ESC on a Norwegian island

I’ve just finished my Master. I don’t know exactly which job I want or could do, but I know for sure that I want to travel. Last year, I was living in Bologna, Italy, as an Erasmus + student. This year, I want to go to Norway.

I found this project on the European Solidarity Corps website. It took place on a little island called Solund, two hours from Bergen. It was exactly what I was searching for. I applied, and after an interview, I was accepted. I spent the next two months preparing. Since I am a volunteer, I didn't have to find an accommodation, but I needed to buy warmer clothes. I began to learn Norwegian on Duolinguo, and I read more about the culture and history of the country.

My new boss came to meet me and the other volunteer at Bergen. During the first weeks, she introduced us to the island and its inhabitants. I was surprised by how nice and welcoming everybody was.

Now, nine months after the beginning of my project, I cannot walk in the street without saying hello to someone I know.

My work includes different tasks. I spent most of my time at Gjenbruket, our café and second-hand shop – and the main meeting place in the village. We sell coffee and waffles, and on Thursday we serve lunch. I also help at the skolekantine and the kulturskole(a painting activity with a group of 6/8 years old kids). One of the special things about Solund is its islands, because we have a lot of them. Every Wednesday, I go to Litle Færøy, where I learn about the coastal Norwegian culture, for example historical techniques of house and boat construction. Around twice a month, I go to Gåsvær, to help with the wild sheep and learn traditional Norwegian recipes. I’m also working at the events of the village: parties for the youths, our light festival in November, the national day … And with the beginning of the touristic season, new activities are starting. I help the visitors, and soon I’ll take part in the summer activities for the children, for example kayaking.

But being a volunteer also gives me access to a whole bunch of opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise. In September and again in April, I sailed on a sailboat for a beach-cleaning activity. In January, I joined the school’s ski trip. And two weeks ago, I have taken part in the cleaning of Utvær Fyr, the westernmost lighthouse in Norway.

At first, learning the language was difficult. It’s very different from French, and even with the two-hours lessons every week it took me a lot of time to dissociate the words and understand them. But now, I can have a conversation in Norwegian without too much problem. Some of the people I work with are not very good in English (the children, for example), so we decided to try and only communicate in Norwegian. At first it was very tiring, because I had to translate everything in my head, but now it’s more natural. And I'm happy we’ve done it: it's the main reason why I am now able to speak the language. And even though it wasn’t necessary, it makes creating connections with people easier. I can also tell that the Norwegians are really happy that I spend time learning their dialect (Nynorsk, in this part of Norway).

Beside the language, I have acquired so many skills, both during my working and free time. For example, I've started knitting, I learned how to do the hosebånd for the Bunad, split wood with an ax… This year, I have discovered so many new things about myself (who knew I would like working outside, or with children?). In Solund, I have been fully immersed in a new culture. In my time in Norway, I have traveled a lot, both privately and with the project (the arrival- and mid-term seminars bring me to Balestrand and Oslo).

I wanted to come in this country for its culture, but what I really fell in love with was its people. It’s in part because I live on a small island, but I will always be shocked by how friendly and helpful everybody is. If I need something, I know I’ll find someone to help me. Everybody is so willing to make me discover their culture, and I don’t think one year will be enough to discover all that Norway has to offer.

Written by:

Juliette Bossut