Newspaper Struggles

I would say that I do a pretty good job of keeping up with the news. In any given day I’m guaranteed to receive at least five different emails on things ranging from current events to news on the latest in the technology industry. But here’s the catch: it’s all US news. And while it’s great to be keep up with the day to day events in my home country, it can occasionally prove a bit frustrating to not have a better idea of what exactly is going on in Norway. Norway does have English language news, but from what I’ve seen most of it is quite limited or fails to really capture the nuances that are conveyed in Norwegian news. Despite all of this, I have come across two Norwegian events that I thought would be interesting to blog about.

The first was a strike! Yes, it was my second strike of the year, the first being the teacher’s strike in August. I was surprised last week when I went to school and was told by my co-teacher that there was going to be a strike that day. From what I could understand from both this English language article and my fellow teachers, the strike was over changes that the national government is proposing. Some of the main complaints are: the removal of full time positions in favor of temporary positions, increased hours, and work on Sunday. Now I realize that I probably haven’t emphasized this enough, but Sunday is a big deal in Norway. Pretty much everything shuts down on Sunday, and stores that are open are more expensive than normal and have very limited hours. Sunday in particular is seen as a day when people can relax with their families and go hiking. In fact, I was recently talking to a Norwegian who told me that she found the American work system quite sad because “everyone deserves at least one day off together.” Sunday seems so embedded in Norwegian culture that I was surprised the current government even dared to try and change things. So although I was slightly exasperated by what appeared to my non-Norwegian-news-reading self as a last minute strike, I wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that people were upset enough over these proposals to strike. It seems like quite a few unions were participating in the strike, but the most notable ones for me were one of the teacher’s unions and the transportation unions. Pretty much all forms of transportation were shut down from 2-4 pm last Wednesday. So buses, trains, and planes around the country were more or less inoperable during this time period. Because Kirsti was participating in the strike and is far-sighted she decided to let our class out early so that they could catch buses back home before the system shut down completely.

The other thing that I wanted to talk a bit about was reactions to the Charlie Hebdo shooting. I was recently talking to a cousin living in Germany when he told me of a group called PEGIDA. In German the name is Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes which translates to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. That last sentence was more or less taken from Wikipedia so I apologize if there are translation/spelling errors. Unfortunately my German consists of a lot of useful tourist nouns and phrases (zoo, castle, mountain, bathroom, etc.) and thus is pretty reliant on said German cousin and Google Translate. But moving beyond language, it’s pretty easy to understand what the group is advocating for just based on the name. The group was founded in Dresden before the Charlie Hebdo shooting but has only really gotten popular in the aftermath of the shooting. It has sparked quite a few protests and counter-protests and the numbers are not insignificant on either side. Most of the rallies seem to draw tens of thousands, demonstrating that this is an issue worthy of some thought. When I talked to my cousin a bit more about PEGIDA he postulated that one reason for its popularity is that Germany is defined as a Christian state, thus it has a bit of a negative reaction towards Islam. When I asked about other non-Christian religions he dismissed them by saying that they don’t really have a large presence in Germany.

Now I just assumed that this was a German specific group, so I was initially surprised when one of my co-teachers told me that PEGIDA is also in Norway. Now I wouldn’t say that immigration is really a topic that Norwegians are fond of. My first semester teaching International English was spent examining multiculturalism and immigration, and while the course aims to teach tolerance, I did have a few students happily state that they are xenophobic. Norwegians have not always had a welcoming approach towards immigrants, and I think a number of Fulbrighters have come to Norway over the years to study attitudes towards immigration. While I might not be painting the most friendly picture, to give the Norwegians due credit, according to this article the anti-PEGIDA demonstrations in Oslo have far outnumbered the PEGIDA demonstrations.

While PEGIDA Norway is certainly something noteworthy, if only for its existence, it isn’t the thing that intrigues me the most. It’s actually Norwegian reactions to its leader, Max Hermansen. Hermansen is a teacher who was working for two different Norwegian schools. One of the schools has since fired Hermansen for his views and this has sparked a debate. Questions range from: Should he be allowed to teach students, some of whom are immigrants, if he has anti-immigration views? Should he be allowed freedom of speech? Are teachers in a special position where their freedom of speech is restricted due to their important role as educators? Can teachers teach and still keep their personal views separate?

As an educator I think it’s important to try and keep my personal views separate from what I teach. That being said, it can sometimes be a tough line to walk, and when pressed I’ll give my opinion. I’m not sure where I fall on whether or not Hermansen should have been fired, though I think that I as well as some of the other Norwegian teachers seem to lean towards supporting the school that fired him. I do believe that freedom of speech is important, as are non-traditional viewpoints, but I grow a bit concerned when I think of Hermansen teaching young students, some of whom are probably Muslim. In this interconnected age, I can’t imagine how students would not find out about Hermansen’s involvement in PEGIDA and how that might affect their classroom experience. While I don’t support PEGIDA I think the movement has caused some interesting questions to arise. I think Norway (as well as most countries, including the United States) will have to re-examine the way that it treats immigrants and continue to grapple with the double-edged sword that is freedom of speech. As my class transitions into examining global issues I hope that both of these topics are things that we’ll be able to discuss.

