Boy, did I find out who my friends were...
Stardate: 15 December 2009.
Location: Oslo Airport Gardermoen.
I’m sitting at a “Boston Burger” joint in the airport, still trying to shake myself awake after a dreadful 4AM wakeup call at my London hostel. Josh and I had closed down the Lyric pub in Soho and then some, having an absolutely marvelous time with our Australian and Bristolian barkeeps – the double-decker bus ride home was never so entertaining.
In front of me is a long-awaited treat:
That’s right! They were a little pale, but as each burger was specified to be delivered with a “real pickle” I was certain I had finally found my first non-sweet pickle in Norway.
Alas, the first bite showed me that I’d have a few weeks yet to wait. Blast.
Pickles polished off (and Norwegian bartender thoroughly confused by my request – but I assume that went without saying), I found an electrical outlet (my laptop battery finally giving out after four months of 220 V power) and settled into my Numerical Simulations review. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was writing my last final the day AFTER my flight back to Tromsø and the day BEFORE my flight out of Tromsø. I was starting to comprehend the packed nature of the next few days ahead, but was confident in my ability to pack after my morning exam.
But then there was the matter of that nagging itch at the back of my throat…
NO SOUP FOR YOU!
After steadily declining through the evening of study and packing (except my stress level, of course – that was hardly declining), I awoke on the morning of the 16th in hardly the ideal state to write an exam. Packing to the last minute, I just caught the last bus to the university and made it to my exam with about ten minutes to spare.
And the door was locked.
Numerical Simulations was my first formal written examination (the previous three having been written) and I hadn’t quite grasped the severity of the Norwegian exam proceedings.
- I was to be there fifteen minutes ahead of time (no exceptions).
- I was not to speak upon entering the exam room.
- I was to only have escorted bathroom privileges (with the right to close a door but not to lock it) and to only use examination bathrooms kept under lock and key under all times of the year.
- My bag was not to be near me, my pockets were to be empty, and God help me if they detected the hint of a cell phone.
- All examinations were to be performed in black ink (blue was not accepted, pencils were outright scorned), all pages were to be numbered precisely, and all materials were to be assembled promptly before the examination period ended (a page unstapled or stapled incorrectly at the end of the three hours was not accepted for grading).
These rules (which I’m attempting to remember and believe are correct) were only a select few of the thick page of legalese that was posted to each and every table. For a country that had shown me the effectiveness of casual lecture and examination, this was a complete shock.
(editor’s note: the actual rules can be found at Exam Rules).
Luckily, a few of my Norwegian friends quickly convinced the moderators that I was in the right place, and I settled in to my examination.
But my blood pressure still hadn’t reached its peak.
About ten minutes into the exam, one moderator passed me a note in broken English that informed me I was forbidden from writing the exam due to a failure to complete all compulsory assignments, and was to cease writing at once.
As calmly as I could, I scrawled back a note indicating my confusion and opinion that I had indeed completed all assignments. The reply came: “Your name is Alex, correct?”
Whew. With relief, I informed her she had the wrong student, and I was able to resume writing in piece. I would like the record to state that this was not Alex from Austria – as far as I know, he crushed his examinations, including an absolutely masterful performance in Plasma Physics where the examiners were completely unable to pose a question he could not answer.
After a relatively straightforward final, I caught up with Vidar and Jørgen (this being our common class) and they presented me with two of my favourite Tromsø mementos as a Christmas gift. My lovely Tromsøkalendar still hangs on the wall (having brought a little piece of Norway into my house all this past year – AND with pictures by none other than Odd-Erik Garcia, my Plasma professor), while my “Harry Potter” (named by my aunt Tara) red & white Tromsø IL football scarf remains my favourite piece of winter gear and is displayed proudly during the summer months.
