Gateway Education AS
A school where the world is your oyster
Gateway Education AS is a private Norwegian institution that partners with international schools to offer study abroad. Locations for study include Bali, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Founded in 1993 by Petter Sorumn, the school’s original purpose was to offer Norwegian educational credits in settings abroad. He recently opened a New York branch that provides classes in International Studies, Creative Writing, American Literature, Web Design, Fashion Management, Entrepreneurship, and Philosophy.
I had the opportunity to speak to Sorumn about how and why he created the school, how it is doing, and his future plans.
Victoria Hofmo: How did the idea for Gateway Education originate?
Petter Sorumn: It all started when I was 19 years old and traveled around in Africa while I was still a student.
I have a masters degree in business from ESCP-EAP, which is a French business school. However, they had a very particular masters course I attended. Three years, three countries, studying in three different languages: Paris, Oxford, and our last year in Berlin.
I started traveling when I was very young. I remember my first trip abroad to Sweden with my friend when I was 16 years old and had just gotten my license for a motorcycle. I got hooked and hitchhiked all across Europe, before I went to Africa and Asia. America was the last continent I visited.
VH: Originally Gateway offered Norwegian accredited classes—did that work out?
PS: We have been offering programs abroad in collaboration with Norwegian Universities since 1993. More than 15,000 students have participated and earned their credits from one of our partners since then. So when you ask whether it worked out my answer is “Yes,” it worked out very well indeed. That said, we decided to change our strategy and move away from our partnership with Norwegian institutions and rather seek local partnerships in New York and elsewhere. And so far it works very well. In New York we work with Dowling College and our students now get a hands-on experience with local teachers who teach at NYU and other places.
We made this change last year and the interesting thing about this change is all the opportunities it opened, because now we can suddenly also recruit other Scandinavian and American students to our programs abroad. We are also considering to maybe set up a program for foreigners in Norway.
VH: How difficult is it to make those connections between other educational programs and actually make it work?
PS: There are many pieces to the puzzle and I think that it would have been really hard without the 25 years of experience we have in actually running the programs and giving our partners, students, and their parents the confidence to show that we know what we are doing both inside and outside of the classroom.
VH: Do you have to be a Norwegian citizen to attend your program?
PS: Not anymore. That is the beauty of the changes we initiated last year. We have now recruited a person who will start to promote Gateway among American students, and nothing would make us happier than if some American students with Scandinavian heritage would go abroad, live and study among our Norwegian students in a faraway place.
VH: How do you determine which classes to offer in each location?
PS: We always try to set up courses where the place can actually be part of the classroom. For example in New York we offer Fashion Management and International Studies, which means that we can take our fashion students behind the scene during the fashion show and our International Studies students get exclusive talks at the UN.
VH: Can you speak specifically about the N.Y. campus?
PS: Each of our programs are lead by an excellent Director, and in New York that is Catherine Vignaud. She has been a great resource for the New York program since she first joined our team five years ago.
The New York Campus has probably been the hardest program to establish anywhere. We used to have a program in Cuba and now as it is opening up, we will get a new one. But when we first started in New York I was making jokes saying that doing business in Cuba was a walk in the park compared to the red tape of doing business in New York. You get the feeling you have to get a permit for just about everything—and it takes time. But we made it and New York is now one of our most popular destinations. The problem however is the cost of rent for the school and housing, which makes studying in New York very expensive. However if you ask any of our students who have had a chance to live in the Big Apple, I am sure they will say it was worth every penny.
VH: What has been most challenging in creating Gateway Education?
PS: I think the most challenging thing in our business is to manage students’ expectations. It is very hard for a 19-year-old Norwegian who might not have traveled a lot to fathom what it is like to live for a semester in places like New York, Bali, or Cuba. Therefore we have a challenge to give students the right expectations before they come here, so that they adapt quickly and love their experience even if things work out very differently than they do in Norway.
VH: What has been most satisfying about creating the program?
PS: Hearing the stories about students who get married to locals, start business, continue to study or work in the place they got introduced to through our programs. We want to shake our students up and we hope that a semester abroad will give them a new perspective, new ideas, and new opportunities. So hearing these stories makes us feel that we are doing something right.
VH: What are your future plans?
PS: I am on my way to Havana and really hope to reestablish a program there. After that we want to set up in Shanghai and Sydney. We are also working on something we call the iMBA—internship MBA. This will be an MBA targeting fresh graduates who want to get some management training and work experience from New York, as they will be doing a 12-month internship while they are at the same time earning an MBA.
In January 2014, Norway’s new Minister of Education and Research, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, was interviewed by Daniel Obst from The Institute of International Education. Isaksen spoke about Norway’s internationalism as an integral part of its history. First, Norwegian churches and embassies have been established throughout the world as a result of the country’s shipping industry and trading ability. And secondly, due to the massive emigration of Norwegians to the U.S, through the mid-1950s it was considered “disgraceful” for Norwegians to study abroad. This view was turned upside down.
Isaksen explains, “Today we see that, as an open and competitive economy, we are dependent on internationalized higher education institutions—and not just because Norway has something to offer to the world. We are dependent on it in order to be an open, wealthy economy and to continue developing.” The Norwegian government has put their money where their mouth is for quite a while, by providing the necessary finances for students to study abroad, particularly in Canada and the U.S. But the Norwegian government is also practical, for these scholars bring back international connections, insights, and business possibilities. They are looking next to promote study in China.
So, Petter Sorumn has truly been a visionary. Being ahead of the curve has put him in sync with Norway’s current education policy, confirming what Sorumn has known since he was a young man hitchhiking through the world: that immersing oneself in another culture is an indispensable experience. One way to achieve this is best said by Sorumn, “If you or your children have not spent a semester abroad during their studies, make sure you do!”
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.