Balancing Life Abroad and Daniel Woods

When you imagine a semester abroad, you tend to imagine all the fun and amazing things that you will do abroad. But there are still a lot of responsibilities that you need to take care of while you are abroad. This weekend ended up really being the first weekend where I knew that I needed to hang low and get stuff done, which kind of sucks when you just want to explore around you. While I may have been really busy with school last year at Iowa State, I find that the Norwegian University model is just genuinely less time consuming and so I end up with a lot more free time, which, since this is my semester abroad, ends up being exactly what I want. Some tend to take this model too far; like my roommate from Vienna and his saying that “The sole reason exchange exists is to party and have fun” and then end up underperforming at school. But then others will also go and spend way too much of their time abroad studying for school or binging on Netflix, etc etc. So it’s definitely critical that you find a right balance and make sure that you take care of business but also enjoy yourself and your environment. Although just judging from all the Exchange/Erasmus students that I have met here so far, it seems like it is much more common for people to fall into the party too much category. But really I just kind of thought about this whole balance thing this weekend because while I had to lay low, my friend went on a climbing trip to Flatanger (famous climbing place) that I also was going to go on, but had to drop out. But not only did he go to Flatanger and climb stuff, turns out my favorite professional climber (Daniel Woods) was there with a big group of really great and well known climbers. Talk about a bummer, but still you have to prioritize the right things and as much as I would love to watch Daniel Woods climb, that doesn’t really factor into my long term goals that much. So I’m still holding out hope that the weather will be nice enough again that I can go there and take a crack at Illusionist, the 5.15c that Adam Ondra set out there, but….. I’m not very optimistic about my chances of getting anywhere on it. But still it would be cool to say I gave it a try, even if it is well above my ability. Like well well well above my ability. Like its actually impossible for me to complete without a couple very serious rocky scenes. Oh Well.

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Adventures in Iceland

Before I started looking for flights to Trondheim, I realized that I wanted to take spend a little bit of time traveling somewhere else in Europe on the way to Trondheim. It makes heaps of sense to do it then, when I would already need to be traveling and also saves lots of money versus trying to fly out of Trondheim or doing it later in my life. Places that I looked at to as a place to visit on the way were Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Paris, big name cities you know. However I found that it was still very expensive to fly to these places even on the way to Trondheim, London was especially expensive. Eventually I thought of going to Iceland because I have heard that it is really spectacular, and have always wanted to visit. After looking at flights it turns out that it was actually cheaper for me to fly into Reykjavik and then to Trondheim than any of the other options I had seen up to that point. If you then add on the money I spent in Iceland for accommodations, travel, food, and excursions; It really only cost me around 300$ more than the flight without any stop. So $300 for 4 nights in Iceland is terrific! So on August 4th, I flew early in the afternoon from Minneapolis to New York. Then from New York I flew straight to Reykjavik. The flight from New York to Reykjavik was the longest flight of my life up until that point, and I have never crossed so many time zones in my life. When we landed in Reykjavik, it was around 8 am local time and I hadn’t slept at all on the flights over to Iceland, so naturally I was very tired and was ready to rest a little. I got on a bus that would take me from the airport into the city and to my hostel which is about 45 minutes away. Unfortunately we could not check into the hostel until 3pm local time, which meant that we couldn’t rest for quite a while. Thankfully the hostel let us drop off our luggage in their storage so that we didn’t have to carry that around with us until check in time. So my friend and I wandered around Reykjavik in a stupor, just trying to explore the city a little and get a feel for it. The first day we saw a lot of really cool things, but it was hard to be very excited when we were dragging our bodies around having been awake for around 26 hours(and not an easy 26 hours, some stressful times when we thought that we might miss our flight from NY, due to an error on our plane tickets). Eventually we checked in and told our family that we were alive and then went back out into the city to get dinner and see a couple more things. When we got back we passed out actually fairly late, around 11 I think. We both ended up sleeping a while but my friend Austin was hit by the jet lag pretty hard and ended up sleeping for almost 13 hours! We got a pretty late start on the next day because we both slept so long, but the weather really nice so it was a great day to spend seeing more time exploring the city! We (unbeknownst to us) arrived right at the start of Iceland’s biggest holiday, gay pride week (It’s really cool that their most celebrated holiday is gay pride week!). So there were lots of events and activity in the street surrounding that and it made the place feel extra lively and busy! Up until that point exploring Reykjavik had really been the only thing that we had done in Iceland, and while Reykjavik is a really cool city, we knew that the best thing about Iceland was going to be its natural beauty outside the city. We didn’t have any pre booked excursions for Iceland that ended up being a great thing for us because what we would’ve booked, would have been either not really what we wanted, or far too expensive when there are cheaper options. So the second night we booked an excursion to the Þórsmörk Nature Reserve for the next day. We left for Þórsmörk the morning of our third day by bus, and it was around 4 hours travel time to get to our final destination, but we made a couple stops along the way at the spectacular Seljalandsfoss waterfall, here is a picture I took of it:Picture of Seljalandsfoss

