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.

Oil and Alternative Energy

Oil is something that is very salient in the minds of Norwegians, and it is oftentimes something that can literally dominate the Norwegian landscape.* I’ve seen more than my fair share of Statoil offices. 

Yet Norway has a convoluted relationship with oil. This makes sense when you consider that Norway is one of the countries at the forefront of encouraging environmental change; yet it is a country that has nearly a fifth of its gross domestic product (GDP) based on the offshore oil and gas industry. Oil is the resource that propelled this once cash strapped nation into spectacular wealth. A fact that Norwegians are acutely aware of. 

Oil was originally discovered in Norway in 1969, and the government has taken great care to manage this resource and the resulting wealth ever since. Norway’s oil wealth was originally used to develop Norway’s poor infrastructure and was then used to pay off the country’s debt. Once this was completed in 1995, the Norwegian Petroleum Fund was established. The fund was created to invest in the wellbeing of future Norwegians and to help support the country’s aging population. Considering the objective of the fund, its name was later changed to the Government Pension Fund. 

The fund itself has its own fascinating restrictions. Fund managers are only allowed to invest the fund in businesses outside of Norway in order to safeguard the local economy. Furthermore, funds can only be invested in ethical companies and countries. For example, companies that have a poor environmental track record or countries that have human rights violations cannot be invested in. A portion of Norway’s annual budget can come from the Government Pension Fund, but this portion caps out at a measly four percent. Granted four percent of a $845 billion is still pretty sizable (Reuters).  

The fund is one of the things that very clearly demonstrates the long term view that Norwegians have adopted towards oil. Aware that their oil supply is finite, Norwegians are stockpiling their wealth in preparation for the day when their oil runs out. In the meantime, they have adopted a responsible approach towards trying to create a more responsible and ethical world, even as they harm the environment through the oil industry. Everyone is aware of the irony.

Outside of oil, Norway is committed to combating climate change. In 2007, Norway pledged to become carbon neutral and have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Although Norway has fallen in Yale’s Environmental Performance Index,** it is still doing quite well and was ranked 10 out of 178 countries in the 2014 rankings (the United States was 33 in case you were wondering). Almost none of Norway’s energy comes from fossil fuels. An impressive 56% comes from renewable energy sources and about 99% of its total power production is hydroelectric (intpow). Norway has even figured out how to burn trash to create energy (BBC).

Working at NTNU this past semester has also shown me that a significant percentage of my generation is dedicated to working in alternative energy. In my course, Academic Writing and Communication for Engineers, a significant number of my approximately 110 person class was writing their engineering theses on alternative energy. In their weekly writing, many of them would write about the importance of finding an alternative to oil. Most of these engineers were focused on hydropower or wind power, but there were also a few working on solar power. Even my students who were planning on going into the oil industry spent some time writing about reducing the environmental impact of oil.

So while Norway is committed to weaning itself off of oil, it is definitely still a process. The recent fall in oil prices has left its mark on Norway, and an estimated 40,000 jobs are on the chopping block as many oil companies cut back their operations and shut down projects (Bloomberg). The road ahead may be rocky, from what I can see, it looks like Norway is doing a great job of trying to navigate it.

*Random aside: I would say that an industry equally important to the Norwegian psyche would probably be fishing, specifically cod. I cannot emphasize enough the Norwegian obsession with cod. Cod liver oil is the equivalent of the Norwegian fountain of youth and considered a cure all for basically everything. Many Norwegians have a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day, and it’s not uncommon to see or hear the phrase “In Cod We Trust” (as opposed to “In God We Trust”).

**At this point even my competitive Harvard spirit admits that Fale manages to get things right every once in a blue moon.

Jeg går på norskkurs

(I go to a Norwegian course)

In case you were wondering, yes I am trying to learn Norwegian. I’ve been going to classes for about four weeks and have managed to master some fairly simple phrases. As of right now I can:

  1. Conjugate in the present tense
  2. Conjugate in the future tense
  3. Know how to make nouns singular and plural
  4. Know how to use definite and indefinite forms
  5. Construct basic subject-verb-object (SVO) sentences
  6. Tell time

Now you’re probably wondering why I decided to stick time on my list. It’s because telling time in Norwegian is bit of a headache. Norwegian is the third language that I’ve tried to pick up and it’s the ONLY language where you can’t just say it’s hour x and minute y.

So, how do you tell time in Norwegian? Well, first of all you need to divide the clock into quarters (see the picture below). Next, you need to know that when telling time everything changes depending on which quarter you are in.

