Norway | What I’ve Learned from Study Abroad


I’m about to go home. It’s been four months that have been both exhilarating and exhausting. I’ve been surrounded by people I love, I’ve been completely lonely, and everything in between. Now that it’s time for me to head home, here are a few things that this experience has taught me.  

Leaving is Hard, but Necessary 

Something I’ve often struggled with, because I move around a lot, is making connections with people. I’m always acutely aware of the fact that I will be leaving eventually, and I’m worried that connecting with people emotionally will make leaving so much harder. That is definitely true, but every time I do leave a place, I’m reminded of the fact that friendships can last despite distance. For every casual friendship that falls apart when I leave a place, there’s a friendship I maintain. I now have places to stay when I next decide to visit England, or Germany, and I can offer the same of LA. Technology makes it so easy to stay in touch with people, and because so many friendships are conducted online,  it’s important not to devalue them for that reason. My friends and I may have cried when we said goodbye to each other, but our reunions will be so much sweeter.  


Your Life Is On Hold

Something that I found difficult was that life back home moves on without you. I’m very involved in life at UCLA, and it’s really hard to keep up with things that are happening while you’re not there. As the music director of an a cappella group, I faced a lot of challenges. (You can see me on the phone via FaceTime in the photo above, during our first meeting of the quarter). I couldn’t teach music over FaceTime, and sending recordings and notes could only get me so far. Additionally, half of our group is made up of new singers whom I’ve never met. Having to keep up with life back home can make you feel stuck in the place where you are. But try to remember that this is time you have earned to live life somewhere new! If it gets overwhelming, you are well within your rights to take a break from life back home and focus on the present. I’m excited to get back to UCLA, but I will have to catch up on certain things when I get home, and that’s also part of the deal.  

 You Have to Leave to Come Home 

I have grown so much as a person, and I don’t even know the extent of it yet. Studying abroad changes you in very subtle ways, and I’m sure I won’t understand all of it until I’ve returned home and settled back in. I know now that I can spend lots of time alone, but I am an extrovert, and living with other people makes me happy. I know that I will get to the airport way earlier than I need to, so I need other people to balance out my anal-retentiveness. I know that I am resourceful when faced with a challenge, and I can help myself through any problem. Coming home is such an invigorating feeling. I love doing it every time. It makes you understand more about your worth as a person. I know a lot more about another culture now, and that can only help me in the long run. 

It’s been a wild adventure, and now I have to go home and use the experiences I’ve picked up at UCLA. Honestly, I’m so excited. 

Norway | The Search for the Northern Lights


This was it. This was the trip I had been dreaming about since I saw “University of Oslo” on the list of universities I could apply to for Study Abroad. I was about to realize a lifelong dream of pretty much everyone in the world: to see the Northern Lights. On a cold Wednesday evening, I headed to the Oslo Airport with my backpack, Polaroid camera at the ready. Four of my closest friends and I were headed to Tromsø – the northernmost city in Norway – to experience one of the world’s most gorgeous natural phenomena: the Aurora Borealis.  

We rented a little Airbnb which was about a ten minute bus ride from the city center. Something I will say about Tromsø’s public transport system is that their bus tickets look like regular receipts, which could be extremely confusing. We arrived at around 11pm, so it was dark outside. However, at that point in Tromsø the sun rose at 9:30am and set at 1:30pm, so that was a view of the city I was going to get used to.  

The first day we just explored the city. Tromsø is one of those places that looks like a Christmas card. There are lots of very Norwegian-style houses that look like cabins, in shades of red and yellow and white. The city was decked out in Christmas lights and displays (which was handy when we had no sunlight). We took a cable car up a mountain to view the entire city, which culminated in a spontaneous hike and an equally spontaneous bout of snowball fighting and Christmas caroling.  

Speaking of, I know that a lot of Americans would not consider anything before Thanksgiving to be Christmas, but in Tromsø the Christmas cheer was in full swing. On our second day we were walking through the city center, when we were offered torches. There was a band playing, and we waltzed through the main street, where we were offered free waffles and non-alcoholic gløgg (mulled wine). We spent the first few nights engaging in a concept the Scandinavians call “hygge” – a feeling of coziness and warmth. We watched movies, played board games and cooked together, feeling like a little family.  