Then we stopped at a glacier that was on the way, the glacier however had been mostly melted the last time the mountain, Eyjafjallajökull, had erupted in 2010 and so it was just now getting back to size. Arriving at Þórsmörk is very surreal, just crazy dramatic changes in landscape and everything was so striking and impressive. Here is a picture of the landscape from the top of a peak:

Þórsmörk Nature Reserve

We spent most of the day at Þórsmörk and then we left around 5 to get back to our hostel around 7:30. We were on the hunt for things to do for the next day and were about to book the typical golden circle tour when we ran into a an American guy from Michigan that was working in Reykjavik at the Marmot store there, he gave us some amazing advice on a great trip that is very inexpensive. On his advice, we took the city bus to a ferry harbor, and then the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar, we spent the day on Vestmannaeyjar before taking the ferry back to the mainland and then the bus back to Reykjavik. Vestmannaeyjar was absolutely amazing and just blew my mind. The islands were created in violent volcanic eruptions and then the sea eroded all the soft rock and left only the harder rock, which creates very dramatic cliffs that meet the sea. But then on the islands there are lots of different peaks on the main island, which we were on. We spent the day walking around the island exploring it, and then we climbed to the top of all but 2 or 3 peaks on the island. The scenery there is very  and I definitely recommend a visit to Vestmannaeyjar for anyone that is traveling to Iceland. Vestmannaeyjar is actually where I took the header image I have on this blog. I seriously recommend you check out my Flickr linked on the side for more pictures, and then do some google searches as well.

An Island on the way to Vestmannaeyjar

An Island on the way to Vestmannaeyjar

Vestmannaeyjar

Island on the outskirts of Vestmannaeyjar

That night we got back and prepared for our flight the next morning. We had to be up around 5 am to leave for Keflavik International Airport by bus and catch our plane. I loved my time in Iceland but by the 4th day I was extremely worn out and tired. So I was glad to be on my way to Trondheim so I could settle into my room and relax for a day.

Here are some tips for anyone interested in visiting Iceland:

  • Food in Iceland is stupid expensive, to get around this we either bought food from the supermarkets there or what we ended up doing a ton especially because we were traveling around the country was that we ate at gas stations. The gas stations provide significantly less expensive food and it’s not bad either. Just make sure you know what you are buying, they have a couple of very very odd sandwiches there.
  • Figure out how to use the city busses if you are in Reykjavik, they are much cheaper than the busses that are operated by the excursion companies. They are the yellow busses that drive around.
  • The best way to experience Iceland is definitely to rent a car and then drive whats called the Ring Road in Iceland. This allows you to see much more of the island than otherwise and is pretty cost efficient, the only thing is that to do this you want at least 7 days to fully explore the island and something like 10 days would be better.
  • Everything in Iceland feels very very safe (and it is!). We felt more than comfortable enough to walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods at odd times, or to fall asleep on the long bus rides through the lowlands, as well as we never felt threatened at the hostel either.

That about wraps up my Iceland experience, I’d give it a solid 9/10 rating, the only downside is just how expensive busses and food is there. Also we got pretty lucky with weather and had temps around 22 C every day with little cloud cover, not very common for weather there.

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Aurora Borealis

The last week we have had absolutely spectacular views of the Auroras, and honestly I have fallen in love with them. They are so beautiful, very vibrant red, greens, and purples. Kinda like thousands of needles dancing round in the sky. I think what actually surprised me the most about them though was the fact that they move very quickly! They really do flow like a river and as quickly as they appeared they can disappear. It’s just become a fact of life that whatever I’m doing when I get word that the lights are out gets dropped and I run outside with my coat on, definitely not good for my sleep schedule. The Norwegians have been telling me that seeing the Auroras as well as we have been is very unusual for this part of the year, usually the skies don’t clear up enough to see them until much later in the winter. Here is a cool pic my friend grabbed of them a couple nights ago. northern lights

All credit to Gareth Rowe for the pic

Expect my big post on Iceland very soon!

