Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock is one big things people talk about when it comes to moving abroad, but the less talked about, and just as relevant, shock is reverse culture shock. In other words, the shock that you feel when assimilating back to your home country. I’m not exactly home yet. I’m currently bumming around my dad’s house in the UK before my final move back to California, and while I don’t necessarily consider the UK home, I have enough ties to the country to make it feel somewhat like a second home. All of this is to say that while I’ve experienced some reverse culture shock in the UK, I’m sure that I’ll experience more when I return home to Los Angeles, and still more once I start my new job in September.

To give you a slightly better idea of what reverse culture shock can look like, I’ve included a picture that I stole from the U.S.-Norway Fulbright Commission. I’ve been told that it’s generally called the W curve of cultural adjustment, and have definitely felt a number of the feelings on the chart at various points before, during, and after my Fulbright.

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As of right now I’ll say that my reverse culture shock breaks down into four big categories:

Everything Looks Weird

One of my first reactions when being driven home from the airport was “Why is there so much brick everywhere?” In the little village where my Dad is based, most homes are made of brick and brick is a common building material. It just looks wrong. Although I myself lived in brick housing for my Fulbright, I would say that the majority of Trondheim is made up of wood. Wood is the dominant building material, especially in smaller towns in Norway. In the UK it’s pretty rare to see a house made completely of wood, and its absence something that I’m adjusting to.

Why Are There So Many People?

When I tell people that I lived in Trondheim for a year, they tend to think that’s code for living in a mountain cave and having a troll for a neighbor. Trondheim is far from being in the middle of nowhere, and it is Norway’s third biggest city. That being said, the population is tiny. A 2012 survey registered the population as being 178,021 people. While I find my Dad’s village manageable (it’s so small that there isn’t even a proper grocery store), I do find larger cities, such as London, to be almost completely overwhelming, specifically when it comes to the number of people that live there.

Friends! (& Family)

One great benefit of being home is being more immersed in an establish social network. I don’t have a particularly strong network of friends in the UK, but the relationships that I do have have been established for much longer, and in many cases are much stronger, than the ones that I had in Norway. It’s also been great to see my family again, and to catch up with them since I last saw them.

I CAN UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING

The biggest shock by far is the fact that I can now understand everything. I didn’t realize exactly how much I’d tuned out of my daily surroundings until I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by simply walking around. I can read advertisements, newspapers, and can even understand my Spotify ads! Out of all of this, I have to say that the thing that startles me most is the ability to inadvertently eavesdrop on people. Because everyone would generally switch to English when talking to me, it’s a bit of a shock to hear English constantly and to realize that it’s not always aimed at me.

Når enden er god er allting godt

Or, all’s well that ends well. It’s hard to believe that my Fulbright is really over, and that it’s already been about a month since I’ve left Norway. Time really has flown by, and I’m very thankful that I was given the opportunity to spend the past year in Norway and to get to learn more about myself and others. I’ve been asked a few times whether or not I’ll continue to blog, and thus far my answer is still maybe. I don’t return to the States for about another month, and while I plan to continue updating my blog with my remaining European adventures, I have no guarantees as to what I’ll decide to do after that (to be honest the fact that I even made it to 150 posts defied most people’s expectations, especially my own). Regardless of what happens, I hope you’ve enjoy reading my thoughts on Norway and on a few other European countries.

Diversity in Norway

As with all countries, Norway has a few stereotypes. The biggest one is that everyone has blonde hair and blue eyes. This means that I’ve been asked multiple times about diversity in the country–usually by people who have a thing for blondes. Well first things first, not everyone has blonde hair and blue eyes. As a brunette, I’ve been quite happy to see a number of kindred spirits walking around. But I will say that asking about diversity in Norway is asking a bit of a broad question, and that a simple yes or no answer doesn’t fully address something so nuanced. I would argue that the better question is perhaps, what does it take to be considered Norwegian.

In the United States it doesn’t necessarily take a lot to establish that you are an American. If you have citizenship that is enough for most people, although as someone who has Asian heritage, I am often asked the annoying question “No, where are you REALLY from?” (to which I will refer you to this video). Although Americans are perhaps not the most skillful at talking and thinking about race, there is no real way to question how American someone is. Because the United States is a nation built of immigrants, there are no real grounds for someone to say that you don’t look or act American enough.

