What Surprised Me About Studying Abroad in Oslo

When choosing a destination for your study abroad, you’ll no doubt read up articles and books and watch YouTube videos from prior explorers to give you an idea of what your next adventure holds. Cost of living, cultural activities, the best sights, and tastes are all things you will try to get a grasp on before you arrive. But don’t be fooled, there is always lots to learn, and some of those things you will just have to figure out for yourself. Some surprises are great; others might shake you up a little. To give you just one more article apparatus for your study abroad toolbox, here are 5 things that surprised me about Oslo.

Surprise #1: Dinner etiquette is practiced at every meal of the day…
With a country that serves smoked salmon with their perfectly sliced hardboiled eggs for breakfast, be sure you know how to use your silverware: knife in the right hand, fork in the left. At lunchtime, even sandwiches are typically eaten by cutting them into appropriate bite sizes… unless you’re hiking a mountain, in which case an acceptable meal is an orange and the chocolate crisp bar called a Kvikk Lunsj, (you got it, “Quick Lunch”).

Surprise #2: Speaking of hiking, there is lots of it in Norway, and most camping is free!
Thanks to concepts of sharing space, an admiration for nature and a heartfelt responsibility to protect it, the amount of hiking and adventuring available to you in Norway is prolific. A law called “allemannsretten,” directly translated ‘Every Man’s Right’ is a tradition giving everyone a right to roam freely. The general public is held to the task of carefully traversing throughout the magnificent surroundings, and in return, they are granted full access to the vast and astounding fjords, mountains, and valleys. A few rules to get you started: camp out in places that are more than 500 feet away from inhabited houses or cabins, ask the landowner’s permission if you stay more than two nights, and properly dispose of your trash and portable toilets from your stay. Show respect and feel the joy of exploratory freedom.

Surprise #3: The city is a completely different world in Norway: You will feel either invisible or painfully watched, on the public transportation…
Norway is a culture that values privacy, and that means it is polite to keep to yourself on the public transportation, to the extent that they say a full bus is when you would rather stand than take an open seat sitting next to another person. It is definitely considered unusual to strike up a conversation with a stranger because everyone is going through their own day and prefers not to bother anyone else. That surprised me because in my hometown we find reasons to start up a friendly conversation with one another. Now, sometimes Norwegians forget their space bubble does not make them invisible and they will stare at you to the point that you look behind yourself to see if something odd is happening. No, they’re just watching you exist.

Surprise #4: Engaging Norwegians in friendly conversation was sort of tricky. Their expressions (of humor, like, or dislike) are difficult to read…
Norwegians might not always let on that they found something funny, and they may keep a very straight face, even when they find something absolutely hilarious. This surprised me since my culture at home is pretty centered around egging each other on with jokes or divulging facts to deepen the conversation. You may also initially catch yourself pausing in casual conversation as you question whether the Norwegian person is interrupting you. Don’t worry! Their sing-songy “mm-mm’s,” wordless inhales, and nearly silent “ja’s” are merely cultural interactions to display that level of engagement in your chat. And if you’re at a national celebration or sporting event, particularly one having to do with any sort of skiing, you can be sure you’ll have a great time with everyone around!


Surprise #5: I was surprised at how much I was expected to anticipate the moves of others. You learn to be aware when someone is waiting their turn…
Perhaps you’re shopping for the perfect produce at the grocery store or perusing a shelf at a shop or bookstore… keep your intuitive eyes open, because Norwegians rarely say, “Excuse me,” and they will almost never tap you on the shoulder to brush on by. Instead, they tend to wait patiently for the person in front of them to finish their task. As a foreigner, this might mean you jump with surprise and a tongue-twister of apologies when you turn around and are face-to-face with your silent observer. But by the end of your stay, you’ll tune into your senses and become accustomed to people “sneaking up on you.” Soon you’ll be cruising through shops with the ease of a sea captain… and Norwegians love a good ship. So set your sights on Norway and let the winds of change fill your sails.

A quick Google search of Norway will leave no question that the country has some of the most spectacular views, from magnificent fjords to fantastic mountains, as well as some of the most creative culinary fish dishes… but other things might leave you cocking your head to the side with confusion like those adorable puppies filling our social media news feeds lately. Only getting out of your typical “Day in the Life of Who-You-Are-Now” will help you see the world and everything it has to bring growth (even by means of occasional awkwardness). PS, if you like to ask to pet adorable puppies when you’re walking around Oslo, bonus surprise: things are gonna get awkward real fast! Safe surprise-hunting!

Kelsey Tungseth studied abroad in Oslo, Norway. During her time in Oslo she served as a Digital Communications Intern for USAC.


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