Like I told you, the cycling project for elderly people was meant to start on Monday and even the newspaper and the local broadcast were there to cherish this moment. Artur, May, the mayor and me went for a little trip and the passengers enjoyed it a lot. Some didn’t want to go first, but then they were just curious and tried it themselves. It was really nice to see that :)
Afterwards I joined the småbarnstreff and finally we found new participants. Three mothers and their babies showed up, but they were so young that Almudena and I could not play with them and the mothers had to take care of them all the time, so they just talked to each other. That is why I started reading a Spanish book from Almudena to kill time. I don’t want to say that I felt unpleasant, but I am actually here for working and not to do nothing. And that doesn’t feel good because I am used to work when I have to work – and not just sitting around and waiting for the time to pass… I will give it another try, but I am not sure if I want to do that project through the whole year.
I had the day off at noon and went for a last shopping to buy some stuff for the journey next day. Then I had to pack my bag and while doing so I started being really excited… Balestrand, I am coming!
We started our journey at 11.45 with the first bus to a city called Skei. I was in charge of the money and buying tickets for the four of us. We changed the bus in Sogndal again and met already two other volunteers with whom we reached Balestrand in the late afternoon. It was an amazing journey through the beautiful landscape of Norway (and a lot of sunshine) and I could have sit there for a few more hours, just to enjoy the view :)
In Balestrand we asked some locals for the way and finally we discovered the Sjøtun Camping where we met Gard and Tuba, the organizers of the on-arrival training. They showed us our cabins (I shared one with Barbara, another German girl, one Austrian girl, one Rumanian girl and another Hungarian girl) and we had time to move in and get to know the others who had already arrived. We were sitting outside and talked and talked and talked – it was so much fun and I even received compliments for my French, Spanish as well as English skills (I have to admit that they are not that bad (except Spanish, I am out of practice), but there were lots of people talking much better – however, thank you so much!).
In the evening we went up the hill to Ciderhuset, the place where the on-arrival training took place. We had a delicious dinner and played some funny games to get to know each other better. Afterwards the week plan was introduced to us and we had to sign up for the daily newspaper before we went back to our cabins. Most of the volunteers wanted to sleep and I was kind of exhausted too because I was switching languages all the time, but it was so much fun and I just love to communicate with people in a foreign language! :)
On Wednesday we all met outside for a little energizer after breakfast and did some grouping activities (in our countries of origin, age, our places in Norway...) before we split into six groups and had to present our expectations of the week in a creative way. And people came up with a lot of good ideas ;)
Back in Ciderhuset we split into two groups and had to sit in two circles face to face on the floor. Then the people sitting in the outer circle started drawing their partners, but they had to move on too and that way very funny pictures were created. They hung in the hall on the wall and everybody could see what awful drawers we are :D
After a little break it was time for lunch - unfortunately fish (but I found something else) - and afterwards we prepared presentations with our project members (in my case Artur, Barbara and Oleksandr) about what we are doing in Norway. But it took so long to present all the projects because we were more than 40 people (normally there are less, it is a special arrangement this year), so we could not finish. And there was an important presentation of people from the national agency about Erasmus+ afterwards, so there was no possibility to go on and change plans. But it was nice to hear where people are doing their EVS as well as what their tasks are.
After this long time of listening and sitting around we went outside and Gard did kind of a historic sightseeing tour with us, so we got to know Balestrand better. It is a beautiful place, even though pretty small and isolated as well, but that is just normal here. Tuba already told us in the morning that our definitions of huge and small will change during this year. She may be right ;)
After dinner Gard and Tuba played kind of a theater about the Northern mythologie for us. It ended down in the basement where Ciderhuset is producing alcohol and juice (tasting session!!). Finally we sang a Norwegian lullaby together and it sounded amazing down in that vault cellar. The melody was still roaming around in my head hours later :)
After some left-over presentations from the previous day we went on an amazing mountain trip with Gard and his cousin as guides the next day. The way went straight up the hill, so we had to wait here and there to keep the group together. It was pretty exhausting to move on like this, but it was worth the view. It took some time until we reached the top (and we already split the group in two for those who could not make it any further and wanted to go back), the constant picture-taking was not helping either, but then it was just breathtaking. I have been in the mountains before, but usually you can see green valleys, not fjords all over the place. It was so beautiful and we all appreciated it a lot. But what people would have appreciated as well was a shower... Some of the volunteers never did a hike before and they were pretty exhausted (and not well-prepared too, most of them run out of water) and just wanted to go back. Luckily I was the first one back at the camping area together with Oleksandr because we were walking faster than everybody else. Actually we have been back half an hour earlier before the first guys showed up, so we had plenty of time to take a shower and didn't have to wait (and it is not moving on that fast with two showers…).