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How do you get to Norway?

That seems like it would be an easy question to answer. What I imagined before I was deep in the study abroad process: 1. get accepted to NTNU  2. Book a plane ticket from Des Moines to Trondheim 3. Arrive in Trondheim. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right? …WRONG. Getting everything set up for my arrival in Norway turned out to be a major source of stress and caused a lot of distress particularly over the summer (worth it though!). While the basic process doesn’t look too much different from how I imagined it, all the details really come back to beat ya down. It went something like this for me:

  1. Apply for study abroad at ISU
  2. Get accepted for Study abroad program
  3. Find classes that transfer over from NTNU to ISU
  4. Cancel any housing plans you had for the time you will be gone
  5. Apply to NTNU
  6. Get acceptance from NTNU
  7. Apply for residence with Norway
  8. Apply for Housing in Trondheim
  9. Get confirmation of residence and housing
  10. Book plane tickets over to Trondheim
  11. Pack your bag and get on a plane
  12. Arrive in Trondheim
  13. Go to the police station to have your fingerprint entered into a database
  14. Pick up residence card from your University

So…. Thats a long list of things to do over the course of a couple months while also having a full time job and dealing with school. So I guess I just want to touch on each of these points a little bit more, share my experience, and maybe save someone else the frustration in the future.

  1. Applying for the study abroad program will differ from university to university, but at Iowa State it was fairly thorough and was honestly at least 20 times as involved as actually getting accepted to Iowa State University(30 min application and received acceptance later that afternoon). Which is good I guess since they don’t want to send schmucks abroad while representing Iowa State. The nice thing about this process though was that all the information and the steps were very cleanly laid out and there wasn’t really any confusion. This part was not too bad
  2. “Congratulations! You were accepted. Now come over here and fill out this paperwork while we hunt down some Norwegians” Once I was accepted the Study Abroad Center has you go to some meetings, some informational sessions, and tries to find someone from the country your going to at ISU so they can answer any questions you have. This part was fun, because you really start to get excited to go.
  3. This part was a complete pain, partly because of the faculties at Iowa State, but mostly because of NTNU. NTNU has an online course catalog, and when you apply at NTNU, you have to put down the classes you want to take while you’re there. Well I spent quite a bit of time searching their site for classes that sounded like they would transfer over as a specific class here, then running around to all the different faculties at Iowa state to get approval forms filled out so I could submit it to my academic adviser. Some faculties were better than others with this process, I found the math and physics departments were easy to work with for this, versus the english department who refused to do any sort of pre approval at all and were apparently tired of answering any questions from students. This part was not fun, but I got it done…
  4. Because I had already signed a lease with a campustown, I got to work with the wonderful people at their office in getting my name taken off the lease, finding someone to replace me, and then getting my deposit back. In all honesty this part was not very difficult and the office really was helpful.
  5. Apply to NTNU! Take your classes you got approved, look at your resume and then rearrange it into a CV, get some notarized photocopies your documents sent over, and send along your transcript from Iowa State. Not that bad, except for the layout of their application site, that thing was uggggglly.
  6. NTNU takes their sweet sweet time with the applications, and then when they finally get around to looking at yours, they look at the classes you want to take and then say “hmmmm, no, you can’t take those.” That starts a back and forth with the head lady of the international house (Sigrid) about what classes you can take, and you have to go back and forth and find more classes. Part of the reason everyone here had problems with this was that we were told to pick our classes from their 2014 catalog since they hadn’t released the 2015 catalog yet. Turns out they didn’t feel the need to update the catalog until after the deadline for the application. Real smart move there NTNU. The real problem with this is that you cant apply for your residence permit until you have received your acceptance from NTNU, and the deadline for a guaranteed permit on time is very soon after when you get your initial acceptance from NTNU.
  7. Because of the delay in getting accepted to NTNU, (resulting from the back and forth I had to do for classes, as well as the fact that the international office lost my email where I sent them a revised class list and then didn’t get back to me for a week!) I got my acceptance letter on the morning of the deadline for the residence permit. Thanks to that, I had to take the day off from work and then immediately drive up to Minneapolis, 4 hours away so I could turn in my papers around 2 pm. Another really lovely part of this process is that Norway requires that you have around 6,500 USD in a norwegian bank account, but you can’t get a Norwegian bank account unless you are a Norwegian citizen, so you just wire away all your money to some barely disclosed bank account owned by the university, with only the promise that you will get a check for it later (They didn’t lie unfortunately, because now I have waaaay to much cash lying around my room because the literal only thing you can do with the check is cash it)
  8. This was an easy choice! Look once at the prices not in the Moholt student village, then look at the prices for Moholt student village. Realize that unless you’re a Saudi Prince you won’t be able to afford anything other than Moholt and apply. You have to again wire some money internationally as a deposit on the apartment.
  9. SIT (the housing agency) actually gets back to you fairly quickly and tells you where you’re going to live and everything. Nice.
  10. Book a plane ticket over to Norway, I decided to leave a week earlier than school started because the prices were cheaper and then opted to spend 4 days in Iceland on the way. Great decision, i’ll have to go into that more later.
  11. This part is very exciting! While I was packing I just kept getting more excited and then when I actually get on the plane it was exciting for the first 15 minutes, then I realized that I had to keep my 6’8″ frame stuffed into that tiny space for the next 8 hours. Not fun.
  12. 5 days late after some adventures in Iceland, I arrived in Trondheim picked up my apartment key from SIT and then proceeded to crash. Having space and a home was nice after Iceland.
  13. The University books a date for you to go down to the police station so they can register your fingerprints in their database (makes it a lot harder to commit international crimes, I can no longer fulfill my dream of being a famous bank robber…) and then send you along your merry way.
  14. I actually just did this today! University sent me an email saying I could pick it up from the international office. Sweet! The process of getting over to Norway has officially ended and now I can just focus on living here.