But the highlight was when we rented a car and drove out of the city on a hunt for the Northern Lights. We drove for an hour in the car, blasting our music and feeling vaguely nervous. The Northern Lights are famously temperamental, and I didn’t want to know what it felt like to fly all the way out to the Arctic Circle to look at a black sky for a few hours.  

It did take us a while, and when we did see them, we weren’t sure what we were seeing. It looked more like grey streaks than any amazing green light. My friend David snapped a photo of them, and we were all very underwhelmed. But we drove out a little further (accidentally picking the same stakeout spot as a Northern Lights tour), and we were rewarded with the most beautiful sight: the lights were out. Now, they weren’t as intense as they could have been, but they were pale and green and dancing in the sky. I was so incredibly happy in that moment. We sat (freezing) on a little deck by a little beach in the (freezing) cold, and we ate snacks and took photos and just stared at the sky. In the photos taken with David’s camera, they appear more vibrant than they were. The photos I took looked more like this: 

…but that doesn’t change how incredible that feeling of seeing them was.  

Our last day we spent in Tromsø we did a short hike and just marveled at the sheer beauty of the landscape. This was an incredible trip, and I will never forget it. I’ve never had an experience like it before, and I’m so grateful I could experience it with four of my close friends. 

Norway | Abroad While Abroad: London and Liverpool


Having so many breaks in between my classes can be a little disorientating, but it also allowed me to plan a trip to one of my favorite places in the world: London. I lived there from 2004-2006. My Australian Dad and American Mom met there, and now we have posters of London bus schedules in our living room. London carries a lot of sentimental value for me, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to revisit a place that defined a part of my life from when I was six to when I was nine years old.  


My friend Tristan and I flew into London on a Thursday night, and somehow miraculously navigated to our Airbnb, despite the app giving us the wrong address. The first day we explored Camden markets. Amidst the knockoff designer brands and generic suits we found a few beautiful stalls of handmade items. As we were exploring, we were approached by MTV UK, who interviewed us for a series called “Asking for a Friend”. They asked us a lot of personal questions about relationships and sexuality in adorably thick accents.  

On the second day we met a family friend of mine, Lily. She’s from Los Angeles but she’s studying in Manchester. We hadn’t seen each other in almost three years, but as soon as we were reunited it was as though no time had passed. Together we explored London, stopping for marzipan fruit, seeing the most beautiful autumn trees, and running through the streets while it was raining harder than I’ve ever experienced in my life. Everything was set up for Christmas, so it was all beautiful.  


We also took the train to Liverpool, where we watched the Liverpool vs. Fulham soccer game. I’m well aware that I might be flayed by Brits for calling it “soccer”, but it’s less confusing when I’m writing for an American audience, so I refuse to apologize. Fulham is my family’s team. We lived near them when we lived in London, so we participated in a lot of camps and workshops. The club was always incredibly friendly and eager to get families involved in soccer, so watching this game had a lot of sentimental value for me. Tristan is German, so he’s obsessed with soccer, and told me it was his dream to go to a Liverpool game, so it worked out fairly well for both of us, I’d say.  

Fulham is at the bottom of the Premier League and Liverpool is near the top, so I wasn’t expecting a miracle. We lost 2-0, which is actually a lot better than most of us expected!   

 All in all, it was a really fun weekend. It only took two hours to fly from Oslo to London, and so we made it back on Monday morning in time for Tristan to get to his 11am lecture (I don’t have class at all on Mondays, thankfully). Being in London was really nostalgic for me, but even so I had a lot of new experiences, and got to connect with someone I hadn’t seen in years.  

Norway | Making Friends Abroad


The first day I got to Norway, I sat in my room alone and stared at the wall. I had no bedding. I had no cooking utensils (or food, for that matter). Most importantly, I had no friends in the country whatsoever. And I was terrified. Now, almost three months later, I have a close group of friends whom I adore, and I’m constantly meeting new people and getting to know them better. I know studying abroad can feel lonely sometimes, so I wanted to explain how I met the people that I met. 