Things are a bit different in Norway. As I mentioned earlier, there does tend to be this idea that there is a Norwegian, or Scandinavian, look. I was talking to one of our current Fulbrighters, Jenna, who came to Trondheim to do a TEDx talk on race, and had the chance to talk to her about her research on race and ethnicity in Norway. Her take on things was interesting. In Norway, race is something that isn’t widely talked about, in fact it is something that a number of academic researchers even avoid in their work. When Norwegians do address race they tend to use the term “non-Western features” to talk about immigrants, or those with immigrant backgrounds. But this labeling is a bit problematic. Jenna was talking to one student whose parents were from Somalia and who asked her about studying in the United States. She gave him encouragement to go study in the States, but said, “Just so you’re aware, people might not initially believe you when you say you’re Norwegian.” His response was, “It’s okay. Not even Norwegians think I’m Norwegian.”

Clearly not all Norwegians have Western features, but unfortunately in Norway it appears as though looks do matter. It’s not enough for someone to have been born and raised in Norway. If they don’t look Norwegian enough, then they have trouble being considered Norwegian. But even for people who do look more Western, things are far from smooth. From what I’ve seen, immigrants who come to Norway from Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, are quite widely accepted, whereas immigrants from other European nations tend to be considered outsiders. In my classes, most of the students who are immigrants are ones who come from Eastern Europe, but to be honest I would have never known these students were immigrants unless my co-teachers hadn’t made a point of explicitly telling me. Turns out looking more Western isn’t everything.

So then what’s the other component to being Norwegian? From what I’ve seen it’s culture. Once immigrants arrive in Norway, Norway focuses a lot of energy on integration programs, or on teaching immigrants how to do things the Norwegian way. Some of the Fulbrighters even send their children to Norwegian integration schools, schools specifically set up to teach foreigners how to become more Norwegian. Unlike the United States, there is a desire to make people Norwegian. Those who don’t fit this mold seem to face difficulties.

Now all of this begs the question of what does it take for someone to become accepted as Norwegian. Is it looks, culture, or a combination of the two? I would argue that it’s a combination of the two. Through my Trondheim activities, I’ve seen a range of immigrant experiences in Norway. It’s pretty clear to me that right now it takes more than a perfect knowledge of Norwegian language, history, and culture to be accepted as Norwegian. It takes looks too. Those lucky enough to balance looks and cultural understanding are often the immigrants who seem to do the best. It’s no wonder that Swedes seem to do quite well in Norway.

Norway still has a long way to go when it comes to the ways in which it looks at what it means to be Norwegian and in the ways that it grapples with race. Norway’s struggles are clearly different from those faced in the United States; however, especially after my conversation with Jenna, I would have to say that I agree with her in that the only way to really start to wrestle with these issues in Norway is to start having a conversation about them.

One Last Norwegian Adventure

I have been incredibly lucky to have traveled up and down Norway (see the Map page for more details), and even luckier to have a great set of Fulbright friends who have been willing to host me and show me around. So it was with a touch of sadness that I boarded a plane for my last Norwegian adventure this year. The destination? Stavanger.

Now there aren’t any Fulbrighters based in Stavanger, but Fulbright was still very much a part of my trip. My travel buddy for this trip was none other than Abby, the Bergen ETA, and one of the fabulous Roving Scholars, Heather, even gifted us some of her Thon Hotel points so that we could spend a night in one of the local hotels.

Both Heather and Lud couldn’t speak highly enough of Stavanger, so Abby and I were pretty excited to start our adventure. The two of us met at the airport and then went to go pick up our rental car. Because we would have a car for the duration of our trip, Abby and I had decided to stay at an AirBnb located in a small town just outside of Stavanger called Sandnes.* Although the town was tiny, it quickly put our driving knowledge to the test. Neither Abby nor I have driven a car in over a year, and we both happen to be from cities that don’t have roundabouts. Sandnes, on the other hand, has a roundabout just about every other block. Luckily we didn’t run into too many cars whenever we were crossing the roundabouts, so our roundabout etiquette was never truly tested.

Because we arrived late on a Friday afternoon, not too much was open. That being said, we walked around the street or two that Sandnes had to offer before stopping by the local supermarket.

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Now one random Norwegian tradition that we decided to take advantage of was Taco Friday. Why and how Taco Friday became a thing is a mystery to me, but all it really means is that the “Mexican” food brands are discounted on Friday, thus causing many people to eat tacos on Friday. Because Abby and I would have access to a kitchen for the majority of our trip, and because we had a car that could transport all of our groceries, we had fun stocking up on road trip snacks and on the appropriate ingredients for breakfast, tacos, and quesadillas. Unfortunately, our AirBnb host had just moved into his apartment, meaning that there was an odd assortment of IKEA kitchenware and no dining room table. While this certainly made cooking and eating its own special adventure, we eventually were able to rustle up some tacos before eating them picnic style on the floor. Once we finished eating and had debated the difference between salsa and taco sauce (we didn’t think there was a significant one), we fiddled with the one heater in the apartment before calling it a night.