MAD DASH DOWNTOWN
Exams all finished, the real race began. Jørgen and Vidar picked up on my progressing sickness (I was completely wiped after that examination) and advised me to take it easy, but I still had souvenirs to buy, money to change, and errands to run (including a special postcard to the Sherven family of Wilcox, kindly forwarded by the postmaster at their ancestral home of Skjervøy). Along the way (specifically at the “World’s Best Souvenir Shop”) I ran into a few members of Team Germany. The concern on their faces was clear, and they too recommended some bedrest. Would that I had more time…
However, there was a great blessing to be had: today (on the very last day it could have arrived) a long-awaited care parcel arrived! A kindly returned favour from a friend of the family in Regina, it was so large it had been sent by boat and I had been greatly concerned that it would not make it. But boy, was it worth waiting for:
Maple syrup, maple cookies, Tim Hortons hot chocolate & coffee, Vancouver 2010 swag, and a great selection of pins, hats, and flags – more than enough for my Christmas present.
As it turned out, the trickiest thing would be to give it all away in the short half-day I had remaining. Luckily, Oksana and Mikhail were just a few steps away:
I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to condense my entire room into my two suitcases. Even though I’d been steadily giving appliances, kitchenware, and accessories away to my friends around Tromsø (offhand I recall Tomek and Raimo benefiting well), I still had an absolute plethora of STUFF and I couldn’t get rid of it! In addition, I spent hours scrubbing my room to military-specification in order to get my deposit back (including a good hour and a half in the bathroom) – I was more than a little unimpressed when the review at 2:30 PM (which I passed) didn’t even enter the bathroom.
The hour set for Alex Murr’s farewell dinner at Prestvannet approached far too quickly and I was beginning to despair that I would ever leave Tromsø with my sanity. Coupled with the fact that I was beginning to be as sick as a veritable dog, my last night was hardly looking to be a fun one at all.
And then: my rescuers appeared.
A FRIEND IN NEED…
I can’t even begin to express my undying gratitude for what happened next.
Alex, Pierre-Marie, and Vit arrived at my room. My luggage (two large bags, a carry-on duffel, and a laptop backpack) was chock-full, but there were still things EVERYWHERE. School supplies, appliances, kitchenware, and food, food, food! I’d been doing my best to eat down, but still! My desk was positively covered with things still to pack, and I was a wreck.
Led by Pierre-Marie’s cries of “Throw it away!” (which I can still hear to this day), the three of them charged through my room and helped me decide on everything (in many cases, help meant deciding for me). Alex sorted through the kitchenware and appliances (taking much of it for the Prestvannet community kitchens), Pierre-Marie picked his way through the food, and Vit and I looked through my school supplies (again saving the useful things). Any food, malfunctioning appliance (which I tend to keep as they can still be useful) and schoolwork deemed unworthy (the VAST majority of it) was gleefully binned by PiM.
After a solid hour, we managed to get my room into a state where everything was packed and weighed (thanks to the girls down the hall) and we were able to head to Prestvannet for the single best Norwegian meal I had in Tromsø.
And it was cooked by an Austrian.
I kid you not. Alex took it upon himself to cook the entirety of the traditional Norwegian lutefisk meal, having never so much as eaten it himself. Not only that, but he invited so many of us to share it with him, and cooked nearly all of it himself:
As for my first taste of lutefish? Well, for fish prepared with lye, it wasn’t half bad. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely exhausted at this point – I would welcome the chance to try it again under different circumstances.
This meal stands out in my memory – I felt so welcome, so cared for, and cannot imagine how my day would have proceeded if it hadn’t been for this amazing group of friends. I remember tearful farewells, tight blue bear hugs, and more emotion for these people than I could ever have believed possible. Finally, I remember the exchange of Christmas and farewell trinkets. Pierre-Marie and Marie gave me some wonderful French tinned fish (which I saved until my following birthday) while Alex was kind enough to give us some rich Austrian chocolate (is there any food they can’t make?). I was able to thank my saviours with the spoils from the day’s care package – Vit in particular was pretty pleased:
After dinner and many farewells, a small contingent of us went back to Elverhøy for the last time to grab a few extra things (hockey sticks and gifts) that I was taking to Vidar’s for the night but not taking on with me (Vidar having kindly offered to put me up for the night). It seemed strange that it took so many of us to carry one person’s luggage, but I hadn’t had the chance to employ the all-important vacuum bags to my clothing and was unable to walk the dozen blocks by myself.
