“Culture and education are what link our history with our future. This is what makes us unique. Our soul, our culture, our diversity, our heritage.” So spoke the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in her speech to the European Parliament in November last year.
Culture and education.
These two words will most likely also entail the most important experiences you will have here in Bergen. Hopefully, the time you spend here as exchange students will stand out as an important and formative period of your lives. I believe that you will have the opportunity to gain experiences here that you simply cannot gain from home or through other kinds of networking.
With this in mind, I welcome all of you – our international students, to the University in Bergen.
Now when I see you, I not only look upon students. I see representatives – from a great number of countries. You have travelled from Germany, Australia, China, USA, Romania, France, South-Korea, Sudan and Lithuania, to mention some.
You also represent an impressive span of knowledge,
as the range of subjects you will study is broad indeed. Thus, this welcoming ceremony not only carries symbolical importance.
It is also an important international and academical meeting place.
We live in a time where global challenges influence the whole world. To face these challenges, it is quite clear that we must cooperate and work together on all levels. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we communicate respectfully and understand each other. International meetings and networks make up a vital foundation for this to happen, and so you all represent an important part of this international teamwork.
Our own students who travel abroad often tells us about their stay. And they highlight how their stay has given them a new understanding of other people. They tell us about how student exchange has let them increase their multi-cultural knowledge, and that they have become more tolerant and socially competent when interacting with their fellows. I think and hope you may have similar experiences with your stay here in Bergen.
Our University offers a broad range of disciplines and subjects. This in turn leads to a diverse student mass and many varying opportunities for groups to join, organisations to befriend or perhaps new creative environments to innovate in.
Some might say that Norwegians are tough to befriend, but once you get to know us we will remain for life. I am not entirely sure about the accuracy of this saying. We are not as cold as some people may believe. But, there might still be some wisdom there for you to learn from.
After all, we know that many of our international students often befriend each other rather than getting to know our resident Norwegian students. This is a trend I hope to change. And so, awareness of the fact is important. This goes both for our Norwegian students, and for you. Perhaps a bit of advice is to have some patience and persistence with us.
But I also heartily recommend that you involve yourself in student organizations, both those who are driven by our international exchange students and our Norwegian students. Student driven organizations are a great way to make new friends and establish both social and academic networks.
Another thing about Norwegians, and this one may be embarrassingly accurate, is that we quite like to boast about our beautiful natural landscapes.
I am no different in this regard, and I hope that between hours of studying you will find time to see our beautiful sights. After all, Bergen’s seven city mountains are probably just a short trek away from where you live.
However, you must remember to take care. Our mountains are wonderful to hike in, but we know from experience that they can also be dangerous, so please be careful as we have no one to lose.
You have arrived here during Norway’s dark period of the year. But as time goes by, light returns and spring comes, you will discover how the city awakens and blooms. Students will fill the parks, streets and campus areas when the air gets warm and the mountains will be easier to traverse.
All in all, Bergen is a city that has a lot to offer and you will find that our students shape the city into one with flavour. They influence the way the city feels and flows, which in turn makes it a lively place to live, work and study.
Many of you have probably seen the film Love Actually during Christmas. So let me now allow myself to burrow and modify a small quote from Hugh Grant’s character – the British Prime-minister:
‘We may be a small city, but we are a great one too. The city of Ludvig Holberg, the Ylvis brothers, the winner of the World Idol – Kurt Nilsen. We have lots of rain, sometimes extreme amounts of rain come to that.’
But even if Bergen might be small compared to other cities in the world, we have a tight knit community and are known for our vivid student culture.
I hope you will learn a lot from your stay with us, not just academically, but socially and culturally as well. In return, I hope that you may exchange your knowledge and culture with us.
Maybe you will find friends here who would like to come visit your home countries. After all, our Norwegian students are always on the lookout for a place to travel to as exchange students themselves.
We are grateful and proud of the fact that you chose to come to us. Now we look forward to hosting you, and to do our best to make your stay rewarding.
Yet again, welcome to the University of Bergen!