Anna Bochnak, Poland – University of Bergen

Photo: Ingunn Rauk

Anna Bochnak, Poland – University of Bergen

Written by: Ingunn Rauk

Photo: Ingunn Rauk

A wish to spend her time better and do something completely different led Anna (24), or Anka amongst friends, to Norwegian studies and the University of Bergen.

- It was really quite a coincidence that I landed on Norwegian studies back at my home university, Anka explains in fluent Norwegian.

- After high school I studied philosophy for a year, but I found I had so much spare time I should find another subject to fill up my schedule. I’ve always loved learning new languages, and Norwegian was one of the more exotic options, so I went for that. And I’ve never looked back, Anka smiles.


Norwegian studies in the cradle of Poland

Anka finished her bachelor’s degree in Norwegian studies at the University of
Pozna?, learning about Norwegian history, geography and culture apart from the language. She took the opportunity to deepen her knowledge by starting off her master’s degree with one semester in Bergen, greatly encouraged by her teachers to go abroad. Here she studies Nordic languages and onomastics, or the study of names, at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Bergen.

The Erasmus exchange programme gave her three options of study cities: Oslo, Trondheim and Bergen.

- I ended up here because Oslo to me felt a little too big and cold, whereas Trondheim could receive only one student and I knew one of my classmates was going there. I had also been in Bergen once before and found it very pretty with a nice atmosphere.


A Hitchhiker’s Guide to… Stavanger?

Anka planned to go to Bergen while she was a summer school student in Kristiansand in 2009. With a friend she decided to go hitchhiking to see the capital of the Norwegian West. They only managed to get halfway, and ended up at a Farmer’s Market in Stavanger. The same day they went back.

- I like experiences like that, when you just go with no expectations of what will happen other than hoping it’s going to be fun. And it was! Anka laughs.

A couple of years ago she did something similar when she went on a road trip in Ukraine and Moldova with her boyfriend. After three weeks on the road, with no previous knowledge of Russian, she was able to make herself understood and could communicate with the locals.

- I would probably not have gone there alone, but I think this is what travel is all about, meeting new people and enlarging your worldview a bit. Being an exchange student provides you with a formal as well as a social and cultural education, I think.


Bergen: Theory and practice

Anka made sure to educate herself on Bergen before she came here as well. Most of the information she needed she found at her faculty in Pozna?, where the teachers know a lot about the Norwegian educational system from their own experience. Anka had been in Bergen on a school trip at 17, and remembered spots such as Bryggen/the Harbour and the fish market.

- At Norwegian studies we also learn quite a lot of cultural and political history, so I had basic knowledge of the Hanseatic merchants, the Black Death and so on, and of course I knew a thing or two about contemporary Norwegian society.

However, as an exchange student you are bound to face a few surprises and challenges along the way, and Anka’s first week in Bergen was very hectic and a bit confusing, she says.

- Luckily I got a lot of help from my classmates with practical things such as reserving a desk in the master students’ reading room. I also asked around for activities and organisations to join, because I wanted to work out a structure for my everyday life here as soon as I could.


Kolokwium vs kollokvie

Although Anka is a well-organised student and used to working out a timetable for herself, the Norwegian study methods posed a challenge to her. In Poland, students are expected to attend more lectures and are tested and supervised more frequently than here. The concept of non-supervised lessons was foreign to Anka.

- In Polish, ‘kolokwium’ refers to unannounced tests or assignments to check that the students have done their homework. Very different from the Norwegian ‘kollokvie’ which means you meet with your classmates to talk about what you have read! she laughs.

- It took a little while for me to get the concept, and sometimes I find myself missing a ‘Big Brother’ watching over me, but I think it’s a good way of testing your self-discipline and level of ambition.


Running up that hill – or walking?

In general, Anka is impressed with how hard Norwegians study at the university. She has also noticed a high interest in sports activities among her fellow students.

- I’m amazed at how everyone seems to be involved in some kind of sports on their free time, several times a week. I went to the Royal Residence ‘Gamlehaugen’ with a friend who is also an exchange student. We were walking, but everyone else going there was running! It was funny to watch. It’s a little foreign to me that people will drive to one place only to run to another. And some days ago I saw roller skis for the first time! Anka laughs.

From the small town of Maków Podhala?ski, located in a mountainous area close to Kraków, Anka is used to go hiking. With just two lectures a week, she has a lot of ‘free’ time to distribute, and she tries to make room for the Bergen mountains once a week. Løvstakken is a favourite.

