Learning German by immersion – Dag Gjetø

  • Where are you from and what are you studying in Norway/Nord?

From Norway. Went on exchange during my Bachelors in Biology at Nord.

  • Which university did you choose for exchange and why?

I chose the University of Bremen for exchange. The opportunity to learn more German was my biggest motivation for applying precisely to Germany. A stay here requires some German knowledge. There are few English-language offers (at least not in biology), and almost all of my lectures are held in German.

  • What was the process of preparing for exchange like?

Before I started my studies, I had built up a hunger for adventure after a year of military deployment followed by backpacking, a journey which eventually landed me in Germany. I would spend a full year there attending a school to learn German, and completely falling in love with the country, the language, and the people – not to mention the beer. So much so, that when I started my studies after returning from Germany, the first thing I did when I arrived on campus in Bodø was to go to the International Office and inquire about exchange programs, and my possibilities for returning to the city I had lived the year before, Marburg.

Sadly, Marburg was not one of the options of the current Erasmus-program, which offered exchange to the University of Bremen, a city which I didn’t really know much about. This is when I was informed of the free-mover option, which is an exchange in which you have to organise pretty much everything yourself, and you have to make sure the subjects you take will correspond to equivalent courses given at Nord so that they count towards your degree.

This is a very complicated procedure steeped in bureaucracy, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. After more than half a year of countless emails, proposed and subsequently scratched study plans, I came to realize that doing my exchange as a free-mover to the University of Marburg would not be viable, and that I should try with Erasmus instead, and therefore landed on going to the University of Bremen.

The advantage of the Erasmus-program is that the subjects is already outlined and approved in advance (they still have to be relevant to your degree, unless you take them as electible courses), and it cuts back a lot on the bureaucracy. In addition to this, you also get a grant per month, which when combined with the Norwegian student loans makes you quite rich by student standards, especially considering that you get higher student loans when exchanging abroad (this never made any sense to me but who says no to more money?). The extra money also makes finding accommodation a much more forgiving process, which might be a challenge when exchanging; not every University offers housing on par with Studentinord, and I had to turn to the private market, which required language skills that I luckily had already acquired.

With the Erasmus-plan approved and housing in order, all that was left to do was to book my tickets, and off I went. In conclusion I would recommend not wasting time and energy on attempting to organise the exchange yourself, and go with the Erasmus-program, which was one of the best experiences of my life.

  • What are the highlights of your exchange experience?

In Germany, they have a brilliant concept called “Semesterticket”: you get a ticket for all public transport within the state and close proximity when paying the semester fee (about 200€). With it you can take buses, trams and trains for free throughout the academic year. Genius!

The interesting thing here is that there is a far more practical focus, and there are more lab exercises than at Nord. I think this is very good, because you get a deeper and better understanding of what you learn in the lectures by practical implementations.
What is your recommendation for students thinking about going on exchange?

If I can give one piece of advice, it would be to talk to students who have been on exchange before you. As I said, it was a reasonably chaotic process to get subjects and credits to go up. I am genuinely concerned that there is so much focus on obtaining enough credits, not on what knowledge one acquires.

  • Did you face anything particularly challenging?

The studies here are arranged in a completely different way than at the North. It has been difficult to get the schedule to go up – so that I get both enough credits and enough knowledge. This has probably been the biggest challenge of going to a university where the subjects are so differently organized.
Anything else you would like to add?

Start the process as soon as possible and send e-mail to institutions you are interested in if you have any questions about the programs they offer. I started the process as early as September, and contacted several universities before deciding on the University of Bremen in February.

Studying abroad… in my home country – Nadia Bokhari

  • Where are you from and what are you studying/did you study at Nord?

I’m from Madrid, Spain and I studied BSc in Biology in Bodø, at Nord

  • Which university did you choose for exchange and why?

For my exchange I chose the University of Alicante because they had subjects related to the career I wanted to pursue and I wanted a little break from the arctic winter. A third reason was that even though I’m Spanish, I had only studied in english through the British system, so I wanted to try the Spanish education system

  • What was the process of preparing for exchange like?

The bigger headache of preparing was probably the search for accommodation and the actual moving in. The process of getting the papers signed was pretty fast and easy. Since my exchange was happening after the summer holidays, I was back home in Madrid and from there it was fairly easy to find accommodation and then visit the city for a couple of days to see the places. When the new semester started, it was a bit hard to find my way around campus since it was enormous! But at orientation they gave me a map which helped me until I became pretty familiar with the areas and locations of the different buildings.

  • What are the highlights of your exchange experience?

I have several highlights from my one year on exchange. I ended up staying at a house where a middle-aged couple were renting two rooms. I got one and the other one got rented by a medical student. The four of us became pretty close and we would share anecdotes from our day to day. My roommate and I would go to the movies once a week, and the couple also had a dog (who is clearly another one of my highlights!). Another great experience I went through was being able to do an internship at a primate and big cats rescue center for one month; that one definitely influenced many decisions I made after graduating. Having sunny, warm weather almost the whole year around was definitely a highlight as well!

  • What is your recommendation for students thinking about going on exchange?

I would say to not think about it too much. If you want to try living in another country, see other cultures, have a change of scenery….whatever the reason, go on exchange while you can. Being a university student is the perfect moment for it! I would also say to try and find local accommodation instead of staying at a student housing, it might be cheaper and you get to live the local culture. Lastly, do some research about the city you’re going to; if it’s a country you’ve never been to, they might have other ways of doing things and you don’t want to accidentally appear disrespectful of their culture and way of living.

  • Did you face anything particularly challenging?

