Health Care

I’ve been asked about the Norwegian health care system a few times, so I thought I’d write about my (thankfully) limited experience with it.

When I first came to Norway, I had to register as a resident and then wait for my personal number, the Norwegian equivalent of a US social security number. Once I had my personal number, I was then in the health care system and able to register for a doctor, or fastlege, either online or by phone (+47 815 70 070).*

Now I ran into a bit of trouble actually figuring out the fastlege website, unsurprising considering that it’s in Norwegian. This led to me calling the health care phone number. Now one important thing to know about Norwegians is that they excel at rule following and conflict avoidance. Conflict avoidance paired with one confused and frustrated person, me, did not lead to a great phone conversation. Our circuitous 30 minute conversation can pretty much be summed up below:

Me: Hi, I’d like to register for my fastlege
Customer Service: Who would you like to register with?
Me: Well I’m having trouble with your website and would just like to have a doctor who is based close to me in Trondheim.
Customer Service: I’m sorry I can’t do that. Normally people just call and tell me which doctor they want. I’m also in Oslo so I don’t know the Trondheim area well.
Me: Well can you assign me any doctor in Trondheim.
Customer Service: Well, no. I’m sorry, but this isn’t usually how things are done. You need to tell me what doctor you want. I can’t help you.

After much convincing, I finally managed to get the person on the phone to assign me a doctor. Though instead of assigning me a doctor in Trondheim, they decided to give me one in another city. So my first experience with the Norwegian health care system was a pretty frustrating one.

After that encounter, I decided to give up on the phone line and eventually managed to piece together parts of how the fastlege website works. Here’s a bit more about what I’ve learned. While the website is far from grand, you can narrow down the list of doctors to a particular city. The problem that I was running into was that it shows you all of the doctors in the city, not just those that are available. To make things more complicated for me and my limited Norwegian, the way you can tell if a doctor is available is by looking at the last column of the website, titled “Ledig.” Google Translate has “ledig” translate to “free,” which to me originally meant that the column should be filled with some equivalent of yes/no or true/false. Instead you’ll see numbers. One of my initial downfalls was thinking that the number stood for the number of patients the doctor currently has (a zero would mean no patients while a high number would mean that the doctor was stretched thin). The numbers actually tell you the complete opposite–how much availability a doctor has (a zero would mean that the doctor cannot take on more patients, while a number will tell you how many patients a doctor can take on). And it is here that my knowledge of the fastlege website comes screeching to a halt.

One other interesting thing to note is the way that a doctor’s prescription works. Because Norway is hip with technology, a lot of your information in Norway is tied to your personal number, and this includes prescriptions. In fact, you can usually just go to the local pharmacy, tell them your personal number, and have your prescription handed back to you. Your doctor just inputs all of your prescription information online, and it’s accessible to every pharmacy in the country. Pretty neat!

Having universal health care has certainly seemed great. I haven’t really had to use the health care system since coming here, but it’s clear that its very presence (rightfully) gives a good deal of comfort to many Norwegians. Many of my students have said that they find the US health care system confusing and expensive, before proceeding to tell me how awesome it is not worry about their health (part of the reason why I suspect they tolerate such icy streets during winter–they don’t have to worry as much about injuries). And while I am a supporter of universal health care, I will be the first to admit that I cringed when I saw more than half of a paycheck go to taxes. The welfare state certainly comes with a price, and while I don’t think it will ever fully reach the United States, it’s been great to see how well it works here in Norway.

*One neat thing about Norway is that once you have a bank account set up, it’s possible to use your BankID as a login for a number of Norwegian websites, including the one for your fastlege.

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.

Is This Country Crazy?

One of the best parts of the Fulbright retreat was being able to shoot the breeze with other American expats (if you are interested in another account, my colleague Lud Baldwin has quite a funny one on his blog). Living in another country will always present a new set of challenges ranging from the mundane to the more complex, and while that is common to expats everywhere, I think that being American presents its own set of challenges. As the token American in most conversations, I am often asked a lot of questions about my home country. In the classroom, I’m asked to go a step further and teach about America. But although Norwegians tend to be too polite to ask me hard hitting questions, it is clear that they are uninterested in the very tired refrain that America is the “home of the free, and the land of the brave.” Not that I would necessarily even provide them with that song and dance.

