“On a hike – never gripe!”
A classic Norwegian expression (and my own loose translation..) which sums up the spirit of the fjellgruppa with whom I have just spent another soggy but very enjoyable weekend. The university ‘mountain group’ seems to be cursed with the rain clouds so far this semester; its wet weekends sandwiched by beautifully sunny ones! This last excursion to Senja (the second largest island in Norway, a little south of Tromsø) was no exception and, faced with sodden shoes and snowy peaks, we ended up having to abandon all plans of a 15km hike for the Sunday and stay in our tents until the boat could carry us home to warm showers and dry feet in the evening! So, I had an interesting 22 hours cramped in our small yellow construction alongside two other girls, Italian and German. The tent battled courageously against the relentless rain and successfully sheltered us as we found ways to pass the time with only a bit of food and rucksacks full of wet clothes keep us company! Hours of eating chocolate, playing word games, telling stories and imagining how it would be like for the Chilean miners and others who are really trapped in small spaces passes by surprising quickly, and, true to the good Norwegian hiking mantra, there were no regrets.
Another reason to be cheerful was that the trip offered many Norwegian language practise opportunities and I managed to have some real conversations with people – what a sense of achievement! It is fascinating to notice my gradual progress with the language, particularly as one of my courses this semester is ‘second language acquisition’. To be studying this at the same time as attempting to ‘acquire a second language’ makes me very aware of the process which is unfolding in my mind as I build vocabulary and grammatical structures and notice the variety of strategies one uses to keep the conversation going when words or constructions fail you. To be surrounded by others using English as a second language while studying this subject is also an added bonus; especially to be able to pick out the different ways in which people coming from different first languages use it.
I have a very interesting mix of subjects and teachers this semester – the above one with a lively Norwegian lady, “Language Variation and Typology” taught by a Russian woman and in which we had to choose any language in the world to present to the class; allowing me the pleasure of talking about Thai for two hours one morning! (I never thought I would end up teaching a Thai nursery rhyme to university students in the north of Norway…) And finally “Arctic Norway – Aspects of Culture” taught by a man of half Saami, half Kven origin. With this course I am learning a lot about the Saami people, who (I probably wouldn’t be alone in admitting) I didn’t know much about at all before. The Saami, indigenous people of the northern most parts of Norway, Finland and Sweden and the Kola Penninsula of Russia, have a very interesting history and – like many minority groups all over the world – have had to fight to maintain their own culture and language over the years. Fortunately now in Norway, Saami rights are becoming far more respected and after a harsh period of Norwegianisation (roughly between 1850-1940) at least some of the Saami languages are becoming revitalised.