My first instinct is to start by writing ‘Has it really only been two weeks since that day when my bus landed me in Tromso?!’
The next thing I feel like saying is ‘Just two weeks?! No way, I must’ve been here for at least two months…’
And so it goes, the bizarre tricks time plays on you.
That very first evening after I found my way to my new home was definitely the most difficult time so far. Hopefully in several months time, I’ll be able to say the most difficult of the year. I arrived alone, knackered and hungry, to be greeted by no one but a pile of rubbish in the corridor, a kitchen full of other people’s old food and mouldy milk, a bedroom which, at first glance, did not contain a bed and a year of what had turned from excitement to uncertainty stretched out ahead of me.
After a deep breath, a cup of hot water (willing myself to believe it was tea) and the few bits of pitta bread I had left in my bag, I felt a bit better and could at least suddenly notice that, though the sky was cloudy and grey, I had a wonderful view over the sea to the mountains on the mainland from both my bedroom and the kitchen. I also noticed with a clearer head and less rumbling stomach that the sofa in my room could pull out into a bed, which I promptly crashed into and fell straight to sleep.
Things have, unsurprisingly, been all up hill from there. The University put on an impressively intensive ‘international introductory programme’ for us. I’m not sure many other Unis give their internationals quite so much devoted attention though with 10% of the population of the university being foreign citizens, I guess it makes sense.
I was impressed to find that within five minutes of the rector’s opening speech to us, he was talking about climate change and their unique role in its research in the arctic and finding solutions together through the international community.
He went on to read out each country which was represented in the room, which accumulated to more than fifty… the country group (or individual) stood up when they were mentioned which was a nice way to get an idea of who we all were. The Germans took the lead as a mass of them popped up all over the lecture hall. The next country was preceded by a comment along the lines of ‘now in previous years, you guys all tend to stick together so do try to integrate with the rest….Spain’; and sure enough a hoard of Spaniards rose in an already unified mass. And so it continued, Russia being the next largest country group, closely followed by Italy. I was way down the list for my turn to stand up – the UK tying with Ghana for three people. It was amazing to sit there as everywhere from Bhutan to Ethiopia, Vietnam to Mongolia had someone standing up to embody their respective homeland.
The following days consisted of a plethora practical advice, directions, suggestions leaving our heads spinning with information. We were also treated to a bus tour of the island, walking tour of the ‘city’ and – to my delight – a second hand market of things leftover from previous students and gathered just for us internationals to find all the things we couldn’t bring. A smaller version of our ‘Freeshop’ project in Edinburgh, I felt right at home and lucky to benefit from one here too! Especially as I managed to pick up a much needed duvet and pillow which, after almost drowning in the sea of bedding which we collected from the student accommodations in Edinburgh last June, I’m not sure I could have faced buying more…!
The highlight of the programme though was the trip to Grotfjord on the final day. This wonderfully relaxed day involved a morning hillwalk, a bbq on the beach (which, unlike the previous bbq we’d had at the residences, didn’t sizzle away raindeer or whale meat…), a swim (or two…or three…) in the sea which yes, was utterly freezing but utterly amazing when followed by a dunk in the outdoor hottub, some games of frisbee and finally all 200 or so of us who were there gathered in a large circle on the sand and – almost – every country group took centre stage to show off a bit of their cultural heritage. I ended up as the only representative present of the UK, however, armed with my trusty ‘jimmy hat’, tartan pyjama bottoms and, to everyone’s disappointment, no whisky but a handful of lively volunteers happy to be taught the Dashing White Sergeant giving them a wee taste of Scotland wasn’t too much trouble!