Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tori Sowul - Norway

Tori is a senior at the University of Utah, where she is majoring in Environmental Studies and International Studies. She recently completed an ISEP program at Karlstad University in Norway.

We’re having Rudolph for Dinner tonight

Trekking, leaping, hop-skipping, zipping, and mounting… You name it—I used all the techniques in the book incessantly to adventure through Northern Norway’s Mountains. The aesthetic scenery was out of a Thomas Mangelsen photograph, and I was waiting for the classic “Catch of the Day” moment to appear right before me. Karlstad University’s Nordic Environment class left early Monday morning, consisting of six students and two teachers.  Our professor Linda is in her early thirties, was raised in Northern Sweden, and is a typical nature-loving granola. Hassel, who also teaches the course throughout the semester, joined us with his old and wise man presence. 

We headed north for about six hours and ventured on vigorous hikes throughout the drive. The first night, we inhabited a small cabin getaway in the middle of the forest called Ransbys├Ątern. There, we met two guides (Jimmy and Mathias) who cracked us up with their drunken manner and friendly jester.  There was no electricity in the cabin, no hot water, and no bathroom. We were rugging it for sure, but it wouldn’t have been the same experience if we had all those perceived necessities. The next morning, we traveled farther north and finally arrived at our 16th century abode on the lake. Every night we took turns cooking exotic yet nostalgic homemade meals. I am actually transforming into quite the chef! I have enjoyed cooking while in Sweden more than ever before, and I can’t wait to return with the incredible recipes I and others have created! (Plan for a recipe blog post soon).

We reflected on our journey and discussed how learning in a setting where you can actually experience things is way more impressive than learning in a classroom. Linda and Hassel emphasized how important it is to wander beyond the textbook and form your own opinions on a hands-on basis.

Something I learned that I will never forget—this certain beetle we came across in the forest only mates during forest fires.  They are attracted to a specific scent from burning ant hills, and they mate directly over the hill.

Several of our days were spent with the Sami tribe. The Samis are the indigenous people of Northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland. They are incredibly beautiful and intelligent. They allowed us to watch them herd thousands of reindeer and then release them back into the wild.  Watching the graceful creatures prance up the iridescent mountainside was one of the most moving and enjoyable experiences of my life. The Sami people have this amazing connection with the reindeer and not only use them as a food source but also as a guide to living harmoniously with nature.  I even tried reindeer meat later that day, and it was quite delicious! No, he did not have a red nose.

We finally had to pack our bags and head back to campus, where I would sleep for six hours and then get up to bus it to Oslo with the crew!


We stayed in a hostel on the outskirts of Oslo, where I roomed with three of my guy friends. Trying to shower and get ready in a five-minute time frame with three guys in one tiny room is not easy. They were appreciative of my low-maintenance travel style, and we spent every minute exploring!

Oslo is an astonishing city, exhibiting architecture with antiquated influence and contemporary style. Glass walkways connect buildings that are blocks away from each other, castles reside on the hilltops, and a proficient public transport system winds around every corner. The city is surrounded by water, and the harbor displays ostentatious sailboats and pirate-like ships. In the two days we stayed in Oslo, we hit every tourist attraction, including the naked statue park, the Opera Theater, Edvard Munch’s “Scream” Portrait, Viking Museum, The Noble Peace Prize Conference room, and the Queen’s Palace! Whew! My favorite was the Opera House. The architecture was nothing like I have seen before. It was all white and slanted in every possible angle.  It was overlooking the sea and held the best view of Oslo from the roof!

A book festival filled the streets and brought in famous writers and their fans from all over the world.  The only shopping I could do was window shopping, for Oslo is the most expensive city in all of Europe! In fact, I felt like a homeless person numerous times, passing bread amongst my friends outside of fancy restaurants. One drink at the cheapest bar costs 98 nok ($17.00), and a McDonald’s meal costs around 120 nok ($20.00). The prices were quite unbelievable. However, we managed to see everything and enjoy one beer with our left over change. Working at a fast food restaurant in Oslo would be an ideal career for most Americans, considering the average restaurant wage is about $15-17.00 an hour.

Being one of the only Americans, I have been entitled “Torapedia”. Whenever someone is trying to find the word they are describing, they immediately look to me for help and, put on the spot, I usually forget the word they are trying to say. Sorry, I don’t even know my own language!

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