Academic achievement, international goodwill: Reflections from Oslo Int. Summer School

Photo: Marit Nord
Leslee Lane Hoyum stands outside the doors of her former dorm at Blindern. “Nothing much has changed with the dorms,” said Hoyum. “In fact, they are now protected buildings. However, the main campus is absolutely huge compared with its size in 1969!”

Leslee Lane Hoyum
Rockford, Minn.

It’s been 47 years since I walked the grounds of the Blindern campus in Oslo. Then I was an excited, very young, and ambitious student at the Oslo International Summer School (OISS). It was a summer that changed my life.

The first OISS session, which was held in 1947, was created specifically for American students in gratitude to the U.S. for educational opportunities provided to Norwegian students during and after World War II. Shortly thereafter, participation by non-American students steadily increased, and in 1958 the name was changed from the Summer School for American Students to the International Summer School.

In 1969, the director of the school was a very colorful, animated character named Philip Boardman. His sense of humor is legendary. Flamboyant personalities must run in his family, since his grandson, also named Philip Boardman and better known in Norway as Admiral P, performed reggae and hip­hop this year at the opening ceremony of OISS’s 70th session. Today, however, the director is Einar Arvid Vannebo, perhaps a bit more reserved but just as dedicated to the excellent education the OISS provides.

“I always have been interested in multi-cultural educational settings,” said Vannebo. “We find that educational environments nurture peace. Since 1947 we have seen nearly 28,000 students from more than 150 countries attend the summer program. In recent years, the sessions averaged about 550 students from approximately 90 countries.”

Conflicts throughout the world have come and gone, and new ones have surfaced over the OISS’s 70 sessions. The world and OISS students have experienced the Indochina War, Basque Conflict, Cold War, Cuban Crisis, Korean War, Vietnam War, Paraguayan Civil War, Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Balkan Conflict, internal conflicts of Burma, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, numerous conflicts throughout Africa, plus Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall going up and coming down, to name a few. Each class faces a new conflict, sometimes distant, sometimes personal.

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum
Einar Arvid Vannebo has been director of the Oslo International Summer School since 1992. “The summer school is a wonderful place to study,” said Vannebo. “It allows for concentrated study in familiar, supportive, and friendly surroundings.”

“We are now experiencing our fourth generation of students,” said Vannebo. “All four have experienced world conflict. It is in a setting such as OISS that the seeds of peace and understanding are planted. Our diverse learning community comes together to study, interact, and increase understanding and goodwill among nations. This requires friendliness, frankness, and tolerance among all involved.”

Throughout his academic career, Vannebo found his passion in academic leadership. “As director of OISS,” said Vannebo, “I am well challenged. We have a great staff, but no one who is permanent. So I work with all university faculty to develop a curriculum in 20 academic disciplines at both the undergraduate and master’s levels each session. We also were challenged to comply with the European Credit Transfer System and feel we are now academically integrated. We also work hand-in-hand with the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) based in Minnesota, which has been very helpful in enhancing our Norway-America cooperation.”

Vannebo says there is no plan to build a larger OISS program in the next 10 years. Logistically it would be difficult if not impossible. There would not be enough dorms, and the auditoriums cannot hold more students. “Our goal is to focus on academic quality throughout the whole program while integrating it into the University of Oslo academics without losing our independence. This can be accomplished through bilateral relationships featuring a mutual exchange of research, personnel, knowledge, and the like. For example, since 2010, the OISS has operated language courses for foreign-born employees of the University in Oslo who need to develop their language skills. OISS helps “new” Norwegians become better integrated into Norwegian society.

“OISS is a wonderful place to study,” said Vannebo. “It allows for concentrated study in familiar, supportive, and friendly surroundings. If a student is happy, he or she performs better. Our students also make life-long friends, create international networks, and we’ve even seen students marry.” The school truly lives up to its motto: Six Weeks of Academic Achievement and International Goodwill.

Vannebo grew up in Steinkjer, a city in Nord-Trøndelag county. He attended the University in Oslo (UIO), taught in London for three years, served as professor of Scandinavian Studies at UIO, taught an interim class at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., and now has been the director of the OISS since 1992.

Two organizations to which students may apply for scholarships to the OISS are Sons of Norway Foundation at www.sofn.com/foundation and Lakselaget at www.lakselaget.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=176&Itemid=2151. Americans interested in attending the OISS may contact the American office at International Summer School, University of Oslo, c/o St. Olaf College, 1520 St. Olaf Ave., Northfield, MN 55057-1098 or e-mail at iss@stolaf.edu.

Leslee Lane Hoyum has been a reporter for versions of this newspaper since 2002. Born and raised in Minnesota, she attended the University of Minnesota and University of Oslo. An honorary citizen of Sarpsborg, Norway, she does PR for that city’s millennium committee. Leslee is or has been involved with almost every Norwegian-American organization, including Sons of Norway, Sons of Norway Foundation, Ski For Light, NAHA, Leif Eriksson International Festival and Mindekirken. Leslee is a co-founder of Lakselaget and a founding member of Norway House, and has been decorated by His Majesty King Harald with the St. Olav Medal. She currently lives in Rockford, Minn., with husband George.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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