Looking at the whys and therefores
Norwegian exchange students talk about their experiences as high school students in Minnesota
By Gary Erickson
Norwegian American Weekly
Foreign high school student exchange has taken place between the U.S. and Norway at least since the late 1940s. Educational exchange between these two countries cements the special ethnic and cultural relationship enjoyed by each. It positions students to be better prepared and more engaged as citizens of that greater world to which they will bring their presence and influence. On April 11, three Norwegian high school students from different locations in Norway spoke publicly about their experiences of studying abroad and, more specifically, the decision to study in the U.S.
Following a presentation to the Sons of Norway Fedraheimen Lodge in Willmar, Minn., this trio was interviewed about their educational exchange year in west central Minnesota high schools. All three students are 18 years of age, with Marit Aarvik coming from Hakadal, Jorun Guldbakke Øiesvold from Bodø, and Ivar Duserod from Eidsberg.
Marit attended Willmar High School in Willmar, Minn., and Jorun and Ivar attended Maccray High School in Clara City, Minn. When asked about the impetus that drove them to become exchange students, all three were nearly identical in their responses: It was a desire to have a new experience, to be part of a new culture, to meet new people, learn a new language, to have fun and, well, to just try something new.
Questioned about their decisions to choose the U.S. as their host nation, Jorun was the first to state energetically that it was “because there are so many movies, magazines and stories about America, and I know it’s a supernation, because we learn about it in school.”
Ivar quickly stated, “I wanted to go because I was kind of tired of the same people, the same place, and everything the same… I wanted something new, and I have a lot of cousins who have been here before, and they have only positive things to say.”
“America,” he reflected, “you hear so much about it in the news, the movies and music; you want to see what it’s really like… You don’t lose a year of education, and you learn English, which is useful, very useful for jobs and studies abroad later.”
Marit voiced the basis for her decision to leave her family and friends for a year: “I wanted to try something different than the normal Norwegian school,” she said, “and learn about a new culture, meet new people and just grow as a person. When you live in one place your entire life, you become that society wherever you live. You become the same. But, if you go somewhere else and you learn other things, other societies… you can pick up from other cultures. You can choose from more, about who you want to be in growth as a person… [you can] become more independent, to grow up and find out who you are.”
They spoke of the similarities of the populations here and there, but were asked if they recognized a cultural value that was more typically American than Norwegian. Their answers were once again remarkably similar. “Religion is really different,” Jorun responded, and described how learning about the theory of evolution in biology classes was somewhat controversial. “I was shocked…. In Norway, it would be like, ‘we just learned the evolution theory, there you go!’”
Marit agreed: “Religion is a big difference.”
Ivar’s view was similar, too: “Yah, the religion is very much stronger here than compared to Norway,” he acknowledged.
Jorun addressed another specific value – competition – that she perceived as being more typically American. It was her statement of this perception that stimulated a deeper, more reflective and lengthy reaction by all three students than any other thought. Jorun began by citing “It’s also like… freedom of speech, like being your self. I kind of feel like I’ve seen the ‘self-made man,’ a little bit. Like, everyone wants to do best, do good in school, do good in sports, like, be the best in doing things yourself. I feel I’ve seen that. In Norway we learned about American values… about freedom of speech, and I feel I saw that here.”
Ivar followed up Jorun’s view by clarifying, “There is [here] very much about finding the best one in anything. I feel like it’s that you want to have the best team, the best player in the team, you want to have the best man.”
“When at the banquets,” Jorun continued, “When they give out the most valuable player [award], sometimes you feel it’s a little bit unnecessary.”
The subject of competition within the ranks of students elicited a personal observation by Marit. “For my school here, after finishing a term, I received this paper sheet. It had the students’ rank and it set out that I was this number [out of this many students]. I thought it was really weird that I was competing with an entire grade in my school. In Norway, I would be competing with myself.” “Yah,” said Ivar. “It’s all about focus. [In Norway] you compete with yourself and improve.” Jorun mused over her colleagues’ thoughts and expanded, “I think it’s good, in some ways, ok for the people that get the prize. You gain confidence.” For the others, she thought, “They may say, ‘I have to do better and more and more, so I can get it.’ Others may say, ‘No, I’m not good enough.’”
All had expressed an early interest in learning English. All were asked to share their favorite American expression learned from this past year.
Marit immediately exclaimed, “’Awesome!’… I just love it!”
Jorun contributed that her American grandmother used an expression, “Oh, for dumb!”
Ivar chuckled and cited his favorite: “I don’t say it a lot, but I think it’s funny when people say, ‘You betcha!’ When they use that in daily conversation, I just end up laughing.”
This group of contemplative and articulate students had much, much more to say about their experiences here, about accomplishments and new senses of independence, about career choices – some of which changed dramatically, and finally, about facing their return home. Jorun seemed to speak for the group with her final thought: “Going abroad is a big experience, good and bad. Sometimes you just want to go home… you miss home, like now, in the end. However, we don’t want to go home. We love our host families and it’s been such a fun year.”
This article was originally published in the April 29, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.