. we spent 4 days together in Bergen, where I showed them around, they explored a bit themselves, and we spent some time just being all together. And of course you should never forget to get a cheeky shop in where you can ask for all the expensive things that you will use till the end of your stay. For me this was condensed milk (£8) and vanilla extract (~£7) as well as a few other baking items. It was on one of our days together that we went up my 2nd peak: Floyen. This one was the most tourist accessible, having a funicular railway that people could use to get to the top. We took this due to the alternative being a long route to the top. Therefore we had plenty of time at the top where we explored the peak in it’s entirety. It was surprising to us how many people stayed at the entrance from the railway but how little ventured further into the wilderness of Floyen. Just a few minutes out from the coffee shops and crowds there were a series of lakes and wonderful views of the city and the surrounding wilderness, as well as a lake that was big enough to go canoeing in for free thanks to people giving out free canoes to use. There were even goats that were part of a counter forest fire strategy to eat away at any vegetation that could act as kindling. This was fantastic as there are two things I love in this world: anything Ocean-related and Goats. This was one of the last things we did before they left the next day and this experience does give you a mix of emotions. The first is the negative that after having them be there for you it is hard to say goodbye again and it can be tempting to just return with them. However, there are also some good feelings. For me there was relief when I said goodbye because while they were in Bergen with me I felt like I had to make sure they had a good time and as a result I was very tired, especially since I was still having lectures. But it was really nice to go up with this mountain with them.

After that my course got a little more intense and I began to struggle to balance my free time with my work, resulting in me prioritizing the work and not going for as many hikes. However, in the final few weeks before my exams I was working pretty much continuously and didn’t have much time I spent for myself. This was unhealthy and looking back I wish I spent more of this time doing stuff in Bergen. One thing I did decide to do though was to complete the hills. I had 6 weeks and 5 mountains so I decided that every Sunday I would hike up a different peak. I started with a relatively easy one of Damsgardfjellet, although because it was my first it was a lot longer because I was very unprepared. I would get lost regularly and then have to spend a long time trying to find the path, the final time was during my return home and I decided to keep going till eventually I found an old path that got me back to civilization via a very overgrown route. However, it proved to me it was possible and I set up a tradition. On these hikes I would take some revision cards that I could think about while moving and sit down ever so often to correct any mistakes. I would also take up these chocolate bars that promoted good hiking etiquette, having half when I reached the peak and the rest on the bus home which showed that I had made it home. It’s good to remember when hiking that although it’s great to get to the top it’s more important to get back home safe.

My 4th peak was Sandvikfjellet which involved a very nice set of stone stairs that got me to the top. At the top was a wonderful panoramic view of Bergen going out into the Fjord. I also managed to find a Geocache at the top. I didn’t have anything on me so I left a 20 pence coin so they knew an Englishman had been there. I then walked throughout the mountain top, which was very extensive. What I didn’t know was that I was gonna go into the next mountain range called Rundemanen. While I was up there I was able to really clear my mind. A problem with living with so many people is that it is hard to have privacy to sort out your thoughts, and so while I was alone in the mountains I was able to freely say what I needed to and feel relieved. On my return journey I saw a wondrous view: a frozen lake. I will tell you this right away: NO ONE should go on a lake like this as there is little chance of help and you are risking too much for two little. I know it’s hard as it is very tempting but you must fight the temptations. I did manage to stand in the shallows where you could feel the ground beneath the ice, and even this got an old man on a bike to yell at me to be more responsible. Even still, the walk back was very picturesque and many pictures were taken.

For my 5th (but technically 6th) and next hike I faced a new challenge. This was snow as by this time it had begun to snow regularly resulting in the landscape to become simultaneously slippery and hard to see. This meant that it was too dangerous to go by my self, or at least without anyone keeping an eye out. And so because everyone was busy I sent them my live location and I would get regular checks on my health. It was very sweet of my flatmates to do this for me. I think they knew how important it was for me to do these walks and so them enabling me to do it was a huge relief. Both peaks were hard to get up because of the snow but eventually I managed, and at each I did what I always do: make a tiny snowman and take some pictures before it all melts. These hikes were not as long as the others but they were a lot of fun, especially to a man who was unused to snow and was thrilled to travel through it. Be it sliding, lying in it or simply standing while surrounding, it was very great to be out there.

My final peak occurred during the time when everyone else’s exams were over except my own and Sora’s. At the time I hadn’t realized that I had already been up to Rundemanen and so I planned on going up there to finish the job, and because Sora was bored she decided to come up with me. This was both precious and terrifying because if it was just me then I knew my limits and could work out whether the trip was possible. However, on this trip I was constantly worried if she was okay and spent a lot of my time running around her to be ready if she tripped. This was made worse because ice had formed over the stairs necessary to get to the top which meant that it was extremely difficult to get up the stairs. When we finally got up there we still had a hard time since the same view I had enjoyed before was now a death trap. People walking past told us that a few people had already slid of the peak and been badly injured, and so we were very careful to avoid getting too close. We then went to the lake which for me marked the beginning of Rundemanen. Once there we made the most of being there and explored the region well, taking plenty of pictures before beginning the challenging journey back down. One fun part of this journey was sliding down the hills using bags we had brought with us, and for most of the journey this was how we got down the hill. But eventually we reached the path I had taken previously, only now it was covered in ice. This meant that we were much slower and frequently fell over. Luckily me and Sora were adjusted by then and when we fell we did it in a way to minimize harm to ourselves and also prevent further slipping. Gradually the path eased up and finally we made it back into civilization and I apologized for how rough the path had been. But I was grateful for her company and for the conversations that were spawned from being together for this time. We had been alone but because of her I didn’t feel lonely. In many ways I felt like I could really be myself with her. Other than our hikes we watched Christmas movies, taking turns to choose them, but this was the highlight for me from that time.