Ashlie was the first person I met here, and I have to admit something: even though she became the key to me meeting all my other friends, I met her completely by chance. I had just arrived at Oslo airport, and my heart was beating so rapidly. I took the Flytoget (the express train from the airport to Oslo Central Station), and as I got on, I struggled to get my bag into one of the storage compartments. A girl who looked about my age noticed my struggle and helped me, and I in turn helped her with her bags. We sat down together and discovered that we were both studying abroad at the University of Oslo! She was from Denver, and she was just as terrified as I was. We went to pick up our keys, and went our separate ways. She lived in student housing in a different part of the city, but she became my first point of contact in Oslo. The takeaway here isn’t to just hope you get lucky and meet people, but that it only takes one connection to meet an entire new community!

The Group  

Ashlie introduced me to the girls in her program, Hanah and Nicolette, as well her as next door neighbor Hannah. Hannah introduced us to a friend of hers from her program, Tristan. Nicolette met Daryna in her university orientation group. Hanah and I met Lorenzo in our orientation group, and Lorenzo was flatmates with David, who incidentally is also a part of the UCEAP program. From there we had a nine-person group, known as “the family” 

We were a mismatched group who didn’t really have much in common except that we were all stranded in a new country of our own volition, and we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. As a result, we established weekly family dinners at one of our student housing, which turned into games nights and day outings and trips to other countries and open mic nights and nights out on the town. We have shared so many laughs and jokes that have stemmed from miscommunication (English is a second language for three of us), and we have learned to appreciate a wide variety of cultural viewpoints. I’ll admit that I was anxious to spend time with the group at first. I wasn’t sure whether I fit in, and I was scared of being rejected. But what I will say is that a group of international students in a foreign country are just looking for people to enjoy spending time with them, and that’s definitely what I’ve gotten. I’ve made a bunch of friends who I will cherish long after this program is over. 

My advice to anyone worried about making friends is to just give yourself time. I’ve met people here who I’m not best friends with, and that’s completely fine. You can’t expect yourself to make a bunch of deep, lasting bonds with people you’ve just met. My friendship with everyone in the group has grown over time, and I still have so much to learn about them. We were thrown together by circumstance, but we’ve worked at getting to know each other and respecting each other’s differences. It took me a while to open up around them, but now we’re all almost worryingly comfortable around each other.  

Obviously, all the general “college rules” of making friends still apply overseas: join clubs, do activities and be open to new experiences. But I would just add that I understand the pressure of trying to make friends over the one semester you’re abroad. But you’re surrounded by people who have just as much time as you do, and they’re looking for friendship too. All it takes is one person to open your social circle. From the core group I’ve befriended Norwegians and people who aren’t international students studying abroad. It will come with patience.  

Norway | Abroad While Abroad: Paris and Amsterdam


One of the reasons why I chose to study abroad in Europe was because I knew I would be able to travel around the entire continent. The first place, besides Oslo, that I visited was Paris. I actually lived in Paris for a few months in 2013 as part of a high school exchange program. I wanted to go back to indulge in the culture, eat some incredible food, and see my old host family. I had never been to Amsterdam, but I was fascinated by the city, and so I went in a large group of friends the week after I went to Paris. 


My schedule in Paris was packed. I travelled with just one of my friends, and we stayed in an Airbnb near Strasbourg Saint-Denis, a trendy (and newly-gentrified) area of the city. We visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Montparnasse Tower, Montparnasse Cemetery, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, the Pantheon. You name it, we visited it. I also indulged in some of the world’s most delicious food. I had the best French toast I’ve ever had in my life in a pristine white café, we drank delicious wine, I indulged in my passion for duck with delicious duck confit. While I love Oslo, I will say that there isn’t much of a culture for food, and eating out can be very expensive. By contrast, in Paris everything tasted divine, and the prices only made the food taste better. 

By far the best experience for me was seeing my host family for the first time in five years. My host parents were just as I remembered them, my twin brothers were now teenagers (they were eight when I first met them), and we surprised my host sister with my visit. She now studies outside of Paris, and came home for the weekend, not expecting to see me whatsoever. We had a wonderful night. My friend David walked away that night gushing about how amazing they were, and I couldn’t agree more.  


Amsterdam was a completely different experience for me than Paris. I travelled with four other friends, and we stayed in a hostel that was a quick ferry ride from the center of town. Amsterdam was absolutely gorgeous, and we visited the Van Gogh museum, the Tulip Museum, the Cheese museum, and of course the famed Amsterdam sign. Between admiring the beauty of the city, eating incredible fries slathered in mayonnaise and trying to avoid getting crushed by cyclists, I also managed to simply enjoy the time I was spending with my new friends. My favorite experience there was karaoke night at the hostel. We met so many new people and bonded over screeching out 2000’s pop songs.  

