:CHAITRAS BLOG: Life in Norway!

:CHAITRAS BLOG: Life in Norway!

Chaitra´s Norway: Journalist Chaitra Shamraya co-works at Oslo Media House.  Foto: Gorm K. Gaare.

  • From the student life in the village of Volda on the Norwegian west coast to the struggle with starting her career as an international journalist and an activist in Oslo and working to establish her Ph.D. project - follow Chaitra Shamraya´s journey from student to a career in journalism, activism and publishing
  • Life in Norway - Part One



During my Masters in Broadcast Journalism from Manipal University, India, the college offered a scholarship program with its bilateral university in Volda. The exchange program was my golden ticket, and I wanted to give it a shot. To be an eligible candidate, I worked hard on academics since I did study Science for five years and two years of the mortgage. Journalism was a new platform, but my interests in communication and linguistics helped me with my academics. While most of the students stayed at the hostel, I had to commute every day for about 90 minutes one way. I dedicated myself to excel in this Master's degree, as I believed it would change my life.



After a couple of interview rounds, I was one of the candidates who got listed for the study abroad program. The real challenge was to convince parents to apply for the visa, requesting funds for visa and air ticket money, and training the mind for the cold, especially minus degree. I lived with my parents in Mangalore city and with my sister during an internship in Mumbai, and neither of those places did the temperature ever drop below 21 degrees. To cope with the change in weather, my own and packing essentials for someone who owned only summer clothes were mayhem.   


All I remember is my first experience of watching snowflakes falling effortlessly in my face, my palms, and melting down.


I left India on January 7th, 2016, the temperature was 32 degrees and the thought of flying abroad for the first time made me a little nervous. Touched down in Oslo on the 9th of January to minus 17 degrees, but all I remember is my first experience of watching snowflakes falling effortlessly in my face, my palms, and melting down. It was something in its purest and most childlike form of beauty. The sense of appreciation that to see something I dreamed of merely because it is a breath of fresh air. It has been four years now, but I still remember every bit of this magical moment. 


Volda, a tiny town located on the west coast of Norway in between the mountains, is a place that one can never forget. The first thing I noticed is that they drive on the right side of the road, Volda doesn't have traffic lights, let pedestrians cross the road first witch for an  Indian, and creates some disbelief. The switch turns on the other side, people express less, and I express with hands and nodding my head, they drink more coffee which makes them the second most coffee consumers in the world, they take coffee breaks in between class hours, you call teachers by their first name and this one is the most difficult. I like to address people by their last name, in due respect. 


The courses offered at Høgskulen in Volda were perfect to experience Norwegian nature and embarked on my adventure as a short film director. I enjoyed every bit of social gatherings, which gave me more insight into different cultures worldwide, mostly Norwegian, which treats you equally. The first word which impressed me was kjæreste, meaning boyfriend/girlfriend without gender-biased. You are allowed to speak your mind, or not speak at all, to prioritize yourself. Volda gave me time to work on myself, grow, heal, be the individual that I always dreamed of, be independent, and build my confidence. 


After finishing my semester, I got a certificate of Masters in Journalism, but I craved more. I desired to live, to experience more, so I decided to stay back for another year. I renewed the student visa for a year, which was about 3500 NOK back then, as I got placed in Outdoor Media Production, Bachelor in IKT. Unfortunately, I had no home university to support my funding, so I had to look for a part-time job. I had to show UDI that I have access to NOK 116,369 for an academic year or display a work contract. I was quite lucky to find a part-time in a small town like Volda, it wasn't the best job, but it gave me the deal.



In the first half of the year, my course took me to different locations on the west coast to film outdoors, and I made short videos on cabin trips, northern lights, a fishing harbor, and a promotional video for the Stranda hotel. December was when I finally received my Student Visa, which gave me access to a Norwegian ID number, bank account, Norwegian phone number, and Tax card. Meanwhile, I joined another part-time job, and I had to wait for the salary to be credited because the visa application took some time than expected. The employer could never pay my compensation, and I lived on the tips, decent money 80-100 NOK on weekends. I was not eligible to apply for lånekasse or NAV to help an international student like me borrow money from friends and family as I disconnected and distant. 




A year later, the University of Volda offered a new master's degree in English for Media students. The International Office offered me a part-time job in Pangaea, an organization helping new students with their pickups from the airport, showing accommodation, organizing glacier/ski trips, fun, cultural events, and residence registration. You call me lucky? I think I am destiny's favorite child, an opportunity came knocking on my door, and I embraced them to learn and experience more. I found myself hanging out more with international groups in Pangaia apart when I worked down where I had to learn basic Norwegian vocabulary to understand and interact with local people. I got back in making connections with people from different parts of the world and reconnected with family and friends.



Volda taught me to let go of all the fears and to overcome the challenges step by step.