For the first quarter, you essentially you pronounce time the way you would in English. So in the first quarter everything would be pronounced like this:

12:01 = 1 over 12
12:05 = 5 over 12
12:10 = 10 over 12
.
.
.
12:14 = 14 over 12

Once you pass the 15 minute mark everything changes. You add an hour to the actual time and subtract the minutes from the 30 minute mark. So:

12:20 = 10 på halv 1
12:25 = 5 på halv 1

Once you pass the half hour mark you still add an hour to the actual time but now you add the minutes from the 30 minute mark. So:

12:35 = 5 over halv 1
12:40 = 10 over halv 1

And once you get into the last quarter hour you subtract minutes from the 60 minute mark. So:

12:50 = 10  1
12:55 = 5  1

Each of the quarter marks also has their own special phrase. So for example, 12:30 wouldn’t be 0 på halv 1. It would just be halv 1. If you now have a headache, don’t worry I did too.

While telling time has taken me a few days to get used to, I would say that Norwegian hasn’t proved too difficult to pick up. The grammar itself is pretty easy to understand so all I really need to do is just buckle down and memorize more of the vocabulary.

As for practicing Norwegian outside of the classroom, it’s taken a while to learn some more practical vocabulary and phrases. While knowing how to say “My name is,” “I come from,” “I study,” etc., many shopkeepers aren’t particularly interested in knowing those details. Most of what I’ve been able to say on a day-to-day level is limited to “Thank you” and “Where is (insert random grocery store item here)?” But it’s only been a month, and I’m sure I’ll be able to communicate a bit more with people before the year is over. I did have one great moment last week when a student asked me a question on my way to my office at Byåsen. The conversation itself was a bit clunky and went something like this:

Student: Er du lærer? (Are you a teacher?)
Me: ……YES! I mean ja! I mean how can I help you?

She quickly realized that she’d have to ask her actual request in English, but hey I was just happy that I understood her question (and that she actually thought I was a teacher, not another high school student).

Yo ho, Yo ho! A Pirate’s Life for Me

As you’ve probably noticed, titles are not my specialty. It’s something that many of my former teachers and professors have bemoaned, but hey I figure it’s more interesting than writing the week number. I swear the title will make sense later on.

Work at Byåsen is starting to pick up, and my co-teacher, Kirsti, has sent an email to other teachers letting them know that they should contact me if they’d like to have me stop by any of their classes. I’ve gotten a few emails asking for me to drop by later on in the semester, but this week I got to go to a social studies class. The teacher of this class just so happens to be an American, and we had a great time talking before class about American history and what the kids are learning about. This semester her students are covering the British Empire, while next semester they learn about the U.S. This week we talked a bit about the Scottish referendum, what people within the U.K. are saying about it, and what a separate Scotland could mean. It’s been really interesting talking to other Europeans about the Scottish referendum, especially since it’s so different from the experience I got in the U.S. In the U.S. I heard pretty much no one talking about the referendum and all of my daily news digests only casually mentioned it. The reason why I even heard about the referendum was because I took a class on England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales my senior spring. In contrast to this indifferent American response, the referendum is water cooler gossip in Norway, and many of the people that I’ve talked to have been saying that Scotland should stay in the union. Everyone here is waiting to see what Scotland will decide and what the implications of the referendum will be.

Things at NTNU are much the same, and I’ve really been enjoying the classes that I help with. So much of what we talk about when it comes to writing reminds me of what I was told when writing my senior thesis. Overall it’s been nice to convey all of the great advice that I received to a new generation of students.

I have also started to empathize with my students. They are more or less required to send me a weekly sample of free writing and that’s what this blog has become for me. The one key difference is that while my students are encouraged to write simply for the sake of writing and not worry about “mistakes,” I make a point editing my posts, even ones that are weeks old. The curse of writing is that it can constantly be changed and improved. Writing is never finished.

Other notable news includes seeing the Northern Lights for a second time! There are apparently websites where you can look up the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights and one of my friends follows one regularly. I on the other hand attempt to cheat the system by using an IFTTT recipe, but so far the recipe has been unsuccessful (if you have no idea what IFTTT is definitely spare a moment to go check it out). I did have my nice camera with me so I’m able to include pictures this time!

IMG_4364  IMG_4385  IMG_4372  IMG_4377  IMG_4359

There are two good things to know about the Northern Lights. The first is that they often last for quite a long time. When we saw them this weekend they lasted from about 10pm to 4am, although I headed for bed by around 12:30. The second thing to know is that the pictures definitely exaggerate what I actually saw. Long exposure times meant that my camera could capture colors that either weren’t visible to the naked eye or were much more muted in real life. Nevertheless is was a great experience and I look forward to seeing more of the Northern Lights in the winter.