Since coming to Norway, I have been asked to talk about some of our more controversial topics: immigration, Edward Snowden, the war on drugs, the Vietnam War, our political system. Because most of my conversations about America do take place in the classroom, my role has largely been to try and present America in an unbiased way. To give my students the facts and to clearly articulate the pros and the cons of American thinking and American policy. Yet it is not unusual for my students to be confused. Teaching the facts does not always result in acceptance. I am occasionally left with the impression that they think America has gone crazy.

So this leads me to my title. One of my co-teachers, Maria, who also happens to be an American expat, sent me this article on the Huffington Post. Entitled “Is This Country Crazy?” (yes, I stole her title) the article is written by Ann Jones, a fabulous, if intimidating, former Norwegian Fulbrighter, and it spends some time delving into the American expat experience and the broader perception of Americans abroad. And while Ann does a great job of talking about the ways in which Americans are viewed today, talking to other American expats makes me realize how far back this negative perception of Americans extends. As someone who hasn’t lived in Norway for an extended period of time, it’s been interesting to talk to Americans who have been here since the 1960s. It is from them that I learned that being an American was not something people have advertised in Norway until the election of President Obama. The Vietnam War was highly unpopular in Norway, and if my students are any barometer of popularity, still is. If anything, our reputation only went further south with Bush, although it has recovered somewhat in recent years. And yet…I still wouldn’t necessarily say that we have a great reputation abroad.

Since coming to Norway, a slew of major events have happened back in the United States that I have found difficult to explain:

  • Explaining the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in a country where racism isn’t talked about and crime, much less police brutality, is not a major concern.
  • The midterms elections having the lowest voter turnout in 72 years at 36.3%, while Norway routinely has a voter turnout of over 70%.
  • The Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus.” The article was later questioned for accuracy, but it gives an incredibly damning portrayal of sexual assault on college campuses. And while the reporting was later shown to be inaccurate, that does not diminish the severity of sexual assault in the U.S. People in Norway are rightly horrified when I say that 1 out of 5 U.S. women will be assaulted in their lifetime.
  • The difficulty of implementing Obamacare (it’s on round two in the Supreme Court) and why so many people reject the idea of national healthcare, when Norway has had universal healthcare since 1956.
  • The measles outbreak in the United States and why so many people question vaccines (granted Norway as well as other European countries also have their share of people who don’t believe in vaccination).

These events, and many others, are shocking. But it’s strange to be in the position of an outsider. While I get status updates on these events on my Facebook Newsfeed, that is hardly the same as experiencing them or their reactions myself. I had no civil rights rallies to attend or extensive conversations to engage in over these issues. Reading about these events is not quite the same as living through them. Yet I am the person who is called upon to give a voice to what is going on back home. To explain these events which I cannot quite experience by virtue of being abroad.

This in between, or this sensation, is even well articulated by the very word “expatriate.” “Ex” meaning outside and “patria” meaning country. As expatriates we our outside of our country, yet it is unclear where we are instead. We are stuck. Not quite being a part of our home country and yet not being a full citizen of our host country. And yet we are still largely held accountable for what goes on in our home countries.

I may not have a good answer as to whether or not the U.S. is crazy. Some days it feels as though it is, while on other days it feels quite good to be an American. The only thing I, and the other Fulbrighters, can do is to serve as cultural ambassadors. As representatives of the U.S. government and the State Department, we can only hope that we can explain some of the more “crazy” aspects of American culture and even talk about the aspects that we disagree with. Overall I hope that when I leave Norway I leave people with positive memories of Americans and fewer questions about America.