Finishing up my second Master's was a challenge to me; I had to do two jobs to earn and pay bills. Furthermore, I wanted to give my Master project enough time and write a dissertation, so I had to quit one of the jobs to make room for my academic work. Meanwhile, I planned to move to a bigger city, and that meant to leave Volda, and I had no heart to say goodbye to the place yet. Volda taught me to let go of all the fears and overcome the challenges step by step, learn to be patient, especially with myself, and make me a stronger person- a fierce warrior if I could say! It was difficult, but I already made up my mind because Volda turned out to be my comfort zone, and I had to take a blind leap to grow.



I took a bus to Oslo, and my friend gave me room to stay to drop the CV application around and make contacts. The first interview hit it off, and I got myself an internship in the Oslo Media House, a co-working space for freelancers and small editorial teams and freedom of speech-activists. I started to contribute as a journalist at the local magazine Oslo Business Memo. Lucky again? My master thesis on the lives of trans women in India landed me in this internship. I believe in hard work and dedication to keep myself calm and be focused. I applied for a job-seeking visa (5400 NOK) in June, and I knew I have six months to establish myself in a company that could give me a work contract. The challenge is learning Norwegian because I don't have good spare time for the Norwegian learning course, which again costs some money. 



After delivering speeches and spreading awareness on Transgender India in two conferences at Oslo Media House, I recognized myself as an activist who uplifted trans life. This conference helped me grow my network, and I got myself a part-time job in the same media house who let me write this article.  My work at Oslo Business Memo ranges from online video streaming, photography, and interviewing and writing articles. My work colleagues are so warm and welcoming; they even speak to me in Norwegian to pick up the language and indeed helps me practice daily. I believe in achieving more as I work as a journalist, and an activist, in Oslo. At the same time, I prepare myself for Ph.D. studies, one of my big goals before moving on with my career as an international journalist. 

It´s a fight with the clock to achieve an established Ph.D. project because of the Norwegian Visa regulations.  I have been waiting for affirmation from UDI for quite a long time now. I understand the procedure here takes time, and it is not the first time I am applying for Visa. The job seeking/ researcher visa takes about six months to process. In the meantime, we have to update the state with a work contract, apartment details, and information on general income; currently, I have a student visa status, which allows 20 hours of work over a week. But living in a city known for its overpriced apartment (6250NOK/month) while working part-time, eating plant-based food, and paying bills is itself a lot to juggle, and I just wished that I receive the answer soon so I could work full time and prepare 100% for my Ph.D. research study. 


My application is under process, and I work part-time, but missing out on tremendous opportunities as the visa doesn't let me work full time. Living in a bigger city is expensive, and the apartment here consumes most of my income, but well, everyone has their struggle. A couple of weeks ago, some thieves broke into my workplace, stole Mac computers, few pieces of equipment from the podcast room. They also succeeded in stealing my camera bag with a flashlight, an 18-200mm canon lens, and two hard drives, with all the pictures and memories from back home. The other one had all my video projects, two documentary files that I was editing. I don't care much about flashlight and lens, but the two drives had good old memories and all my projects, including progress. Trying hard not to sound dramatic, I feel partial as if they stole my identity in work and memory.  




My clan back home is still upset as I don't fit in their box of  ́married by 25 ́, ́Kids by 30.´


I tackled it well because I am a hustler, I don't stop, and it will look effortless because I don't show the weights I carry. These weights have been pulling me down. Lately, it has come to the point that I feel exhausted at times. But well, this is what I subscribed for, right? Nothing is easy when you live in a county miles away from home and away from people I grew up with for 25years. Yet I am glad that I have folks here who make time for me and have turned out to be a more significant part of my life. My clan back home are still upset as I don't fit in their box of  ́married by 25 ́, ́Kids by 30 ́, nor I follow the community beliefs I am just a spiritual person.



Norway has helped me reinvent myself; I am thankful for all the experiences I have had so far, from getting a second master's degree to work as a journalist. Now I dream of calling myself a Ph.D. degree in making more projects of my interests; yes, it is not a piece of cake. 

Life is all about making the right choice for yourself, grabbing the opportunities, and making the best of it, believing, and never giving up on yourself.  Nothing is ever accomplished without a desire; these desires gave me wings of `imagination´ to visualize the life I want to have and `faith ́ in myself and the universe. I had one golden ticket, it came with a considerable price, and I had to choose my family's dreams. To believe that it's all going to work out while I had a few pennies in my pocket, and I couldn't ask for a dime from my family. I had to keep walking ahead, and the universe worked it all for me.



As I am looking forward to the adventures of this decade, I want to confess that I never knew I would come so far. Ten years back, when I had just graduated with a Bachelor of Science, I had no thoughts about taking another degree or leaving the country. Turning a few pages back in time, I found myself limiting my capabilities, not striving to achieve more as I was happy in my comfort zone. I felt the need to be true to my highest values, make a more significant contribution, and share my gifts with the world.

Hence, to implement the change, I focussed more on who I want to be and create that person, give my best shot in every field of work, and make a good impact while learning and growing to be a better person. One needs to develop courage and vulnerability in the face of fear to live our lives authentically. Trying to change the world without changing our habits for the better is futile. Everything is alive and connected to this incredible, vast, mysterious evolving cosmos, and we must help another being. One of the critical lessons I have learned so far is that nobody will save you, and you are on your journey and writing your own story.