For me the challenging part was the studying. As I said, I never did the Spanish education system so although I may speak the same language, I was used to studying in a whole different way, therefore all the workload and the exams caught me a bit off guard. But nothing a bit of extra effort couldn’t fix.

  • Anything else you would like to add?

At the courses I was studying, there weren’t many other exchange students so I ended up befriending more local students. In my case it wasn’t hard because language wasn’t a barrier. But even if the locals are not fluent in any of the languages you may speak, try to befriend the local students. It’s tempting to stay with the exchange students because you know you won’t have a problem understanding them or them understanding you, but being friends with local students opens up more experiences, secret wonders around the city, and they can give advice about living there.

Wanderlust – Petter Andersen

  • Where are you from and what are you studying/did you study in Norway/Nord?

From Mo I Rana, Nordland, Norway
Studied BSc in biology, Nord university
Went on to MSc in molecular medicine, NTNU

  • Which university did you choose for exchange and why?

I ended up going to University of northern Colorado. I really wanted to go to an English speaking country, I really love hiking and mountains, and UNCo had a great selection of courses that intrigued me. In the end it was a match made in heaven.

  • What was the process of preparing for exchange like?

Stressful, to say the least. Applications for exchange, visa application (which involved going all the way to OSLO to pick it up. Thanks USA), which itself didn’t go super smoothly

  • What are the highlights of your exchange experience?

Arriving at my dorm after 50+ hour travelling, seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time, and the friends I made along the way

  • What is your recommendation for students thinking about going on exchange?

Doing it. Its that simple. It seems hard to take it on face value that it is a great experience, and it really changes one perspective on the world.

  • Did you face anything particularly challenging?

Other than the initial travel snafu? Coming home. In a semester I had gotten painfully aware how everything is ending, and knowing that my final semester at Nord was approaching, brought a feeling of hopelessness to the experience. But that is a part of growing up.

Oh and being called a communist was hilarious at first but got old quick

  • Anything else you would like to add?

My time spent on my exchange was some of the best of my life, and while it all wasn’t noses in roses, it did give me a perspective and fulfilment in my life, I don’t think I would have had otherwise, and I am forever grateful I got the opportunity to go abroad

“You’ve done this before.”

“It will be okay, you’ve done this before.” is what I kept telling myself. Originally from Venezuela, I arrived in Norway to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology. It was not only my first time in Norway but on this side of the world. Four years later and with a bachelor’s degree, I started my master’s with the idea of wanting to go on exchange.

I was ready for something more. I wanted to gain knowledge about subjects I simply couldn’t learn about at my home university. It also didn’t hurt that I had  my eye on an Erasmus+ exchange, which according to my calculations, would leave me with a pretty hefty sum of money at the end of my exchange, as I had also been granted Lånekassen. Groundbreaking knowledge from one of the best universities in the world, plus a financial gain… exchange was suddenly a no-brainer.

I applied for a couple of universities for exchange, but ultimately decided on Wageningen University & Research (WUR). With it, came doubt. WUR was known as the best university in the Netherlands, and ranked first in the world in many areas. Would I measure up? Was I up for the challenge? Could I take courses in subjects I had never taken before, at a master’s level no less, and succeed?

Perhaps because of that doubt, I worked harder. Studied as I had never done before. But it was certainly very hard leaving Norway, even knowing I would come back. Life here in Bodø had become, at that point, certain, comfortable, easy. Filled with friends and family who I could hang out and rely on at any point. I looked to what I wanted to do at the end of my studies, the career I wanted, and decided I needed to do more. Going on exchange is a great way to stand out to future employers. It does wonders for personal growth. And even if I had done it before, arriving in a foreign country to study, albeit at a different scale, why not do it again? 

The process was long. The faculty exchange coordinator and the Erasmus+ responsible were people I talked to constantly. Fill in this form, apply for that, get that visa, buy the tickets, buy insurance… On and on. Easy? No. Exciting? Yes. Stressful? It could be.

So at the end of it, I packed most of my things into storage, packed my bags and left. Moved to this old building near the WUR campus where I had to share bathrooms with people I didn’t know, where previously I had had my own studio apartment. “It’s fine, it’s only for 4 months.”

 

Then AID (their version of the buddy week) started. I met my group and almost all of them were also on Erasmus exchange. It was actually rather similar to the buddy week and I got to know these people better. Even though I didn’t have any classes with them in the beginning, I saw them after class and over the weekends. Some of them became close friends. 

Then corona got to the Netherlands, and you could feel the communal worry. Classes were still going but one could hear whispers of new cases, cases in other countries, Italy, Italy, Italy. The first class was amazing. I had never seen someone so engaged with teaching. I’m used to being taught by researchers who also teach, but these were instead teachers who also research. There’s a difference. It is noticeable. 

Not that I don’t love Nord, I do. It’s my home. But WUR is just on an entirely different level. The campus is huge and everything is cutting-edge. The cultural activities are impressively advanced for such a small place as Wageningen.

Unfortunately, my exchange ended early. 4 months turned 6 weeks because of Covid-19. But it also didn’t really end. I kept having courses, but online, from Bodø. I learned things that I would have never learned if I didn’t go on exchange, both in an academic and social way. I did much better than expected in the courses, much better than I even do at Nord. Maybe it was because I felt challenged. Maybe I enjoyed the classes a lot more. Either way, I feel ready. To write my thesis, and to go into the next stage afterwards, which is working.

I encourage everyone to go on exchange. If anything, it helps to get out of your bubble and gain some perspective. You may get to know yourself better. You will for sure learn something new. And if in doubt, reach out. We’re here to help.