I Am 16 Going On…Wait

I would argue that one of the few perks of turning 16 was being able to sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Now that I’m a twenty something that doesn’t really work as well anymore. Now I don’t know about you, but my family is one of those families that is obsessed with watching The Sound of Music. We think it’s a movie that never gets old. I have seen the movie more times than I can count, and one of my more distinctive childhood memories is of one cousin who liked to continuously rewind and watch Julie Andrews tripping in the middle of singing “I Have Confidence.” GIF below for your viewing pleasure. Welcome to my childhood.

So because we were going to Salzburg, my Dad and I were more or less required to go on a Sound of Music tour. Or at least that’s what I thought. My Dad might have had a different opinion on that score. I admit I even rewatched the movie before our holiday. I hadn’t seen the movie in years so a lot of the things that I had difficulty understanding as a kid (literally anything to do with the Nazis) now made a bit more sense.

But The Sound of Music tour wasn’t actually the first thing we did that day. We booked a combined tour with Viator that involved going to the region’s salt mines. And when I say “region” I really mean Germany. So, early in the morning we hopped on a bus and crossed over into Germany. Now let me just say that it was very cold in the morning (this fact becomes more relevant later on). If memory serves me correctly, it was around -10°C (14°F) so our tour bus was feeling really nice and cosy. After a short bit of driving, we stopped on one of the local mountains to stretch our legs and admire the view. It also happens to be the same mountain that Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest is built on. The Eagle’s Nest was a 50th birthday present to Hitler from the Nazi party and many of the buildings that were built lower down on the mountain were the homes of other high ranking officials. The Eagle’s Nest is inaccessible during winter but we could JUST make it out on the top of the mountain (right picture on the top row).

IMG_7528  IMG_7531  IMG_7536IMG_7539  IMG_7540  IMG_7543When we had finished walking around we were driven to a nearby town called Berchtesgaden and allowed to wander around before climbing back into the bus to go to the town’s salt mines.

IMG_7551  IMG_7553  IMG_7558IMG_7560  IMG_7563  IMG_7561The salt mine tour was a ton of fun. Unfortunately the mine doesn’t allow photography, but you can get a good idea of how everything looked on Google Images. The first thing we had to do for the tour was to suit up into special overalls. Once everyone was ready we took a train down into the mines where we were led on the actual tour. According to our guide, the area where the mine is used to be under the ocean. Once the mountains formed and rose out of the ocean they created a small salty lake. Over time the lake evaporated, leaving the salt behind. The composite rock that remains contains on average a 50% salt content.

The mine has been operating continuously since 1517 and still produces several tons of salt a day. Right now it’s hard to believe that for such a big operation they only need 100 people to keep everything running smoothly.

The way they currently mine the salt is by drilling a test shaft see if there is enough salt to make further drilling worthwhile. If the salt content is high enough, a tunnel is drilled and then a hollow pocket is created using fresh water. This pocket is then filled with fresh water, which soaks up the salt and creates brine. The brine is then taken out of the pocket and boiled. Then voilà! You have salt.

Overall I had a really great time on the tour. The content was interesting and things were spiced up when we were allowed to take slides down to different levels of the mine and by a lake that we crossed by boat. The tour took about two hours and once we were done we hopped back on the train and rode it up to the surface. And when we got there it was snowing. Remember how I said it was cold? This was the result. Some enterprising kids had even built a snowman. Carrot nose and all.

IMG_7568  IMG_7566  IMG_7571After that we went back to Salzburg and had about an hour to kill before The Sound of Music Tour. When we finally did get on the bus it was packed. I think at one point our tour guide said that it was a 72 person bus and I’m pretty sure that every seat was full. To my delight, there were actually a number of kids on the bus. I was wondering if the current generation also watches The Sound of Music on repeat and based on the singing seven year old sitting across from me the answer is yes. She knew every word to the lyrics. Thankfully not everyone else was really up for singing the whole time and most of us were content to just listen to The Sound of Music soundtrack.

Now there are a few things you should know about The Sound of Music. The first is that most of the indoor scenes took place in Hollywood. This means that pretty much all of the things we were going to see on the tour were outdoor locations. And to top things off it was still snowing.

So, first things first. We went to the lake that Julie Andrews and all of the children famously fall into.

