From the sea to the mountains…

…Telemark’s got it all.

You know, how in high school, the one week you look forward to the most is the field-trip week? I’ll let you in on a little secret, it doesn’t change in graduate school. All semester long we have been talking about the three day field-trip that was planned for the end of the semester and now, that the trip was finally here, we were all pumped. After all, hearing about policies and policy processes just doesn’t compare to actually experiencing and seeing what policy processes mean to real people in their everyday life.

Monday midday an entire class of graduate students (don’t be fooled, we barely filled a third of the bus) boarded a bus with enthusiasm and excitement. We all joked around and laughed and eventually settled in, everyone in their own little world, listening to podcasts, music and book on tapes as we watched the world go by our windows. Life was good.

After about a two hour bus-ride we got onto a speedy-ferry and docked at Jomfruland, often also referred to as “Norway’s Virgin Island” (also because it is a direct translation). We hunkered down in our small little cabins and then set off to explore the 8 km long and 500 m wide island:

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There was much to see! Llamas and donkeys, horses and sheep and of course tons and tons of cabins. Because Norway is one of these places where people have a regular home and a home away from home somewhere at the sea or in the mountains. A small little cabin, that lets them enjoy a life away from all the hectic everyday. And let me tell you, I wouldn’t mind owning one of these cabins myself. Especially if it’s just a short little walk to this beauty:

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The island itself hosts 65 residents and a ridiculous amount of cabin-owners that only come to Jomfruland during their vacations, but honestly, if I were to own one of the cabins, the likelihood of me not living there permanently would be very slim. But with part-time residency, a lot of environmental policy issues arise. And I promise, I won’t go through every single one of them, but let me tell you this much: I never enjoyed an educational trip so much, talking about policies while strolling around the beach? I AM IN A 100%.

But Telemark, much as its’ inhabitants, is one of these places that just offers a wide range of diversity. You can be at the sea and two hours later be halfway to the mountains, standing in the middle of troll-country, listening to stories about trolls. We spent the second night of our trip in Bø and yes, that is a city’s name and yes, it’s also the sound you make, when you try to scare someone, well somewhat anyways.

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Here we learned about everyday-challenges, like ensuring inclusion within the community, regardless your religious beliefs or language skills. Activities that allow all kids to engage in sports, making sure that new community members felt welcomed and wanted to participate in the decision-making processes in their community. And although these anecdotes were awe-inspiring, what I appreciated the most, was the opportunity, or rather encouragement, to take a break from the everyday stressful grad-student-life and enjoy nature a bit. Walk around in the woods, pick up sticks and stones and breath fresh air.

In our lives, we often tend to forget, that a small gesture is often enough, to achieve happiness. Like having lunch with this view?

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Another two hours later, we found ourselves in the midst of snow-country, less than 24 hours after we strolled along the beach. We were looking for wild roaming reindeer, which is almost comparable to trying to find dolphins in the open sea.

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As we were trying to make out white fluffy reindeer in the snow, we learned about the challenges they are met with, changing climate, expansion of urban spaces, expansion of roads, hunting permits, natural predators or rather the lack thereof and the difficulty of finding food.

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Our last stop was the Vemork Hydro plant in Telemark. Once the biggest hydro plant of the world, today’s industrial worker’s museum. Filled with heart breaking bravery and a constant reminder that we as humanity can do better! The museum offers a great perspective on human’s rights and that we should never forget, that every argument has two sides.

Beyond everything, this last stop triggered an emotional response in me, after years and years of war we are no better than generations before us. Constantly fighting over resources, land and beyond everything what it means to be human. Don’t we all long for freedom, for equality, for a place to call home, safety and enjoying the outdoors?

So, in a way, the three day field-trip, although fast-pace and exhausting, taught me a lot. From nature based tourism over heart-breaking history, Telemark really has it all.

With this, I urge you, when you finally come to visit Norway (and you know you want to!), make sure you enjoy the beauty of Telemark, the mountains and the sea, history and present.

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