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*The dorky knitter inside of me wondered if this was the origin of Sandnes Garn, the yarn that I’ve been using for my knitting projects. Unfortunately I was never able to resolve this question, although I’m inclined to think that it is.

Introverts and the Norwegian Classroom

Not too long ago a friend of mine recommended that I read a book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. As someone who has generally considered myself somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, or an ambivert, I figured I’d give it a read and see what I thought.

The book is written much like an academic thesis, filled with facts, studies, and scholars, yet it is also clearly written to be understandable by the layperson. At times I think this means that the book sacrifices academia for readability, but overall I enjoyed it. In fact, to my surprise, according to Cain’s definition, I’m much more introverted than I thought. You can take a quiz adapted from the book here, but signs that you might be an introvert include:

  • You prefer one-on-one conversations to groups
  • You prefer to express yourself in writing, as opposed to say face-to-face
  • You are happy being alone or independent
  • You are often told you are a good listener
  • You’re generally not a risk taker

And the list goes on. Much of Cain’s book deals with how to appreciate being an introvert in the United States, a society that largely celebrates extroverts. Her book also looks at ways of celebrating introversion instead of critiquing it, and how to maximize your strengths as an introvert. While the book is mostly geared towards introverts, it does provide information on extroverts, and even spends time discussing how the two can best work together. But what particularly struck me about Cain’s book was its implications for education.

So, I thought we’d make a pitstop at the Norwegian education system. Now Norway is notorious for having low levels of in class participation, and I feel confident saying this having discussed this with a number of Norwegians teachers and the Roving Scholars. Students simply don’t want to participate or volunteer. Even getting students to answer straightforward or obvious questions is a struggle. It’s also not uncommon for students to ask to give a presentation in front of just the teacher, instead of in front of the whole class.

Several of my co-teachers said this lack of participation could be traced back to Junteloven, a feature of Scandinavian culture that can be summed up by saying “You shouldn’t think you’re better than anyone else.” According to Wikipedia, Junteloven breaks down into the following ten laws:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as anyone.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than anyone.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than anyone.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than anyone.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than anyone.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at anyone.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about anyone.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach anyone anything.

If that doesn’t crush the idea of the individual, I don’t know what does.

The idea behind all of this is to preserve harmony within a community. In short, if everyone is equal, nobody stands out or can rock the boat.

If you apply those ten rules to the classroom, it becomes easy to see why a student might not want to raise their hand, or appear to think that they know best in front of their classmates. Luckily, my co-teachers have said that Juteloven hasn’t been emphasized as much with younger generations. This might be why children are starting to participate a bit more in class, though nobody would say that class participation is high by any means.

Now all of this brings me back to Susan Cain. Before this book, I had never thought to think of my students as being introverted, and while I’m not saying that a lack of student participation can be traced to introversion, I suspect that introversion does play a significant role in Norwegian classrooms. Luckily, a significant part of Cain’s book looks at how to interact with introverted children, and it specifically touches on teaching techniques. Here are the ones that I thought were most useful, most of them direct from the book:

  • Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured. If help is needed with social skills, teach them or recommend training outside class (similar to if a student needs help with any other skill, such as reading or math).
  • One third to one half of people are introverts. Extroverts like movement, stimulation, and collaborative work, while introverts prefer lectures, downtime, and independent projects. Mix it up fairly.
  • Some collaborative work is fine for introverts, even beneficial. But it should take place in small groups–pairs or threesomes–and be carefully structured so that each child knows his or her role.

Using the points above, here is how I plan on using some of Cain’s suggestions in the classroom:

  • Remembering that it’s okay for my students to be introverted. I think it’s useful to remember that extroverted behavior should not necessarily be the pinnacle of the education model.
  • Mixing up different types of work. I often lecture my students and then follow up with an activity. So far I’ve noticed that they really like games (what student doesn’t?) but I’ve also had them collaborate in large groups. I’m now planning on having them do a few more independent projects.
  • When assigning group work having that work be structured so that each student has a specific role.

I obviously don’t know how successful this will be, or even if my guess about introversion in Norwegian classrooms is correct; however, there is nothing to lose and potentially much to gain. So here’s to trying new things.

Transitions

It’s strange to think that my time here is slowly coming to a close. My mother recently reminded me that I only have about six weeks left (and that she’s counting down the days to my return). I’ve even been given my walking papers by the Fulbright Commission and asked to fill out my final report. I’ve also talked to my successor! I definitely got a sense of deja vu doing that. It seems like just yesterday that I was up early Skyping my predecessor and having her answer all of my questions.

