Line Vråberg of the Arctic Student Welfare Organisation (ASWO) Tromsø works intensely to provide international students with host families during the Christmas season.
- I work on finding families that can provide international students at Norway’s Arctic university with insight into how Christmas is celebrated in Norway. Not all students go home from Christmas and some are otherwise alone in Tromsø during the holiday season, when things shut down and public life goes quiet, Vråberg says.
It is all about avoiding a long and perhaps lonely Christmas holidays in student dorms while also providing the students with an opportunity to getting to know a Norwegian family, and also experiencing Christmas the way Norwegians celebrate it.
This year, we have 27 students who want to accept this offer. A family can invite one or more of them to their homes during the quiet Christmas days. We can promise them good company and lots of karma points, the student advisor says with a smile.
Works with international student satisfaction
Vråberg works as an advisor for international students at the University of Tromsø, a position created by the ASWO in order to provide for students who arrive in the Arctic without prior knowledge of climate, winter season and Norwegian traditions.
- My position was created based on a desire to work preventively with international students, simply so that they should be able to better enjoy their time in the north. We have events from the first days upon their arrival in Tromsø, and we try to prevent rather than wait until they start struggling. We try to help them maintain a good feeling throughout their time of studying here, Vråberg says.
As a part of their introduction program, both for the fall and spring semesters, students meet through workshops.
- This is not a homogenic group; there are people from all over the world, and we focus on what most of them would need at that present point of time. They often meet a climate that is rather different from what they are used to, and many of them have never heard of the dark winter season and know very little about what a cold winter and fierce wind may entail, the student advisor says.
Learning how to dress properly
In order to manage daily life during their study period in Tromsø, there are basic things that students are introduced to in order to make it easier; the importance of using a reflex when being outside, understanding what woolen underwear means on cold days and getting a basic understanding of how the days grow shorter and shorter.
- We meet students with an attitude saying “we’ll manage this together”. Many of them dread the season and do not know what they are facing. Arriving in Tromsø when you have experienced winter before can be challenging, even when you come from northern Europe or Russia, says the student advisor.
Using vitamin D, multivitamin pills, getting ideas of what to expect and also having an open café with daylight lamps to balance disturbances in the circadian rhythm are among the things and knowledge on offer for international students.
- The daylight lamp café is open from the end of October to January. It is free of charge, and students can come and drink coffee and sit in front of the daylight lamps. That makes it easier for people to get up in the morning, they get to socialize and it definitely increases the quality of life, Vråberg says.
The café has become an important arena and has seen activities expand over the past few years.
- We have it in a disused cafeteria and have a student who serves coffee and biscuits, Vråberg says with a smile.
Arriving in the Arctic
The ASWO has established a clothing park with things it may be clever for students to buy.
- Dressing in cold weather is something that northerners take for granted and have learned from childhood onwards. We bring out clothes, show them to the international students and tell them what to look for and where they can buy things fairly cheap. Which shoes should they invest in, and what do ice spurs look like? Where are the second-hand shops? Vråberg explains.
In addition, students receive information based on how long they will be studying in Tromsø.
- If you plan on taking a master’s degree and spending years here, it might be wise to invest in proper winter clothing. However, if you are here on a short-term exchange, a couple of woolen inlay soles may suffice, she says.
The Norwegian Secret
Vråberg tells the story of a friend from an African country, a story she remembers well. Her friend was waiting for the bus and it was freezing, and as she looked around she realized that everyone else were warm, though she could not understand why.
- Eventually she asked someone, and they respondend and revealed what she now refers to as ‘the Norwegian secret’: Simply the fact that people wore woolen longs and thin woolen jumpers underneath their clothes. After this discovery, my friend was never cold again. It is all about tricks that many of us take for granted, Vråberg says. She is passionate about her job, which is all about creating good quality of life for international students in Tromsø.
She argues that the ASWO initiatives affect both the students’ study period as well as the quality of the results they produce.
- I also send out weekly newsletters in which I pick out things that are free or cheap, and I inform them about things they may participate in. This increases integration and engages students with the local community. And we are speaking of 1,500 students, the student advisor says.
She works long hours and not two days are the same.
- This is a very rewarding job. And if the students need someone to talk to, we offer therapeutic talks. It may be a comfort for them to know that the dark season is as demanding for me, who is used to it, as it is for them. You cannot fix everything; sometimes you just have to endure and learn to live with it, Vråberg says in closing.
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