30 Apr 2010

Bergen – the gateway to fjords

Bergen is the kingdom’s second largest city and just after Oslo is the most important, with over 250 000 inhabitants only! Bergen is situated at the west coast of Norway where the Norwegian Sea meets the North Sea. The year of the foundation is estimated to be 1070 and it is a World Heritage Site listed by UNESCO. What is characteristic for Bergen? Rain! Almost 220 days in a year it is raining here. Once, I heard, it was raining continually from February to May. That's why in this city one set first in the world the umbrellas’ machine.

I have visited Bergen with my beloved fiancé in May and it strikes me more than Oslo. First of all, Bergen is full of history and tradition of an international city with charming and small town atmosphere. Heritages such as Bryggen (Norwegian for the Wharf) or Bergen Fish Market and the possibility of trip to the fjords attract tourist, especially from Spain. I don’t know why, but I met many Spaniards there and there are many Spanish clerks in souvenirs shops. Furthermore, in Bergen nature blends with culture and city life is thrilling – every evening parties in the seaport lasting till morning. In May, there was light even at midnight, so the climate is specific, as it would be evening all the time. During the day, it is worth to see Bryggen, which is also displayed in the top of my blog, it is a series of Hanseatic commercial buildings lining the eastern side of the fjord.Bryggen was built thanks to the merchants from the Hanseatic League, who arrived here around 1360 and developed the town into an import ant trading centre. These warehouses were filled with foods such as fish from Norway and wheat from Europe (including Poland). Apart from Bryggen, I also recommend to do unusual shopping in the Torget i Bergen (Fishmarket In Bergen), where you can fresh seafood and seafish every morning. Furthermore, numerous wooden houses all-around the city from the 18th century and many amazing museums are the must-sees. Amongst many of the museums, the Old Bergen Museum is a place with more than 40 wooden buildings constructed in the style of the architecture of Bergen from the 18th and 19th century. Moreover, in this museum a beautiful guide will tell you interesting stories about the past inhabitants of these colourful houses. The latest attraction, we visited, is the Bergen Science Centre Vilvite. Vilvite is a centre of science and technology for tourists, where you can embark on a journey with almost 100 different instruments, perform experiments, to feel the force of gravity while riding in a large circle, to make a rig for oil, to stand behind the stairs of the ship or submarine or see yourself jumping very slowly as below.

video

As I mentioned in the title of this post, Bergen is truly a gateway to fjords. From here you can choose amongst many tours offers a unique experience both for those who have time only for short visit, and those who want to know precisely the region. We have chosen a short 4-hours trip to the closest fjord by MS White Lady and the views were breathtaking. If you want to see more spectacular landscapes from Norway I personally recommend a journey from Bergen to Oslo by train. In various rankings railway lines from Oslo to Bergen are considered the most beautiful and exciting route in the world. The American journalist-explorer Gary Warner writing for a newspaper The Chicago Tribune put in on his list of favourites rail routes. I have added as well! As a tittle-tattle I can tell you that it is possible to see snow on this route even in May, because its highest point is in the Finse peak 1222 meters above sea level. The whole journey takes approximately 7 hours, but it is absolutely pleasure to deal with it.

27 Apr 2010

Can you name any famous Norwegian?

It is surprising that such small country with nearly 5 million population and only 200 years history of independence would be a womb of 11 geniuses awarded by Nobel Prize Committee, huh? My country is famous from intelligent people and truly it is a womb of many geniuses, but many of them or their ancestors unfortunately left Poland and their output contributed in foreign countries e.g. physicians such as Józef Rotblat and Georges Charpak, chemists such as Maria Curie-Skłodowska, and Roald Hoffmann, biochemists such as Andrew Schally and Tadeusz Reichstein, writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, biologists such as Jack W. Szostak and Stanisław Kaczmarczyk, who recently invented a method to restrain cancer cells in our bodies and many many other brilliant people, who left my country for better life. Anyway, the topic of this post is to introduce the most famous Norwegians who had or have a significant impact on human thought within Norway as well as globally. To begin with, Nobel Prize Winners, they have an impact for sure.

