Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heading to Norway

I am writing this blog for four reasons, and three of them are people.

My first reason is that when I picked up the call telling me I had received a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Norway, I googled “Norway Fulbright ETA,” and then “ETA Fulbright Norway,” and then “Fulbright ETA Norway,” and found nothing. Not a single blog, not an interview, not even a Twit. Just the official stuff about bringing extra-warm pajamas and not approaching native Norwegians on buses (they glare coldly if cornered). Of course, that’s partially because Norway only started its ETA program a few years ago, but I decided I’d fill in the gap, so that whoever comes after me can read to their heart’s content about what it’s like to teach English as a Fulbright grantee in Bergen, Norway.

The second and third reasons are both teachers. One of my professors, who wrote a recommendation for me, asked if I was going to blog when I told her I’d been accepted. Ever obedient to awesome teachers, I though, yeah, why not? Then there's the other teacher: like all students, I once had an idiosyncratic but inspiring high school English teacher who gave me the habit of compulsive journaling, and I don’t mind that this blog be its newest manifestation.

The fourth reason is last year’s Norway Fulbright ETA, who told me she really wished she’d kept a blog because it would have helped her synthesize her thoughts. No problem there, I’ll do it all and BETTER than she did! (But thanks for all your advice, Courtney, you were really helpful and are going to be an awesome Teach-for-American). 

Okay, with four reasons to write a blog (which is six more than most bloggers have), I’m off.

My father says my going to Norway is something like Thoreau retreating to Walden. Though audacious, I like the comparison. I’m sure he’s right, and that after eleven months of the legendary prices of Bergen, I’ll be calculating the costs of petty objects in infuriating detail just like Henry David did. But I also hope to live deliberately. To teach. To write. To hike. So why not aspire?

The details: As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I will split my time between teaching English at the University of Bergen, and teaching English at Bergen Katedralskole (Cathedral School), an upper secondary school. I’m going to be running a writing workshop at the University and co-teaching the American literature/American culture seminars, and teaching ESL to different groups of students (regular high school, adult, and adult minority) at Bergen Katedralskole. I’ll also learn Norwegian at the University. Plus joining in the exciting life of Bergen.

Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway. It is a city that, as I have repeated to countless people countless times since March, nestles between a fjord and seven mountains. My sister thinks I should leave out the word “nestles” in favor of “squats”, “swells”, or “is plunked,” but if she was going, it would probably “divinely dwell,” so I figure I’m okay with nestling. 

My knowledge of Norwegian was nil until I found out I’d be living there for a year and began to seriously cram my mind full of Norwegian words and phrases. Now I’ve repeated “Je kan bare litt Norsk”—“I speak a little Norwegian” almost as many times as I’ve told people about nestling between a fjord and the mountains.

The attacks in Oslo a week ago mean that the Norway I arrive in will be radically different from the Norway that existed before. And yet, I hope that going to a traumatized country will express my solidarity and support for its people. Norwegians will spend the next months mourning for the people who were so brutally attacked, and for its own lost innocence. Having lived in countries where terror changed the attitude of the people towards daily living, I hope to see Norway grow stronger and more courageous as it rethinks its identity.

People keep telling me I’m brave, for going to a foreign country where I know nobody. But Norway looks like this:

And this:

And this:

I’m not brave. I’m just a glutton for breathtaking scenery.

I’ll post pictures as I hit each spot. And I’ll post the stories that come with them, all of the hilarious inevitable embarrassments that envelop a foreign traveler, and the cultural epiphanies, and the development of my teaching skills, and the magical mythical Norwegian lore as I see it thread through contemporary Norwegian political-social realities. 

I board the plane for Norway in a week. 

-- The Official Disclaimer suggested, humorously enough, by the US government:
I in no way represent the US government or its views, though they are being kind enough to put me on the dole for a year. Also, according to my contract, they allow me full artistic and academic freedom. Watch out, blogosphere. 


  1. Do you have a good camera? Can't wait to see the pics.

  2. The blog is/was an excellent idea and you better post regularly! Even if only to say "it's been a long week, I have nothing to write!" I, in return, will try to send you semi-regular e-mails about what's going on state side, just so you are in the loop. It's never fun keeping track of stuff via facebook postings... Love, Michele

  3. Beautiful pics! Can't wait to compare and contrast our experiences over the next year. Miss you! -Nehama

  4. Guinan says: And it was in July, too, that Thoreau climbed Mr. Greylock and returned enlightened. Poor thing. Had merely a pond awaiting.

  5. I expect you to come back to the States able to fully conjugate "to nestle" in Norwegian! Those photos are glorious. Looking forward to following your Norway adventures over the course of the year, Hannah!

  6. "To teach. To write. To hike."

    Perchance to..?

  7. Yes, Jonas, DREAM! You know, having actual Norwegians reading this is gonna make me nervous. Plus, when I wrote this post I hadn't yet figured out about comments-- thanks for drawing me back here to read them! (you're going to have to teach me Norsk for 'nestle"


    "ligge lunt og trygt" is a pretty useful resource (English, Spanish, Norwegian), and you can't get closer in this case. As far as I know our rather poor language does not have a one-word term for "nestle", so we use "to lie" with post-modifiers "snugly" and "securely".

  9. i'm realy glad that i'm a freand of one norwegian n she also was my teacher merethe vadstein welle:)she was as sweet as thease pictures are:)hats off to this nature beauty:)

  10. Hi! My name is Allison, and I'm really considering applying for a Fulbright ETA in Norway. I have some questions, and I'm nervous about submitting the application this year. I would really appreciate getting in touch! My email is

  11. Thank you so much for posting this! I am going through the application process for an ETA position in Norway, and reading your old posts has been astronomically helpful in trying to learn what to expect if I get in. More than half a decade later and you're still helping people...