Strengthening educational exchange across the seas
NORAM visits the United States
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
When your mission is fostering academic and cultural relations between Norway and the United States, you need to make a visit yourself. With the pandemic restricting travel for everyone, it had been a while since representatives of the Norway-America Association (NORAM) had visited the United States.
In early December, Hanne K. Aaberg, executive director, Peder Chr. Løvenskiold, board chair, and board member Knut Brakstad, former private secretary of King Harald, visited Washington, D.C., New York, and Minneapolis.
Education was a focus: educating those in the Norwegian-American community who don’t know about NORAM and to visit Norwegian colleges in the United States to encourage student exchange with universities in Norway.
“One purpose was to promote NORAM in the communities that we care about,” said Aaberg from Oslo in a Zoom interview with Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall after the trip. “Another was to build a strong relationship to the foreign service. NORAM receives funding from the government and we belong to the budget of the Norwegian embassy in Washington.
“We hadn’t met with Ambassador Anniken Krutnes before, so we made a point of starting our visit with her. She very generously hosted us for a luncheon and meeting, where we also met some of her staff. One of the people who is working very closely with education and academic exchange, [Urd Milbury, international education adviser] was not present because she was traveling.”
Milbury, who coordinates student exchange through the embassy, was in Oslo meeting with NORAM at the time of the Zoom interview.
NORAM’s commitment to international educational exchange has a long history as an early sponsor of the International Summer School at the University of Oslo, which 75 years later is thriving, drawing students college-age and up from more than 100 countries for six weeks.
They also support Norgesskolen, a two-week summer program in Telemark for international children to experience immersion in Norwegian language and culture. Aaberg is excited about the upcoming 20th anniversary, as well as a new winter program in February.
Among NORAM’s many scholarships is one for a “young promising politician working at the Storting.” Established by Robert D. Stuart, a former U.S. ambassador to Norway, each semester, NORAM selects a person together with the Norwegian Atlantic Committee to attend courses at the George Washington University in Washington and to intern with a senator or congressional representative for six months. A woman from the Conservative Party was this semester’s recipient.
“We invited her and the head of the Sons of Norway, Washington Lodge, for dinner,” said Aaberg.
Aaberg knows from personal experience the value of experiencing a different culture and learning experience, having attended San Diego State University in San Diego, Calif.
“That made a big difference in my choice of career, later in life, and the opportunities I got. I never regretted that opportunity,” she said. “One of the most important things is you leave your hometown. You see there are people in the world who have a different perspective than you for a good reason. You learn to know yourself,” she said.
More specifically, Aaberg underlined some of the differences between the two educational systems. The system in the United States, with its liberal arts colleges, is very different from Norwegian universities, where you sit in large classes of 100 or more for a year and then take an exam. The Norwegian undergraduate system is much more focused than the American undergraduate system, which has a more general, varied approach.
“You also get the possibility to not just focus on your major, but you get exposed to a broader range of topics, which I think is valuable when you are an undergraduate. It gives you a solid and broad base for your further studies, whereas in Norway, you have to choose your major at a much earlier point. It’s very focused for a period of time. The United States is such a big country with so much diversity and a different reality than in Norway.”
Reinhall asked Aaberg why Americans should come to Norway to study.
“Norway is set up very differently with the Nordic Scandinavian model of running society. Just experiencing that there are many other ways to view the world.
“Overriding that is the fact that the United States is Norway’s most important ally. You need to have friends on both sides of the Atlantic to keep that relationship going and to build trust and knowledge.”
After just over a day in D.C., it was off to Minneapolis. There, they met with Honorary Consul Eivind Heiberg and saw the newly expanded Norway House, with its Gingerbread Wonderland exhibit. They visited St. Olaf College, met with Augsburg University President Paul Pribbenow and people at Concordia University, and they attended the St. Olaf Christmas concert of five choirs with five directors. At Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, Løvenskiold addressed the congregation. Løvenskiold co-hosted a dinner with Heiberg for leaders of the Norwegian-American community and collaborators and supporters of NORAM. Former U.S. Ambassador to Norway Benson K. Whitney was in attendance. All that in about two days.
Then, it was off to New York City to meet with Consul General Heidi Olufsen and NORAM scholarship recipients. The delegation then attended meetings at the American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF), NORAM’s most important partner, which provides 80%–90% of the funding for their scholarships. There, they met with Ed Gallagher, ASF president; Sally Yerkovich, director of educational exchange and special programs; Lynn Carter, board secretary; and two other board members. While in New York, they also interacted with various NORAM sponsors and potential sponsors.
While Aaberg feels that the delegation accomplished what it set out to do, she also sees that there is still much to be done.
“We realized we could have seen many more people,” said Aaberg. “It was a start. We’ve begun planning with Urd Milbury what can we do together next year. We need to go to the West Coast, where we will visit the consul general in San Francisco. First and foremost, we will go to the Seattle area and meet with the Norwegian community there.”
All photos courtesy of the Norway-America Association
This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.