Now for my title! I decided to join the NTNU sailing team! In reality this pretty much just meant taking a beginners class since the team itself is wrapping up for the season. I’ve always really enjoyed sailing and have gone out with my dad quite a few times. Since my dad is quite the experienced sailor, that has often meant that what I’ve learned about sailing has been fairly informal and pick it up as you go along.

The class was itself pretty simple. All I had to do was take a theory course and go out on the water twice. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much wind, but the flip side of this was that it allowed me to relax quite a bit and get to know the people I was sailing with. This also meant that my very tiny circle of Norwegian friends is expanding! While I enjoy living in international housing and getting to know people from all over the world, the trade-off is that it’s been much harder to meet and get to know Norwegians. I’m looking forward to getting out on water more and hopefully getting to learn more from my new Norwegian friends. We also got to see some very small whales on our first sail, so crossed fingers that I’ll get to see a few more!

10647149_10152234363786396_5939764533281162385_n

The Love Guarantee

So far I think that the love guarantee is the funniest thing I’ve heard about Trondheim. Yes, it is real.

So what is the love guarantee? I know that was my question when I first heard about it, and the answer is that the city of Trondheim guarantees that its students will find love. Oddly enough it’s the city making the guarantee and not the local university. Trondheim is very much a college town and the logic behind the guarantee seems to be that because 20% of Trondheim’s population is made up of students the odds are in your favor.

HOWEVER, there is some fine print regarding the guarantee:

“In order for the Love Guarantee to apply, you have to do some effort on your own as well. You must act nice, at least most of the time, and be relatively clean. You also have to get out of the reading room and out of your house every once in a while. Going to the groceries or the post office does not count.  It is said to definitely help if you cross the bridge called “Lykkens Portal” (The portal of happiness) or strut down the Nordre Street at least a couple of times a week. You also need to be willing to engage in some extracurricular activities. There`s an endless number of student organizations and things to get involved in as a student in Trondheim. There are a wide range of student interest groups such as university press and broadcasting, film clubs, different festivals (for instance UKA – the largest music festival in Norway, or ISFIT – the largest student festival in the world), theatre, the student society house “Samfundet,” and more than 50 different organized sports activities for students. If you do not find what you are looking for, there is always room for more so do not hesitate to start your own organization or activity group. Finding someone to share an interest with might be the very first step towards sharing romantic dinners…” (The Love Guarantee)

The city has received a complaint letter or two (hence the fine print) but their stance towards those who have been unsuccessful is generally that the complainers simply haven’t put in enough effort for the guarantee to work (Rejected Complaints with a Poem).

I originally heard about the love guarantee from Alix so I decided to ask a Norwegian friend about it to see if it was widely know within Norway. My friend quickly told me that Trondheim’s love guarantee is common knowledge and that the city has even organized speed dating to facilitate new romances. While I personally don’t feel like testing out the love guarantee this year, I look forward to seeing how accurate is for some of my friends.

Lessons

This week has been absolutely jam-packed so I’ve decided to break it up into a few different posts. This week I finally got in a full round of teaching for both of my NTNU classes, Academic Writing and Communication for Engineers. Academic Writing is a tiny class of about nine and it reminds me of my college seminars. Because the class is much smaller than Communication for Engineers (which has around 130 students) I’m much more of a co-teacher instead of a teaching assistant. We didn’t cover too much since it was the first class, but I’m looking forward to having a larger role as a teacher.

With Communication for Engineers, I got to teach the students a bit about writing resources. In case anyone is interested I covered:

1. Write or Die  (When you stop writing it starts to delete what you have written) 
2. Written kitten (It shows you a picture of a cat or the furry animal of your choice once you’ve written a certain number of words)
3. Omm Writer (Provides you with a nice clean interface for writing)
4. Final Deadline (Provides you with a host of resources that can help you with writing)

Shout outs to both my thesis advisor, Danny, and my sorority for showing me most of these. As expected, Write or Die and Written Kitten were by far the most popular of these resources. I also told the class that I would be happy to read over any of their writing and would be setting up regular office hours in case they wanted to meet with me one-on-one. One student has already sent over a draft of a literature review so I’m glad to see that the students aren’t afraid to take me up on my offer.