It was here that we learned that there were actually two houses used when filming the exterior of the von Trapp house. The exterior shots of the grounds were all done at this location while the house itself (the one you can see behind Captain von Trapp throughout this scene) is actually a completely different house. Unfortunately the snow didn’t really make for good pictures, but the house to the left is the one with the outdoor scenes and the lake (the lake is in the very front of the picture covered in snow), while the two pictures on the right show the house that was actually depicted in the movie. The yellow wall you can see is the wall Maria runs along when she’s singing “I Have Confidence.”

IMG_7580  IMG_7586  IMG_7587So now you’re probably thinking that the gazebo where Liesl famously sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” would be close to this first lake property. Well it used to be. The land that the gazebo rested on was bought by an American company and walled off. If I remember the numbers correctly, Salzburg receives 11 million tourists every year and 20% of them come JUST for The Sound of Music. Now with that many people coming through every year not everyone is really going to be daunted by a wall. So the company experienced problems with people hopping into private property and generally making themselves known by poorly singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” especially when they’ve been helped along with some glühwein, or mulled wine. So eventually the company decided to have the gazebo moved in order to make everyone happy. Hellbrunn Palace was eventually chosen as the final destination, so it was there that we could finally see the gazebo.

IMG_7597  IMG_7590  IMG_7593Now you probably can’t tell from the pictures, but the gazebo isn’t actually that large. It’s definitely not large enough to contain the dance number that happens in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” So this gazebo was only used in outside shots. For the dancing, they danced in another gazebo. Apparently Liesl, or Charmian Carr, actually ended up putting her foot through one of the glass window panes and was given a BandAid before being told to continue dancing. After all, “the show must go on.” All of this just makes the dancing that much more impressive.

And it was still snowing. Our tour guide was talking to a family sitting towards the front of the bus and told us that apparently one little girl was pretty satisfied. Why you might ask? Well she had asked Santa for snow. When she was asked if she had really been that good this year she responded “Yes” without hesitation. We then asked her to just wish for a little less snow next time.

Because of the weather, we encountered a few hang ups in getting to our next destination. Salzburg is apparently a one way city so when accidents happen they stop the whole city. After encountering two accidents, and even being stuck behind a bicyclist, most of our attempts to get out of the city were being thwarted. They even had to shut down the highway so that they could finally get someone out there to clear the snow.

So, while we waited for things to get sorted out driving wise we were told the real von Trapp story. Captain von Trapp was in fact a widower with seven children and had been a captain in the navy. Now something that I had never actually thought about was the navy part of that sentence. Austria as it currently exists does not have a coastline. BUT it did before World War I, which is how Captain von Trapp ended up working in a submarine.

Maria on the other hand was not a novice at an abbey. She was a step below that. Apparently in order to be a novice you must take a two year vow of silence in order to see whether you are capable of taking a lifelong vow of silence. Maria wasn’t quite at that point. She was however working to finish up her teacher’s license when Captain von Trapp asked the Mother Superior if she could recommend a teacher. The Captain’s wife had died of scarlet fever and his daughter had also suffered from it. While it had killed his wife, it had spared his daughter, also named Maria, although it had made her feeble due to a weakened heart.

So Maria was sent to the von Trapps. There was in fact a Baroness in the picture…but she was the housekeeper. Apparently the children also had governesses but because of their aristocratic upbringing were kept separated by age group. Maria found this strange and started to take the children out as one large group. They sang Christmas songs, built Christmas wreaths, hiked through the forrest, etc. It was the first time the children had been together since their mother had died. Which means that…

The captain received a letter from one of his children telling him to come back and marry Maria so that she could stay with them forever. The captain on the other hand had been on holiday with a certain Princess Yvonne (the equivalent of the movie’s baroness). So the captain left the holiday early (effectively cutting off any engagement plans) and returned home. Here he confronted Maria. He asked what had been going on and proposed oh so romantically by saying “The children think we should get married. What are your thoughts on that?” Maria, who was in fact very religious, went back to the abbey to ask the Mother Superior for her thoughts. The Mother Superior thought that it was God’s will that she marry the Captain and help them become a family again. So Maria returned to the von Trapp residence. Here she encountered the Captain in the library. He asked her what her thoughts were and apparently she burst into tears before saying something along the lines of “I guess I have to marry you.” Talk about faith in God.

