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(no subject) [Jul. 20th, 2008|11:59 am]
I don’t know how to talk to people. It seems people – acquaintances, you could say – want to talk to me, to tell me about things in their past. Not always extremely personal things, sometimes that, yes, but mostly things that are just personal in the ordinary way. Personal things that strike you as slightly revealing but very normal at the same time. I feel happy about the openness but also that I want to join in somehow, and when we are talking about my life now, finally, I can. My life now isn’t particularly dysfunctional – I feel fairly confident most of the time. I have to hide less and less details of my life now for the sake of privacy and seeming 'normal' to others. But that doesn’t change the past and the past in my case is like a foreign country; I can’t recognise myself there. That is probably at once necessary for my better life now, but at the same time disorientating.

I used to have a recurring dream where I would pass through a body of water, the surface of a lake or waves on the sea. I would tentatively push one limb in and through something I could feel but not see – I knew I could emerge on the other side but not how I would look or feel and I also knew I would lose something forever, that you can’t go back, it's a one way portal and that that is frightening at the same as it's safe.

I know I don’t have to talk about things in my past, I can be a closed book if I want, that listening is enough and all that's really required when socialising. Most people, naturally, do not want to hear anything about traumatic times growing up. It's perhaps a kind of invasion of them in some way because it seems to require a response they probably feel unequipped or unwilling to give, and because it's unpleasant to think about; it doesn’t sit well with whatever else is being discussed. It's in its own, fragile, category. I don’t want to drop uncomfortable bombshells on people either, don’t want to expose myself in that uncompromising, total, way. But I don’t want to be entirely silent either – I want to participate as an equal, and yet not to reveal too much, but also avoid giving an impression of a false, simple childhood that isn’t mine. This isn’t possible. I end up doing a combination of all three and that has to suffice somehow.

(no subject) [May. 25th, 2008|12:58 am]
A few weeks ago, I discovered couchsurfing.

I had my first couchsurfer a few nights ago and that worked out very well. She was a girl from a small town in rural America visiting Scandinavia as awwoof volunteer. I've thought about doing wwoof myself, not here but somewhere warmer. I'm not sure I'm coming at it from the right angle though, I don't have an interest per se in farming or even gardening, I am pretty much an urban person. But I'm interested in the idea of cultural exchange and I like the kind of set up you get with volunteer work.

Anyway, I think it was good for me to meet her, not just because its nice to meet people you get along with but because sometimes I am too prejudiced against anything to do with the countryside. Not nature, but rural life. When I came to Norway, as someone from...well not a city but certainly an urban area, I felt quite out of place because the culture here looks very positively on the whole concept of country life. Not just in some romantic, archaic sense like you could say about English culture, but as a plausible everyday reality. People here very often come from a very rural environment and understand how life works there, then they have to adapt to city life if they move, even in a small and not-very-threatening city like Oslo. Country life is their 'default'. This is probably something I encounter more than others because I study with a lot of people in exactly this situation, so maybe I notice this more than is fair.

(no subject) [May. 20th, 2008|08:45 pm]
I've got a job as an invigilator, or 'examensvakt' in a secondary school in Baerum, a suburb of Oslo. So far its been quite a fun job and its my first experience of being paid for doing a Norwegian speaking job. I've done 3 days of 5 hour mock exams and this week I'm starting on the real ones. Its interesting how I can speak Norwegian to communicate to the kids most of the time but when I have to tell them off or do any 'disciplining' I have to switch to English to come across as authoritative enough - I think that's really hard to pull off in a second language. Sometimes I get left alone with a roomful of 30 kids and as some of them seem to think I'm this endlessly amusing, rather exotic foreigner, they tend to push my limits a bit when that happens. I think I am the local curiousity or something...

A lot of the kids really don't seem to care about the exams, which is logical here because the results won't affect their lives in the same serious way as in the UK. The teachers don't seem to impose as much discipline as they would invigilating a UK exam, which seems to work pretty well because there are a lot less 'hardcore, disruptive' kids and more mutual respect. On the other hand, its quite disorientating for me to pick up what I should let pass and what I should crack down on just because things are different. Another contrast is that these kids all get laptops provided by the school and print their work at the end on a central printer - it seems beneficial to equip them with IT skills instead of fast-handwriting skills, but I wonder about the cost. It seems like something that can only work in a country with a state as rich as Norway - its great that the state has decided to channel tax money into the education system but its probably also evidence that the state has a lot of surplus and maybe has run out of sensible ways to spend it (something I see in other areas of life here too).

Also, I can see the difference in the exam system - the kids have 5 hours to do the work so they have very little 'time pressure' but then again that's like a marathon in concentration compared to what British kids have to do, and there isn't the adrenalin drive you'd get from racing through the paper to beat the clock. Also, perhaps because of the lack of significance that these exams have for the kids' futures, the general level of ability seems surprisingly low. Norwegian schools don't stream (divide kids by ability) or at least not very much, and while this probably prevents a lot of the class division which is such a problem in Britain, I've heard from a lot of people here that it holds back the brighter kids.

