''I arrived in Alta, Norway for my exchange program in August of 2023. I spent my first few days exploring the town and settling into my new dorm. At first, I was anxious about talking to people because I didn’t want to make people have to speak English to talk to me, but after realizing that most people had no issue using English, I became more comfortable speaking to people. After a few days, I finally met the other exchange students and began classes.
The culture of Norway and other Nordic countries is very adventurer-friendly, which made it easier to plan, prepare, and complete my outdoor adventures. Norway, Sweden, and Finland each recognize what they call “the right to roam,” which establishes the right of every person to hike, ski, canoe or roam the countryside in any non-motorized way, regardless of whether it is in public or private land. With very few exclusions, the law simply mandates the respect of nature through leave-no-trace. Many municipalities in Norway, including where I stayed in Alta, are also home to a BUA, an organization that loans out recreational equipment to residents (including non-citizens with visas like me) for their adventures completely free of charge.
Excited to go out exploring the countryside as soon as possible, I was quick to visit my local BUA as soon as I learned about it. The first thing I checked out was a packrat, and I spent the next couple of days learning to set it up and practising with it on the Alta fjord, nearby to the shore. After becoming confident in using the pack raft, I packed my camping supplies and paddled to a small island offshore to spend the night. This would be the first of many overnight trips I would take part in while in Norway. I would later go on to make friends with others who share my love of adventure and would join me on other overnight trips to some more distant islands, including Soroya and Seiland.
I would also have many trips with my classmates in our Outdoor Life Activities course where I would get to see even more of Norway’s beautiful landscape and learn more about Norwegian bushcraft and its similarities and differences from Alaskan bushcraft. This made it easier to get to know each of my fellow exchange students. The lifestyle at my university in Norway was one that greatly encouraged students to bond and form friendships. Even though all my fellow students come from different parts of the world, we were all united by our choice to study here. We all lived close together in our student housing, attended the same classes, and worked together on most of our class assignments. Because respect and value for people’s free time is part of the culture of Norway, our class schedule was designed in such a way that all of our trips, coursework, and even group work were planned during the school week. This meant that we were always allowed our own time on the weekends to have our adventures as well.
I eventually got two jobs in Alta, one as a dog sledge guide and another working with another student who was starting her own small business. Working with sledgedogs has been an incredible experience that made me feel more connected to Norwegian culture and has allowed me to meet tourists from all over the world. Working with my friend helping her with her business that provides an outdoor sauna for both locals and tourists has also been a great experience as it has allowed me to swim in the icy cold fjord every week and meet and get to know many local people.
Overall, my experience in Norway has been unforgettable. I have learned things and met people that I never would have before, and it has even helped me come closer to a decision on my uncertain academic and career path. My semester abroad has reaffirmed my passion for adventure, the outdoors, and new experiences''. © Cole Funke