So after hiking up all 7 peaks I do have some advice that I can offer to future Bergen exchangers about hiking. The main one for me is to wear gloves. Each trip I took different equipment and from testing I found that having gloves made the experience so much better. Even if it wasn’t all the mountains, most of them involved a leg where it was necessary to do some scrambling. This was especially true for my first hike, where I had no gloves and as a result my hands were terribly scratched up, taking a week to heal and a further few weeks for the scars to fade. Moreover, by wearing gloves you feel more confident about really exploring the path, taking slightly alternative routes because you have the extra security offered by having your hands cushioned. Additionally, bring a snack. Most of the peaks offer an easy route so you won’t have to worry about meals unless you intend to travel at specific meal times. But what a snack does do is give you that sugar boost to recover the energy lost from the hike. It also has a more personal role to play, at least for me.

Bergen as I’m sure you’ll find is a very rainy place and during my trips I was faced with several hikes were the weather was getting towards extreme weather. Faced with extreme weather you of course shouldn’t go out unless well prepared and if it is safe to do so, but even if it’s just rainy it can be hard to go on that hike. On those days I carried my chocolate bar triumphantly and at the peak and bus back I would enjoy it with the greatest satisfaction. I promise you, if you went through all the trouble of hiking through a storm then that chocolate bar will be more delicious than anything you’d had all day. Other sensible stuff to bring is a coat, a phone and a buddy. However, don’t be reliant on google maps or a map app to get you where you want to go while up in the mountains, as there are many areas up there that have no internet connection. It is possible to use the base map to traverse the path but it does pose the risk of leaving the path while being unaware that you had done so. With all these warnings though, my last piece of advice is just to try hiking. If you like it, that’s fantastic and you should keep going and try all the peaks as they do offer a very different experience. But even if you don’t enjoy it, you can confidently say you tried it and have shared in the Norwegian experience. You never know whether you will enjoy it until you have, and there’s no better place to hike than Bergen’s mountains. You don’t even need a lot of equipment. I used to just go up with a pair of good boots, jeans and a coat and managed very well, so don’t fear nature. If you do, I know you’ll at least have a very good story to tell.

Other than hiking and just playing games with my flat, there were a few other things that kept me entertained. One thing was exercise, both using the facilities provided or in nature. One of the benefits of having a large shared flat is it is more than likely that a few people will want to go to the gym, and if you’re living at Fantoft then there’s one on site that is amazing. You do have to pay what at the time can seem like a large amount, but we worked out and you make the money back if you go to the gym once per week, which meant I was making my money back 3 times over. I’m more a cardio man so the abundance of cardio machines was great for me, but there was also all the facilities for weight training, climbing and a series of classes that you can book. The climbing is of limited quality but the gym pass you get can be used for a series of gyms around Bergen, included a great climbing gym and a swimming pool.

The natural environment surrounding Bergen also offers a variety of places to visit as well as lots of places to go wild swimming. Just at Fantoft you can walk to a wonderful park where if you go down to the Fjord there are some rocks that allow you to enter the Fjord. I went often because the water was so fantastic and it was great to go swimming with everyone. It did get a little too cold (and eventually slightly frozen) in winter though so make the most of it while it’s (relatively) warm. Although it’s a little more extreme it’s also a great place to go skinny-dipping. I can imagine I’ve lost you there because the British opinion on public nudity is that it’s obscene, but from talking with my flatmates and skinny dipping together the sentiment is not shared. Eventually it changed my opinion on the matter, although I was already very liberal about it to begin with. It certainly was an exciting experience and very freeing. Anyway, now to something other than skinny dipping.

If you’re anything like me then you may try the pub scene in Bergen since that’s what we do in the UK. However, the price of drinking is so extreme that it is not worth the percentage. I’m not saying don’t do it, because I did have some wonderful nights out while tipsy with my friends. But what I recommend is pre-drinking before going out since although still expensive it’s cheaper to just get a box of wine or a 6 pack of beers. Just don’t do what some of my flatmates did and drink too much and immediately fall asleep. From there you may want to go to a pub, and if you want somewhere cheap-ish I’d recommend the student bar. It’s still pricey but still relatively cheaper and usually there’s something going on. My favorite nights were either live music night or silent disco’s which were a big thing in Bergen. The live music was usually students or local start up’s so the quality was mixed but with a great crowd it was always a night to remember.

The Silent Disco’s were the crowned jewel of activities. Maybe it’s the Norwegian way but the benefits of silent discos mean that they were everywhere throughout the city. This one specifically allowed you to listen to 3 different DJs: one pop, one classic club and the final an anime-themed playlist. I mainly was a pop guy but it was nice to switch over to the other 2 sometimes. So you could see what people were listening to, the headsets actually changed color to reflect the genre you were listening to, so it was fun when you saw people changing their color and joining them on the same DJ to dance together. There was also a big thrill to not be in the majority, and the thrill of converting people was the best feeling of them all. There was also a cloakroom so you could hang up your coats which on certain days was free so you could truly let loose, although in Bergen you have no need to worry about people taking your stuff. My flat actually ran an accidental experiment where a few of them left their phones on a bench in the city center and only returned 30 minutes later and they were still there. You’ll see a lot of memes about the Norwegian attitude being that you can leave stuff alone for days and it’ll still be there. Although I tried to avoid testing it, the times I did it remained true. However, don’t test it. Some other stuff to try includes: learning how they make beer at a brewery, visiting the Bryggen (don’t by anything, it’s expensive), eating a cinnamon roll and taking part in activities run by your societies and by the University.