Thankfully they had a very happy marriage. But they encountered one major problem. The bank where Captain von Trapp had stored his wealth (as well as the significant wealth of his late wife) went bust. Because he was a very kind man he withdrew his remaining wealth and invested it in another branch of the bank, hoping that it would help sustain the bank. No such luck. So the von Trapps fell from spectacular wealth into poverty. They let go of their servants and moved into the servants quarters before renting out the rooms of their home.

One guest happened to be an opera singer who heard the family singing. The singer was there for the Salzburg Music Festival and managed to enroll the family into a locals competition where the von Trapps won. Due to their success at the festival, they started to travel around Europe and make money through concerts. They were even invited to go and tour in the United States, which they turned down until…

Hitler invaded Austria. Now the Captain was not actually wanted for active duty. When he had been a submarine captain exhaust systems hadn’t been perfected. This meant that all of the exhaust that was theoretically supposed to leave the submarine was instead recirculated inside the submarine, causing many men, including the Captain, to develop lung cancer. Anyways, the family knew that they did not want to stay in Salzburg under Hitler’s rule and managed to use their US connection to get a gig in the United States. They unglamorously escaped Austria via train and boat.

Once in the United States, they settled in Stowe, Vermont. Maria then had their tenth child in the United States which allowed the whole family to stay.

Maria eventually wrote a book about her experiences. Being a religious woman, she wanted to book to show the importance of perseverance and faith. Broadway apparently offered to buy the rights to the book and she refused, thinking it wasn’t in line with her reasons for writing the book. She did however sell to a German producer for a few thousand dollars, who later sold to Broadway for over a million dollars. Maria to her credit didn’t seek any of this money. Maria herself apparently liked the movie but her one quibble was with the portrayal of the Captain. Apparently he really was a very nice man so she didn’t approve of his aloof movie persona.

Now a few more Sound of Music facts before I get back to the tour. A large number of people in Salzburg actually haven’t seen The Sound of Music. Now considering the sheer number of Sound of Music tour buses and tourists that come into the city you might be wondering why that is. It’s because a German version of The Sound of Music wasn’t made until much later. Apparently listening to the songs in German is not a recommended activity.

Lastly, The Sound of Music actually hurt the careers of everyone in the movie other than Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp. Although Julie Andrews was nominated for Oscars for both Mary Poppins (which was released a year prior to The Sound of Music) and The Sound of Music, she was never quite able to shake the image of the singing woman who looks after children. None of the children in the movie ever managed to make it big either.

But back to the tour. So having almost literally climbed every mountain and forded every stream we eventually arrived at the town of Mondsee. You’re probably wondering what we’re doing there. Well it has the church where Maria and the Captain get married.

Salzburg used to be a very important religious center so there are plenty of churches in Salzburg. The problem is that none of the 50+ churches in Salzburg were willing to have Hollywood producers film inside them. In fact, none of the church scenes in the movie are filmed in Salzburg EXCEPT when Maria leaves the abbey to go to the von Trapp house. Mondsee on the other hand was thrilled to have Hollywood visit their small town. So the famous wedding scene was filmed inside their church.

IMG_7603  IMG_7610  IMG_7623After we were done with Mondsee we hopped back on the bus where we were treated to a video documenting some of the filming behind The Sound of Music. I have to admit, it was nice to see clips from the movie paired with sights that we had just been to.

Once we finally arrived back in Salzburg (in total we had experienced about a two hour delay due to the snow) my Dad and I stopped by the Mirabell Gardens for one last photo op. The Mirabell Gardens is where they filmed most of “Do-Re-Mi,” though you honestly can’t tell from my pictures because yup, you guessed it, everything was covered in snow.

IMG_7646  IMG_7653  IMG_7650But even with all of the snow, it was still a very good day. I have to say that I left Salzburg the next morning a very happy camper.