Chronologically:

1903 - Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Literature). Bjørnson is celebrated for his lyrics to the Norwegian National Anthem, "Ja, vi elsker dette landet", which means "Yes, we love this country".
1920 - Knut Hamsun (Literature) – awarded for the epic “Growth of the soil”.
1921 - Christian Lous Lange (Peace Prize) – a noted pacifist.
1922 - Fridtjof Nansen (Peace Prize) - for his work as a League of Nations High Commissioner.
1928 - Sigrid Undset (Literature) - experimented with modernist tropes such as stream of consciousness in her novel.
1968 - Lars Onsager (Chemistry) – as many genius he went to the USA.
1969 - Odd Hassel (Chemistry) – he investigated the structure of charge-transfer compounds and set up rules for the geometry of this kind of compound.
1969 - Ragnar Frisch (Economics) – He was known for econometrics and formalized production theory.
1973 - Ivar Giaever (Physics) - for his discoveries regarding tunnelling phenomena in solids.
1989 - Trygve Haavelmo (Economics) – known from probability approach in econometrics and balanced budget multiplier.
2004 - Finn Erling Kydland (Economics) - for his contributions to dynamic macroeconomics: the time consistency of economic policy and the driving forces behind business cycles.

Three Nobel Prizes in Economics Sciences!? I’m impressed. Furthermore, those who study economics should know Veblen’s goods, so their inventor - Thorstein Bunde Veblen had Norwegian roots.

Let’s come back to the very beginning, to the Vikings’ age. One of the first Christian Norwegian, son of the Erik the Red, Leif Eriksson that became famous because of his virgin journey to the West, where he discovered a rocky and salmon-rich land, that is called nowadays Canada. According to Groenlendinga Saga he discovered the North America AD 1000. From that time for hundreds of years it has been doing nothing on the Norwegian land that was once in the Danish hands and once in the Swedish hands.



The state of inaction has been lasting in Norway until 1850 when Henrik Johan Ibsen moved to Christiania, where it was his stage debut – at Christiania Theater staged Kjæmpehøien (Tomb of the Huns). Ibsen is the most famous Norwegian dramaturg, the author od such masterpieces as Vilanden, Når vi døde Wagner or Peer Gynt. Peer Gynt contains philosophical Messager of criticism arising from the attitudes of Norwegians staring AT themselves and spirituals neuter. The title is the name of the main charakter – slothful and selfish peasant. Ibsen commisioned Grieg to compose music for Peer Gynt that Has made this work famous. Edvard Hagerup Grieg was the most famous Noregian composer, pianist and conductor with Scottish origin. Moreover, he was a founder of the Norwegian national music school. Apart from Ibsen, the next famous novelist and playwright was Jonas Lauritz Idemil Lie. In his works, Jonas Lie often sought to reflect in his writings the nature, folk life, and social spirit of the nation of Norway. Jonas is considered to have been one of the Four Greats of 19th century Norwegian literature, together with Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and Alexander Kielland. Among Kielland’s most famous Works are the trilogy Gift, Fortuna and St. Hans Fest. In this trilogy, Kielland satirizes the hypocrisy of Norway’s clergy including debate about the hunger for Latin chich Norwegian teachers had AT this period of time.

Let’s have a look at Norwegian artists. I know at least two of them – Edvard Munch and Gustav Vigeland. Munch was creating a symbolic figure compositions, giving vent to them in expressive erotic obsessions, feelings of loneliness, depression, fear of illness and death. He became a famous painter because of his picture The Scream. On the other hand, Vigeland, sculptor, whom building of park complex in Oslo brought a fame. Works on the Vigeland’s park started in 1907 and were continued after his death until the 1940s. Gustav was actually only a designer of sculptures placed in the park – all the sculptural work was performed by his team of hired masons, foundry and blacksmiths.



Before I’ll move on to the present times, I’d like mention about Roald Amundsen, another famous Norwegian. He was a polar explorer and the first winner of the South Pole. In my opinion he was also a hero, because in 1928 he went down to help Nobile Umberto, who disappeared during a zeppelin flight Italia in Arctic. Nobile was found, but Roald was never found. Now, in scope of my favourite contemporary Norwegian musicians are Jan Garbarek, Erlend Øye from Kings of Convenience band. Garbarek is a high class Norwegian jazzman with Polish roots and he is regarded as one of the most import ant contemporary jazz musicians as well as the father of Scandinavian jazz scene. Another Norwegian I like is a film direktor Joachim Trier who received several national awards for his debut film Reprise from 2006. Meanwhile, one Norwegian I admire is Erling Kagge, a lawyer, publisher and explorer. He is among Norway’s most acclaimed polar explorers and one of the greatest adventurers of our time. Erling was the first person to surmount the three poles – North, South and the summit of Mt Everest.