I personally do lifesaving back in Southampton but as I said early on, I was starting to get into Dungeons and Dragons and while in Bergen I thought I’d explore it further in Bergen, so I joined the games society at UIB. There weren’t many activities outside of the games you set up yourself but they did do a few meet-up activities to get to know other people. They also offered practical courses for new players and for players to learn how to run games. I did the games master course and learned a great deal, getting enthralled in the joy of making a world and running the game for players. The club even set up events that rewarded game masters while giving players an opportunity to form groups. This was around Halloween and so I ran a one session long game that was Halloween themed and the game set by the society was that we randomly were given a series of creatures for our players to defeat, where we competed with out game masters based on how many monsters our players managed to take out. Me and my players still sometimes run sessions when we’re free and it’s really inspired me to keep going and try running games at my home game society. This may not not have any valuable information to most readers but what I hope everyone takes away is that going somewhere new does mean that you have a chance to pursue things you have never tried before. I wanted to join a choir and did manage it even if I didn’t pursue it that long, so no matter what you want to try, if they offer it then go for it.

Leaving Bergen – Explore Norway!

Although I could’ve happily stayed in Bergen all my trip, I would recommend making the most of Norwegian trains to explore areas outside of Bergen. For prices cheaper than it is for me to go home from Southampton I was able to go to Voss, a wonderful ski resort where during winter you can do a variety of winter sports and during summer and autumn you can hike and go for swims in the lakes at the top which were fantastically chilly and had a warm shelter nearby if things took a turn for the worse. I went in both Summer and Winter and thoroughly enjoyed both trips. The one in Summer was just a day trip in my 2nd month in Bergen where I went with a few friends and hiked around the base of the mountain before going up on the cable cars which were relatively affordable and well worth it. The highlights for me were the waterfalls which are about 20 minutes out from the “city” center, which you could get down into and really admire. As for the peak there was a great cafe that served a wonderful apple and cinnamon cake that I tried to replicate when I got back home. There were a few things up there to try: a swing, a massive chair, and a very long slope when you return to the cable cars. All I’ll recommend is enjoy, and make sure you keep your return cable car ticket safe as it’s much harder to get a replacement ticket at the top. The trains are also so smooth and the view is so good while travelling that although you may want to sleep on the way there, I’d recommend playing games with your friends and taking pictures on the way there and sleeping on the return.

In the winter I went up with Sora to stay overnight with our friends who had no course-related work to worry about. This time was a little different as we had a house to stay overnight, so we played games late into the evening and during the day would use these cheap sleds to go sledding, which was great on the day me and Sora were there because the slopes were pretty empty, meaning we could even go on the black slopes. They were terrifyingly fast with very little control but they were also a lot of fun to go down. But you can go to a variety of places, including Oslo and I’d say go for it. You may never return to Norway (at least at their prices not for a few more years) so make the most of every day you are there and go to as many places as possible.

Although I’d not recommend it for the impact on the environment, I also had a great time visiting areas that are best flown to. For me this was the Lofoten Islands. I went with a mix of my flatmates and my friends that I had met. I did the usual activities of hiking and exploring the place we were but this was combined with an entirely new environment which thanks to having a few drivers with us we could explore in it’s entirety. During those days we ate together, slept in shared beds and would fill our evenings with fun activities and just the right amount of madness. It was the most expensive trip I went on but I really did enjoy it, and while there were times when living so close with everyone was hard, especially for the others thanks to my noisy sleeping, I would gladly do it again and fully recommend it to anyone who want to give it a try. It’s especially great if you want to see the Northern lights because my god did I get some wonderful photos of them, and definitely didn’t make them my lock screen.

Finally, the main thing I did in Bergen when I was studying or doing the above was spending time with my flat. A lot of this was just chatting while sat together or going shopping together, but we did have some activities that we liked to do as a group. One way we would spend our free time together was by playing games in the evening. A good recommendation from me to you is that if you have the weight allowance in your luggage bring a game which is easy to understand, unoffensive to international students and fun to play in a big group. The smallest group size for our game nights was 5-6 so there’s always enough to play so don’t worry about not having anyone to play with.

If you want a deck of card can do many things. It was really fun to learn other people’s games and it allows you to play several very different games. The one we really latched onto was werewolf which we would play over and over again. Now, I’m not very good at lying but eventually I became very good at the game in respect to lying and working out the werewolves. The lying wasn’t because I was a good liar, rather that everyone realized that I acted guilty even when I wasn’t guilty and so overtime people began to only believe I was a werewolf when I was acting normal. It was perfect (still didn’t prevent them from killing me but had a lot of fun till then). But even if you don’t have any cards or games to play, that doesn’t mean you cannot do stuff together. One of my flatmates taught us a game where you decide on a set of categories, make a table with those categories and then take turns randomly picking a letter. Based on the letter chosen you then must quickly write down an answer beginning with that letter for each category. This was so well loved that I spent my last few hours in the flat playing this game again and again till eventually I had to catch my flight. But whatever you play with your friends, whether there is music in the background or just chatter, just having that interaction will make your time significantly better. I got really stressed during my exam period and was spending a lot of my time isolated and anxious. I really easily could’ve ended up going from bed to study to bed till my last exam, being miserable the entire time and feeling so lonely, but because I had these wonderful people who kept me entertained it gave me a distraction that kept me positive and made my memory of those days happy ones.

