Travel

Yes, we love this country

BY SIMEN LONNING

Perth city skyline.“Yes we love this country” is the first line of the Norwegian national anthem.

But in spite of the national anthem’s nationalistic beginning, thousands of Norwegians make the decision every year to leave what is considered by the UN to be the most “livable” country in the world.

For many people, the destination is all the way around the world to Perth.

With a population of only 4.8 million people, Norway has more than 20,000 students that make the decision to study abroad. The Association of Norwegian Students Abroad calculates that several thousand of these students go to Australia, which makes the nation one of the most popular choices.

“I think New Zealand is as far away as you can get from Norway, so Australia is almost in the same category. I guess you can say that we’re pretty far from home,” says Morten Sortland, an Edith Cowan University student from Norway.

Morten Sortland.

For the past two years, Morten has studied journalism and photography at ECU in Perth. While enjoying his morning coffee, the Scandinavian boy is eager to tell me about his countrymen in Perth.

Having spent two years at ECU, he knows all about how it is to be far away from home and living in foreign country.

“When you just finished high school and have been with the same people at the same place for so many years, I think it’s only natural to want something different, and for many, that means leaving the country for a while,” Morten says.

Norwegians start learning English at school from the age of seven. Therefore English-speaking countries are a natural first choice if people decide to study abroad.

You might ask: is Norway so horrific that the people can’t get far enough away? However this is not the case, with Norway being named “the best country to live in” by the UN on several occasions during the past decades.

Picturesque Norway.

Welfare state

According to Norway’s welfare state policy, everyone has equal rights to an education regardless of their cultural and social background.

In 1947 The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund was established to support Norwegians studying higher education abroad.

Students’ tuition fees are funded for those who go to a university approved by the Norwegian government.

Students are also granted about $10,000 each semester as a low-interest loan, which is meant to cover their living costs so the students can focus on their education rather than work.

“When we tell Australian students that our government pays our tuition fees, they can’t believe it. I don’t think we know how lucky we are,” Morten says.

The sun is shining this Friday morning, as it usually does at Scarborough Beach.

“Who wouldn’t want to live here?” Morten asks while he looks at the sparkling water.

Most of the Norwegians tend to live close to the beach, even if that means a longer drive to their universities.

“Of course, the climate is a big reason that we want to live in Perth,” Morten says.

“Back home we are used to long and dark winters and the summers are nothing compared with what we get here.

“However the quality of the universities here also plays a big part in our decision making.”

He takes the last sip of coffee and one last look at the waves crashing onto the beach before he has to head to the university.

Morten leaves with a smile, looking like he enjoys every minute of his Australian experience.

Association of Norwegian Students Abroad

Preparing for a social event of the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad.

But what is it about Perth that is so appealing to Norwegians?

I am lucky enough to meet the head of the ANSA-Perth board, Linn Loly, who believes the big contrast between the two countries is what many of the Norwegians find so appealing.

“In Australia I get the impression that the people see Perth as a boring city, but I don’t believe Norwegians would agree with that,” Linn says.

“Perth is just a great example of what Australia is like through the eyes of a Norwegian.

“It offers great beaches, wildlife, friendly people and SUNNY days all year.”

Linn, smiling, points to the clear blue sky.

“In Perth we can combine the city life, the university life and the beach life almost at once, and it’s quite unique,” she adds.

“Perth is the Australia we see on the postcards at home.”

It is all a bit cliché as I am at Cottesloe Beach with Linn.

Next to her are her books from the university and we both can’t help smiling when we realise it.

“I’ve got an essay due next week, which I’m preparing for,” she says while enjoying the sun.

She has been elected to her board position and with the help of a few other volunteers, they try to make the transformation into the Perth society as smooth as possible for the new students arriving from Norway.

Several times every semester, ANSA-Perth arranges events for the students and by this, they create a safe social network.

“We always feel welcome here by the Australians, but it is also nice and safe in a way to meet our countrymen while we’re here,” Linn says.

“We are a long way from home, and I think everyone feels a bit homesick sometimes. So I think it’s good for the students to feel that safety that ANSA creates.”

She has been in Perth for almost three years and is in many ways sad that she soon has to return home.

“I will always miss Perth, and I will definitely come back on holiday, but I must not forget that I’m going back to a great country that has given me a chance to live in Perth.”

Norway swans.

The Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund statistics indicate that despite the strong Australian dollar, the number of Norwegian students in Australia is still high and will continue for many years ahead.

“Yes we love this country” is the first line of the Norwegian national anthem. But you should perhaps ask which country they mean?

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