For more information about famous Norwegians go to wikipedia

20 Apr 2010

Education in Norway

In Norway the education system is divided into four parts:

(1) Elementary school (Barneskole, age 6-13)
(2) Lower secondary school (Ungdomsskole, age 13-16)
(3) Upper secondary school (Videregående skole, age 16-19)
(4) Higher education

First two parts are obligatory in Norway, so if upper secondary school is optional, but usually chooses by students due to recent changes to society – few jobs available for the age group. What is interesting in Norwegian education system is the lower age limit to start your school – 6 age and from this time basic English is introduced. Upper secondary school gives you a chance to apply for general studies (studiespesialisering) or a vocational studies (yrkesfag) path. Typical courses in this studies are Norwegian, mathematics, natural sciences, English, IT and social studies as well as the languages German, French and Spanish. In vocational studies there are more maths and physics. Students graduating general studies are called Russ in Norwegian. Most of them choose to celebrate with lots of parties and festivities, which, impractically, take place a few weeks before the final examinations of the final year. I blame them for making noise during the nights when it is a typical sleeping time for me! Anyway, they enjoy a lot of parties which socially accepted.

Higher education is broadly divided into:

(1) Universities, which concentrate on theoretical subjects (arts, humanities, natural science). Supplies bachelor (3 yrs), master (5 yrs) and PhD (8 yrs) titles. Universities also run a number of professional studies, including law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and psychology, but these are generally separate departments that have little to do with the rest of the university institution.
(2) University colleges (høyskole), which supply a wide range of educational choices, including university bachelor degrees, engineering degrees and professional vocations like teacher and nurse. The grade system is the same as it is for universities.
(3) Private schools, which tend to specialize in popular subjects with limited capacity in public schools, such as business management, marketing or fine arts. Private schools do not loom large on the horizon, although the fraction of students attending private schools is 10% in higher education, compared to 4% in secondary and 1.5% in primary education.



My school, BI Norwegian School of Management is the private university college and it was established in 1943 as a merchant school. Nowadays, it is the largest business school in Norway and the second largest in all of Europe (around 20 000 students). BI has a wide range of international activities both in Norway and abroad, this year around 300 foreign students are participating exchange studies. The School`s aim is to contribute to value creation and the growth of entrepreneurship by conducting high-quality research and offering educational programs of high quality and relevance. I can truly accept that they provide a high quality programs, especially in financial economics, which is a field I study here. I have taken a least five courses here, which is by most my colleagues here regarded as too much. However, I really appreciate the time spend with my professional teachers and good students on Multivariate Statistics and Econometrics, Applied Valuation, Multinational Financial Management, Investments and Advanced Corporate Finance. These courses give me a brilliant insight into financial economics, which is a bit different discipline from management and quantitative methods and IT systems I used to study in Poland. Fabulous teachers of these courses with their natural ability of efficient teaching encourage me to turn my career in financial direction and develop my skills through international certificates.

The things I like the most in Norwegian business studies:

(1) Professional teachers. I know I’m talking about this all the time, but this is truth. Most of the teachers in BI are foreigners with professional and academic background. Some of them are graduates from Harvard Business School.
(2) Something I call ‘Harvardian style’ of education. This means that final grade is basing not only on final or midterm exam, but also on participation in classes and what is the most time-consuming and provides the most fun – team working on cases. I’m not talking about simple and individual cases that I would solve in one or two evenings as it usually happened in my home university. First time, I experienced a real team working here and spent not hours but days together with other exchange students solving these, not really difficult, but time – consuming cases. I’d like say thank you especially for people working with me during this semester – Aminata Vanessa vel Lease, Bernadka, Carine, Citlali, Larisa and Aly, Franck, Gaspare, Michel, Marius from Germany and Marius from Ivory Coast, Sebastien, Mateusz and also for all people I met in the library during this hot period. You are very helpful and the work with you is a pleasure. Moving back on to the ‘Harvardian style’, the participation in classes is grading not for ‘airtime’, but for active attendance in discussions, which may develop your communication skills. Teachers have a habit to ‘cold call’ someone from the class and ask him some question, so every time I supposed to come prepared to the classes.
(3) Relationships between teachers and students. These are really informal and there is nothing bad or untactful if I say ‘Hallo Ulf!’, he responds me ‘Hallo Lukasz!’. Teachers are really open and always help whenever I ask about something and they treat me on the same level with Norwegian students and with themselves.
(4) Responsibility for all your activities. Every step you do in this school is depends on you, I mean I feel more responsible for my decision. The rules are clear here, so if I don’t participate in the course I may fail it. If I fail the course I will have to retake it in the next semester after fee payment. If I am late on classes I may not get inside and I will lose my presence during the course. People in Norwegian administration are very polite and helpful but restrictive, which is exactly opposite to Polish administration. So, I learnt a responsibility for my decisions easily.

The things I dislike the most in Norwegian business studies:

(1) Too much latitude among Norwegian students. In my opinion they are not serious during the classes, because they usually eat or chew snus, wear caps and place their legs wherever they want! When they have a presentation they keep their hands in the pockets and don’t restrict the rules of an excellent presentation. This was a bit shocking to me at the beginning, but later I just react with smiling, because I know that I have grown in different society and environment. Moreover, teachers never complain.
(2) Cost, cost, cost. Starting with xerocopies through cases and in books finishing. Yes, in Norway students buy books, which are very expensive (between 400 and 1000NOK). In library there are usually only three the same books including one you can borrow only for one day, ridiculous! Cases more often come from Harvard Business School, so in purpose to download them or just get an access, we are obliged to pay in dollars. At the beginning I was in even bigger shock, but finally we found an idea to share costs among team workers.
(3) Too much formalism. I’m considering mainly exams. Exams are conducted in different places located randomly in Oslo City, which is really inconvenient for exchange students, who don’t know Oslo at all. During the exam I am not allowed to use any other calculator than Texas calculator approved by BI. By the way, this calculator costs 500NOK, good luck! Finally, there aren’t retake exams, so if you fail or miss any exam, you will have to retake the whole course in the next semester, which obviously costs money.



At the end I want to mention about more differences between Polish and Norwegian education. In Norway it is quite popular to take a Master degree after gaining some working experience, so some students on my Master level are much older than me. In Poland it is not very popular and common, maybe because Bolonian system (distinction between Bachelor and Master level) is recent there. Grading system is absolutely different form system I know. In Norway we have grades from F (fail) through E, D, C (pass on average), B to A (excellent). There are often less courses during the semester, recommended is to take five of them, because in each course there is a hard workout. The classes last 3 hours each, which is enough to get bored ;)

12 Apr 2010

What about Stockholm?


There is a special relationship between Norway and Sweden. Sweet brothers or rather arch enemies? When I spoke to my Norwegian they answered me very similarly. They mentioned about Union with Sweden from 1814 to 1905 in which Sweden treated Norway as its tributary and during this time there was the strongest Norwegian national movement. What is holy truth, Swedes are portrayed as the dumb ones, especially in jokes. I know one blunt joke:

Swedes are on holiday with a Norwegian guy who for some reason went missing. In the police office the two Swedes are asked to describe the Norwegian. The two Swedes think long and hard, then one of them says:
- "yeah I know - he's got two holes in his ass!"
The policeman, who thinks that was a somewhat unusual description ask:
- "and how do you know that then?!"
- "Because everytime we go somewhere, people are saying: There's that Norwegian with the two assholes!"


That’s obviously the Swedish stereotype in Norway. But I wonder to know why Norwegian make Swedes idiots, hence Danes should be ones to make out to be the stupid ones. As fa as I know period under Danish yoke was the worst for Norway, even called ‘400-Year Night’. Danes are not portrayed as dumb, but still not quite up to Norwegian intellectual level. Yes, Norwegians think they are the best nation on over the world. I think Swedes presence in Norwegian jokes is because of jealousy. Sweden in twice the size Norway, it was regional superpower in Vasa-era (1521-1654) and more successful in their industry e.g. IKEA, Saab, Ericsson, Scania and recently Volvo (now is Chinese, sic!). Let’s look inside the Swedish city, which is a home of 22% of Sweden’s population, I mean Stockholm!