Having gone incredibly far beyond the call of duty, it was there on Kong Haakon VII’s Gate that I said farewell to some of my fondest friends in Norway. After a short wait, Vidar arrived to let me in and I hobbled my sorry carcass up his stairs, presented him with a few tokens of my appreciation:
and after perusing the single greatest 3D mapping app every (kart.finn.no), flopped onto his couch for one last Mackøl:
In spite of everything, I had survived my last full day in Tromsø.
SERENDIPITY – LITTLE RAYS OF SUNSHINE
I do apologize for the tone of the last section, but I was trying my best to convey the despair and utter gratitude that I felt as the day progressed. I promise, the story gets better from here.
In comparison to the previous day, the plan for 17th of January was nice and simple. Head to the university to withdraw my room deposit, return for my luggage, bump on over to the airport, and catch the flight out of Tromsø bound for Oslo. I pulled it all off without a hitch, even running into Jana and Marc at the airport – Jana in particular was very happy to see me alive after the run-in downtown as I was coughing and wheezing.
In fact, my day was blessed by two amazing co-incidences:
- Upon arrival at the university, I was reminded that I would need to return my laundry card to receive my deposit back. I swore silently to myself, as I was convinced my laundry card had stayed in the Ziploc bag with my Bounce sheets as it had all term. However, on opening my wallet to retrieve some cash, I discovered that very same card! This small piece of luck saved me the great hassle of attempting to have NOK 3000 wired across the ocean.
- In the Oslo airport, I elected to leave one suitcase behind and only travel with the second (the airport being some distance from town). I was about to leave the airport when I realized I hadn’t grabbed my Canadian flag giveaways for Rob (my former hockey teammate we had caught up with in Oslo so long ago). Returning to the bag checkout, I was informed that I had left my clipboard behind – the one with my passport and plane tickets. It turned out the flags in question weren’t even in the second suitcase (they had been left at Vidar’s), but the need to return from them saved me a potential Christmas in Oslo.
Someone was watching out for me, that much was certain.
In such a rush to leave, I was barely able to say a proper farewell to my home for the last four and a half months. It was only once I collapsed into my seat on the plane that I was able to gaze out the window at the beautiful Tromsøya lights in mørketid. This place had changed my life forever, cleaving it so firmly in two that the life I have returned to in Canada bears little resemblance to the one I left. My approach to life, my self-knowledge and self-confidence, my appreciation for the many great gifts on this planet, so many things have changed. The experiences exploring, studying, and collaborating a new country have opened new doors for me at home and abroad, and given me wonderful memories to draw on and to inspire new adventures.
But above all, I will cherish forever the friends I made on that little Arctic island. Some I have had the good fortune to cross paths with again, some I have kept in touch with via the wonders of technology, and some are still on my to-write list. But all of them, all of them helped me learn what a beautiful world this is, a world that contains so many stories and people, each of them adding their own piece to the mosaic of the human race. They continue to enrich my life with postcards, Christmas cards, letters, and e-mails, and if any of them are reading this, I offer my heartfelt and overwhelming gratitude for turning a simple student exchange into the unrivalled experience of a lifetime.
However, it would be a foolhardy claim indeed to suggest that all of this crossed my sleep-deprived cold-addled mind as I huddled in that SAS airplane seat. I hadn’t yet forgone practical though for reflection; after all, I still had to make it back to Canada in once piece.
This is Adam-In-Norway, signing off (in spirit) for the last time from Tromsø, Troms, Norway.