Ethiopian Food and ETA Musings

One of my favorite parts of our Bergen trip was catching up with some of the other Fulbrighters in town. We managed to meet up with both Kyle and Abby at an excellent Ethiopian restaurant called Selam. If you happen to be searching for spicy food in Norway this is definitely a good option.

Abby is my ETA counterpart in Bergen so I was really excited to see her and compare ETA notes. The first thing I asked her was whether her students were also really quiet. Lud and I had talked about this when I was in Oslo and we’ve both found it difficult to get students to participate. Abby confirmed that she’s experienced the same thing and said that it was really different for her in comparison to her last school. Abby was based at a KIPP school when she was working with Teach for America (TFA), and she said that in KIPP schools students either raise their hands or are punished. In short, she went from a school system where there was no shortage of hands in the air to one where generally only the know-it-alls and Hermione Grangers of the world raise their hands.

We also had to laugh when we realized how similar our schools’ curriculums were. We must both be in an International English class because our students cover the exact same materials, even down to the same movies.

Abby also had a one observation that I found particularly striking. Through her grading experiences at the university and upper secondary school, Abby doesn’t necessarily think that upper secondary schools adequately prepare their students to pass university classes. Even though Abby is working at the second best school in the city, Abby was telling me that the grading system is very flexible and thus it doesn’t necessarily prepare students for the university’s harsher standards. I’ve done grading for NTNU but have yet to do much for Byåsen. Additionally, the majority of my students are international students so it’s hard for me to accurately say if things are similar in Trondheim.

Like Abby pointed out, I have also noticed that grades seem to be pretty flexible, and there is not always a clear rubric that dictates what sort of grades students should receive. At a university level, all of the assignments that I’ve had to grade have only given me three real grading options (pass, fail, fail pending improvement). This can make it a bit more difficult to grade since the bar for a pass is much lower in a pass/fail system. In my opinion this isn’t a good thing because it doesn’t give students a good idea of how well they did or how much they still have left to improve.

Overall, Abby and I have found the grading and feedback system in Norway to be very different from the one in the United States. In the United States, high school students are constantly given assignments and feedback. In contrast to this, I think that my International English students have only had two major assignments this past semester. Also, from what I can tell, homework is never work that is turned in and graded.

American university students also tend to be given more feedback than ones in Norway. In Norway, it’s not uncommon to have a grade be almost completely based on the one final exam.

But, both of us have really enjoyed our time teaching. It’s been interesting working in the Norwegian school system and I can’t wait to see what the spring will bring.

Politics and Social Science

I was invited early on in the week to guest teach in a Politics and Social Science class. While I readily agreed to teach the class, I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive considering the small disaster my last guest lecture was. This time, I consulted with my main co-teacher at Byåsen and was told that the students I would be working with would have a pretty good grasp of English. Still, just to be safe, I made sure my lecture was on the simpler side, which I think helped make the lesson a success.

I was asked to teach about voting in the United States and started out by covering some very basic voting qualifications:

  • Be a US citizen (in Norway if you are allowed to vote in regional elections, municipal elections, and stand as a municipal candidate as long as you have been a legal resident for at least three years)
  • At least 18 years of age on election day (the same policy applies in Norway)
  • A resident of the state in which you register (not applicable)
  • Not currently serving a prison term (felons are allowed to vote in Norway)
  • Not currently on parole or other post-release supervision (felons are allowed to vote in Norway)

After covering these basics, I explained that in the United States you need to register to vote–something that is not required in Norway.

Then I went on to explain the political parties. Again, my students thought that the Republicans were a bit strange and had a much easier time understanding the Democrats.

From there I talked a bit about what Americans vote on in elections. I didn’t get too involved when explaining presidential voting since I was pretty sure explaining the electoral college would get too confusing for the students. Next, I talked a bit about what sorts of issues Americans vote on. In order to engage my students a bit more I showed them a commercial for this November’s midterm elections. Most of the students that I’ve worked with are very very quiet so I was hoping that showing these students a celebrity studded commercial might make them a bit more talkative:

Thankfully my strategy worked! They liked watching Lil Jon transform his hit song “Turn Down for What” into a song about voting, and they had fun identifying some of the other people that appeared in the video. The video also gave them a really good idea of ballot issues. The commercial is almost overwhelming in the number of topics that it raises, and from a teaching perspective it meant that none of my students had a problem raising their hands to answer my question “What are some of the things Americans vote on?”