This post turned into a bit of a mouthful. Honestly I could probably rant for ages about how frustrating certain things were in the process of getting over to Norway. But overall even if certain parts were a pain, it was definitely worth it! I’m only a very short amount of time into my stay here and Norway and I already regret none of it and am very happy that I spent the effort to get over here! Very worth it.

I’m thinking next time I will talk about the time I spent in Iceland on the way over here…

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In the beginning…

Growing up as a child, I always loved exploring the world around me, my “bubble” as I think of it; and I think at as my life went on, I started learning more and more about my bubble, but my bubble was not growing nearly as fast anymore. So at a certain point, you settle in to your bubble and you cease to be surprised and amazed with life around you. So I really saw studying abroad as a chance to expand my bubble and make the most ordinary things around me surprising, exciting, and reinvigorate my creativity and life. While I was most certainly not settled into life yet, having only just started my first year of university at Iowa State, I wanted to jump ahead in the game, because I knew as an engineer I would have to take this opportunity soon, or else it might disappear.

So I moved into trying to figure out where in the world I wanted to study for a semester, I am without a doubt, a bit of geography nerd, and I have spent many a night binge reading Wikipedia articles about every corner of the earth. So instantly I started to fantasize in my head of dramatic landscapes with rich and exciting cultures and histories as places where I could study. So deliberating between the fantasies in my head and the programs offered at Iowa State University, I finally decided that Norway seemed like a good choice as a place to study. To me, Norway had:

1. Dramatic landscapes with fjords, canyons, mountains, and the ocean

2. A rich history going back thousands of years (Trondheim was the capital for the Vikings)

3. A different culture (granted, most any place is going to have a different culture)

4. The most important part, NTNU! The Norwegian University of Science and Technology allows me to not fall behind on my studies and an EE while still being a fun place to live.

 

There were also lots of other smaller aspects that factored into my decision to go to Norway and NTNU, but once I had settled on the place, I kind of sat on it and it got pushed to the back burner as I was consumed by my studies in Ames. I became so focused on studies and projects at ISU that I had entirely forgotten about my plans to study abroad. Then right after winter break I was talking with my friend Austin and he told me how he was going through the application process for studying abroad. I asked him where he intended to study abroad and he said that he was going to Norway. In an instant I remembered exactly all that I had wanted to do earlier, and it consumed me for the next couple nights. Initially part of the reason study abroad was pushed out of my mind was because I assumed that I would not be able to transfer the classes I needed from NTNU because I didn’t need any gen eds, but Austin is a Computer Engineer and shares many of the same classes with me, so I knew that if he was finding classes I should be able to find them as well. So after several long nights of looking for classes and much more in depth research into the study abroad program with NTNU, I was certain that I was going to do it. So I began the long process of getting everything prepared for my semester abroad…

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