Conference Wrap Up

We took things a bit easier the next day. The morning session of the conference consisted of making an informative video for future ETAs. If you’re an incoming ETA, keep your eyes peeled for a video!

Other than that, Abby and I continued to check out more of Berlin’s well known sites. The first on our list was the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall. We mostly spent our time walking around the Wall and admiring the graffiti and nearby street art. To my great surprise, none of the graffiti on the Wall is original. After the fall of the Wall, artists were commissioned to paint over the graffiti, although many of them decided to stick with various Cold War themes. One of the most well known pieces that we saw was My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, or the Fraternal Kiss. To give a bit more context to the kiss, I’ll go ahead and quote from the DDR Museum, “The Socialist ‘brother’s kiss’ was designed to show onlookers: our relationship is closer than that between capitalist countries. And it is not about who profits, it’s based on humanity, love and peace! This was just as dishonest as the rest of the talk about brotherhood. The Eastern bloc was held together by force–and everybody knew it.”

IMG_0646  IMG_0617  IMG_0644IMG_0621  IMG_0620  IMG_0623IMG_0624  IMG_0626  IMG_0625IMG_0627  IMG_0628  IMG_0629IMG_0631  IMG_0632  IMG_0636IMG_0666  IMG_0657  IMG_0654Once we were done with the East Side Gallery, we walked through Kreuzberg in order to get to Checkpoint Charlie. I have to say that Checkpoint Charlie was perhaps the most touristy place that I saw in Berlin. There wasn’t much to do there per se other than take the obligatory picture of the checkpoint and warning signs. Abby and I had been warned that the Mauermuseum, a nearby Cold War museum, was poorly organized so we decided to give it a pass.

IMG_0669  IMG_0675  IMG_0676IMG_0677  IMG_0681  IMG_0682Once we were done taking our pictures, we walked to the nearby Topographie Des Terrors, or Topography of Terror. The museum initially seems quite small. It is located on the site of the former offices of the Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS) central command. The original building is no longer standing, but you can still poke around some of the foundations. The museum itself only takes up about a tenth of the space that the original building did (it is nestled in the middle of the old building’s foundations).

IMG_0684                                        IMG_0688Although the building was small, it was full of information. Abby and I spent a solid two hours there and didn’t even finish everything. What we did learn was fascinating. The museum documents things starting before Hitler’s rise to power and continues until after World War II. There were a number of things in the museum that surprised me. For example, I had no idea how much social shaming there was for people who didn’t support National Socialist policies or didn’t display enough patriotism. The stats on Hitler’s government were also fascinating. It’s easy to forget how poorly Germany was doing after World War I and how much Hitler really managed to turn around the economy. In other words, Hitler gave people a lot of reasons to turn a blind eye to his more questionable policies and the concentration camps:

  • The number of salaried workers went from 11.5 million in 1932 to over 19 million in 1938.
  • The income of workers, salaried employees, and civil servants increased dramatically. In 1932, it was 26 billion Reichsmarks, and in 1937 it was 39.5 billion Reichsmarks.
  • New homes were constructed. The number of new homes went from 159,000 in 1932 to 340,000 in 1937.
  • The number of marriages increased, as did the number of marriage loans. The government paid out over half a billion Reichsmarks for 878,000 loans from 1933-1937. The number of marriages went from 500,000 in 1932 to 620,000 in 1937.
  • Child allowances were introduced and covered 2 million children in 1938. The birth rate increased and went from 970,000 births in 1932 to 1,270,000 in 1937.
  • Hitler even encouraged vacations through his “Strength through Joy” program, encouraging 22.5 million people to take a holiday.

Having mostly learned about the terrible consequences of the Nazi regime, it was interesting to see what economic benefits came with it. It made a bit more sense to see in hard numbers why so many people would have a stake in the government, and why so many would have supported it.