It’s also possible that you may find somethings which enhance your experience and give over activities. During the early days of your stay be ready to do a bit of dumpster diving because you can find some really good stuff that can make your stay so much better. For us we found more chairs, carpets, bins and so many things that we didn’t start the semester with. Sometimes you can get stuff from the accommodation in the form of recycling fairs or something similar. Our first time there was incredible, feeling like some game show where you must grab the best things before other people do. From that we got our treasured whiteboard, which we used to write up our activities. I loved that whiteboard because it always made me happy to see what we were all up to and even more so when it was lots of stuff that we could do together.

We then got amazingly lucky thanks to the kindness of our friend Charlie who decided to get his parents to bring a projector in addition to 2 bottles of vodka (the maximum amount you can travel with to Bergen). While the vodka was very appreciated and you should definitely get any visitors to bring booze with them, the projector was worth so much more to us. We used it to watch movies and binge series’ together. We watched Lupin in French together, as it should be, and then we would watch movies chosen by individuals. Then we would either thank or make jokes about the films we chose. Some were really moving and left us crying together, cuddling in a very beautiful moment. Others such as Open Season 2 had our German flatmates running away from the offensive German accent of a character and us laughing as a result. But the common theme was that no matter what we did it brought us closer and even if the emotions were sad there was joy from being sad together. So bring whatever you want, find whatever chance offers you, and make the most of your stay by being an active part of your accommodation.

Marine Biology – The Reason We Go

Of course we all go on the exchange thanks to our course and so it’s a very big part of the trip. Personally a lot of it has fused together in my head because it was a lot of lectures and each time would be very similar, with only the information changing. However, I was very excited learning about fish while in Bergen because I am a marine biologist who before Bergen had not really learned anything about fish anatomy apart from a single module during my 2nd year. When you meet people and say you’re a marine biologist that’s usually followed by asking about fish, and for so long I didn’t have an answer but after being in Bergen I finally can have that conversation and no feel foolish or having to try and sway the conversation to be about the Earth and Ocean System’s topics which I actually knew about. So it was clear to see I was excited to learn. I originally signed up for 4 courses: for Fish Anatomy, Systematics and Behavior; for Fish Physiology; an Introduction to Aquacultures and a introductory course on learning Norwegian. However, the Norwegian language course clashed with all free of my other courses so I dropped it. It would’ve been nice because although I tried to do a little Duolingo to learn the basic I didn’t really learn anything other than the name of ingredients and the phrases “Would you like a receipt?” and “Would you like a bag?” as well as yes, no and thanks. In my defense, that is all you need as a native English speaker in Bergen, but I wish I’d had the chance to learn more, especially because I found it sad that I couldn’t speak with those who were learning Norwegian in the flat in Norwegian. It was already rough that I felt a bit alienated since everyone had a language they could speak to others of their language that I couldn’t participate in and everyone had to speak my language for what felt like my sake. It really inspired me to work harder at learning languages, or practicing my Spanish so I have that language that I could share with others. Eliot once asked if I felt sad that my language was the main language because I didn’t feel the need to learn other languages, and although I side-stepped it then the truth was that I fully agreed. I wish I could’ve had that connection with another. Even Charlie had fellow Irishman who he could interact with but I never met other English people and even when I did meet one or two people I didn’t feel that connection that the others seemed to have. So if you have the chance, learn a language because even if it’s not used as globally like Norwegian, it brings you so much closer to people.

Anyway, I ended up doing a lot of courses directly associated with fish biology. For ease of writing I will sum them up as Fish Anatomy, Fish Physiology and Aquaculture. Since they were all biology I was in the same building for all my modules which made my daily trip in easy, especially since the building was right next to one of the light rail stops. This was better than many so I counted myself very lucky. The Biology building looked rough from the outside in terms of design only. Inside it was actually wonderful, with lots of excellent seats and spaces that could be used by all students. It was equip with a student cafe and a few study spaces as well as some excellent laboratories. It did take me quite a while to find those labs but when I was in them I could really appreciated how well equipped they were. I did ever so often have lectures in the university museum building which was interesting to pass through but the rooms themselves were just seminar rooms. Still very nice rooms but not as nice as the usual teaching rooms.

In terms of the content itself there was a lot of overlap for the information that we were learning. This is understandable because a lot of the physiology is the result of the environment, and in order to support these physiological requirements the anatomy changed accordingly. In terms of aquaculture, the entire course intends to maximize growth while maintain fish welfare and to do that you must understand both their anatomy and physiology and implement it correctly. This overlap was mostly great because it reduced the volume which I had to learn and was very good revision by repeating key topics. Moreover, by being taught by different lecturers and having slightly different content included on the same topics we all learned a lot more on the same topic than if we had just done the topic in one module. Even so, it did make those lectures harder because you go in believing you know enough and tend to miss the information that is specific to that module. Luckily I tend to make overly dense notes full of information that is nice to know for the topic but is not always relevant for the course. However, for some of my friends they suffered in the exams because they didn’t write extra notes, relying on the notes for the other two. Speaking of friends, another benefit of doing so many courses all centered on fish is that you tend to be surrounded by the same people, meaning you make some good friends. I like to revise alone but we did spend some time together working on coursework and revising together. Overall, the courses were a great experience and I had a very fulfilling experience, till the last few weeks when the exams got me down but after the exam the fulfillment returned and I knew I had made the right choice.