Yet even though there are all of these tangible signs that I’m leaving Norway, I’m definitely not quite ready to go. It’s funny how at the beginning of my Fulbright I felt overwhelmed, and how now I don’t feel prepared to leave. I’m sure I’ll soon be joining the ranks of Norwegian Fulbright alumni who regularly come back to visit.

So, even though I still have a few weeks left, much of my remaining time has been spent thinking back on what I have accomplished so far. So I thought I’d leave you with something that I wrote as part of my final Fulbright report:

When I first arrived in Norway I was nervous. I had never lived in another country for more than a few months, and I had never taught high school students in a formal setting. I had a million and one questions about what would happen in the next year: How would I handle winter? How good would my students’ English be? Would I get homesick? But because I happen to be a huge fan of Google, I made sure to Google just about everything I could find on Norway, Trondheim, and on being an ETA. What people don’t really tell you is that no matter how many blogs or Norwegian guidebooks you read, there is nothing quite like just doing things. So although these resources made me feel a bit more prepared when I arrived, there was nothing quite like just setting off on my own and creating my own new experience.

Arriving in Norway was an adventure. There was definitely a bit of an initial culture shock: Where did all the people go? Is that BROWN cheese or just really weird peanut butter? Does everyone have a hand knit sweater? Why is everything so expensive? It was also strange arriving in a country where the majority of the population speaks English almost fluently. It made everything seem slightly familiar, even though it was clear that I was placed in a new landscape. But I adapted. I can even say that I like brown cheese!

Being in student housing helped me form a friend network and my predecessor even connected me to a few Americans in town. Through this, I managed to feel more at home and branch out and try new things. These new friends encouraged me to take up one of Norway’s great pastimes, hiking, and to even get involved in local community groups, such as TEDx Trondheim. These friendships, both international and Norwegian, have proved invaluable to helping me get a better sense of what it means to be Norwegian and live in Norway, and they have also given me a deeper sense of Norwegian culture.

As for teaching, the teacher’s strike made for an interesting start. Luckily both of my co-teachers were very communicative and I was able to keep on top of what was going on. Once the strike ended, I soon managed to settle into a schedule. My time was divided between working at NTNU and at Byåsen videregående skole (my inability to say videregående is always capable of making my students laugh). In the fall, I spent most of my time at NTNU helping with two classes, Academic Writing and Communication for Engineers. Here I helped hone the writing skills of my students by helping them work on things like structure, topic sentences, and annotated bibliographies. Because the students were supposed to send me weekly writing samples, I could really see how my students improved over the course of the semester.

Although I spent less time at the upper secondary school in the fall, I was able to make up for lost time in the spring. I primarily help with two International English classes and a Social Studies class. In International English, we look at multiculturalism, working and studying abroad, and global issues. It was here that I was largely able to talk about about immigration and race relations in the United States, something that I think my students found enlightening.

With the Social Studies class, I have helped teach both British and American history. Race has also been a huge conversation topic in this class, and I’m happy to say that my students did a great job of delving into To Kill A Mockingbird and looking at the various ways that America has grappled with race. I have also enjoyed teaching them about the American political system and explaining difficult questions such as: Why does the second amendment exist? Why do states have so much power? It’s been a joy to explain these things to my students, and to help them see both the good and the problematic sides of America.

When I’m not in one of those three classes, I have also enjoyed going into a variety of vocational English classes and teaching there. Things are taught at a much slower pace, and the focus is more on getting students to feel comfortable speaking English. Because of this, I have often had more everyday conversations with my students and gotten to learn more about the life of the average Norwegian teenager.

Overall, it’s hard to believe that this year is already drawing to a close, but I couldn’t be more happy with the way that this year has turned out. It has taught me a lot about both Norway and myself and, although I’ll be sad to go, I can’t wait to bring some of the best aspects of Norwegian culture with me.

Discussion Groups and Gender

One of my favorite things to do in the classroom is to have small discussions with students. Norwegian students tend to be reserved, so these smaller discussions allow for them to talk to me in a safer setting and also make it easier for me to evaluate their language skills.

This semester I’ve added another International English class to my schedule, my second one. So far it’s been fun to work with the two different classes and to see how each teacher runs the class differently. The most obvious difference is how they cover the subject material. Both teachers work from the same textbook, but each has prioritized different chapters. In my newer International English class they have been working more with the “Living and Studying Abroad” chapter. Because I’ve done both of these things, I’m a fairly obvious resource, and that’s what initially got me invited to regularly follow the class.

