Foreign Correspondent – Tromsø, NorgeSaturday, May 5th, 2012 by amie.fairs
So here I am, starting to finish up my erasmus year in what is now sunny Tromsø, and I should write a short (ish) summary of what has happened to me while I have been here.
I think the first place to start, and the thing that everyone asks me, is about the sun/dark/snow. When I first arrived way back at the beginning of August, it was constantly light. I had missed the midnight sun by around two weeks, so the sun did dip below the mountains, but whether or not it made it to the horizon is anyone’s guess. It seemed like it didn’t, and I know myself and some other students who were not prepared all woke up at 4am on our first day thinking we’d missed out alarms and we weren’t there at 8am for the beginning of introductory week (more about that below). After around two weeks, everything settled down and daylight became a bit more normal. Around that time, it wasn’t so different from home, except that I had to wear a coat. After daylight savings time/winter time/whatever you want to call it, things got dark. Very dark, very fast. The mornings were a little lighter, but the evenings were dark, and everyday we lost around 10 minutes of light. That doesn’t seem like much, but every week you lose just over an hour, and that goes fast. Then the university started up the daylight lamps which I used a few times, but they made me feel a little strange – you feel like you should be hot, because you are sat in front of something that is like the sun, but you aren’t. Some of my friends couldn’t go because the lamps gave them migraines, or their bodies didn’t like being subjected to very strong sunlight and then having to go back out into the dark. On one memorable occasion, I had gone to work, and when I finished work and took the bus to university at 9:50am, it was still dark. There wasn’t even a bit of twilight. That’s odd.
When the dark came, the snow came. At first the snow came a bit, then went, then came back, then went again. In January/February time, it came, and it came to stay. It was in March or April when over a metre fell in one day, a Tromsø record. When it’s dark, it’s much nicer with snow, because it seems a little lighter. Everything you can see is white. If there isn’t much wind, even the trees are white, and covered in snow, like the clips they show you in tv shows like Frozen Planet (which was my recent top viewing). And then the sun starts to rise again and the sky is just beautiful colours and you wake up a bit more, as if you are coming out of a three month hibernation.
But, then you get to now, and it’s light all the time, and in a few weeks the sun won’t even set – it’ll just go in a big loop around the sky. By the end of May all the snow should’ve disappeared, and we’ll all be able to walk everywhere again, rather than only on defined paths because you could be like me, and try some ‘cross-country walking’ and sink into snow so much that someone has to come and pull you out. Hibernation is now the last thing on anyone’s mind – when it’s light after midnight you have no sense of when to eat, when to get ready for bed, or when you should be doing different things. Last night I slept with my eye mask for the first time because it was just so bright. Many friends have taped bin liners to their windows for the night-time because it is so light in their bedrooms. However, I’m not complaining – the dark was interesting, and I’m glad I was here to see it, but the midnight sun is what I really want to see. I want to experience less sleep because there is constant light. It’s seems awesome so far, but I’m sure in a month I’ll be wishing there was a little bit of darkness.
Apart from the weather, there is a lot going on here. As a student, you are taken care of so well by the university that I never want to leave! The introductory week when first arriving was the most valuable thing I did – if you have the choice to do an introductory programme at any university you go to I would recommend it. It’s where I met a lot of my friends, was told a lot about Norway and got to experience the uni for a week before all the home students showed up. UiT pile you with information, and you know you won’t remember all of it, but luckily they put it all online so you can look later. That’s how I found out about the doctor, getting a tax card, getting a bank account, and all those other things that are quite important but when you’re first here you just want to meet people. The final day of our week was a trip to a beach called Grotfjørd where it was about 20 degrees, which is tropical for the Arctic Circle. We were able to hike or fish, and then have barbecues on the beach. Definitely the highlight of the week
And there is loads to do here. I have been like a real tourist and at the beginning I did a lot of hiking. Then the snow came and I went dog-sledding. When the midnight sun is properly here, it’ll be time for midnight sun kayaking. I’ve been to Oslo, I’ve travelled from Oslo to Tromsø by train and boat, which took 48 hours and I didn’t see as much as I would like because it was dark, but it was incredible. Watching the Northern Lights off the back of the Hurtigruten was something I’ll never forget. And I mustn’t forget seeing the Northern Lights when just out and about. I have been lucky and this year has been one for major solar activity which means our sky has been lit up. I have seen the Aurora like you only see in pictures, and have even chosen not to go outside and see it because ‘I saw it last night and I’ll see it again tomorrow’. It puts things in perspective but makes you see how you can acclimatise to something new. Speaking of which, I’ve also acclimatised to the temperature. I’m usually a hater of the cold, so coming to the most northerly university in the world might’ve been a bit stupid, but lo and behold, I am used to it. If it is above 0 now it is warm. At one point, -2 degrees celsius wasn’t cold anymore, merely ‘a bit nippy’. 5 degrees has me going out without a coat, and -23 wasn’t enough to put me off going to watch the reindeer race in town.