So I shall start with Fish Physiology because this module seemed to be the module where all other module’s topics came from. For context, the physiology refers to how the fish has developed strategies to survive in the marine environment and optimize their survival. This module was entirely lecture based which did make the lectures a little stale, but this was reduced by having a discussion session every Friday where we didn’t learn anything new but just went through what we had learnt during the week. The assessment system was also just a single written exam at the end of the semester which was stressful as the exchange was ending. Of all my courses this was probably the one which I least enjoyed in terms of quality of lecturer and overall enjoyment. In terms of the content I truly enjoyed them all but this course suffered because different sections of it were taught by different people. And again, a lot of them were excellent, and for some the only issue was just that their Norwegian accent was difficult for me to understand and that was only a problem for the first few weeks before I got used to the accent. However, what really upset me was when we got provided a lecturer who clearly would have preferred if he could’ve taught purely in Norwegian. I of course understand why he may feel that way. After all, he is Norwegian and the majority of the class was Norwegian and from my time with him I was fairly certain that he really knew the content but he had a much weaker understanding of English. Not only that but he was incredibly awkward, refusing to look us in the eye.

I don’t want to keep ragging on this fellow as even if he wasn’t great as a lecturer I’m still grateful for his assistance on the course. But there was a single moment during the course that I couldn’t cover with my over positivity. It was during our first Friday session with him. Me and my friends had shown up and were sat together. For this course there were only 3 of us but we got along with some of the other exchange students and the Norwegian students were always friendly and we returned the kindness. But this session we sat around for a solid 30 minutes before we had to ask what we were supposed to be doing because normally the lecturer did an introduction on what we were doing. He just said that we should revise the topics then went over to the Norwegian students. This had happened repeatedly during the 30 minutes and continued throughout the session. He would blatantly ignore us and the breaking point was when we saw him see us asking a question but then just ignored us and never came back, sitting back at the front and going on the computer. At the break we just left. I felt bad but not too bad because we were the last exchange students in the room, the others leaving immediately when they saw the red flags. I say this partly to get it off my chest but also so you know that it’s okay if parts of your exchange are not going well. Just like life in the UK, life in Bergen is also unpredictable and everything is not always going to go right. Just know that I made the best of the situation and so can you. I saw it was unproductive to stay so left, revising the subject in the library. But generally the facts were very interesting and I’ll be keeping this content for a long time because that is how useful it is.

Next is Fish Anatomy. This module was separated into submodules: Anatomy, Systematics and Behavior. Each of these sections was divided between 2 individuals. One had lead the course for the last 40 years, and the other had taken the course himself and was now taking over leading the course. As you can tell, they really knew their stuff and it was one of my favorite lectures to be taught since they were so good at getting the information across. Again this course was mostly lectures, but these lectures changed based on which submodules we were doing. For anatomy the younger lecturer was using PowerPoint slides which meant we got a lot more information but the delivery was less clear and for more intricate topics the delivery was lacking, not being as well understood by us.

The systematics part was about identifying the genetic families of fish which meant that the best way of learning it was to learn the identifiable features of each family. This was taught by the older lecturer who was a strong believer in chalk board superiority and refused to use PowerPoint. This was nice at first but as we went down the families the features to look out for became so minor that it was almost impossible to identify them. Some of them were so undefined that we were literally taught that it would be impossible to identify them based on appearance and only a genetic analysis would be able to identify them. However, this is not to say we couldn’t identify them enough ourselves because usually these families have one or two species in them and so if you know the general appearance then you should be fine. As we learnt more fish families, it did get harder to distinguish them and the rate at which we went through them made it very hard to learn them and take interest in this information. Finally there was the behavior section of the course which was very short, being 2 lectures long, covering the general behaviors demonstrated by the fish we had been studying. It felt like it was just an attempt to include the information that couldn’t fit into the other two sections but it is so distinct and although very general it was very beneficial to learn the behavior since a lot of the behavior relates to the anatomy. And this is what we studied.

This was probably the hardest to learn because there were a lot of key details that you couldn’t generalize but I had one advantage over a lot of my classmates. This was that Fredi, my roommate, was studying Fish Anatomy with me. He was also studying the Aquaculture course but he didn’t sign up to do the exams for it, going to the first few sessions when he was trying to work out what to drop, so in the end it was only the anatomy course. But this meant that we could test each other with the information and share resources. For the systematics section I made some detailed posters of the entire tree going from Chordata down all the way to the weakly defined percomorph’s which we stuck in between our desks in our room so we both could quiz each other.

It was really reassuring to work together like this, and even more so for the other part of the course: the dissections. Me and Fredi worked together for these dissections, for which we did two different dissections. The first was a dissection of the internal organs of the fish which I was mainly in charge of. This included cutting into their body cavity where with care you could open it so that the heart was still beating, a very freakish sight. But it was very handy to see what we had been learning. The next dissection was all about taking the head of our fish that we had kept after removing the remaining body that hadn’t been cut off and then dissecting it for the bones of the skull. The skull of the fish doesn’t fuse like ours does in our youth and so there are a lot of bones to learn. It was difficult to do but eventually we had removed them all and had drawn them out, helping us visualize them and associate them with their specific names and regions. These dissections were assessed but only so they knew you did it. You literally just had to submit your lab drawings and if they were to the correct quality then you were approved. This then allowed you to take the exam.