On a more trivial note, my name is causing problems! First the head teacher kept addressing me in the briefing meetings as "Rakel" despite my corrections (which is the Norwegian for Rachel but its one of those C19 names that no self respecting parent uses nowadays). Now all the teachers have thankfully picked up that I am actually called Rachel (except the head) but the office wrote down my surname in 3 different ways and was having difficulty with the concept that I am, in fact, one person, and also not German (!!). Well, my surname would probably sound German had it been spelled the way the office thought. It was pretty funny actually...

I had a really bad time at school myself, so I was a bit apprehensive about working in one. But it makes a big difference to be on the other side of the divide, and in another country to boot.

(no subject) [May. 4th, 2008|06:39 pm]
So I got into the SOAS Hebrew 1 year course.

Not sure how I feel about the move. I think I will go to London - there isn't really an alternative that makes sense right now. I'm not expecting to stay there and settle down 'properly' though. Although I'm not sure where I'm headed after my degree. I suppose it could happen, if I get settled in London I could stay for longer. That just feels like such a foreign idea though - me, 'back home' in the UK. I don't know how to be British anymore (did I ever? I've always been so outside the box). Its true there are a lot of foreigners in London anyway, that makes things a bit easier. But people hear my British English and make assumptions...this isn't what a foreigner sounds like. This person is supposed to be like me.

(no subject) [Apr. 9th, 2008|01:55 am]
[Current Location |my room, oslo]
[music |none, its 3am and that would piss off the neighbours...]

It is strange how we have different versions of ourselves that emerge in different surroundings.

At the risk of sounding a bit up myself, I reckon I am a pretty articulate person most of the time, especially in class debates. At least when speaking in my mother tongue and when I have something concrete to discuss. Its how I remember myself being at school and at uni in England, and its come back in the English language philosophy module I'm taking. I am relieved that this version of me isnt dead. I am happy that the others in the class can see me doing something I am good at, and that my personality comes through in what I say and not just the plain message of the point I want to make. I can see how people respond to me differently in this class.

Its stressful being in my Arabic class at the moment. Its always been hard work but I feel like I've reached an impasse. In some ways, last year was a neat little block of grammer and very basic vocabulary which I managed to cover more or less. Now there is no more grammer to learn and I feel like I'm swimming in vocab. Its a bit like in computer games where each new level requires a larger amount of points to 'level up' to the next one - I can't 'level up' in Arabic in the time I have left until my exam; and the things I'd need to do to genuinely improve my language skills are not the same as what would prevent me almost failing my exam. I guess that I'll need to return to Arabic one day but that isn't going to happen for a year and a half at least after this semester, so I'll most likely lose a lot of what I'm learning now anyway. Its embarrassing and frustrating that a large number of people in my class are obsessed and talented enough that they seem to be on the verge of 'levelling up' - so whatever I feel about my situation I can't say it was impossible, just that I didn't manage that. It is also awkward in class because Arabic is the kind of subject where everyone knows everyone else's level pretty well so each class feels like a public embarrassment. Worst of all, I am not only one of the obviously not very strong students at Arabic at this point, I am the foreign girl who won't talk Norwegian all the time at breaks, thereby showing how incompetent I am at all foreign languages I am supposed to know. A part of me knows that this isn't quite true - the Norwegian environment has created a slight handicap for me because it isn't the easiest thing to learn foreign language #2 via foreign language #1, and my Norwegian comprehension is genuinely sooo much better than it was a year and a half ago. And yeah, it should be enough to just see those things for myself even though I'm sure I look like a total dork/weird foreign girl in class. But I've been feeling kind of grey about this situation in Arabic all semester; or like I'm walking through treacle or something; this reduced, disconnected version of me.

(no subject) [Mar. 10th, 2008|12:15 pm]
[Current Location |my room, oslo]
[music |hebrew online radio]

Last night some people in my compulsory philosophy English-language class got together for a potluck dinner at L's house. L is Irish but married to a Norwegian and she also invited a few friends of hers, a British guy and a British/Norwegian couple. And from my class - C. who is Kenyan and H who is Icelandic. I think this is the second time I've met other British people in the two and a half years I've spent in Norway. The group got on pretty well so it was a nice evening. I had an interesting conversation with C, H and L about how it is when you've been in Norway enough time that you develop a Norwegian part of yourself but you've also been around long enough to realise you will never belong - here or where you came from.

And its not an identity crisis but it is an identity issue. I find the idea of an 'identity crisis' pretty offensive in many contexts actually - people can and do exist 'between the lines' of national identity and when the term 'identity crisis' is used it's often part of an attempt to suggest that this is unnatural somehow.