Home Sweet Home

I’ve been back in Norway for the last three or so weeks, but a combination of sickness and laziness have prevented me from blogging about the present until now. Clearly blogging regularly is not one of my New Year’s resolutions. Anyways, now that I’ve gotten back into the swing of things I’m happy to continue typing out my random thoughts and experiences.

I will say that one of the things that surprised me upon my return to Trondheim was realizing that I consider Norway home. Granted I was sick when I arrived, so being able to sleep in my own bed and consume American meds definitely contributed to my excitement, but not even my tiny college bed and modern medicine could entirely account for the level of happiness that I experienced when I came back. So it seems a bit fitting that I should take a moment and reflect on my experiences thus far and the reasons why I love Norway:

  1. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it’s never far away. I wouldn’t label myself as outdoorsy, but I definitely appreciate that nature is never more than a short walk away. Plus, the reindeer are a pretty huge perk.
  2. As a whole, things function really well here. Things tend to run on time, everything works, wifi is everywhere, and you can accomplish quite a bit (banking, travel arrangements, public transportation, grocery store discounts, etc.) on your smartphone.
  3. Overall Norwegians seem to be super active, which means that I’m guilted into exercising.
  4. Norway is an incredibly safe country. I’ve seen five year olds take the bus without assistance and I’ve been told that people regularly leave their young children outside and unattended to nap.
  5. There is a huge focus here on family and less of a focus on work. Almost everything is built to be child and stroller friendly, there are playgrounds everywhere, and Sunday is pretty much a day dedicated to spending time with your family. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that everything shuts down on Sunday (or is super expensive if it’s open) but it’s still nice to walk around and see a lot of families getting in some quality time by going skiing/hiking/running together. The childcare and other welfare benefits for families are also pretty incredible from what I’ve heard.
  6. Work scheduling is really flexible. It’s pretty easy for me to lesson plan at home and I’m really able to take ownership of my time. Granted I, as well as most other teachers, probably have a more flexible schedule than most Norwegians, but overall work scheduling seems to be pretty accommodating.
  7. The small population. Having lived in Los Angeles and Boston for most of my life, I have to say that I enjoy cities. In fact, I’m pretty used to living in crowded areas. That being said, it’s nice to have things be a bit smaller. The biggest perk: public transportation is almost never crowded. Seriously though, Norwegians think having to sit next to someone on the bus qualifies as “crowded.”
  8. A pretty functional public health system (I promise to blog more on this later).
  9. I’m pretty sure that I will never live anywhere more expensive, which means that when I travel everything seems ridiculously cheap.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some things that I struggle with or critique. I mean people go out of the country just to buy groceries and alcohol. It’s a bit ridiculous. But any country is bound to have its pros and cons, and overall Norway’s pros weigh heavily in its favor.

It’s recently hit me that in the six or so months that I’ve lived in Norway I’ve come to see it as home. And the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to realize that I would actually be quite happy to live here for another few years. Just living here these past six months has shown me why past Norwegian Fulbrighters keep returning to Norway, whether it is to stay permanently or just to visit. And while I don’t intend on moving to Norway permanently, it’s still pretty cool to realize that I’ve fallen in love enough to consider staying for an extended period of time.

Facebook

Norwegians really really like Facebook. I’m personally the sort of person who uses Facebook to communicate with friends, read good articles, watch hilarious cat videos, and occasionally look up people that went to my high school. In other words, I tend to use it as a fun way to stay in touch with people and as a source of procrastination. I see email in a completely different light. It is a way for businesses bug me with promotions, a way for work related things to get done, a way for extracurricular things to get done, and a way for people bug me about things that require an in depth or thoughtful response.

Norwegians see Facebook and email slightly differently. Facebook is seen as THE way to get in touch with people. It’s not uncommon for a business to have a Facebook page instead of a website or for people to use a Facebook group to coordinate instead of say email or Google Groups. Since coming to Norway, the number of pages that I’m following and the number of Facebook groups that I’m apart of has exploded. In terms of Facebook groups alone, I’ve joined or been invited to:

  • The best Norwegian course!!
  • Moholt Student Village Activities
  • Nordlysvarsel for Trondheim (Northern Lights group)
  • Fulbrighters on Top of the World!
  • TEDxTrondheimStaff
  • TEDx Trondheim Community
  • Hyttevaktgruppa høst 14 | Studenterhytta (Information on the NTNU Student Cabin)
  • Students’ market Trondheim
  • NTNUI seiling
  • Sailing group autumn ’14

Yup, that’s a lot. Or at least I consider it a lot. Reminder: that doesn’t even include Facebook pages.