The exam itself was very unique and a first for me: a spoken exam. We would go through all 3 submodules. For the anatomy section we got a random topic and had to talk about it for 15 minutes while getting questions based on how well we were doing. Next was the systematics section where the older lecturer brought out 3 fish which I had to identify. After you make your identifications and get told the result you then move on to the behavior section which, just like the anatomy section, involves you being given a topic and talking about it till your time is up. You only have 25 minutes so you have to make the most of it, after which you are removed from the room and only return when they have decided your grade. If you want to know how it went, wait till the end and you’ll know but this was a first for me so I was both terrified and excited. For now, I’ll give you this spoiler: I spoke very fast and it went pretty well.

Lastly, there was the Aquaculture module. This module was probably the most interesting to me because I had never really thought about a career in fisheries. In many ways my education so far seemed to discourage it since they seemed to prioritize oceanography over fish-related information. But after taking the course I feel like going into aquaculture may be a very real opportunity. What was also nice was how we did focus on Norway’s main aquaculture, salmon, but we also went through a wide variety of other fisheries. Using salmon as a baseline we also went through other fish like halibut and cod and even other aquacultures such as bivalves, microalgae and macroalgae. Doing it like this shows the wide variety of opportunities available in this industry. It even inspired me to use commercial mussel farms as the basis for my dissertation. But anyway, the course was entirely lecture taught and we had the same teacher. Surprisingly it was the same person who was the younger lecturer for fish anatomy. If you happen to do marine biology, then look forward to working with Tom Olsen because he is an incredible man who taught me in each module at some point and is probably the busiest man in marine biology yet is still the kindest man alive. Moreover, he taught us very well, using his experience as a student to help us understand it easier. For the topics that weren’t fish aquacultures he would even bring in guest lecturers that had worked in those aquacultures. Tom knew fish aquacultures but he didn’t know so much about other aquacultures so I appreciated that he recognized this and went one better to actually bring in experts who could confidently explain the content, answering all the questions we had. Trust me, there were a lot of questions.

This was the only course where you felt like you could ask a lot of questions out of interest rather than just so you know all the content. That is not to say that the other courses discouraged asking questions but there was already so much content and a lot of the time it was hard to find any gaps. Most of the time you didn’t even want to because there was already so much you needed to know. There was still a lot to know here but you could still enjoy the content and think about why they made a lot of choice choices.

This course also did offer a safety net to the end grade: some coursework. it was only 20% but it was nice because this was my last exam so it was reassuring to know that even if I did drop the ball a bit the grade would be supported at two ends. We were even allowed to choose our groups. Now, in marine biology you do get a mix of people: some who are dedicated and some who are very “save the turtle” without the backbone to do so. Luckily despite my poor eyesight I have an eye for identifying people’s attitudes and so I selected a group who would do good work and who were great people to work with. I would really enjoy working with them and I still keep in touch with many of them. Because of our team spirit we managed to ace that coursework, which for context was a task for identifying the egg stages of different species of fish and then discuss the physiological factors. I did the second half along with another person while the first half was done by the others who had less time. However, it was refreshing how the others were so considerate about taking a fair work load. Normally I have to take a large work load to ensure the project succeeds and not get recognized for it, yet here my group respected me for it and were willing to help more. But when it came down to it my time in Bergen would come down to that final exam.

My final few weeks – No Time to Exam

If you’ve made it this far, well done. I’ll still be leaving snippets of useful information but this is gonna be mostly on my last few weeks and how I survived them. I am a bit of a work-o-holic so when the exams got close I began to stress about them. When I stress I cope by putting in extra effort and using the stress to fuel my studying, which is an efficient fuel to increase duration of study but is also terrible for your mental health. There would be times when I would hit a snag and not understand the stuff I was going through and I would begin to internally beat myself up about it, associating my failure to understand the topic with the feeling that I was letting my family and friends down till I would begin to escalate down a very dangerous rabbit hole. You may do the same and I won’t tell you not too because I personally had no control over it so a stranger telling you in a blog won’t help. What I can offer is some strategies that can help with controlling the feeling and limiting how it manipulates your thoughts and mind. My first is that if you get stuck, try again once or twice but if it still isn’t going in then stop. If you have to try a third time then it is likely you are not in the right place to learn it. Instead I’d recommend taking a long break with some friends, distracting yourself from the topic and if you continue to work after that only do topics that you do understand. The next day retry that same topic and I know that you’ll understand it better than you did the day before. If it still isn’t working then ask for help from your professors or coursemates because they may be able to explain the topic in a way that is more helpful for you. You never truly understand that topic but even if you can’t, don’t linger on that feeling. Don’t let it stop you from getting the grade you deserve.

It’s also helpful to remember that you are on an exchange and most likely your grades won’t transfer. Therefore even if you do get A grades then it will still only count as a pass. A friend told me that I should prioritize being in Bergen over grades but it didn’t work for me personally. In Bergen I learned that I personally want to get good grades, not out of necessity but for myself. I have always been like this but I thought I was doing it for my family to make them proud. I still want to make them proud but I discovered from this experience that I also want to do well for me. Maybe it was being seen as a simpleton as a child and then being given the chance to show people what I was capable of. Whatever the reason it was being in Bergen that made me realize that I wanted to prove my worth by working as hard as possible and showing what I’m capable of. This may seem out of nowhere but I say this because at the time a lot of people were telling me I was working too hard and should spend more time enjoying my time in Bergen. But after stressing for a solid few weeks the feeling I had after my exam wasn’t regret but fulfillment. It felt like I had got everything I didn’t know I wanted out of the experience. You’ll go on exchange with a set of goals and if they are realistic then you will definitely manage them. But going on exchange has this magical ability and stripping away the layers that hide what you think you need and showing what you truly need and who you actually are. Turns out, I am a very driven person so I’m sure now you’ll understand why I went so hard on my exams.

