Friday, August 12, 2011

Oriented in Oslo

Yesterday I flew to Oslo. The USA-Norway Fulbright Foundation brought everyone in for an orientation. I met the four other people who will be living in Bergen. There are two other young women: Sarah is studying flute, and Ruth is researching climate change. Davin, a professor of digital culture, brought his young family of three boys plus a pregnant wife to Bergen. I also met Nat Wallace, the professor I will be working with on American lit seminars. He could not be more professorial. I think we’ll get along quite well –the absent-minded professor is a type with which I click.

There are 32 people in this year’s Fulbright program in Norway. Only 26 came to the orientation, since the rest are arriving mid-year. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, it became hilariously clear that about two-thirds come from Minnesota in one way or another. Many have Norwegian ancestry. Never before have I felt quite so short, or quite so un-blond.

Fulbrighters fooling around behind the Domkirk

The orientation on the first day was mostly about adjusting socially to Norway. The day ended with a reception at the US ambassador’s residence. Nice place. I might ditch academia and decide to become an ambassador instead. I met the guy for a moment, just enough time for me to mention Ohio and him to cheer for Michigan, at which point I promptly decked him. Just kidding. They gave all us Fulbrighters a glass of cider, directions to the free bar, and instructions to mingle with the very important people in the crowd (I met the Norwegian Director of Education) since Norwegians are shy. It wasn’t the best advice; most of us were not only jet-lagged but also hadn’t eaten for several hours, so the beer mixed poorly with the socializing. Still, nobody did anything too offensive (as far as I can remember).
The ambassador’s house. Nah, just kidding—this is where King Harald V lives

We gathered, glasses in hand, for several speeches. Paeter Ness, the director of Fulbright Norway, surprised me by pointing me out as the first ever ETA in Bergen—apparently if it goes well, they’re going to try to expand to Trondheim and Tromse too. I proudly looked down at my shaking hand and tried not to fall over from exhaustion. Then they herded us into a picture and let us sit down.

That green man in the picture is Ibsen

The second day was the really useful day, with finances and travel grants and health insurance covered. We went over how the bit about not freaking out at prices, and not converting everything to dollars. Kevin, the financials guy, explained that if we must, we should convert using purchasing power as our metric, instead of the 5 to 1 that the kroner meets the dollar at. This means that there’s roughly 10 kroner to every dollar: two hundred NOK buys the same amount of stuff as 20 bucks. Much better than thinking of a liter of milk as costing two dollars and fifty cents.

After the orientation, Kara (a woman who will be up in Svalbard doing research, and who has to take a shotgun with her every time she leaves the settlement in case of polar bears) and I went to the National Gallery to see what we could see. It was small, but select. The Norwegian pictures were especially intriguing. We amused ourselves by choosing art that the other had to pose like:


Um, yeah, we kind of live here. !!!

Then I hightailed it over to the kosher store in Oslo. After an extended discussion with the guard, during which I gradually slipped out of English until I was surprised to find myself speaking entirely in Hebrew to prove myself a true-blue Jew, I was allowed in. I bought peanut butter, matzah ball mix, and brunøst, or goat cheese. One for each of the places I have lived (you match ‘em up). A woman I met there had done research on Jewry in Bergen, and I think everyone will be surprised to know that there are 150 Jews in Bergen! Mostly Israeli, she said. I am in the process of linking up, and will let you know when I’ve established contact.

I finally got to try the goat cheese everyone else had snacked on at our presentation of Norwegian foods at the Foreign Diplomacy office. The resemblance to peanut butter is entirely coincidental: it tastes like caramel.

Finally, home sweet home. Which looks like this:

And the view from my window looks like this:
That's the ugly view, because the real mountains are behind me.
I live in a nice place.

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