While the exhibit mostly focused on Germany and Berlin, the end of the exhibit did expand to talk a bit more about how Hitler’s policies affected other countries. Overall it was wonderful museum, although the content was quite heavy. It was nice to step into the sunshine after our two hours there.

Afterwards, we snagged a quick lunch before returning to the conference for the concluding project presentations. The Norwegian group was happy to cheer on one of our own in the first panel. Alyssa did a great presentation on her work at the Munch Museum and did us all proud. Overall, the presentations were really interesting and covered a topics ranging from ancient maps to Legionnaires disease.*

After the panels concluded, we were treated to some snacks and coffee. Today was the last full day of the conference and Abby’s last day in Berlin. Because we had some time before dinner, Abby and I decided to take a late afternoon stroll. We didn’t do too much, but we did wander by Bebelplatz and check out Michael Ullmann’s Empty Library. The installation is to commemorate the public book burning that happened there in 1933, and library’s empty shelves serve as a reminder of how many books were burned. From there we continued to walk past Brandenburg Gate before finally ending in Potsdamer Platz.

IMG_0690  IMG_0691  IMG_0695IMG_0696  IMG_0697  IMG_0699IMG_0700  IMG_0701  IMG_0702But just as we were planning on heading back for dinner, we were invited to meet up with a few other Fulbrighters at Pratergarten, Berlin’s oldest beer garden. Because it was the last day of the conference, it was nice to just relax and have a good conversation with some very smart people. Since most of us were from Nordic countries, we were also able to bemoan the fact that we were missing out on what was apparently the Northern Lights show of the decade. But we weren’t sad for long. Good company, cheap food, and cheap drink go a long way.

IMG_2969  IMG_2967  IMG_2972*The Legionnaires disease presentation managed to scare everyone since water heaters are apparently a good environment for the disease to grow. The moral of the story is to regularly up the heat of your water heater (to kill off the bacteria) or to be suspicious of steamy showers.

Workshops and More

The next day was largely devoted towards the conference. We started the day with a welcome message and then were quickly divided up into different workshops. Because people are involved in such different things, there was a broad range of workshops that we could sign up for. Here were the options that we had:

  • Immigration and Integration
  • Environmentalism/Environmental Consciousness
  • (Performing) Arts in Europe
  • Gender Issues
  • EU Education Systems
  • Relationship between U.S. and Europe
  • Media and the Challenges of Digital Media
  • Return of the Cold War- Era?
  • (Universal) Health Care
  • “Wild Card”/Joker- Group

I signed up for the “Gender Issues” workshop, and it was predictably dominated by women, though there were a few brave men who signed up. While the conversation was lively, I will say that we quickly ran into some structural problems. The first was that our group was simply a bit too large to have a really good discussion. The second was that it was dominated by German Fulbrighters and thus the conversation was largely German-centric (it’s hard to comment on the way gender is presented in the German language when you don’t know German). But, that being said, it was interesting to hear more about the ways in which gender is codified in certain countries. For example, those in Spain suffered from different problems than those in Scandinavia. The conversation ended up wandering from topic to topic, and before too long our time was up and we needed to relocate back to the main conference room. There we were able to hear more from each of the groups, and while many of them also talked about interesting things, talking to people one on one revealed that many of them ran into the same structural issues that our group had.

After that, there was a workshop for senior scholars, which meant that I essentially had the afternoon off. So it was with Abby, the Bergen ETA, and a few other people that I set off for lunch. But not just any lunch, we were in search for what was rumored to be some of the best döner in town. One of the German ETAs who was with us told us that we had to check out a place called Balli Döner near Tempelhof Airport. So off we went, and after a mishap or two on the S-bahn we eventually made it to Balli. It was delicious. Definitely the best döner that I’ve ever had (granted, my experience with döner isn’t that comprehensive).

Once we were pleasantly full, we continued to walk to Tempelhof Airport. Tempelhof is a bit of a legendary place. Not only was it featured in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, it was the site of the first Zeppelin landing in 1909, and where Lufthansa ran its first scheduled flights in 1926. The Nazis made it into a massive compound, and it was one of the world’s biggest and busiest airports during its heyday. It was even used for military parades.