Exam 1 – Fish Physiology

My exams were all spaced out by 2 weeks so my strategy was to focus on one module at a time. So I started with physiology. My revision strategy was revision cards where I condense information under a topic heading, using a set of revision cards with those topic heading only where I could recount the information over and over again till I knew everything I need to based on the words in the question. I would spend the first week just purely running through this information. In the second week I would still do this before any revision but then start going through exam questions in order to practice my answers. During this time I would go for regular breaks to walk through the closest park. It doesn’t have to be very long but I would say a 15 minutes walk is perfect to allow you to have a breather before starting again. By doing this I was actually ready for the exam a few days before the exam. When it was finally time for the exam I felt ready and during it I threw everything at the questions and felt satisfied with all my answers. It was my first 4 hour exam but most people were done after two and a half hours. I finished after three hours, leaving the room and buying a packet of expensive Haribo’s to celebrate how well I felt it had gone. My exam was on a Friday so I spent Saturday baking and having fun with my flat who annoying by now had almost all finished their exam, then I used Sunday to have a very long hike followed by more fun with the flat then a movie. Then… it started again.

Exam 2 – Fish Anatomy, Systematics and Behavior

One of the challenges of having your exams spaced out like this is that every time you actually have an exam it is very hard to restart again. At this point it felt very weird to restart the process with entirely different content to learn. However, there was some overlap so it was a little easier than before. The main problem was learning all the fish species. Knowing the differences wasn’t difficult but actually knowing the names and where they sit on the tree. I had many sleepless nights trying to think of a way to learn them. But then suddenly I had the idea to learn an acronym. Originally I had thought of this idea but there were over 80 families to learn so it seemed impossible, but after giving it a go it turned out there were recognizable sections of the tree that could be separated based on the answer to a specific question. By asking those questions you could identify which acronym you needed, and this method was very effective. The only problem was the percomorphs because this was where there were 40 fish which were hard to identify and there was no real way to group them. This meant I just learned as many as I could and hoped that I didn’t get many Percomorphs.

Again I felt pretty confident going into the exam although I was stressed since it was my first oral exam which wasn’t for a language like my Spanish gcse. However my nerves calmed down when I was waiting outside the room it was happening in because I started talking to the person outside. I was the second person that day to do the exam so she was the first and was looking a little nervous. I hadn’t talked to her before and hadn’t really seen her in class so at first I was nervous about talking to her but as it got closer to her start time she started to look a little nervous and I got over myself and started a conversation. we started by talking about the exam but that seemed to get her more anxious so we started talking about our exchanges. It turned out she too was on a semester exchange so we talked about our experiences. It was nice because I too was nervous and running through the information in my head, feeling horrible when some information was on the tip of my tongue but I could never get it out. But after this conversation I calmed down and was finally able to get my words out. I still paced outside the exam room but now just because I’m a bit of a fidgeter rather than from intense stress.

Finally, it was my turn. The first section flew by. There were some questions I couldn’t answer but when I asked after the exam those questions were on content that we had not been taught but he was wondering if I knew it. Generally I answered everything pretty well and I was confident I had done okay in that section. Next was the hardest bit for me: the systematics. I was pretty stressed and was stuttering terribly, writing things out because my brain was panicking. I managed to get the first two identified easy enough but the last one was a percomorph although I gave it my best guess it was wrong. However, when they said the family they were pretty impressed by how I then recounted all the identifiable features. The final section felt so short that I barely had any time to go into detail. I was asked about the reproductive behavior of salmon so discusses anadromy and other topics before they told me to stop. They then sent me out of the room where I stood there while the next people stood nearby. I chatted with them to calm my nerves but the time felt like forever. Finally I was allowed back in and was told my grade and my feedback. They said that I definitely knew the content well but I was actually speaking too quick, meaning they barely understood me. Naturally I understood the latter because I was stressed and worried about the time limit but things seemed to be okay. My grade was… got you, wait a little longer and you’ll find out.

Exam 3 – Introduction to Aquaculture

The final exam was the hardest to revise for two reasons. the first was that after doing it twice before it was really hard to restart the process again. It took me two days of hard work to actually get back into the right mindset. My brain just kept telling me to stop revising and ignore my last exam to stop the stress and the sleepless nights. It didn’t help that by now al my flat were done with their exams so I was the only one stressing. But I pushed on and my friends helped enormously by reducing the amount of housework I had to do around the flat and always having fun activities for me to partake in after I came back tired. Of course they did go on the trip to Voss but that was fun in it’s own way because me and Sora got to have our own fun as described above and then we still had a pleasant trip to Voss ourselves. So although this was a problem, it wasn’t the main issue. The main issue was that the aquaculture module was all about optimizing the growth in the aquaculture which meant that a lot of specific numbers had to be learned for use in the questions of the exam when describing how to run the aquaculture and explaining why we do it like that. This was made only harder by the fact that it was the same measures that we had to learn different values for when talking about each aquaculture. The main nuisance was temperature which varied by degrees most of the time and only under specific scenarios did it have significant changes. This was a major challenge but through persistent revision I managed to learn it.

