Still foreign, but part of the community

Dr. Linda Duevel talks to David Nikel about her years at the International School of Stavanger

Photo courtesy of the International School Stavanger Linda Duevel is honored as International Superintendent of the Year.

Photo courtesy of the International School Stavanger
Linda Duevel is honored as International Superintendent of the Year.

David Nikel
Life in Norway

This summer, Dr. Len and Dr. Linda Duevel retire after a collective 82 years of service to the International School of Stavanger. The school describes itself as a “crossroads of diversity” with nearly 700 students representing some 50 nationalities.

Dr. Linda Duevel was named the International Superintendent of the Year by the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) and took time away from her busy schedule to speak to Life in Norway about the school and what has kept an American in Norway for so long.

David Nikel: Linda, tell us your story! How did you end up in education?

Linda Duevel: I grew up with one foot on either side of the Atlantic, half-American and half-Scouse! My mother was a wartime ambulance driver in Liverpool. After they married, they joined the relatively big group of English girls who went to the USA after the war. She moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where a lot of people complimented her on her English! My first friends were the children of other war brides, and the group really held on to their sense of Britishness.

I knew I wanted to do something that would make use of both sides of my persona. I was studying to be a teacher and my plan was to be a journalist, but for a woman in the late 1960s there were really only three options: secretary, nurse, or teacher. Teaching appealed, and luckily my university had a program where I could teach overseas. I was really fortunate to land in a situation where I was teaching high school English in London, and they hired me to do my first year of professional teaching. It was invigorating time for me as a young teacher, we got to take students all around the country.

DN: What brought you to Norway?

LD: For me it was an easy decision. I landed in Stavanger in August 1975 on a beautiful sunny day. After driving along the fjord for just ten minutes, I knew I wasn’t going to go home! Having said that, I didn’t expect to be here this long either! My husband grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota and did his student teaching in the Canary Islands, but Norway just suited us both. We’ve had opportunities to go elsewhere, but Norway has always won out.

We are here not because we are stuck here but because we choose to be here. After we “graduate” this summer, this is where we will stay.

DN: Can you tell us a little about the ISS?

LD: When the school was first founded in 1966, the thought was there would be a need for an English language school for around ten years due to the emerging oil industry.

There were mainly American families to begin with, but now it’s much more international. This beautiful piece of land we are on was given to the school by Stavanger kommune. We finished the campus and moved here in 1982.

DN: How does the education experience differ in an international school?

LD: We have 50 different nationalities here and everyone wants to make sure their kids will do well here, but also reintegrate well back into their country’s education system.

We spend less time thinking about that than about the three pillars education is based on—learning, wellbeing, and community—that permeate through every aspect of education in Norway.

Although we welcome a diverse mix of nationalities, Norwegian children make up a big percentage of our student population. Many of them are part of mobile families and may have been studying in an international school before and may well again in the future.

Our students don’t ask each other if they’re going to university, they ask on which continent! We offer the international baccalaureate and the iGCSE through the University of Cambridge. That combination is sort of seen as the gold standard for students in international education.

DN: Do any of your students stay with you for their entire education?

LD: Hardly any go all the way through. This year we have two students graduating who started their education here. One of the girls has been with us since barnehage (kindergarten). She’s a Norwegian citizen of Pakistani origin, President of the Student Council, and working on an art project connected with the World Wildlife Fund.

DN: Having been in Norway for so long, do you feel Norwegian?

LD: What a great question! Many years ago I was in hospital and when I came off the anesthetic my husband told me I was speaking Norwegian. I was so pleased to hear that! But no, I don’t think I’ll ever feel truly Norwegian, although I do feel like a very honored guest.

No one will ever look at me and listen to me and think I’m Norwegian. I’ll always be identified as a foreigner, but these aren’t negative things.

I’ve been asked twice to run for City Council here, but in both cases I very tactfully and diplomatically thanked them for the great compliment. My job is with the school and although I like working with politicians, I don’t want to be one.

My point is, this is an amazing country for me to have come to as a 25 year old and have a long and fascinating career. I’ve met all kinds of remarkable people of different nationalities including many Norwegians who have graciously allowed my husband and I to become good friends.

DN: What’s next for you and yours?

LD: We will probably stay very busy and look forward to doing a lot of volunteering. For example, I am chairing an international organization for the next two years, we teach graduate classes during the summer, and I’ll deliver some volunteer international school governance workshops.

I’ve been invited to Uzbekistan and will do board training there. My husband will come along and we will travel around the Silk Road. Then in September, we’ve been invited to go to a conference in Mumbai on international education followed by some volunteer teacher training work.

In November we go to Washington, D.C., for the last piece of the Superintendent of the Year award process. That’s three days of meetings culminating in a trip to the White House. So it’s going to be a very busy year!

This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.