A student’s impressions of Norway

Thoughts on living in Levanger as an exchange student from Slovenia

Photo: Jure Kacafura
Norway through a tent flap: one of the most unique things about Norway is friluftsliv, the particular sense that Scandinavians have that the wilderness is their home.

Jure Kacafura
Slovenia / Levanger, Norway

My home is a tiny European country called Slovenia. It is 20 times smaller than Norway, and I find the vast and magnificent nature in Scandinavia fascinating (or even mesmerizing) in comparison. But the thing that amazes me the most is the way people live. I had high expectations for this Nordic country’s society. If a person has such hopes, it is very likely that one ends up being disappointed, but when I arrived I was impressed nevertheless. Generally known facts about gender equality, very little racism, modern infrastructure, and the great educational system became tangible to me.

I am studying at Nord University in a small town named Levanger, close to Norway’s third-largest city, Trondheim. It all started last year when a chance to come to the North as an Erasmus exchange student presented itself. I grabbed it with both hands, knowing an exciting journey was ahead of me. The first thing to warmly greet me in the North was the freedom to roam around and camp anywhere I wanted to, as long as a house was not nearby. I enjoyed travelling during the summer through Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, sleeping in a tent along the way. That was very different from any other car trips I had made through continental Europe, and I must say it was very pleasant. Pure and careless joy in nature!

After visiting Oslo, Lillehammer, and other places along the “not so famous as route 66” main road E6, my GPS led me to Levanger. The traffic was smooth as silk and even though I was not used to such low speeds (speed limits in Norway are the most restrictive in all of Europe), the drive went by swiftly. After 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) I parked my car in front of my new home.

We started the school year with lectures, followed by field trips, and last but not least practice placement. All lectures were very interesting and we got a sense of the educational system. What I liked the most about it is the learning by doing.

We have also had the privilege to experience and enjoy education in (and through) nature, which also plays an important role in schooling here. We went on a canoe trip, probably the most notorious (terrifying) few days in the whole semester. Paddling all day long, some of it pretty adrenaline pumping, and sleeping in the wilderness waiting for a bear to show up and preparing our proper response (which would be staying calm and slowly retreating) was truly experiencing friluftsliv. This is a word plainly translated to free air life, which you must experience to truly understand, preferably with seasoned Norwegian mentors like I did. It is a big thing here—this free, weather-careless, natural living. I think it is one of the most important things for people to stay down-to-earth. The ever-existing connection with nature gives both energy and knowledge to live.

Now I am well into the last half of my time here, and I have started working at a school for immigrants over 16 years old. Most of them are refugees seeking asylum and Norway is providing them with basic education and of course language learning so they can communicate in Norwegian. My impressions about this school are very positive, and I think Norway is doing a good job with individuals whose luck has turned on them in one way or another. The teachers are really doing their best and educating people from Africa and Asia as if they were their own kids. I can express nothing less than admiration for that Norwegian spirit of samaritanism that reaches out to others.

I am emotionally connected to stories about refugees because of my deep awareness of the Balkan War (have you heard about Srebrenica?), but I probably would not have been writing about this if the most amazing thing had not happened the other day. I was taking a walk and it was a beautiful sunny day when my path crossed with two women of Bosnian and Serbian nationality. They were speaking our old, now technically non-existent (though still widely used) Serbo-Croatian language. To say the least I was surprised, because even though I knew that a lot of people from Bosnia had come to the North during the war, I never imagined that I would meet some of them on the streets of Levanger. How likely is that to happen?

We started talking and talking and of course it was inevitable to say a few words about the early 90s and their arrival to the North. It was all very similar to stories of people seeking asylum in Norway today. They explained how the system was for immigrants back then, and I understood their words through my working with refugees now. In a way, I am “retracing” the steps of my brothers and sisters from ex-Yugoslavia.

Instant communication enables us to talk with ease all the time, even if my girlfriend is on the other side of Europe. Immigrants here are skyping with their families back home, and I can only imagine how touching that is for them! We are all united, because no matter how many countries there are, we all have one planet. Even if we find some new place to live, we will be in the same universe, and this logic does not break even if we eventually travel with the speed of light to places beyond our understanding. That is why I feel connected to you, precious reader, to people in the south, to children in Africa, and that is why more and more people are feeling the same.

I will be returning to Slovenia soon and I am already looking forward to being home again, but I will miss Norway for sure. The great society here lived up to its reputation because now I know from experience why Norway is topping almost every world ranking there is and is the role-model country for others. The main question is how has Norway achieved this? Even though it has little scientific value, I am proposing a simple answer. The great Slovenian thinker and author Boris Pahor who lived through both world wars and survived four concentration camps claims that: “No economy and no party, left or right, can help, the only true thing is love.” I agree with him completely!

Jure Kacafura has a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and will soon complete a master’s in andragogy. He is interested in society both on the micro and macro level. He also likes to experience nature, where he finds inner peace and gets ideas for life.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.