Interview by Lara Rasin, carried out over video on January 31, 2022. Edited by Lara Rasin – last edit 08.02.2022.
Elias Strand is a first-year masters student and longtime member of SAPU. In this short interview, Elias tells us about his experiences with SAPU, social anthropology, UiO, and more.
Hi Elias! Could you start by telling us where you’re from?
I’m from a place called Kolbotn – it’s southeast of Oslo, located just outside of the city border. It’s a 20-minute train ride away, and that’s where I’m based now.
How old are you?
26 years old and turning 27 in March 🙂
What’s your year of study & what study program are you in?
I’m currently doing my first year of the Social Anthropology international master’s program.
I’m on the Contemporary Ethnography track, which helps students imagine and conceptualize what they could use anthropology for when they end their academic run.
Why did you choose social anthropology?
Well, that’s a story! [Lauging] I took a gap year after high school, when I worked. Then, since in Norway we have to take education and it’s practical to do it as quickly as possible, I first applied for an undergraduate degree in something I liked and got good grades in: history. I studied history in Bergen. About halfway in, I found I like historical contexts, and that history helps me talk with people and understand national histories – but that this field wasn’t for me long-term.
At the time, I met someone who was studying social anthropology at a party. I ended up sitting in on one of her lectures, which was about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and how we see the world through language. And this really got my interest.
I realized I’m not one for hard sciences, and not one for humanities, and that social sciences might be the way to go! I don’t like unfinished business, so I completed my first undergrad in history, and went straight into another undergrad degree in social anthropology afterward. These two BAs are very complementary – social anthropology is sort of dealing with history in contemporary situations. But social anthropology is more practical – I can get a job with it [laughing].
What’s the best part about studying at UiO?
We have to realize that prestige plays a big part, both outside of and within Norway. Studying social anthropology at the top-ranked institute in Norway, at an institute department that’s top 50 or top 20 in the world, allows you to get a prestigious degree – especially if you’re going to continue within anthropology.
And, all of the professors tend to be quite easy to talk to and quite open. You can really speak with them and have discussions with them. I think the department really helps contribute to the kind of education you’re going to get.
One con (or pro, depending on your plans) is that it’s not very hands-on; it’s a bit more focused on an academic career. However, this is currently expanding which is good!
What’s the best part about studying in Oslo?
It’s a big city with many things to engage with, and you can meet a lot of people. In Oslo, everything is very close and walkable, and there’s also very good public transport. It’s very easy to just grab a coffee with someone or go for a very nice walk.
Although to me the mix of modern and classic architecture clashes sometimes (but others enjoy it!), I do think it’s a very beautiful city. Oslo is not too overwhelming either. It’s not too much – here you can actually feel like you’re experiencing most of the city.
Your favorite thing to do on campus is…
I don’t really like when institutes merge with the city, so I truly enjoy the fact that we actually have a campus! I really like to walk through and know that a piece of it – our social anthropology area – is my working space, my «company», my place to go.
When I’m on campus, I enjoy meeting people and just talking. Going to university, I know I’m going to spend at least two or three hours speaking with people because you always bump into someone. It’s really nice to be among those who are interested in discussing similar things – because my other friends might be a bit annoyed with me discussing debates about society or structural changes and so on… It’s great to go to university and be with people who are interested in following your train of thought.
So – meeting people is my favorite thing, as well as going to Union, a really nice student lounge.
Are you part of any student organizations?
I’m in SAPU, the Social Anthropological Program Council which is part of the Student Democracy at UiO. I’ve been a part of SAPU since I started studying at UiO in 2018. I’ve had multiple roles here. Currently, I’m a Social Media Coordinator, which I’ve been doing since August 2021. Previously, I was the SAPU President from January 2020 to August 2021. I’ve also worked in other roles in other student organizations like SAF, where I was the Vice President of the Party Committee.
It’s given me a lot, especially in terms of communication with the Institute. I know a lot of the professors, which is pretty nice because when you apply to something outside of Norway, they tend to ask you for a recommendation letter.
I’m also part of the UiO Rugby Club which gives me a lot of joy. Through clubs like that, you can meet a lot of people from different environments and disciplines, and expose yourself to influences from other places through camaraderie.
What got you interested in social media specifically, as part of your current role at SAPU?
When I was President of SAPU, my Vice President and I decided we really needed a platform. This was right as COVID started, and we already didn’t really have a proper place where people could gather. So, we really wanted to have a constant platform where people could come and get important information.
That initially pushed me into making our SAPU website (sapu.no). It was cool to learn about making a website and that’s where I got more engaged with it. After, I wanted to give myself a bit more time because my schedule tends to be very full, so I stepped down from being a leader and wanted to just be Social Media Coordinator.
A piece of advice for those thinking about studying anthropology…
Don’t be too worried about what you’re going to do after graduation. Social anthropology can be used for everything, so just work on finding your interests. That’s what you’re supposed to spend your university years doing; you’re supposed to find interests and expand your visions. You have this opportunity and privilege to sit down and read and spend time with others, so you should make the most of it.
Also, read! It’s important to go through articles – you don’t have to read everything but you should get the main points. Also, use Zotero – it’s a referencing tool that can help you while writing and make things way easier when you’re first learning. Plus, it’s free!
Don’t only read, though. Spend time engaging with clubs and activities, don’t be content with just doing your studies. Do internships, I think internships are super underrated. Something we commonly say in Norway is that people expect you to have six years of working experience when you’ve been in university for six years. But what’s implied is that employers want you to have done an internship, work, activities other than studies.
They know people are capable of doing more than just their studies. I can get As and Bs while doing five other activities and jobs on the side, and I have reading and writing difficulties. I was not supposed to be in university at all. But now I’m reaching top grades at university, which is amazing. Everyone can do what they put their minds to.
This article is a part of SAPU’s «Meet the Students» interview series.