After World War II, the airport became well known for the role that it played in the Berlin Airlift; however, the airport saw its last planes in 2008. Since then, the airport has largely been leased out and the surrounding airfield has been made into a park. Because the airfield is so huge, there is plenty to see and do and the field is peppered with things like a golf course, beer garden, abandoned airplanes, and urban gardens.

IMG_0368  IMG_0369  IMG_0371IMG_0375  IMG_0382  IMG_0385After Tempelhof, we took a short walk around Kreuzberg before heading back to the hotel for the official opening ceremony. The ceremony itself was held at the University of the Arts (UdK) and we were addressed by a number of US and German representatives, with the star speaker being Cem Öydemir, a member of the Green Party and representative in the German Parliament, or Bundestag. Many of the speakers talked about the power of the Fulbright program and the need to encourage and develop relationships between the US and Europe. Once the speeches were finished, a few of the current Fulbrighters performed a few musical pieces and a dance number. After that was complete, we got the chance to mix and mingle before making our way home.

Berlin via Oslo

Yes, yet another adventure, but this time it was for more official purposes. I was off to the German Fulbright Seminar. The Fulbright Program has an office in most European countries, but the biggest of them all is the German program (keep in mind that Senator Fulbright drafted the legislation for the Fulbright program in 1945–shortly after the end of World War II). This year’s German commission has approximately 60 researchers and 140 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs). Considering that in Norway we only have 3 ETAs, 3 Roving Scholars, and approximately 20 researchers, you really begin to see how much larger the German commission is when compared to other countries. Like the Norwegian Fulbright Commission, the German one has their own midyear seminar, although they have graciously opened it up to other Fulbrighters. So instead of having a more intimate seminar like we did in Norway, it is more of a unifying Fulbright conference. It was very kumbaya.

For now though, I’m not going to focus on the conference and will instead focus on how I got there. I bought my tickets very early on in the year so it was actually much cheaper for me to fly out of Oslo than to fly out of Trondheim. This meant that I had to take the train down to Oslo. Thankfully it was not all hustle and bustle to try and catch my eventual flight. I did have some free time in Oslo and was able to finally make my way out to Holmenkollen, the site of Oslo’s famous ski jump. To make things even better, it also happened to be Ski Festival in Oslo, which meant that I actually got to see people ski jumping.

IMG_9936  IMG_9940  IMG_9937IMG_9952  IMG_9948  IMG_9957IMG_9991  IMG_9960  IMG_0028Now I’ve always thought ski jumpers were a little bit crazy. Just think about it, who willingly throws themselves off of a manmade mountain on skis. Crazy people. But, like most humans, I find crazy people a little fascinating, and I can’t resist watching the ski jumpers for a least a few minutes during the winter Olympics. Little did I know how different it would be to watch ski jumpers live.

The cameras always manage to make the landing look like a fairly gentle incline. I’m here to tell you that the incline that they land on is a minimum of a black diamond ski slope, if not a double black diamond. And yes they are landing on it at a significant speed. There is absolutely no way that these people are sane. Of course this made everything that much more fascinating to watch.

One great thing about the Holmenkollen is the way that the stands are designed. You can sit at just about any part of the jump, and I even managed to climb up to the highest part of the stands, where the skiers stop gaining air and start making their descent. As someone who is scared of heights, I found this terrifying. But I did get some good pictures! All those years of taking sports pictures for my high school yearbook paid off.

IMG_0055  IMG_0085  IMG_0093IMG_0113  IMG_0114  IMG_0115It was also fun seeing what Norwegians are like as sports spectators. There weren’t too many Norwegians in the stands when I was there, but they were incredibly polite and they even cheered on and encouraged their rivals (though they obviously cheered loudest for their own athletes).