As for email, the only emails I’ve received in Norway have been from other teachers and from students; in short, only work related emails.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that Facebook can be a great resource. I just like to keep my personal life and procrastination separate from my extracurricular activities and other miscellaneous things. I’d much rather have my inbox explode than get tons of notifications from Facebook (largely because I can leave something sitting in my inbox as a reminder whereas I’m more likely to see a notification and then promptly forget about it). The lazy part of me also acknowledges that it’s much harder to try and run a Norwegian Facebook page through Google Translate than it is to do that for an email or a website.

Something else that has surprised me about Facebook in Norway has been posts like the one below:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.07.53 PM copy

Having been told time and time again to be careful with what is posted on Facebook, I find it hilarious to see such unapologetic posts in Norway. And yes, weed is illegal here.

In conclusion: having recently graduated from college, I was hoping to decrease my Facebook usage and instead have had Norway drag me back into it half heartedly kicking and screaming.

Amurica

Since coming to Byåsen, I have only worked with three classes: an International English class, an English class in the health vocational track, and a Social Studies class. So I was excited when a teacher contacted me about a month ago asking if I could stop by her English class in the restaurant vocational track. She sent me a follow up email earlier in the week asking if I could talk about life and work in the US and that she had “also picked up that [the students] find the litigation culture interesting  (specifically, “why people say they will sue people so often”).” To be frank, my initial reaction to the comment on litigiousness was “I wish I knew.”

Anyways, I duly set about planning for my lesson. Because the topic was so broad I wasn’t quite sure how to structure things, but in the end I decided to talk about:

  1. Demographics: What the Population of America Looks Like
  2. Religion and Politics
  3. Work and Family Life
  4. The Restaurant Industry
  5. Particular Quirks of the Restaurant Industry in America

Now I wouldn’t say that the lesson was a complete disaster, but it was definitely a bit of a reality check.

My International English and Social Studies classes are in what is called the “college prep” section of the school. College prep more or less covers core subjects, similar to what you would learn in an American high school, with the goal of helping students go to university. The students that I’ve encountered in college prep all tend to have very good English.

Vocational tracks on the other hand are geared towards helping students enter their vocation of choice. The impression that I got from my Fulbright education orientation and comments made by teachers at Byåsen is that vocational students are generally not the best at core subjects like English. While I occasionally work with a health vocational class, the English level required has never extended much farther than “Who is your favorite singer?” (in most cases Justin Bieber) or “If you were stranded on a desert island what are three things you would bring with you and why?”

Having been spoiled by the high English fluency of my college prep students and the pretty good English of my health class, I completely overestimated the English ability of those in the restaurant class that I was visiting.

Now there were definitely some vocab words that I knew I shouldn’t have used. When trying to explain the Supreme Court I used “unconstitutional” and immediately realized I should have said something like “illegal” or “against the law” instead. I also knew I would probably have to go back and explain what a census was. So when my co-teacher asked if we could review the slides and some of the vocab I had used, I was more than happy to oblige. I think I fully realized how much I had overshot my audience when we had to check if the students knew the meaning of “government.”

Even though most of my lesson was a bit too complex for my students, it still proved to be an instructive and hilarious class. I think the parts of the lesson that amused me most were when:

  1. We were reviewing political parties and I was asked what the turtle and the camel were for. Democrats and Republicans take note: your political animals could be drawn better. After I got over my fit of laughter, I didn’t even bother using the terms Democrats and Republicans, realizing that things would go over better if I called them the donkey-people and the elephant-people. In the end, I told them not to worry about the elephant-people since their equivalent doesn’t even exist in Norway. To be fair, they thought that the donkey-people were pretty weird too.
  2. Answering why there is no Church of America. In Norway, most people belong to the Church of Norway and so my students were a bit confused as to why America doesn’t have a state church. I then explained how many of the people who first came to America were coming to escape religious persecution (I then totally blanked on a simple way to explain the word persecution, resorting to a poor definition along the lines of “people actively didn’t like them”) and how that made our founding fathers value religious freedom. After the lesson, I speculated on what a Church of America might look like and settled on thanking our founding fathers for not allowing that to happen.
  3. Tipping. First things first, apparently the word tipping means betting in Norwegian. So my students initially thought I was describing some weird betting system that exists in US restaurants. Once I managed to clarify, my students were still at a bit of a loss as to why you would just give people extra money. When I explained that the federal minimum wage is just above 2 USD/hour for certain restaurant professions, they began to freak out. Needless to say, they began to understand why Americans have this weird habit of giving away money as tips.

While my lesson was not the smashing success I had hoped it would be, it was definitely still a fun experience and a learning experience. I’ve learned that in a vocation track it’s important to review my lesson slide by slide and to be more diligent in consulting with my co-teacher about the level of English that I’m working with.