After dinner we watched a movie about the Norwegian/Scandinavian society to widen our cultural awareness. Afterwards we discussed it too and I found out that not only in my place Norwegians get stressed out quit fast with their "huge amount of work" they have to fulfill, which would be actually nothing in Germany. Moreover they are really bad in solving problems, getting personal or showing emotions and never want to bother you (that is why they don't call you and don't invite you back after you did because they respect each other and their personal space – even if others may not need that much personal space, they do). And somehow they don't like changes, so it needs a lot of time and patience to achieve something and sometimes you cannot see a result of your work at all during the EVS, but then other volunteers keep going and that way there will be changes. But it takes time, a lot of time. Norway is moving on slowly. They prefer discussing things in a thousand of meetings, but when or if something is going to happen...better don't ask. So it was kind of a critical movie and obviously stereotypes do not match the reality all the time, but we all found some parallels. So Tuba recommended us not to be frustrated when things take time, no participants show up or things like that because it is just the way the system in this country works and how Norwegians are raised. So small numbers are already a success, remember that :)
It was already late at that time, but I still had another task and that was to write the newspaper for the next day. Every day a few people had to do this, like a short report of the day or some gossips, whatever. It was quite difficult to do that together because everybody had their own ideas, but somehow we got it finished and I could go to bed :)
Our fourth day in Balestrand started with a presentation of the Norwegian history like the Vikings, the Independence and so on. But it was not just a talk, instead we split into groups again and presented the most important events in a scenic play. It was so funny to see all those volunteers (who took it very serious) acting in their interesting costumes, trying their best to make it as perfect as possible.
After lunch Gard's father was taking care of us and explained a bit about the work in Ciderhuset, which is surrounded by apple trees. Then we went outside for a few hours to pick apples and people developed very interesting ways to do so, trust me ;)
After a coffee break to recover from the really, really hard work we went to the Norwegian Traveler Museum in Balestrand. It tells the visitors the history about travelling and tourism in Norway, accentuated with amazing pictures. Actually it was nice to see, but very small – like almost everything in this country. That is why we had time left over until the dinner and could do whatever we wanted to do. So I talked to a lot of people like I was doing it all the time, but you just could not get enough of it in this place with all these people :)
As a reward for our work at noon the dinner in the evening was peppered with some bottles of cider from Ciderhuset. It was very tasty and everybody was in a good mood (the alcohol did a great job), maybe that is the reason why it ended in a funny karaoke night. All the different nations sang a song in their language and it was just amazing, we had so much fun!
On Saturday we had a late breakfast for the tired group of volunteers. Even then it needed a little energizer to keep us awake while listening to Tuba who talked about stuff we have to know for our EVS. It took some time and we all were very pleased when it was time for lunch. Another typical Norwegian dish called ‘grøt’, which is rice pudding with meat, was served. Strange combination, but it is quite good, seriously :)
Afterwards we walked to the aquarium in Balestrand, which belongs to some relatives of Gard (that is the reason why we could get inside, even if it was already closed), to learn something about the Norwegian sea life. In addition we could take the boats of the aquarium to go paddling on the fjord. You have an amazing view up to the mountains around and it was just awesome! I shared a canoe with Annika, who had already experience - luckily. It looked like most of the volunteers have never been on the water before, paddling in the wrong direction, crashing into each other, standing up in their boats and stuff like that. Somehow all of us managed to remain in the boats and nobody had a personal experience with the Norwegian sea life in the water. Well, not by accident. Afterwards courageous people went swimming in the fjord and I would have loved to join them, but I already had a cold and didn't want to get it worse. Actually it was smart not to go because half of those people felt a little bit sick the next day...