Once I was finished watching I decided to walk around the surrounding area. Unfortunately large parts of the forest were closed off to preserve the cross country courses, but what I did see was still lovely.

IMG_0031  IMG_0041  IMG_0037

Winter Fulbright Seminar

Thursday was the big seminar day. My last few months of teaching have meant that I have become more and more adept at lecturing last minute, and I was pleased to talk to some of the other Fulbrighters and realize that I was not the only one who had decided to put together their presentation at the eleventh hour.

The Fulbright Commission had organized our talks so that we each had a maximum of 10 minutes and that each group of presentations had 10 minutes at the end for questions. We were loosely grouped by similar topic and the themes were:

  1. Science of the Arctic
  2. Brain Matter
  3. Social and Political Life
  4. University Writing
  5. Literature and Poetry: Online and in the Classroom
  6. Arts and Learning
  7. Reflections on Education in Norway

As you can see, we are quite the diverse group of scholars, researchers, and teachers. Thankfully the organizer of the seminar, Rena, decided to put the sciences at the beginning of the seminar, stating that she would be better engaged with the more complex topics earlier in the morning. I happen to completely agree with her. By the time we got through the Brain Matter topic I had completely lost the thread of the scientific conversation and simply contented myself with reflecting back on the days when I actually remembered high school biology.

But that’s not to say that the talks weren’t interesting. All of them were fascinating (though my comprehension was not at its peak for some of the science ones), and I thought I’d highlight a few of the talks that really stood out to me:

  • Drumlins: my nonscientific explanation of a drumlin is that it is an ovular hill that is formed by glaciers. Nobody fully understands how they are formed (which is the object of this Fulbrighter’s research), but they have some really interesting implications for climate change. Apparently one of the biggest causes for rising sea levels is NOT the melting of glaciers, rather it is the speed at which glaciers are falling into the ocean. Drumlins play a role in that they can act as speed bumps for glaciers and thus slow down their movement into the sea.
  • Human Brain Size: This Fulbrighter aims to learn more about why humans have such big and complex brains. Apparently prior research has only targeted single explanations (food, communities, etc.) but this Fulbrighter wants to develop an explanation that addresses multiple causes for increased brain size.
  • Race and Ethnicity: One Fulbrighter is both teaching a class on race and ethnicity at the University of Oslo, and is also looking at how the two things are viewed in Norway. Interestingly enough, she has noted that there isn’t really a dialogue around race in Norway and that the Norwegian government makes no effort to track race or ethnicity, unlike say the U.S. census.
  • Digital Media: One scholar is looking at e-literature and explained how there can be vast differences in the preservation of e-literature versus classic printed literature. One of the biggest challenges is that changes in software make certain kinds of e-literature near obsolete since the programs or software systems that they run on are no longer in use.
  • Lower Secondary School Roving: I really enjoyed listening to the roving scholar that teaches at the lower secondary school (middle school – high school) level. One thing that I really liked about her presentation was the difference between how outsiders might view the schools versus the way the communities viewed the schools. Having traveled to a variety of locations, some of which are very remote, she commented that most schools have some piece of artwork in the lobby that highlights the way that the students and teachers view the schools. Oftentimes the artwork presents the school as more bustling and friendly than it might appear to be at first glance.

I myself was in the last group with the two upper secondary school roving scholars. Our topic was quite broad so the three of us talked about a variety of things. The two rovers addressed the lack of participation in Norwegian schools, the role of teachers in the classroom, and the connection between child poverty and education.

I decided to look more at student motivation, school structure, and homework. I was even able to talk briefly about my students’ obsession with Justin Bieber. No, I’m not kidding. One Direction is the runner up when it comes to being the heartthrob of choice amongst my Norwegian teenagers, but Justin Bieber seems to be the true ruler of their hearts.

Photo on 2-12-15 at 8.11 AMThe proof is all on my morning whiteboard.