Of course, it isn’t all fun and games when here: I did come to study too. Norway isn’t the place to go if you just want to drink your erasmus year away because it costs so much (though many of my friends do) and being in a uni that is one of the top for theoretical linguistics right now is exciting. I’ve been able to meet some interesting people, and even a few famous linguists, like Michal Starke and W. Tecumseh Fitch. It’s the home of Nanosyntax, and if you like syntax and really like features, then this might be the place to come. And the courses I take are excellent. I started last semester with MA level Phonology 1 and Syntax 1, and introductory Language Diversity and Typology. Having never taken MA courses before, I felt something introductory would be my best bet to balance my workload, but I definitely had more work for that course than for Phonology and Syntax! All the courses had final papers, so no exams, and yes, although 7000 words per paper is a lot, and it has to be individual research, the teachers here are so supportive and helpful that it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. In Phonology we looked at autosegmental phonology, and then moved onto Optimality Theory where we stayed, and we’re still there now. But anyone who has studied OT has to admit that it’s fascinating, and working out how to use OT for syllabic structure, tones, prosody, language acquisition, morphology and syntax is pretty cool. In Syntax we started from the bottom – back to second year syntax – and we worked out our own analysis and had to analyse structures according to what we thought.
This semester I couldn’t give up Phonology and Syntax, so I took Phonology 2 and Syntax 2. When you become great friends with your classmates, you don’t want to leave them at all. I’m also taking FLA (BA level) and SLA (MA level, taught by Edinburgh’s Antonella Sorace), which has been great fun. Taking 4 courses means I have no time to think, but I did enough thinking and drinking last semester, and this semester I wanted to take stuff I like (I also had to take four because of the course choices back home). Phonology 2 is an extension of Phonology 1, and so is Syntax 2, but now in Syntax we look at other stuff – nanosyntax, the syntax-semantics interface, distributed morphology and the like. The term papers this semester are a bit harder, because I’ve done one semester and I should know what I’m on about. SLA was an intensive course which means that I’ve already done the work, but FLA has an exam, and this will be my first exam here. At Tromsø, they are FOUR HOURS LONG. Apparently that is short, and they could be six hours, but why you would ever spend that long in an exam is completely beyond me. I think I’ll die of boredom before the end, but it will be the only exam I have taken here, so that’s not so bad.
Apart from that, life isn’t so different to home. When you settle somewhere, and you have to live, it’s not like you are permanently on holiday – I have bills to pay, food to buy, a job to work and things to study. But coming to Norway has been an amazing experience, I’ve made some fantastic friends, I’ve learnt (sort of) a new language (I think owning up to hating to learn new languages might make me hated by the linguistic community, but I really don’t enjoy it so much), and been surrounded by loads of languages so I’m taking on some more, and I’ve worked out what I want to do in the future, where I want to go, and how I want to get there. Norway has been an excellent experience (and excellent for my bank account with Norwegian wages too!), so to sum up my year abroad, I can only tell people they should do one too, because mine is so great!
And sorry this isn’t so short.