After that I talked a bit about how despite star laden commercials and encouragement to “Rock the Vote,” the United States experienced its lowest voter turnout in 72 years this past midterm election. The number is pretty grim at 36.6%. Because I didn’t want to leave my students with the idea that most Americans are wholly indifferent to politics, I spent some time explaining some theories on why voting rates in the United States are low. Some of the most popular theories are:

  • Voter Registration. The United States is one of the few democracies that requires voter registration in order to vote.
  • Tuesday Voting. Voting on Tuesday made a lot more sense when America was a predominantly agricultural society. Because people lived so far apart most voters would travel into town from long distances. This meant that having voting on Tuesday allowed eligible voters to spend Monday traveling into town before voting on Tuesday. Weekend voting wasn’t a practical option at the time because citizens were going to church on Sunday. Clearly the  Tuesday voting system doesn’t make much sense in a modern day context, but we have yet to catch up with the times.
  • Felon Voting. Again, the United States is one of the few democracies that does not allow current (and in some cases former) prisoners to vote, disenfranchising a significant number of the population.

If you look at the first two reasons you can see that they have a lot to do with convenience. In fact, studies on this last midterm election show that states that allow for mail in voting or early voting have high voter participation rates. But making voting easier won’t necessarily solve America’s participation problem. In fact, even though some states have made it more convenient for their residents to vote, no state had a voter participation rate higher than 60% in this year’s midterms.

After this I talked very briefly about how the United States has implemented different types of voting restrictions over time. I decided to show them part of another video, this time one showing current Harvard students taking and failing Louisiana’s 1964 literacy test. Literacy tests were designed to disenfranchise different groups of people because they were almost impossible to pass:

If you want to learn a bit more about the test you can go to the YouTube page and read more under the video’s description.

I then wrapped up by talking about modern day voting restrictions. Currently many people in the United States are talking about photo identification laws. These laws require photo ID in order to vote in certain states, and they currently disenfranchise an estimated 23 million voting aged Americans (approximately 11% of Americans).

After that I was done lecturing and it was time for an activity. I provided my students with a list of potential 2016 presidential candidates and groups of two were supposed to report on a candidate to the rest of the class. Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden were the first candidates that my students wanted to present on. I did however stop them from only reporting on Democratic candidates and made some of them look up Republicans. While not all of the students were enthused about their candidates (none of them liked the Republicans) it was fun walking around and helping them understand what these candidates believed in and explaining political terms such as “polling” and “pro-choice”.

Visit From a Rover

Now it would be utterly remiss of me not to mention that one of the Roving Scholars, Heather, recently came to Trondheim. The Roving Scholars program is probably the coolest thing that the Fulbright Commission offers in Norway. The Rovers travel from school to school and have a series of workshops that they teach throughout Norway for the duration of the school year. If you’re interested in learning more, information can be found here. Anyways, the Roving Scholars are all amazing and well established teachers and I was really excited to see Heather and to see one of her workshops.

Heather dropped by my International English class early on Friday morning and really managed to engage with my students. The topic of her workshop was the makeup of the United States and American universities. Before this workshop, I got the impression that my students tended to view the United States as one united country. They seemed a bit surprised to learn that there are some pretty significant regional differences across the United States and that these differences range from things like accents to personality traits.

One of my favorite parts of the workshop was when Heather showed my students the infographic below. Having already given my students some background information on different areas in the United States, Heather asked them to look at the infographic and tell her what area of the country they would go to if they had a free plane ticket.

US Personality Map YouGov-01

Considering the adjectives, it came as no surprise that no one wanted to go to the East Coast. Sorry New York. A few students wanted to go to the South, more wanted to go to the Midwest, and the majority wanted to go to the West Coast. As a Californian, I am proud to say that even Norwegians know that the West Coast really is the best coast.