It feels very good to be able to discuss all this with other people who have much more of a chance of 'getting it' than, for example, the 100% Norwegian people on my course. On the other hand, I'm aware that while its nice to have the chance to share something, we are all in different situations actually. Sometimes I feel awkward writing about this on the net because while I feel I have insight into my own life, and by extension some insight into problems other people might share, at the same time I am white and British and that really isnt the most problematic thing to be in Norway. I also don't come from a place which it simply doesnt make sense to ever move back to - the girl I sit next to in class is from Burundi. So I think there's a sort of mindset necessary for having conversations like that - being open to the possibility that other people might want to emphasise what you do share but also may want to bring up differences and not have those differences ignored or pushed aside so we can all 'bond together' or something.

(no subject) [Mar. 6th, 2008|04:21 pm]
[Current Location |at uni]
[music |DAM]

I am having trouble at the moment finding a way of posting anything on LJ about my life.

There's nothing very dramatic or particularly new and different about my **life** but I guess my perspective has changed a lot and I'm finding it hard to join that together with the stuff in previous entries (pre Egypt entries really). I've talked a lot on LJ about living in Norway and mostly been quite upbeat about it. I think I needed some peace and quiet very badly at a certain stage in my life and I probably chose not to notice a lot of things about Norway because I needed to know I could stay here - on some level I wanted to convince myself I liked things that I'm not really suited to so "what I want" from life would fit together.

Unfortunately I am getting really fed up of various things here. There isn't a specific other place I want to be which is slightly scary. I'm taking Hebrew next year and I can either take it here in Oslo or at a uni abroad that has a similar enough course as Oslo, and weirdly enough, the only 1 year course I could find that had 50% or above Hebrew language was in London. So if that goes as planned I guess I'll get to see how I find London after I 'did Norway'.

One of the weirder aspects of going through this sudden disillusionment with Norway is the way I seem to have been influenced by the culture around me about 'what is important in life'. I didnt realise how much that must have been happening until I had to uproot myself to go and life in Egypt and sort of suddenly found myself outside of the Norwegian framework. I found myself sometimes missing England but never missed Norway. I drifted apart from the other Oslo students and realised that when I came across Scandinavians at parties and so on, they seemed foreign, I was not part of them. And although I still don't hit it off brilliantly with most British people, when I find someone British who is alternative in the ways that make them on my wavelength, I find I don't have to **try** in lots of ways that I do with Norwegians.

I'm not sure how to define "try" exactly - I think its something to do with reaching across to the other person, making bridges. Helping them to 'get it' when they haven't been 'there' , they haven't experienced directly whatever you're talking about. (And you, by extension, havent experienced many things they refer to as well, but since you are the traveller, it tends to be you who is building the little bridges all the time). And a lot of the time, although you could help them 'get it', you know there isnt time and thats not what the conversation is about anyway, so you just accept that if you say for example, "when I was at school" they aren't really getting what that sentence means as spoken by you. But you, on the other hand, have learned a lot more about the meaning of that sentence when spoken by them, because you are the one who can't afford not to think about bridging that gap or speaking as if your life was "the way the world is" and not just an obscure variation of that.

(no subject) [Feb. 17th, 2008|09:59 pm]
Now I've been back in Norway for a month and I'm really feeling like I am not in the right place. Part of my problem is that nowhere is the 'right place' - but that's both a fact and an excuse for not trying too hard to settle down anywhere.

Posted using LJ Talk ( [Dec. 28th, 2007|12:28 am]
I'm back from Cairo and in two weeks I'll be in Oslo again for the new term. I feel like I've totally changed as a person since I went over there last August. I didnt realise how comparatively easy it would be to live there - looking at it now, I was always a bit outside the 'normal' category for that kind of student experience because I study in Norway but thats 'abroad' for me too. Not that that makes Britain 'home'. I think all this made quite a difference; you start thinking in terms of places and other places when you cant think in terms of 'home' and 'abroad'.

I feel more free in a sense. I dont know if I ever will live in Cairo again, although I can see myself doing that. But in the last couple of months before I left, I began to feel quite alienated being in Norway and a bit despairing at 'changing my mind all the time' about where to live and maybe never settling down properly anywhere. The pressure has lifted a bit because I can see beyond Norway and Britain. I'm not sure why I started assuming that there was something special and exclusive about the possibility of living in Norway. I'm glad there isn't.

Its strange how you add on bits of yourself to manage in different surroundings - like extra limbs almost. I used to catch myself thinking in Norwegian ways sometimes while I was in Britain, and now I see the Egyptian bits too. They are smaller and more distinct from the rest of me than the Norwegian bits, but they are there.

(no subject) [Dec. 15th, 2007|11:29 pm]
[Current Location |zamalek, cairo]
[mood |tiredtired]
[music |traffic on sitta wa 'ashreen yuliu...]

In case anyone is wondering, I havent dropped off the face of the earth or anything but for one thing, I'm living in Cairo at the moment with limited internet access, and for another, I'm a bit disillusioned with LJ. I guess I might put some photos of Cairo up here at some point but apart from that...probably not going to be posting on this thing very much for a while.

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