It can be difficult to make friends while studying abroad, so I highly recommend traveling somewhere together, even just for a weekend. I became so much closer with my friends after visiting somewhere completely new. We had to navigate public transport, restaurants and museums together. It was especially challenging in France, where not everyone spoke English. Living in Norway is comforting for nervous travelers because everyone can speak English, but it was exciting to try and practice my rusty French (even if the people I talked to often just replied in English anyway).  

Norway | One Month In


It’s been just over a month since I’ve been in Oslo! I’ve begun to settle into life here, and thinking about the progress I’ve made since I’ve gotten here is pretty exciting. Here are a few life updates from Norway:  

21st Birthday!

Yep, I turned twenty-one in a country where the drinking age is eighteen – and twenty, and sometimes older. Norway’s nightlife can be very confusing because age limits vary by bars – and sometimes by days. For example, many bars and pubs around the area have a twenty-three year age limit, but only on weekdays.  

 My Mom actually came out to Oslo to spend my birthday with me. We had an amazing day getting lunch in a beautiful part of town, and then we saw a soccer game. It was the Norway vs. The Netherlands Women’s World Cup Qualifier. Norway won 2-1, and it amazed me how many young girls were there, cheering on their soccer heroes. When I was their age I was dragged to soccer games, and spent the entire time playing Pokémon on my GameBoy 

That weekend, my friends surprised me with a homemade cake and a small celebration. I felt extremely loved, even though I was across the world from all of my friends and almost all of my family.  

Shopping and Food 

Living in an apartment means I cook all my own meals, and the steep prices of eating out in Norway means that I cook a lot. I’m very happy to be refining my skills for when I move into my Westwood apartment, but I do have to remember to plan ahead when it comes to shopping. Shops in Norway generally have limited hours on Saturday, and almost all of them are completely closed on Sundays. If there’s one thing I’ve come to respect about Norwegian culture, it’s that they take their free time very seriously. Weekends are for family and friends and being in nature (at least while the weather permits it).  

My friends and I meet every week for “family dinner,” where two or three people will cook for the rest of the group. We’ve been treated to authentic chicken schnitzel from our German friends, crepes from our French cohort, and, most recently, vegan chili. As someone who loves meat, I wasn’t particularly excited, but I was grudgingly impressed by how delicious it was. It’s my turn to cook next week, and my Californian cooking partner and I are going to attempt Norwegian meatballs, so we’ll see how that turns out.  


The school system in Norway is incredibly different from UCLA. I only have class on Mondays and Thursdays, and one of my classes only has contact hours every other week. There’s a lot less homework, and a lot more readings, and this is coming from an English major! The work here is definitely more student-driven, and so I’ve been using a lot of my free time to prepare for those classes. All of my grades are determined by one final exam, or final paper. I have to submit a pass/no pass qualification paper/project for all of them to be able to take the final exam. For some classes attendance is required, and for others it isn’t. This lack of structure and restriction can be a blessing and a curse. It gives me a lot more freedom, but it also forces me to motivate myself, as the workload and syllabus won’t do it for me. Luckily for me I’m enjoying my classes about Viking history and Norwegian literature and media, so the readings aren’t too arduous.  

It’s been a month of trying to settle into a culture that I’ve never been exposed to before. Some parts of it have been difficult. But what I’m learning is that everyone has a different experience moving to a new country. It may be difficult at first, but it’s important to remember that just being here is an achievement. I forget sometimes that I’m actually doing it! I’m actually out here, living my life in Norway! I have three months to go, and I’m determined not to waste a single day.  

Norway | First Week


First Week  

My first week in Oslo has been a whirlwind. I’ve been adjusting to life in the student village, orientation at the University of Oslo, and getting to know the city that I’ll be calling home for the next four months.  


I arrived at orientation filled with first-day nerves. I am studying in the Faculty of Humanities, so I went to an orientation session with around two hundred or so international students who were in the same faculty. We were all divided into “buddy groups” named after traditional Norwegian things. One group was named for the Northern Lights, another was for brown cheese. It was a mixed bag.  

