As Study Abroad and Exchange Coordinator (Outgoing International and Erasmus), I spend Monday – Friday 08:30 – 17:00 helping send University of Southampton students abroad as part of their degree or for Summer Schools. This is a job I love but has the unfortunate side-effect of major FOMO and travel envy! I am therefore incredibly lucky and privileged to have been given the opportunity to travel to our partner in Bergen, Norway as part of the Erasmus Staff Mobility! The only problem is, I now found myself feeling everything I imagine our students feel when faced with the daunting task of organising and executing travelling on your own! As somebody who had only done this once before, this was both terrifying and exhilarating in equal amounts. In this blog I will give a brief description of activities undertaken over my week in Norway and ultimately, my process to learning that travelling alone is one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had!
Arriving is always the hardest bit. You get dropped off by your transfer, book into your hotel room or accommodation, the door closes behind you normally followed by the temporary moment of bliss as you lie on your bed for the first time after travelling all day and then it hits you: you are on your own. 3 year ago, I would have shrunk at the thought of this, not anymore! Straight out of my hotel to explore the city as I have the afternoon to myself and what a city Bergen is! Situated right on the sea front, Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords and is everything and more I expected from Norway. From the beautiful multi-coloured, picture perfect houses to the phenomenal sunsets and fresh sea air, the constant noise of the seafront fish market and the beautiful and winding streets filled with hanging baskets and lamps at night. Bergen is picture perfect! Unfortunately, for staff, there is very little time for exploring when on exchange and so, the first day of the conference begins!
I shan’t bore you with the conference information – but it mainly involves meeting colleagues from across Europe who have the same role as myself in looking after Erasmus and International exchanges for their institution. trips like this are invaluable as not only is it wonderful to meet those who do your job, but also provides a bit of much needed sanity that we all face the same day to day challenges. After a great first day, we all retire for the night. The second day brings more workshops but, most importantly, the first official social of the trip which is a walk up Mount Floyen. One of the 7 mountains that surround’s Bergen, there is a well trodden path that is easy to follow and, despite being out of breath, I can honestly say the climb is well worth the view. If my job ended everyday with watching a sunset die over Norwegian fjords, I’d want to work everyday!
The third day is a huge conference with other colleagues discussing the future of Erasmus. Unfortunately, Brexit is an ever present elephant in the room but, as a representative from a UK institution it is heart-warming to hear from so many European colleagues that we are determined to ensure mobility remains an option for students across Europe and all of us are as committed as one another to do everything we can to make that happen.
We are privileged the next day, as a rest bite to the intense conversations, to be taken on a trip down the fjords on a privately chartered 150 year old steam boat. What is there to say about Norwegian fjords other then, I will leave this picture here as it does all the talking necessary.
Tonight is our final night and I can honestly say, not only have I made great professional connections and learned a lot but, I have made friends for life. Our final night is ended with a glass of Prosecco up the top of Mount Floyen (but remember, drinking alcohol outside of enclosed bar or restaurant areas is illegal in Norway! So stay within your boundaries!). As the sun sets for the second time, I can honestly say that Bergen has been an absolute privilege.
As somebody who spends her time convincing students they should consider going abroad for 6 months to a year of their degree, it’s so important that I can tell them that in all faith that they will have an amazing experience. I spent just over 6 days out in Bergen and have to say, if I got so much out of 6 days, I can only imagine what my students must feel going abroad for up to a year. Whilst my travel envy will continue, I end my trip on an absolute high knowing that my job enables students to have a similarly empowering and enriching experience that I have. Very few people can say this but, I love my job.
To all my students who travelled abroad in 2017/2018 – I hope you had the same excitement and joy I had and all the best for the future!