Norgesskolen offers norsk in total immersion
A unique summer experience in the heart of Norway
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
After the world was switched off for two years with the pandemic and all the public health restrictions that went with it, Norgesskolen, a program of the Norway-America Association, was once again able to welcome students from all over the world this summer.
This year’s 14-day summer camp session was held at Sagavoll Folk High School, located in Gvarv in Norway’s picturesque Telemark countryside, from July 18 to July 31. Students between the ages of 9 and 18, with various levels of competency in Norwegian, came to fully immerse themselves in the language and culture of Norway.
“Norgesskolen is a door-opener to Norway and the Norwegian language and culture,” said Kristine Venner Trehjørningen Dehli, this year’s director for the program. The mission of the program is to “build a bridge for Norwegians living abroad back to their Norwegian heritage and contemporary Norway today, with language, culture, and traditions. “It is our goal for the students to experience Norway like a real Norwegian,” Dehli said.
But naturally, there are challenges when you are bringing young people from all over the world together, since their linguistic skills may vary significantly. Some are already fluent in Norwegian, and others know only a few words. About 40% of the students come from North America to mix with participants from all over the globe, including the Middle East and Asia. This year brought five students from Belarus for the first time.
At the summer school, all instruction takes place in the Norwegian bokmål language for a total immersion experience. But because Norway is a land of different regional dialects and a second official language, nynorsk, the instructors come from all over Norway to provide the students with a broader exposure to the overall linguistic picture of Norway, from north to south and east to west. They not only learn about the dialects but the Sámi language as well. In this context, they also learn about the map of Norway.
In Dehli’s words, the school’s approach to learning language can be described as relaxed. “In general, the classroom culture in Norway is less strict than in other places. We listen to the children’s opinions,” she said.
Many of the students who have Norwegian parents and already speak Norwegian and are comfortable helping the less proficient students. While Norwegian must be spoken with the faculty and in learning sessions, the students are free to speak their own languages and English among themselves.
Upon arrival, an assessment test is administered to all students to ensure that they are placed in a group that is optimal for learning as much Norwegian as possible. Some advanced students are in the process of preparing for Bergenstesten, which is required for foreign students to enter the university in Norway. In regard to this, Norgesskolen offers extensive support. Eventually, some of the older students go on to the International Summer School in Oslo in their preparation to attend a Norwegian university.
While the classroom curriculum is very carefully planned by Dehli and other highly qualified Norwegian instructors to produce the best academic results, the students have so much fun that this well-structured curriculum might seem to be more play than work.
Television and films, traditional folk songs, and pop music are incorporated into the instruction. Each day starts with the students gathering to hear a song. This is not only a great icebreaker but an effective cultural connector. For example, many Asian students may not have much previous exposure to Norwegian culture, but they can relate to a hits song by international stars such as Kygo or Astrid S.
Because there is a strong emphasis on understanding and speaking the Norwegian language at Norgesskolen, the use of digital devices is limited. The children only have one hour a day when they can use their iPads and cell phones. In the training sessions and classes, they use some digital assets, but not as much as in regular Norwegian schools. Disconnecting from the devices encourages them to speak directly to one another.
The students live in supervised dormitories, with two counselors on site. With about 10 to 15 students on each floor, the girls and boys are divided into separate groups and age groups are kept together.
The students eat their meals together, and, of course, there is an emphasis on Norwegian cuisine. For some of the children used to eating pasta and rice, the amount of bread served at breakfast and lunch may seem excessive. Others are not used to the amount of fish in the Norwegian diet. Some may even experience digestive issues. But with a vegetarian menu option and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables available, there is something for everyone. The students even learn to pack their own matpakke for their evening meal. Most love the Norwegian waffles with jam or gjetost, and the milk chocolate is always a favorite.
The children also get the opportunity to learn about holiday food and customs, as celebrations of both Christmas and 17th of May are part of the program each year. They also learn about the russ graduation customs, which are very special to Norway.
With so many activities packed in, two weeks go by quickly at Norgesskolen. That said, there is still time for plenty of friluftsliv, sports and recreation in the open air, as well as traditional Norwegian arts and crafts. This year, the students also took a full-day excursion to Skien, the hometown of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, where they could learn about him in the knowledge center there.
Norgesskolen offers an intensive immersion experience for students wanting to learn Norwegian, and the good news is that while the students learn, they also have fun. Many friendships are forged, and students come back year after year, a testimony to the program’s ongoing success.
For more information about Norgesskolen, visit norgesskolen.no.
Photos courtesy of Norgesskolen
This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.