Moving along, I think that the U.S. and Norway schools systems differ a lot in their structure due to student motivation. Disclaimer: I could only really speak about my own high school experience and would say that it’s hard to generalize my experience across the whole country.*

One huge difference that I see in U.S. students versus Norwegian students is their attitude towards university. When I went to high school everyone was incredibly motivated to do well in order to get into their school of choice and to qualify for things like scholarships. My Norwegian students on the other hand don’t really seem to worry about going to university. They are almost guaranteed a place at a university and the bigger question is which university they are going to go to. Additionally, university is free for them.

Furthermore, because U.S. universities place a great focus on having well rounded students, or Renaissance men and women, I found that there is a much greater focus on breadth instead of depth. Students are typically in class for around an hour, which allows them to take a variety of classes. Additionally, they can choose to be in more difficult classes if they wish, such as honors or AP level courses. In Norway, the shortest class period that I’ve worked with is 90 minutes and the longest is four hours. There are no options for honors or higher level courses, and it is actually illegal to have them, unless your school has a workaround with an IB program. In short, Norway has a greater focus on depth instead of breadth.

Another difference is that U.S. high schools have a variety of extracurricular activities that you can immerse yourself in. In fact, participation in these is encouraged partially because it is a huge component of the college application process. In Norway, extracurricular activities are unconnected with the school and are never asked for as a part of the university application process. Thus, students don’t seem to really be involved in any after school activities.

Lastly there is also a huge difference in homework. Now at my old high school, we were told that for a regular class we could expect 4-6 hours of homework per class per week. For honors level classes, the workload was higher at 6-8 hours of homework per class per week. From what I can tell, my Norwegian students would be having a pretty bad week if they were assigned 6 hours of homework for the whole week. One of the Fulbrighters who is a student here in Norway has even said that he knows university students who refuse to study on the weekends just out of principle. Overall I would say that homework is not assigned as regularly in Norway, the work that is assigned is short, and at the high school level there doesn’t seem to be an expectation that students will do the work. It reminds me more of university classes in the sense that teachers seem to adopt an attitude of “If you do the work you should pass and if you don’t you’ll probably fail. Either way it’s on you, the student.”

Overall, feedback systems and major projects tend to be lacking. I was talking to some of the other ETAs and we were speculating that the reason why so many Norwegian students struggle with writing at the university level is because they only write about five essays during their entire high school career.

I concluded by saying that while the U.S. might have a more rigorous curriculum, it can also be a bit more competitive. In contrast, Norway has a greater focus on depth in their education system and the students are more relaxed. Both systems have their pros and cons and hopefully we will get an education system somewhere in between the two.

During the Q&A I was asked by an embassy official whether or not I thought the more relaxed attitude of Norwegian students is related to the comprehensive welfare system that exists in Norway. Funnily enough I have talked to some of my co-teachers about this very question and I think that the answer is yes. In the United States higher education is much more closely linked with better jobs and financial security than it is in Norway, and I believe that this helps push American students to perform. In Norway, my students don’t have to worry about falling through the cracks, and even if they do, they have a good safety net to catch them. The welfare system in Norway provides for its citizens in many ways, and one of the biggest ways is that it helps alleviate the worries associated with poverty. It’s possible for my students to leave school and still do very well in Norwegian society without higher education. And while that is truly a wonderful thing, it also does seem to affect classroom performance. Many of my co-teachers have said that students are much less focused or driven than the students they’ve had in previous years, or when Norway was a poorer country.

BUT the seminar was not all that we did on Thursday. Once we were done, we made our way to the U.S. ambassador’s residence. The way was slippery and my shoes were not the best for sliding on ice (one Fulbrighter took so much pity on me that he offered me a piggyback ride), but we all made it to the residence in one piece. We had a great time mingling with the various guests, listening to the final two Fulbright presentations, and of course eating.