I was not as confident as I was for the previous two but I was glad that soon it would all be over. The exam was actually a lot nicer than I had expected. I thought I would get 3 questions that would be very long answers, which if you didn’t know you would be done. It did have 3 questions but it also have a third of the marks based on your understanding of key terms. I had learned many of these terms during the previous two exams so these were easy and I definitely went overboard. But after three and a half hours I was all done. I sighed a breath of fresh air, closed my exam on my laptop since it was a digital exam and left the room, feeling the fulfillment of finally being done and having achieved the minimum that I wanted out of Bergen by getting good grades. Although I would of just been happy with passes I actually got all A’s on the exams and I couldn’t have been happier. When I order my transcript I will do so with my head held high, and will look at it with glee. Before I left Southampton I had felt like I was getting out of a slump. I had been having a rough time during the first semester of my second year and only managed to come out with a decent grade because I pushed myself over the edge in the second semester. It was unhealthy and this is why I was glad I had managed to do it healthily in Bergen. But anyway, I was very fulfilled… till I realized I had 4 hours to be out the country.

A Rushed Farewell – What I would give for one more day

In the days prior to this exam I had tried to do most of the cleaning before my exam but I did have a few jobs to do that took about an hour. That left me with nothing to do other than buy some chocolate. If you are missing gifts for people just buy them chocolate. They may lack cows but their chocolate is sublime. I got very lucky and there was a deal on chocolate when I went to get some. After that I had nothing to do but wait so I waited with my friends. Merle was so sweet and asked if there was anything I wanted to do and I said I’d like to play some games. She even offered to play a game that she hated which really shows how kind she was being. Instead I asked that we play the category game. Everyone participated and it was really fun. But honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if we just sat around on our phones, because the embarrassing answer was just that I was happy to be surrounded by the people I cared about. But the time flew by and finally it was time.

During those last few days I had to say goodbye to a lot of people, and each time it was so much worse. When Fredi left I was in tears for a few minutes afterwards. We had all been together for so long that saying goodbye felt wrong, and with each person the fear grew that I may never see these people again. Those feelings were wrong of course because already we’re discussing going on holiday all together in August but at the time it felt like the end. That’s why I was sort of glad when I was the next to go. It hurt so much more but I was also nervous to catch my flight and tired from exams and not sleeping so I was feeling detached from reality. I had so much I wanted to say to everyone but all I could do was hug them tightly and think how wonderful each other them were, trying to telepathically show them how much they meant to me. I thanked them for keeping me sane during my exams and for being such a great group of friends. They truly were my patchwork family and not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of them.

The next 2 days went by without me noticing. I took my last light rail journey to the airport. I was a little early so I sat around but felt so strange. Even when I was one the flight and then off it again what I was doing didn’t feel real. I expected the flight from Bergen to be delayed in some way but it was actually on time so I had to wait 6 hours for my train to Southampton, but finally I was back in Southampton. When I woke up that morning I felt like I was going to wake up in Bergen, and was confused when I was in my student house in Southampton. I had a few things to sort out during the day but then I left for home in Somerset. It was an easy journey but I still felt like I was living a dream. It took me a long time to get accustomed to being back in the UK.

There wasn’t too many differences but there were some subtle ones. The way people don’t smile awkwardly at you in the street. The trash laying in the street. The warm days and cold nights. The only thing other than being back with my family and friends from home that I appreciated was that everything was so much cheaper in the shops. I had a small shopping spree but then got my senses back. I never stopped thinking about my friends from Bergen. I would message them frequently to try and maintain that connection, but over time we managed to make it worked without needing that constant reassurance. I still message some people from time to time, mainly whenever I see something that I know they would appreciate. We also share a meme channel where the others send memes. I don’t really do it because I don’t personally look at memes but it’s nice because everyone has such different tastes and it’s sort of like seeing them again whenever I look at what they are sending.

Concluding my blog on Bergen, Baking and (Marine) Biology

So there you have it. My trip was more than I ever expected and I learnt a lot of stuff. Some of it I hope you can use if you ever go there, and I hope you make the most of the trip if you do. I went to Bergen to clear my head and in many ways that goal was achieved. But what you get out of the exchange can be so diverse that you really don’t need a reason. All I’ll recommend is that if you are reading this, unsure whether you would want to go or not, then think about whether you want to go. It sounds silly but strip back the layers of concern and they why and just think about if you like the idea. If you do then think about if it’s possible for you. If you have stuff planned then don’t worry, you got to prioritize what you deem as important. But if you can and you want to then don’t let fear stop you. Just like a dream you can do whatever you want but don’t allow yourself to do wherever you are at long term. You don’t have to then bring it back with you, but you have that option. I left with doubt and I returned with it still but now I feel equipped to properly handle it and begin to improve. It’s very human to keep growing, so as long as you’re making the next step then you are doing everything right. Even if you take steps backwards then you’re doing fine. Just keep persisting and you’ll do great things.

I study Marine Biology in Southampton but now have an appreciation of fisheries, yet that’s not what I am calling this. I hiked the seven mountains but this blog isn’t called “How to slip on ice in the Bergen peaks,”. I refer to the me who grew in Bergen as “A Bergen Baker” because it was my baking that brought me closer to the people I care about, my patchwork family. My baking was a release from the stress of my exams and kept me strong when I began to miss the things I had back home. Then when I couldn’t find it, baking made me resilient enough to find a solution, going as far as to learn to make it myself. But I’m not “The Bergen Baker,” because we all went through this same experience together. They may not be silly like me and give it a name, but a was A Bergen Baker among many Bergen Bakers, and I loved every moment of it.

Thanks for reading,

Jack Owen, A Bergen Baker who studies Marine Biology

A Bergen Baker – The Story of my Bergen Exchange

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