- I went there with a group of other international students on a trip organised by Study Bergen, and it was so amazing. The sun was just setting and the whole atmosphere was magic. I love the view you have of the city from there, Anka smiles.  


Join the cultural scene

Some spots along the hiking routes remind her of the mountains back home, making her miss Poland but also appreciating the opportunities Bergen offers her in terms of things to do in her spare time. Apart from hiking, Anka attends yoga twice a week, goes swimming at the Students’ Centre and goes to pilates, all activities available through the Student Welfare Organisation in Bergen (SiB).

Most of her days are spent in the reading room if she does not have lectures, so Anka’s schedule is quite full. She had a hard time choosing from the vast array of activities and organisations you can join as a student in Bergen.

- There was so much I wanted to do! In Poland I sang in a choir and was part of a theatre group, and I really wanted to follow that up this semester. Sadly I had to face the fact that there will be no time for choir while I’m here, but I joined Immaturus. I’m in their dance theatre group, and it’s great!

Immaturus is the student theatre organisation and one of a handful of organisations connected with Kvarteret, the student culture house in Bergen. Anka has also explored the cultural scene from an audience’s point of view.

- I went to a few museums and concerts during the Culture Night early in September. It was a great opportunity to discover some of the cultural treasures hidden inbetween the Bergen houses. Especially the Leper Museum was fascinating in a slightly disturbing way.

All international students coming to Bergen receive a welcoming package with a coupon giving free entrance to many of Bergen’s cultural institutions for the first two weeks.

- This was very useful and I got to see many places. The only thing I’m sad about is I missed the violin player Ole Bull’s home at Lysøen, but maybe I’ll go there some other day. Maybe next year, I heard the spring is beautiful here so I will try to visit then.


Exchange experiences

For the semester she is here, Anka’s home is Fantoft. In the beginning she shared her flat with a Lithuanian exchange student who left shortly after Anka came, and now her kitchen and bathroom is shared with a German girl.

- It’s a nice and cheap place to live for a few months. You can easily go hiking from there and the city tram makes it easy to get to and from the city centre. If I was staying longer I might try to find a place in the centre as it’s more practical. But as a short-term exchange student, I find Fantoft a great place to make friends and contacts fast, as most people here share a certain set of experiences.


Aniusia, Anka, Ania…

The intensive social life as an exchange student has given Anka a network of relations in different fields of student life. This is useful for the assignment she is working on in the Nordic studies course in onomastics, i.e. the study of names. Anka wants to compare Polish and Norwegian first names. Through a survey handed out to classmates, fellow members of the dance theatre group and friends of friends, she hopes to find out which trends are dominant in parents’ choices of names, whether they name their children after older relatives, if they are inspired by their national roots and which names are more popular. Name traditions in general are a bit different in the two countries.

- In Poland we have a more flexible use of people’s birth names. The name on my birth certificate and passport is Anna, but most people call me Anka or Ania. If I was elderly I might be referred to as Anna, while as a baby maybe Aniusia or Aneczka. Our names can say more about us as people than Norwegian names, Anka thinks.


The Bergen problem that isn’t really a problem

Anka has been to a few other cities in Norway, and would like to go further north in the future. Lofoten in the midnight sun is a dream destination. Her visit here has made her aware of how much her temper is affected by the weather conditions.

- I was surprised to find that the rain actually made me feel depressed in the beginning, she says. – But it’s always changing, and you really learn to appreciate it when the sun is shining. Everyone goes out to enjoy it while it lasts, it’s so nice to see.

And according to Anka’s friends living in Stavanger, Bergen citizens are more happy and outgoing, so perhaps the weather has the opposite effect in the long run. Anka is sad to be leaving after just six months.

- I already know there are many people here I will miss!


Career moves

The exchange programme she is currently on has tempted Anka to continue with Erasmus after her degree is completed.

- I might apply for a scholarship which involves working the first year in one country, and the second year in another.

She may also continue her part-time job as a Norwegian teacher for Polish workers coming here.

- It’s nice to be able to help where it’s needed. But whether I have a fixed income or work more periodically, I will probably take every opportunity I have to travel and see new parts of the world.

For future students coming to Norway and Bergen, Anka has a piece of advice.

- Make the most of your stay here. You don’t have to sit in your room at Fantoft when there is so much you can do and be part of here. Even if it’s raining, maybe especially then, it’s important to go out and meet people, Anka smiles.

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