The first time I visited, I more or less held a question and answer session with each discussion group. I’ve often found that Norwegian students don’t usually ask me much beyond a few generic questions:

  • How do you like Norway? (It’s great although the weather could be better. You have the most beautiful scenery that I’ve ever seen)
  • What’s Los Angeles like? (Warm, sunny, with lots of cars and people. I really miss good Mexican food)
  • Why did you want to come here? (I wanted to work with students who have a high proficiency in English. For a longer answer see this old post)
  • How long are you here for? (For a year)
  • Have you visited places in Norway other than Trondheim? (They are usually impressed to know that I have been to Longyearbyen, Tromsø, the Lofoten Islands, Røros, Halden, Lillehammer, Bergen, and Oslo)

but before long their questions peter out, and it’s my turn to take the lead and ask a few questions:

  • Have you ever been to the US? (Most students answer yes)
  • Would you like to go there and where would you like to go? (Standard answers generally include New York, Los Angeles, and Florida. Texas occasionally makes an appearance)
  • What are some American stereotypes that you have? (Americans all own guns, are racist, and fat)
  • What are some Norwegian stereotypes? (Norwegians are quiet, rude, and everyone skis)

Of course I did my best to try and break down some of these stereotypes, both Norwegian and American, and I like to think that by the end both I and the students had learned a bit more about each other.

While I really enjoyed these discussions, my second visit to this International English class actually proved to be more interesting. Part of this same chapter has a passage on gender roles. The students were asked to read a fictional story written by an Indian woman detailing her struggles with her family. The woman primarily writes about how she finds it difficult to get her family to support her career, something that she cherishes. Unfortunately, her family thinks that her career is unworthy of attention and wants her to get married as quickly as possible. Frustrated that her goals are being pushed aside and her accomplishments ignored, the author goes on to talk about how she considers her situation to be even more unfair because her younger brother is doted on, even though he has yet to accomplish anything.

The passage is clearly written to spark a dialogue on gender, so off I went to the corner of the classroom to talk to my students. My discussion groups naturally divided up into three different types of groups:

  • All boy groups
  • All girl groups
  • Mixed groups

To get things started I’d begin with the following questions:

  • What did you think about the passage?
  • What did you think about the way gender is portrayed in the passage?
  • Do you think things are the same in Norway?
  • Do you think that there is gender inequality in Norway?

Now the last question was by far the most interesting. Somewhat predictably, the answers I got depended on the group composition. All boy groups tended to say that there was no gender inequality, or very little. All girl groups would state that gender inequality exists in Norway, although not to the same extent as in the passage. Mixed groups would either 1) have the boys try and claim that there was no gender inequality, and rapidly get shut down by the girls or 2) the boys would wait for the girls to speak up and then support their statements.

The biggest cited gender inequality amongst my Norwegian students? The pay gap. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows the current Norwegian pay gap at 7.01%, certainly better than the United State’s 17.91% (OECD). The other big inequality? A lack of female executives. While a few countries have talked about installing a mandatory gender quota in business, this is something that has existed for quite a long time in Norway. In 2003, Norway required that business boards be at least 40% female or else be shut down. And while this seems like it might solve gender discrepancies at an executive level, this doesn’t turn out to be the case. In 2014, none of Norway’s 32 largest companies had a female CEO, and more broadly speaking, less than 6% of general managers were female (WSJ). Gender disparity also extends beyond the realm of business. Academia proves to be another excellent example where gender quotas might earn women a seat at the table, but might not translate to high ranking positions.

While Norway has certainly taken steps to minimize gender inequality, the flip side is that this can sometimes be used to stifle debate. Instead of taking more steps to continue improving gender equality, sometimes the response can be “We’ve already implemented policies, what more do you want?”

But gender inequality works two ways. I was absolutely blown away by one male student, who in his mixed discussion group, was the first one to talk about gender inequality. To my surprise, his first comment was to talk about male inequality. His example was in education, where he’s seen firsthand that women dominate in primary and lower secondary education. He proceeded to tell me that in Norway it’s a requirement that primary schools have a teaching staff that is at least 20% male, something that most schools struggle to meet, and something that he’s heard about firsthand through his father, a kindergarten teacher. I was absolutely floored by his comments and incredibly proud of him for talking about male inequality. It definitely helped elevate the level of discussion, and I like to think that it gave the girls in his group something to think about.

Although gender inequality does exist in Norway, it’s still been wonderful to live in a much more equal society than the one that I’m used to. It’s incredible how much safer I feel in Norway, and part of that has to deal with the fact that I haven’t experienced any sort of gender related harassment. I actually feel reasonably safe walking alone at night (whether night starts at 3pm or 12am), and that’s been a welcome change.

