I had a great time this week attending Norway’s Fulbright Orientation in Oslo. If I remember the numbers correctly, 19 of us were able to attend the orientation but there are a total of 27 Fulbrighters in Norway for the 2014-2015 year. We break down into:
- 3 English Teaching Assistants
- 3 Roving Scholars
- 1 Arctic Chair
- 20 Researchers and Scholars
While the US government used to provide the majority of the funding for Norwegian Fulbrighters, this trend has reversed. These days, the Norwegian government funds 72% of the Fulbright program, the US government funds about 24%, and the remaining 4% is from private donations (2013 Annual Report). We started the beginning of the first day learning a bit more about Senator William Fulbright and the history of the Fulbright program. A few choice things to know about Fulbright are that he was a Rhodes scholar, the youngest university president in the country (circa 1936), and was called “an overeducated Oxford son-of-a-bitch” by Truman.
Fulbright was both a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but it was in the House that he passed the funding for the Fulbright program. The original focus of the Fulbright program was not educational, rather it was seen as a way for indebted countries to pay off their war reparations and loans by providing for these scholars. The reaction by the American public to the Fulbright program was frigid, and several newspapers railed against Fulbright, complaining that he was throwing away his “good” American education and trying to force an unwanted British education on Americans.
We spent the rest of the orientation learning more about the Fulbright program in Norway, and we also got a great overview on Norwegian life and society. As the title of this post states, we learned that we are “not in Kansas anymore.” A few fun facts that I got out of this part of the day:
- Norway has the population of Alabama (hitting the 5 million mark in Norway was apparently a BIG deal), is the size of Montana, and has the economy of Massachusetts.
- The majority of the population is a member of a national church although few are religious (the number of members a church has helps determine the amount of funding they receive from the government).
- The number of women in the workforce is almost equal to that of men; however, women are more likely to have shorter working hours or work part-time and there is still a considerable wage gap between men and women.
- Lastly, Norway’s population is very politically active when you compare it to the United States. The average voter turnout is just short of 80%, and it was suggested during the orientation that each vote matters more because Norway has a proportional system of representation. Many people are involved in the political process from a young age, and several representatives of Parliament are in their early twenties. Members of Parliament are also much more accessible in the US and I’ve been told it’s generally very easy to meet with your MP in person.
Now for my favorite part of the day. We got to go to a reception at the Nobel Institute. The Nobel Institute is where they announce the winner of the Nobel peace prize, deliberate on the nominees, and have archives on the Institute and past winners of the peace prize. All of the Fulbrighters had a chance to announce their project in the same room where they announce the peace prize and then the rest of the time we had fun getting to mix and mingle.
The former head librarian also led a small tour of the Institute and was able to explain some of the history behind the prize. The Nobel peace prize is the the only Nobel prize given in Norway (and there is no definitive answer as to why that is). Nobel’s will mandates that the prize be given at least once every five years (notable occasions when it was not given include periods during World War I and World War II) and a lot of people, countries, and organizations are asked for nominees. The Nobel peace prize can be divided up between a maximum of three people or organizations every time it is given. The nominating committee is made up of members of Norway’s Parliament and they are elected for six year terms. Each year’s list of nominees is sealed for 50 years (Martin Luther King Jr. received the award 50 years ago so his year’s list of nominees will be released this year). Awards can be awarded posthumously as long as the people were alive when they were nominated (which is what stopped Gandhi from being nominated for the award). Awards cannot be given back, although they can be refused.
One particularly interesting story we were told was that Hitler was actually nominated for the peace prize in 1938 (his nomination was quickly withdrawn). Ironically enough, Hitler had banned Germans from accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 after the prize was awarded to Carl von Ossietzky, the man responsible for revealing Germany’s rearmament.
We also got a chance to walk around the room where the deliberations are made and were all surprised when the librarian told us that the nominating committee had just met, forcing her to turn over the pages of their notes so that we couldn’t see who was being considered for this year’s award. While we were all tempted to try and sneak a peak at the notes the librarian made sure to kept a sharp eye on us.