I waited as they sorted us into groups, but the more groups that were called, the more nervous I became. Eventually, we got to the end of the list, and my name hadn’t been called to be in a group. This didn’t turn out to be an issue, and I was unceremoniously added into the “Russefeiring” group. For those who don’t know, Russefeiring, or Russ, is essentially the tradition of graduating Norwegian high schoolers. Apparently they hire buses and party for days on end. I was pretty happy with that assignment.  

The first day we were taken to a welcoming ceremony in the middle of the city. They marched all the students into the center of the square outside the Nationaltheatret metro, and welcomed us formally to the University.  

The next few days were all about meeting other students. Unfortunately, a lot of the events I tried to go to were held at bars and pubs with strict capacity limits, and so I didn’t get into them. On the flip side, there were a lot of students in the same boat, and we befriended each other outside.  

Student Life 

Getting adjusted to my new accommodations has been relatively smooth. It took me a while to work out how to find the laundries in the student village, and how to work the Norwegian washing machines, but I was on top of the world when I finally figured it out. Cooking for myself has been incredibly satisfying, especially because the price of a night out in Norway always needs to be considered. One particularly impressive feature of Norwegian supermarkets is that they have individually wrapped fillets of frozen salmon. Norwegians love their seafood, and so they’ve made it as plentiful and accessible as possible.  

One of the amazing things about living in student housing is meeting so many people from across the world. I now have a group of friends from Germany, England, France, Canada, America, Norway and Korea. We’re establishing a tradition of hosting dinners at one of our houses every week. This week it was German cuisine. We indulged in homemade schnitzel and the loving atmosphere that comes from a bunch of young adults throwing themselves together to experience new things.  

Earlier this week, I took a ferry ride on a whim – for free, thanks to Norway’s exceptional public transport system – and ended up on the island of Hovedøya. I found 12th century monastery ruins, a herd of sheep, a fox, and stunning views. It’s thankfully warm enough to continue exploring the city in jeans and a T-shirt, and I’m hoping to capitalize on that as much as possible before the temperatures start to drop. As someone who’s now used to the LA climate, it’s definitely going to be a learning experience. 

Norway | Arrival

By Rose Forster

I left for my UCEAP program from Sydney, Australia, because I like to shirk the status quo (and that’s also where I’m from). This was twenty-four combined hours of flying, including a layover in Dubai. Having just finished my sophomore year, I can safely say I’m used to doing fourteen hours on a plane given the similar distance between Sydney and LA. The extra ten hours of flying was the part that was difficult to enjoy. Regardless of the screaming children, the terrible food and the lack of sleep, (staples of any flight), I touched down in Oslo and tried to keep myself calm. I was terrified of the logistics of carving out a new life for myself in an unfamiliar city. I realize that I did exactly that at UCLA two years ago, but in LA I had family members and English. Oslo didn’t have the former, and I wasn’t sure of the extent to which it had the latter, so I was understandably nervous.

At the Airport

I was blessed with the fact that I could buy a SIM card with no difficulty at a kiosk at the airport. As it turns out, everyone I’ve met so far in Norway is a fluent English speaker. From there I bought a ticket on Flytoget, the express train from the airport, and went on my way. On the train, while trying to heave my enormous suitcase into the storage compartments there, I met a girl trying to do the exact same thing. We both discovered that we were from America (she’s from Colorado) and that we were both going to the University of Oslo. I didn’t realize how relieved I was that I now had a point of contact until I sat down on the train and allowed myself to breathe.


We had to pick up our keys for housing at the university campus, while the actual student villages we were living in were spread across the city. The only hassle I had with getting my house keys was rolling my suitcase over the cobbled street outside.

I’m living in a little studio apartment in Kringsjå.

It’s small and clean, and most importantly, properly heated for the winter months, although it’s been trapping the heat in summer anyway. Today I walked about ten minutes north of my village, and stumbled across the most beautiful lake. The Norwegians were making the most of the sunny summer day and were swimming in the water, laying out in the sun, and enjoying themselves. It’s no California heatwave, but it’s warm enough to merit bathing suits.

I only arrived yesterday, so my trip so far has been a whirlwind of logistics and jet lag. I’m trying to enjoy the 9:30pm sunset without the looming fear of the eternal darkness of the upcoming winter. My orientation program starts with a party tomorrow and then a week of activities, and I can’t wait to see what Norway has in store.