It’s also great to see how relationships and parenting are much more equal here. I think I’ve seen as many dads out with their kids as I have moms, and it’s great to see that parenthood is something that is respected and celebrated by both genders. One Norwegian that I work with loves to talk about his son and advertise him on Facebook with a #funwithdad hashtag. It’s really wonderful to see. So while Norway still has a ways to go, I still raise my non-alcoholic (because alcohol is too expensive) glass to Norway for what they’ve done so far.

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.

Berlin in a Whirlwind

One of the best and worst things about being a teacher is your ability to wake up early. I’ve regularly gotten up at 6 am in order to get to school early; however, I was largely hoping to sleep in for most of the conference. It was not to be. On the third day of the conference, Abby and I agreed to a 7am breakfast in order to try and get 8 am tickets to the dome of the Reichstag. Unfortunately, the 8 am time slot was already filled, but we were able to get tickets for later on in the day.

IMG_0391  IMG_0393  IMG_0395Undeterred, we set our feet in another direction. When we walked to Brandenburg Gate two nights before, one of the Fulbrighters had taken us to the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under the National Socialist Regime (Germans are not fans of short memorial names). The memorial happens to be almost next door to the Reichstag, so Abby and I thought we’d stop by and see the memorial during the day.

The memorial is located in the Tiergarten and is actually quite calming. It was designed by Dani Karavan and is supposed to be deprived of everything except tears, which are represented by the fountain in the middle of the memorial. The stone in the center of the fountains has new flowers placed on it each day and the stone rises and sinks over the course of the day, deliberately concealing and revealing the flowers. According to the information pamphlet, this is supposed to serve as a way to remember the tragedy anew each day. There is also recorded Sinti music playing in the background, which only adds to the ambience of the memorial.

IMG_0396  IMG_0398  IMG_0400IMG_0402  IMG_0405  IMG_0409Once we were done, we headed past Brandenburg Gate, to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial was officially dedicated in 2005, and is perhaps better known as the Holocaust Memorial. It was built by Peter Eisenman and is made of 2,711 concrete slabs. From a distance, the memorial doesn’t seem very tall, but the street actually dips down and begins to undulate, making you feel slightly off kilter when you walk through it. While it might seem a bit impersonal, it is certainly powerful. It grows more and more disorienting the longer you stay in it.

IMG_0411  IMG_0414  IMG_0416IMG_0422  IMG_0424  IMG_0427From there, we took a short walk through the gorgeous Tiergarten and appreciated the early morning sights and sounds. After a bit of a wander we stopped by our last World War II memorial, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the Nazi Regime. The memorial is very nondescript. It was designed by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset and when you look into one end of the cube you’re able to see a looped video of a gay couple kissing.

IMG_0429  IMG_0438  IMG_0431IMG_0439  IMG_0444  IMG_0449Although our memorial tour made for a sobering morning, it was interesting to see how the Germans have grappled with and taken ownership of their history. While the memorials to the gay community and the Gypsies were not nearly as grand as the Holocaust memorial, it was still nice to see these other persecuted groups recognized in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city.

But, because Abby and I were on a bit of a tight schedule, we didn’t dally too long in the park. We rushed past Brandenburg Gate in the hopes that if we were quick enough we would have some time to go do the Berlin Cathedral before the start of the day’s conference events.

IMG_0454  IMG_0451  IMG_0456IMG_0461  IMG_0466  IMG_0471

Luckily the two of us are quite accomplished power walkers. We made it to the Cathedral with 30 minutes to spare before the day’s first event. Now before Abby and I rushed in, we had to stop and laugh at the door. The two of us are both around 5’3” (160 cm) and the door handle to the church came up to about our eye level. Now I like to think that we would’ve been considered tall back when the church was completed in 1905, so I find the height of the door handle a bit surprising, but oh well. The door didn’t stop us for long.

After we purchased our tickets, we took a quick walk around the center of the church before rushing up stairs to the dome. Although we were in a hurry, we did manage to slow down and appreciate the view from the top of the cathedral. It was a pretty neat sight, especially since this was our first sunny day in the city.

IMG_0476  IMG_0482  IMG_0480IMG_0486  IMG_0490  IMG_0492IMG_0493  IMG_0496  IMG_0497But time was ticking and we had to tear ourselves away so that we could make it to that morning’s first panel. Still, we were still pretty happy to get so much in in just two hours.

Our first event of the day was at Rotes Rathaus, or Berlin City Hall. It is currently the home of Berlin’s Senate and mayor, though historically it used to be the town hall of East Berlin. The first thing on that morning’s agenda was a “European Dimensions Panel,” where people residing in more out of the way countries got a chance to present. The countries represented were Andorra, Bulgaria, Finland, Turkey, and Spain. The presentations really ranged in their content, but it was generally interesting to hear from each representative. If anything, it convinced me that I should explore Andorra at some point.