After dinner we had the evening off and played some games in Ciderhuset like 'Mord in Palermo' – but we didn't even manage to kill one wolf… It was a pity ;)
The last day was a really beautiful one, maybe Balestrand wanted to say goodbye in a proper way. We took the chance and went for a treasure hunt connected to the ‘youthpass’ instead of having a theoretical lesson about it. It was a really nice way to introduce this topic, even if some did not take it as serious as others did (I know walking is more comfortable than running, but to win like this might be difficult...they all regred it later). After we finished we presented with our groups one of the eight key competences of the youthpass (it is a document about what we learned during our EVS to add it to an application for example) to the others, so that we know what is important to mention.
After the lunch a short theoretical part about the insurance (volunteers have a special one during their EVS) took place and then we went on with a forum theater of the oppressed. We saw a scene about discrimination (because of language disabilities) two times, but the second time we could change place with the actors (who were volunteers) and make a difference. It was quite interesting and ended in the most fruitful discussion of the week about racism and refugees, especially in Austria, because one boy (from Austria) said that he is not going back to his country as long as half of the population is voting for a racist Federal President. He even turned towards his own family what is quite impressive in my opinion, but he just can't and doesn't want to live there any longer. Gard and Tuba had to calm down all of us because it was kind of a heated debate.
After everybody had settled down again we were divided into little groups to evaluate the week and rewrite the song we learned. My group took it very serious and prepared a real performance and it was so much fun, I didn't even care about the fact that I am an awful singer ;)
Afterwards it was time to make everything ready for the goodbye dinner and we really did a great job. The room looked amazing and you can imagine that there have been a lot of candles – we really adapted to the Norwegian culture. During the dinner it was time for a delicious cider and the winners of the treasure hunt even got champagne (now you know why the others regretted their laziness later...). Luckily I was one of them ;)
The last introduction to the Norwegian culture has been a traditional dance we learned from Gard and Tuba. Unfortunately I am not only an awful singer – I actually enjoy dancing, but I am really bad at it. Luckily one of the Spanish boys asked me for a dance and he could do it perfectly well, so he managed to make me move in the right direction, even in the rhythm and with the right steps – Enric, you can be so proud of you!
Suddenly Gard and Tuba danced down in the basement where we have been before. Together we made some music – and it sounded so beautiful. Afterwards the songs of the evaluation groups were presented and we got a lot of applause for our performance, it was so cool :)
Back upstairs we danced all night, but changed a little bit more to the normal disco dancing – just everybody goes crazy in one big crowd :D
It was a really successful last day and I will miss all these people so much. We are not just a group of volunteers like on our first day, we are friends and I really look forward to meet them in Oslo for the mid-term training again or even before.
On the whole it was an interesting, funny, instructive and just amazing week with a perfect balance of theory and activities. Even the theoretical parts were created in creative ways! Like this we got to know Norway, the people, the food, culture and history. And not to forget about all those people from all around Europe who are just awesome! Thank you so much, it would not have been the same without one of you! I had so many interesting conversations and I can only recommend you to meet people from all over the world. It is so much fun to communicate in a foreign language, talk about the stuff which is going on in a particular country like the Brexit, the increasing power of the right party FN in France, refugee camps in Austria (well, not only in Austria, but there it is a special case with the voting of the new president right now) and so on. Moreover you become more open-minded, and somehow tolerant as well, towards people and nations you may not have appreciated that much before as well as towards different opinions (like politics or the behavior of people). Because you can just talk to them in person. It was a really important experience for me and I guess it helped me not to judge people and their actions too fast without even knowing why they do so or what is going on in their surroundings. All in all it changes your attitude because you get another perspective, it strengthens your awareness.
So now we are prepared for our EVS and in February we will see how it is going. I made a lot of new friends during the training, now I hope this is going to work out with some Norwegians as well (but it will take time, that is for sure; it is just the way how this country works). We will see :)
Today in the morning we had to say goodbye to all volunteers and then left with the bus to Nordfjordeid. It was so sad and I wish we could have stayed longer...it was one of the best weeks in my life. But we will see us again and that is the main thing :)
PS: It is possible that this blog is a little bit confusing in sentence constructions and times, I didn’t even read it through a second time because I am so tired – I am so sorry. But most of it was written in the middle of the night when I was almost asleep and not thinking properly, as the same is now. But I really wanted to finish it because normally I am publishing my blog on Sundays and I don’t like to postpone things. Please excuse me, I really hope you still enjoy it :)