Physics at UC Berkeley

“Do you want to come in?”
“Not really, but I guess I have to”

This was my first encounter with the Fulbright foundation. After putting numerous hours into my application, writing about myself and my plans and running around to ask my old professors about letters of reference, I had been called in for an interview. I had been nervous all morning and was mostly looking forward to being done with the interview, regardless of outcome. I was not sure what to expect, and I was a bit worried that I would be too nervous to express myself coherently in English. I was happily surprised to be met by a very friendly and understanding set of interviewers that made me relax and brought the best out of me. After the interview, I realized that organizing a year in the U.S. might not turn out to be as difficult as I had feared.

I spent the fourth year of my five year long master’s degree in applied physics at UC Berkeley in California. The goal of the stay was a combination of making up my mind about what I wanted to focus on for my master’s thesis and preparing myself academically for said master’s thesis. I hoped that a year at one of the world’s top universities for physics would give me insight into the opportunities that lies within the field of physics and tell me how my Norwegian education stacks up against the rest of the world.

Academically, I got all the challenges I could ever hope for. Adjusting to a new university is always difficult, especially as a student within a tough field like physics. When taking physics classes in Norway, I spent most of my time reading and building up my understanding of the topics we covered, before intensively focusing on problem solving the last few weeks before the exam. At UC Berkeley, we were expected to solve a long series of challenging problems every week. The problems often included material from earlier classes, and I found myself reading up on material that the professors expected me to be familiar with all week, going to office hours to get some hints before finally being able to solve the problems the night before the deadline. Luckily, it did not take too many weeks before I had filled most of the holes in my knowledge, and I had made friends that I could work together with and that could teach me how to survive at Berkeley.

As it was my first visit to the U.S. I was excited to experience American culture. Living in the U.S. was not that different from living in Norway, but there were many small details (in addition to the Californian climate) that constantly reminded me that I was in a foreign country. The traffic lights were different, the sandwiches were sweeter and there were yellow cones with the text “slippery when wet” everywhere. Many of these details were familiar from American movies and TV series, and I sometimes felt like I was in a movie.

I was most surprised by how much more common it was to be approached by strangers in the U.S. When walking around campus, people I had never seen before would tell me that they liked my shirt and when people overheard me talking with my Norwegian accent, they would sometimes ask me where I was from. The students at Berkeley were often delighted when they learned that I was from Norway and wanted to know how to pronounce “Kygo” and learn more about Norwegian politics. The strong support of Bernie Sanders (a strong proponent of some key elements of Scandinavian politics) at Berkeley and the election of Donald Trump inspired many interesting discussion with American students.

My year in the U.S. gave me experiences that I will never forget and prepared me for the final year of my master’s degree and the rest of my career. I want to thank the Fulbright Foundation for giving me this opportunity!