I also enjoyed watching my students learn more about American universities. I think the thing that they found most shocking was the cost of higher education. In Norway, higher education is free, so the price tag for an American university seems like pure insanity. We calculated out the price in NOK for attending a four year $40,000/year institution and the students were a bit stunned to learn that a bachelors degree costs some Americans around 1.2 million NOK. We did put in a good word for financial aid, but that didn’t stop my students from being taken aback at the initial price.

Overall, I think that my students learned a lot and had a good time. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing Heather again later in the school year, and I hope that I’ll get the chance to see more of the other Rovers in the spring.

Bank Security Compared

About a week ago I finally got everything I needed to get access to my Norwegian bank account! This also made me realized that I’ve had to open quite a few international bank accounts over the years. At last count, I’ve had to open accounts in:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Norway
  4. India
  5. South Korea

and although I don’t use all of these accounts, or regularly check them (in fact I’m pretty sure the accounts in India and Korea are empty if not closed), I thought it’d be interesting to compare the level security required by each country’s banks.

United States

In the US I’ve always gone to the bank to open up a new account (and this distinction will become slightly more clear later on). In my current US accounts, all I need to access my account information online is a username and password (but if you forget either of these things a much more thorough process is initiated to confirm your identity). That’s it. To access your account at an ATM you have to have a PIN, but you have the freedom to pick your own PIN code.

I don’t have any credit cards that are chip and PIN, so at the end of the day the only pieces of information I really need to remember are: online username, online password, and PIN for ATMs.

United Kingdom

Security gets a bit tougher when you open an account in the UK. Again I went to the bank to open this account and was able to get online access. The interesting thing is that I have to have both an online password and what they call a piece of “memorable information” (which I think of as a second password). Whenever I want to access my account online I need to type in my password and then answer questions about my memorable information. The questions are usually along the lines of: What are the 3rd, 5th, and 6th characters of your memorable information? The questions about the memorable information change each time I log on, thus enhancing the security of the account and ensuring that whoever is logging onto your account genuinely knows what the piece of memorable information is.

My account also comes with a debit card that has a pre-assigned PIN number.

So, I need to remember the same things that I do in the US, but I also need to remember my piece of memorable information and my debit card PIN.

Norway

Norway has the strongest security that I’ve seen by a wide margin. When I opened my bank account they explained to me that in order to access my account online or to use my debit card online I would need up to three things: my online password, a pre-assigned PIN code, and a code that I get from my own personalized bank device. Unfortunately I have no idea what the machine is called but here is a picture:

2014-10-01 15.07.42

Every time I want to log into my bank or approve an online transaction I just push the button on the left and then input whatever number flashes on the screen.

I also have a pre-assigned and separate PIN for my debit card.

So, I need to remember: my username, password, online PIN, debit card PIN, and have the bank device to use my Norwegian bank account.

India

The company that I worked for in India was responsible for setting up my bank account, which meant that I never actually had to step foot in the bank. This also meant that once I had my debit card up and running I made no attempts to actually try and get the account online. So I unfortunately have no idea about to the level of security required to access an Indian bank account online.

South Korea

Again, my employer was responsible for setting up a Korean bank account for me. This time I actually did entertain the idea of trying to access my bank account online, but I was told by my co-workers that if I wanted to do that I would have to download special security software onto my computer and phone. Korean banks won’t let you access your account online unless they are reasonably certain that your device has enough security. This being said I gathered that once the security software is actually installed, all you needed was a username and password to access your account information.

While I don’t actually have too much to report when it comes to Asian online bank security, banking around the world has definitely been a learning experience. Overall, I’d say that US banks have the lowest level of security, while European banks have the highest amount of security. While trying to count out the different characters of my memorable information is a bit annoying, as is inputting three types of information to get a simple online transaction approved, it is comforting to know how seriously my UK and Norwegian banks take my accounts’ online security. Hopefully some of the security practices I’ve seen in Europe will eventually make their way over to the States.