I will also say that the arbitrator stumbled a bit since he habitually called Sweden, Denmark, and Finland Scandinavian countries. This left the Norwegian crowd a bit confused as to when we had been dropped from Scandinavia and the Finns a bit confused as to when they had been added. For the record, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway comprise Scandinavia, while Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland make up the Nordic countries. But overall, things went quite well for this set of presentations.

After that, there was a short coffee break before we heard a welcome speech by Mark Rackles, the State Secretary for Education. Rackles oversees the Berlin education system in particular, and allowed time for questions at the end. Unfortunately for Rackles, he was largely overrun with questions that were a bit beyond the scope of the Berlin education system. For example, he was asked to provide information on Berlin’s Olympic bid and when the new airport might finally be finished.

But all’s well that ends well. Before too long the questions ended, and Abby and I were off to make our appointment for the Reichstag dome. This ended up being my favorite stop of the day. We had to get there slightly ahead of our 1:30 appointment for security purposes, but once we cleared security we were taken into the building and whisked up to the top floor in an elevator. Once we stepped out we were given an audioguide and told that we could walk around the dome.

Now I’m generally not a huge fan of audioguides. I’m often just too impatient to wait and listen to all that is recorded. To my surprise, the audioguide was excellent. There was no need to press any buttons, and the audioguide started once you began your walk up the dome. The guide also managed to monitor your walk, and if you happened to travel past whatever the audioguide was talking about, it smoothly transitioned into the next track, allowing it to consistently give you relevant information.

IMG_0512  IMG_0513  IMG_0514IMG_0523  IMG_0517  IMG_0519IMG_0535  IMG_0529  IMG_0538As for the building, here are some of the more important events that were mentioned in the audioguide:

  • In 1894, the Reichstag was completed under Paul Wallot.
  • In 1918, Philipp Scheidemann declared Germany a republic from the Reichstag.
  • In 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire shortly after Hitler came to power. The search for the arsonists was used as a way to end parliamentary democracy and begin the persecution of political opponents.
  • In 1945, the Soviet flag was flown over the building to demonstrate victory over National Socialist Germany.
  • In 1961, the building was restored, although it was later reconstructed by Sir Norman Foster.
  • In 1995, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the building in fabric. The building’s unveiling marked the start of the building’s reconstruction under Sir Norman Foster.
  • In 1999, Sir Norman Foster presented the President of the Bundestag with a symbolic key to the building and the Bundestag moved in.

After walking up and down the dome, Abby and I took some time to enjoy the view before heading out for some chocolate.

IMG_0527  IMG_0532  IMG_0544IMG_0548  IMG_0560  IMG_0545IMG_0565  IMG_0563  IMG_0570IMG_0571  IMG_0572  IMG_0573That’s right, our next stop was a chocolate store, but not just any chocolate store. We went to the Ritter Sport store. Not only did it provide us with excellent chocolate, but had we chosen to stick around, we could have purchased our own customized chocolate. Unfortunately it takes 3o minutes to create and process your own chocolate, so Abby and I decided to give it a pass. We did not leave empty handed though, and we were able to snack away on our walk to the Pergamon Museum.

IMG_0580  IMG_0581  IMG_0583Now you if take a look at the picture above, you can see a few cranes. That’s because the Pergamon is currently undergoing renovations. But the museum was still open! Lucky for us, there are still about two floors of the museum that are accessible to the public.

I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect of the Pergamon, but boy was I blown away. The Pergamon has a number of famous antiquities, notably the Pergamon Altar, Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon, and the Mshatta Facade, and these things combine to help make the Pergamon the most visited museum in all of Germany.

I knew none of this going in, so I was pretty stunned when the first thing that I saw was the Ishtar Gate. Unfortunately it was too large for me to capture on my camera, but you get the idea.

IMG_0584  IMG_0587  IMG_0588The gate itself is only a small part of what the original would have looked like. The gate was originally part of Babylon’s northern city wall and was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. The animals that decorate the gate are bulls and “dragons.”

Right through the gate is the Market Gate of Miletus. It’s a spectacular recreation of a Roman trading town in what is now Turkey.

IMG_0589  IMG_0591  IMG_0590Now I thought that we had actually reached the end of the museum at this point. Due to the reconstruction work, we had entered the museum back to front. Normally you would enter through the Market Gate of Miletus, and then pass through the Ishtar Gate. Abby and I quickly figured things out and did a U-turn. It was only then that we noticed the Processional Way. It was hard not to be blown away at this huge Babylonian walkway. I admit, if I had been an ancient invader, I would have been thoroughly intimidated by the wealth on display.

