The Exchange Experience
Text: Jie Zhao
It was roughly two months ago when I attended a trip to a forest half an hour away from the center of Oslo. It was organized by the buddy-group in HiOA (Hogskolen i Oslo og Akershus).
The Buddy-group is mainly for those of us who come to Norway as exchange students. As I understand, it is a program run by local Norwegian students to welcome and host the exchange or international students.
I felt the warmth and the hospitality of the hosts from the day of my arrival in Oslo. I was met by my buddy at the central railway station which was a huge gesture of welcome. Our buddies all come from different courses, but all relating to art, like drama and design… They built a Facebook group, and organized ice-skating, waffle making workshops, movie night… Quite a lot of activities during this semester.
It is this experience in the forest that I would find unforgettable. So we went into the woods with supplies including sausages, oranges, and who would forget hot chocolate to keep us warm. I was with several of my classmates from AALTO and our buddies.
We didn’t just enjoy the forest, we also learned life skills. Marius, one of our buddies, showed us how to produce fire and protect it from being put out by the strong wind in order for us to enjoy the experience of grilling sausages in open fire. We were also shown how to use a Viking knife to prepare our unique forks. We shared jokes and laughter, although at times, we really didn’t understand why; it was probably a mixture of the fun and the cold even when the sun was up.
Everyone had a beautiful experience. “It is too nice!” Alex said. I think I ate three sausages, oh, maybe four!
At this point, I recall a dialogue with a friend. She shared with me how strange her feeling was, something so familiar and positive, whenever she had to spend 20 minutes through the forest on her way to work, an experience brought about by her company’s decision to move out of the city.
But another man I spoke with from an activity center in Oslo, told me how he hates the forest. It’s because he thinks that the woods are always there, never disappearing, and how they are always involving people. But unlike the forest, when he dies, nobody will know. His thoughts have a sad and beautiful note to it.
I have been wondering for a long time, why the forest is so beautiful and meaningful to me, and maybe also to you. Then I suddenly realized how a forest is such a vivid background, a stage, a spectacle, reminding us of life and death and the relationships we have. Somehow its existence reminds us of our being.
Jie Zhao’s thoughts travel between art education and the natural and metaphorical beauty of the forest. She was a graphic designer and a lecturer in Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts. Her current journey in the Nordics is a part of her search for various liberating art education processes.