Currently the U.S. doesn’t have a Norwegian ambassador, but the flip side of that is that the chef was quite excited to have someone to cook for. I have to admit, he really outdid himself. The dinner was scrumptious. I did get a bit held up though when after grabbing a plate of food I was drawn into conversation with an embassy official. Luckily he noticed after a while that my hand carrying my very full plate of food was beginning to shake and let me run off and eat. I would clearly make a terrible waitress.

I do have to say though that the culinary highlight was dessert, entitled “The World’s Best Cake.” Now with a name like that you both have to eat the cake and be skeptical of it. It was in fact pretty fabulous. It was covered with meringue on the base and the top, as well as slathered with cream. In fact, I don’t know anyone who didn’t go back for seconds. I even asked someone at the embassy if they could get me the recipe.

But we couldn’t stay at the residence indefinitely. Having boozed and schmoozed for several hours, all that was left for us to do was to return back to the hotel and dream of skiing in the morning.

*Interestingly enough you can pretty much generalize across Norwegian schools. Many of the schools are very homogenous in terms of curriculum. Abby, the Bergen ETA, and I teach the same course and use the same materials even though we’re in different cities and counties.

Winter in Oslo

It seems as though the theme of February is Norwegian travel. The day after I got back from Røros I was yet again off on another trip. For those of you who are wondering, I do in fact really enjoy Trondheim and my travels do not reflect a desire to escape from it. This time my trip was somewhat mandatory. I was off to Oslo for the winter Fulbright seminar and ski retreat.

The seminar itself was on Thursday, but I was able to fly in on Wednesday. Because I arrived in the afternoon, I had some time to walk around the city. Having really loved my visit to Vigeland Park in August, I thought I’d pay it another visit to see if I could catch some snow on the park’s statues.

Unfortunately it was too warm for snow, but not too warm for ice. The park’s paths were incredibly icy, and to make matters worse the ice was melting. Because ice has more or less disappeared in Trondheim, I have stopped wearing ice grips on my shoes and didn’t bring them with me to Oslo. So when I initially saw the icy roads going through Vigeland Park my face fell. Lucky for me, I have managed to develop enough skill when it comes to walking on ice that I managed to avoid falling.

IMG_9397  IMG_9389  IMG_9401IMG_9417  IMG_9422  IMG_9432IMG_9446  IMG_9466  IMG_9493IMG_9472  IMG_9507  IMG_9483IMG_9514  IMG_9520  IMG_9524Even though I didn’t get to see any snow on the statues, I still had a great time walking around and seeing the park in winter. Vigeland Park still remains one of my favorite Oslo sights.

From there, I went back to the hotel to meet two other Fulbrighters, Alyssa and Meghan. The three of us set off on the 1 subway line for Frognerseteren. Our goal: sledding. Not just any sledding though, we were going out to Oslo’s most popular run, Korktrekkeren, or the Corkscrew. The run is 2000 meters (1.24 miles) long with an elevation drop of 255 meters (836 feet). The course starts at Frognerseteren and ends at Midtstuen, seven subway stops away (approximately a 13-20 min ride). The course itself is free, but the sleds are not. There are two kinds of sleds, wooden and metal, and Alyssa told us that we should rent the metal ones. Apparently when she and her friends had tried renting the wooden ones many of them were broken or falling apart.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures. Because we went late in the evening, my iPhone wasn’t able to do justice to either the course or the magnificent view of the Oslo skyline. Overall, the sledding was incredibly fun and the run took us about 15 minutes from top to bottom, not factoring in the subway ride. A few things to note are:

  1. The course is groomed every evening so it’s best to do the run in the morning. By the time we went, there were a number of snowy mounds that had formed, which depending on the size of the mound meant that you either caught some air on your sled or simply slammed into the mound.
  2. I wouldn’t recommend going on a weekend since I’ve been told that it’s absolutely packed.
  3. Lastly, there is only one restaurant at the subway stop, so if you intend on eating be prepared to either eat at the restaurant or to bring your own food.