Why Norway? It is a regular response when I tell people I chose to come and study in this Northern corner of the world, opting for it over the sun soaked paradises of Malta, Barcelona, Madrid and many more.
Of course it is only ever really Norwegians that ask me this because anybody who had not grown up surrounded by high, snow-capped mountains and deep, glistening fjords would tell you that this place really is quite amazing.
I am living in Volda, a town of around 9,000 people which halves in population when the students leave over the summer months. It is hidden away on the west coast of Norway and accessed most easily from Oslo by a nine hour bus journey or a ride on a little propeller plane.
Arriving here in January was certainly a treat for the eyes as I found myself penned in on all sides by giant rocky shark teeth coloured green, grey and of course white at the very top.
Those of us studying in the second semester have experienced the best of Norwegian weather and by that I mean we have seen the full spectrum.
Weeks upon weeks of snow meant we could hone our new-found Viking resilience to the temperature and achieve an extreme and now innate sense of balance – useful for a British city boy who has never touched a pair of skis before. Then as the months rolled on spring appeared, meaning the peaks of these mountains which loomed over us became conquerable. There is nothing quite like standing on a windy cliff-edge looking back over Volda and the expansive fjords stretching out all around it.
Of course one big worry future Erasmus+ students will have is whether they will find friends to make the most of these glorious opportunities with and I was no different before I left.
In Volda the university has an area called Pangaia which is a place for international students to hang out in the day, get some free coffee and make connections. Pangaia, along with the International Students Union and the International Office also run events such as nights where people present interesting facts, stories and food from their home countries. These bodies also organise trips for people to try many things like skiing or hiking and they are, thank goodness for me, open to complete beginners and absolutely free.
All these initiatives make for a huge sense of community among the international students and I have so many friends I have had by my side to enjoy partying with at any of Volda’s three bars, exploring the X2 Festival of extreme sports or DokFilm festival which showcases documentaries from all around the world, or just to hang out with and learn about the many different cultures around this continent and world of ours.
I would recommend volunteering at Rokken, the student run club/café/bar, for more chances to meet people and make some crazy memories. I also got involved with working at the X2 Festival as a crew member at the parties, and as a photographer for the DokFilm Festival utilising the skills one of the excellently taught courses I have undertaken here has given me.
The free parties you get into by doing this is also just one of the many ways around the admittedly high prices in Norway. To that end you can also try home brewing wine or the phenomenon known as ‘dumpster diving’ (which is not half as disgusting as it sounds).
Volda is the perfect place to come if you want to make friends for life, find some international love or secure travelling opportunities for the rest of your life. I myself am planning one hell of an interrailing trip.
A word of warning though: Volda is such a fun and relaxed place to study, both in and out of the classroom, it is easy to forget that in Norway if you miss a deadline then the line of support will be dead to you. But with a little bit of organisation the work the creative hub that is Volda College University gives you will not feel like work at all. And there are plenty of opportunities for journalists here with the student radio, newspapers and magazines all looking for international content.
My experience of Erasmus has been nothing short of incredible. I think of Volda in a similar way to The Beach in the Leonardo DiCaprio film of the same name. Barely anybody knows it is there but once you find it you will have the time of your life and find it hard to leave. It has certainly been the absolute time of my life and I am sure my friends will be bored of me talking about it for years to come.