As for the classes that I’m taking, I’m currently enrolled in a Norwegian class and a class called Gender and Norwegian Culture. Unfortunately, I had to miss the Gender class due to the Fulbright Orientation (more on that later), but I did get to go to my first Norwegian class. While the teacher seems nice, the structure of the class is mind blowing to me. In the other languages that I’ve taken there have always been regular tests on vocabulary and grammar, and in the case of Korean, weekly one-on-one meetings with the teacher. In this class almost the entire grade is determined by the final. Other than that I only have to write six essays and attend at least 80% of the class. While I am supposed to do workbook exercises I do not have to turn them in and am expected to grade the exercises in my own time. In contrast with the American education system, which in my experience has required a lot of assignments, participation, and feedback, the Norwegian system seems to be pretty hands off. I’ve also noticed this with the other classes that I’m taking or teaching. There is not a lot of work or participation required, just a passing grade on the final.

On a brighter note, I have begun to tackle a few simple phrases and the Norwegian alphabet. Luckily the Norwegian alphabet is the same as the English alphabet but with three more vowels, ø, æ, å. While I still struggle to pronounce everything correctly I have managed to memorize the extra Norwegian vowels thanks to a funny YouTube video that another Fulbrighter showed me. I included the video below so hopefully you find it as funny as I did.

Strikes, Education, and More

The school year has officially started! As an exchange student at NTNU I have the right to take classes here (I even had to fill out a proposed schedule of coursework when I applied). As of right now, it’s looking like I’ll be taking a Norwegian class and a class on gender and Norwegian culture. Neither class starts until next week so I was able to enjoy lazy days and the bliss of sleeping in for most of the week. While my days started later than normal I was able to accomplish a few major things this week:

The Residence Permit

Everyone that I have ever talked to about the residence permit has hated the process. While the process itself is simple enough, it can be time consuming. Once you arrive in your designated city you are told to register at the police station within 7 days (at Trondheim they told me that they could care less about this step and that I should go home). You also have to book an appointment at the police station. Usually these appointments are only available four or more weeks after your arrival, which is less than ideal since I need my residence permit in order to get paid. Luckily NTNU schedules massive blocks of time at the police department for students which means that I was able to get to an appointment this week. I don’t have the physical residence card yet, but it is on its way! If things go well I should be able to open a bank account in about two weeks.

Byåsen

I finally got to meet my contact at Byåsen, the upper secondary school that I’m assigned to. Kirsti (pronounced Shisti) was able to take me on a tour of the campus and tell me a bit more about my role at the school. I’ll primarily be helping her with a class called International English although I may help her with some other classes and will have the chance to work with other teachers at the school, particularly one who is teaching American history.

Another highlight of this meeting was getting the chance to ask about the ongoing teacher’s strike. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I thought that the primary reason for striking was related to teaching schedules. Kirsti quickly shot down that notion and explained that while teaching hours are what is drawing the most media attention, the reality is that it is just one issue out of a series of issues that teachers are protesting. Some of the other things that teachers are upset about are:

  • The increased use of testing
  • Teachers already don’t get paid for overtime and the government also wants to stop teachers from getting paid when they act as substitutes for other classes
  • Currently when teachers reach the age of 55 they are given fewer classes to teach. Now, the government wants to stop this practice, but give new teachers fewer classes to teach. Teachers like the idea of giving new teachers fewer classes, but they also want to keep this same policy for people who are 55+

When this week started I was told that if things remained unaddressed that teachers would go on strike starting on Thursday. Today is Saturday and the strike is still ongoing. When I talked to Kirsti about the strike on Friday she said that it was quite possibly the biggest and most important teachers strike in Norway’s history, making it more unfortunate that I can’t actually read any Norwegian newspapers.

Scheduling & Teaching

I also got the chance to sit down with both Nancy and Kirsti to figure out my schedule for the semester. Unfortunately a lot of Nancy and Kirsti’s classes overlapped so it looks like I’ll be spending the majority of my time this semester on NTNU’s campus and every other Friday at Byåsen with Kirsti. I went with Nancy this Friday to help with our first class, Communication for Engineers. We weren’t able to cover too much in class since it was just the first one, but Nancy talked a lot about how to properly read scientific articles and how we’ll be teaching students how to improve the content and structure of their essays. We also require students to free write for at least 10 minutes and send in their writing at least six times by the end of the semester. I’ve already started to get emails from students, and some of them have some pretty interesting projects that they are working on. Most of the students are working towards their masters degrees and it’s fun learning a bit more about their passions and what they are hoping to achieve by the end of the year.

Lastly, it seems like no week will be complete without some sort of hike so here are a few pictures from the Estenstaddammen and Estenstaddamman lakes.

IMG_0366  IMG_0364  IMG_0370