This city is another Scandinavian spirit unveiling. I could have touched the difference on every corner of the street in Stockholm. First of all, city is built on 14 islands (Stockholm archipelago where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea) connected by 57 bridges and on the land there are steep rocky hills just next to the beautiful, full of ships coasts. Second, Swedes are more serious, elegant and polite than Norwegians. Third, rules. In Sweden you are obliged to restrict rules even more. There is no crazy and dangerous customs to cross the street even if it is red light! You can’t buy a normal 5% alcohol beer in shop, only light 3,5%, so if you want to go drink some normal alcohol you have to be over 21 and visit rare Systembolaget in restricted hours. However, Sweden is the next vodka-drinking country and even much drinking. Stockholm is supposed to be safety city, citizens really respect police and I haven’t seen druggies and dealers on the street as I used to do in Oslo. Still, there are many immigrants, the majority of them are Croats, Albanians, Arabic, Iraqi, Assyrians, Turks, Persians, Indians, Kurdians, Africans and of course Polish (as everywhere). One of the reason such huge diversity of immigrants in this country is fact, that Sweden has a history of providing refuge to asylum seekers.

Moving back to Stockholm, over 30% of the city area is made up of waterways and another 30% is made up of parks and green spaces; in 2009, Stockholm was awarded title of first European Green Capital by the European Commission. They landscape is forcing joggers to make use of these breathtaking areas. If you ask me what was the most impressing place in Stockholm it will take much time to mentions many places. The top of the list is absolutely the Old Town (Gamla Stan) with mysterious and narrow streets, and colorful walls of old tenement houses and enormous Royal Palace. Second place is reserved for Vasa Museum. Vasa as I have been taught is not only a crunchy bread or royal Swedish dynasty, but also the only preserved seventeenth-century warship in the world! The story of this ship is ridiculous, because this was the biggest ship in the world during these times (69 meter-long) and real proud of Sweden, but it sank on its maiden voyage in the middle of Stockholm in 1628. What a pity! But for Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania this history forecast a mercy during the ‘Swedish flood’ (1655-1660), because Swedish fleet was weaken by one really huge warship. So, City Hall, with its spire featuring the golden Three Crowns, is one of the most famous silhouettes in Stockholm. Every year the great Nobel banquet is also held there and this summer there will a royal wedding, Crown Princess Victoria and Mr. Daniel Westling are getting married. What is interesting, Westling is a personal trainer of the Princess and gym owner, he runs a company called Balance Training, which has three gyms in central Stockholm. Lucky guy! What is more in Stockholm that it is worth to take a boat sightseeing, visit rich museums (I recommend Nobel Museum in Gamla Stan) and taste an unique night life in one of crowded street in the city centre.

To sum up, even though Norwegians make all kind of joke about Swedes, the relationship between two nations is harmonious and friendly, greatly helped by cultural and linguistic similarities. Below my favourite Swedish commercial ;)

5 Apr 2010

Famous Koala and Prostitute joke!


Let me tell a joke that I once heard during bus trip to Stockholm. It was a joke told by Italian guy with a special Italian accent. The joke is like that:

A koala enters a popular tavern in Melbourne and sits down at the bar. It isn't long after he's sipping on a martini when he's approached by a prostitute. She sits down next to him and asks him if he'd like to have sex with her in the back room. Being a typical male, the koala complies and follows the slut to the back room. He finishes and then returns to the bar. He grabs his coat and heads for the door.
Before he is to leave her the hooker had asks him where he is going and when he intended on paying her for the sex. He was surprised, so she tells him to look up the word "prostitute" in the dictionary.
He reads "prostitute - one who receives money for sex"
The koala then hands the dictionary to the prostitute in and tells her to look up "koala." She reads "koala - a member of the marsupial family who eats bush and leaves."


Thanks to Italian guy for made me laugh!