Norway – drawing parallels and distinctions

APOORVA S was part of the third round of the Indo-Norwegian Exchange programme of Masters Programme in Public Policy in the year 2017. 

Apoorva’s dissertation focuses on significance of urban agricultural policy in city planning.

Here, the author writes on her experience of the exchange program.

A dreamer’s version of Norway

Two months ago I could never image how a student exchange program to Norway would turn out for me. Excited on being selected, I heard and was rather seeking to hear more about Norway. The bits and pieces I heard were masked with episodes of strenuous planning and finishing up the assignments due for the fourth trimester. My thoughts would constantly flutter back to the first year, when I had a brief introduction to the social democratic model in Scandinavian countries. Norway was highlighted for its quality of life, social welfare system, public goods and services. The rare opportunity of spending four weeks in Norway was my window to explore this deeper. As much as I was keen on giving good shape to my research, I wanted a wholesome experience of getting to meet people and explore the art and architectural history of the city. It is said that during summers Norway is a land of midnight sun and the spectacular view of northern lights during winters is enough to inspire people to pack their bags to Norway. Popular accounts of Vikings history, winter sports, ship building and fjords preoccupied me with a lot of imagination.

The Bengalurean vibe: virtues and vices

The low temperatures, rain and freezing October winds of Oslo, made me crave for Bengaluru’s sunshine and benevolent weather. Though Bengaluru has lost its garden city tag that came with the growth of tech parks, it still has an old world charm, welcoming people across the world. In Oslo, the formal ambience, the stillness, discipline, and organized way of life gets to you. It is also overwhelming to notice the minimal presence of people Oslo carries on its roads. Jernbanetorget at Oslo Central Station is a pivotal point that connects one to elsewhere and Ruter, the integrated transport card helps one to access the Metro, Trikk, and Buses in each specific demarcated zone. Such observations would often wake-up the Bengalurean in me. Despite efforts to meet the vast demand for inter-district and inter-city connectivity through public transport in Bengaluru, it falls short in achieving a unified multi-modal transportation, common ticketing system and authority. Very often land for infrastructure is unavailable due to pending permissions from a host of other establishments. Further, the impact of mobility on air quality is not assessed in our cities. The city of Oslo truly allows people to relish nature, despite being surrounded by smart technology and virtual interfaces. This for a Bengalurean resonates admiration and indigenousness.

Discovering leisure and building personal connection

Though Norwegians speak English, it’s the Norwegian that really enables them to connect to others. The two golden words that immediately strikes a chord with them would be “unnskyld meg” meaning excuse me and “takk” meaning thanks. Navigating the mountains, hills and the woods swiftly is another trait of Norwegians. The city is built to enable activities like cycling, hiking, running long distances all throughout the year. The essence of time and work ethic is appreciable in Norway. Working hours are strictly followed. It seems to work as an unwritten law. Holding a work related meeting on a weekend or after working hours, is quite forbidden. The adherence to appointments and equal importance to leisure is a respectable practice. Naturally, I felt like a misfit on discovering this utopian convention. The kind Norwegians pardoned me for the re-scheduled excursions.

The affluence and contradiction

Norway’s tryst with oil began in the 1970s, it helped transform the entire economy and evolve as a social democratic welfare state. A Labor’s Museum by the Akerselva River that flows in the city of Oslo has creatively preserved the various facets of the industrial revolution of Norway retold by the families of the workers themselves. It is by the river, where the textile production started and today, the textile mills and factories have been rented out to  press and film making units. The authorities very consciously have not let these become ghost buildings of the past, standing with neglect and insensitivity. The buildings have been given a facelift in sync with their historic significance.

The affluence that oil brought to Norway is visible in the city of Oslo, with enormous ongoing construction of public utilities and massive public transport. Some of the aspects of social democracy openly mentioned by the Norwegians is free public education, employment and healthcare benefits, and paid-for five weeks of vacation per year. Oslo is populated with non-Europeans and other immigrants, however, their wholesome integration into Norwegian society appears uncertain. This (the homeless and unemployed migrants) gives the impression of contestation with Norway’s acclaimed protection policy, whose criteria stands on being fluent with Norwegian language and get employed.

Oslo in a nutshell

From the tiger statue on Jernbanetorget, the walking rooftop of Norway’s Opera House, the harbor and the beaches, massive parks and forts keep one occupied. While my experience with the Norwegians points to a less gregarious nature, I have been fortunate to spend time with them during the interviews. The long walks always gave me enough time to know them, brief my research and enable discussions on the government, economy, immigration, employment and education.

The focus on sustainability seems to be serious in Oslo. Under the present government, aggressive green policies in the city have been planned and supported. Some of the oldest allotment gardens have survived two world wars and stand strong against the regular land tussle  for housing needs in Oslo.

The city offers many free guided tours and free entry days to museums quite in an effort to allow visitors to discover Norway, but also in a bid to let the younger generation appreciate Norway’s history and its difficult times. Oslo is best at greeting outsiders, bringing a sort of instant freshness and comfort.

The Oslo Fjord, the changing colors of the sky and clouds, the gentle rocking of the ships at the harbor, offered a spectacular view from our home at Ekebergparken, I could often relate to but remotely understand what led to Edvard Munch’s masterpiece painting “The Scream”.

Exchange group 2017 at Oslo, Norway

(Apoorva is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in)

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