IMG_0597  IMG_0601  IMG_0598The remaining sections on the ground floor were also impressive. Thanks to Jenny Bionda, Abby and I were told that if we kept our eyes peeled we’d be able to see replicas of some of the artwork that ISIS has been destroying in Iraq (see below). Unfortunately, while much of what was on the ground floor was impressive, there were definitely a number of pieces that were replicas, including the Iraqi pieces below.

IMG_2912  IMG_2910  IMG_2913Once we finished with the ground floor, we moved up to the Museum für Islamische Kunst, the Museum of Islamic Art. There was a wonderful array of Islamic art with plenty of paintings, carpets, and ceramics, on display. The most impressive thing however was probably the facade of the caliph’s palace of Mshatta. The facade was made in the 8th century and was originally located in Jordan. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II gave the facade to Kaiser Wilhelm II as a gift after the king expressed interest in the palace. Family and friends take note, your gift giving could be improved.

Another impressive room in the museum was the Aleppo Room, a reception room of a 17th century Christian merchant. The wood paneling and the design work was absolutely fabulous.

If you haven’t noticed yet, the Pergamon has a large number of magnificent reconstructions.

IMG_2925IMG_2917  IMG_2921  IMG_2924IMG_2916Now you might think that Abby and I would have called it a day at this point, you would be wrong. We actually powered through to another museum. Yes, our feet were dying at this point. But that didn’t deter us! Our next stop was the nearby DDR Museum, a museum that focuses on the GDR and life for East Germans.

The first thing I noticed about the DDR Museum was that it was crowded. Remember, even though I live in Norway’s third largest city, its population is only around 172,000 people. I have now become completely inadequate at handling large numbers of people.

The museum is also clearly designed for families, and is thus highly interactive. Maybe too interactive. The museum had a lot of really interesting information, but unfortunately it was unclear how you were supposed to walk around the museum and you often had to open up special compartments and drawers in order to read any of the information plaques. In short, it felt a bit disorganized. I did learn quite a bit however, and here are a few of the facts that I found most interesting:

  • A nudist movement developed in East Germany despite the displeasure of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Even though the Germans were repeatedly asked to “spare the eyes of the nation,” the trend continued until about 80% of Germans swam naked. Lucky for them, only about 10% of the population was uncomfortable with such blatant nudity. According the the museum, this trend came out of a desire to do something forbidden, not a desire for sexual liberation.
  • The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was in dire economic straits due to the way that they organized their economy.  The GDR was forced to import raw materials and often didn’t have the necessary cash to pay for them. In order to generate the money to pay for these materials, it was forced to sell basically whatever it could lay its hands on–including the cobblestones! To make matters worse, Western countries wouldn’t buy East German products, and everything that could be sold was sold at the cheapest possible price. Because of this trade imbalance, it was often difficult to buy things in East Germany, creating a huge black market.
  • Because the SED marginalized the church, it became a political rallying point, eventually attracting thousands of people in the 1980s and helping launch peaceful revolution.
  • Interestingly enough, the GDR has a claim to fame since it was technically the greenest state in the world. Provisions for the environment were written into the constitution in 1968, although in reality the government was far from green.
  • Although I didn’t learn this fact at the museum, I thought this would be an appropriate place to put it. The traffic man, or pedestrian crossing signal in Berlin, more fondly known as ampelmännchen, was actually from East Germany. It attained a sort of cult status and is one of the few things that survived from East Germany.

IMG_0749                                                                                                   IMG_0751After that, Abby and I finally made our back to the hotel for dinner. However, we weren’t there for long. Thanks to a recommendation from Alix, our Norwegian Fulbright group had signed up for a classical concert at Piano Salon Christophori. Thankfully Alix warned us that it was in an old S-bahn station and a bit difficult to find. With her warning ringing in our ears, we didn’t get too discouraged when we had a few problems finding the appropriate door to the salon.

We weren’t allowed to take any pictures of the salon, but I would say that it would best be described as in artful disarray. There were old instruments haphazardly stacked around the salon, with a space cleared for seats and for the performers. Because we made a reservation beforehand, we had a row of seats reserved towards the front of the room, and were able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the concert. It wasn’t the best concert that I’ve ever been to, but it was nice to just sit down and appreciate the music. To make things even better, drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were provided and we all felt very Berliner. Once the concert was over, we made our donations (the concerts are all donation based) before heading back for an early night at the hotel. 

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.