Norway is worth every penny
Students at University of Minnesota share their study abroad experiences from Norway
By Sada Reed
University of Minnesota senior Megan Trench spent a semester at the University of Oslo through a HECUA Scandinavian Urban Studies Term. Freshman Erik Anderson of Hudson, Wis., attended Agder Folkehøgskole, a folk school in Søgne. And through the University of Minnesota’s Learning Abroad Center, senior Jade Sandstedt studied for a year at the University of Oslo.
A variety of educational programs are available to students interested in Norway, from short term, less-structured programs, to year-long, rigorous university courses.
Trench, of Shoreview, Minn., said her interest in Norway stemmed from her heritage. Her grandfather was “100 percent Norwegian,” so she decided to take Norwegian classes upon transferring to the University of Minnesota and having a new language requirement to fulfill.
“While I was in Norwegian class, [someone from] the HECUA program came to our class and told us about it,” Trench said of her study abroad program. “I knew immediately that I wanted to go to Norway and that would be the best way to go.”
Through HECUA, students address education and social justice issues. According to its website, the Scandinavian Urban Studies Term allows students to analyze the Norwegian welfare state’s development through topics like globalization theories, nation-building and national identity, governance and political party systems, European integration, racial thinking, histories of racialization, international aid politics, sexuality, and environmentalism.
“I learned a lot,” said Trench, a Psychology major. “It wasn’t just classroom learning. We got to listen to speakers who are actually from Norway and just hearing from them, instead of just reading about them, was really cool.”
Anderson took a different educational route, attending a Norwegian folk school, which is a “gap year” that allows students to continue their interests or to try something new instead of immediately beginning university. There are 77 folk high schools throughout Norway, and programs are one year and less intense than standard secondary or university courses, as they have no tests or degrees, Anderson said.
He chose an international folk high school for non-Norwegians. The school, which had about 100 students, was located in Søgne, which is about 16 kilometers west of Kristiansand.
“It was intimidating at first, because when we got there, everything was in Norwegian, and everyone was speaking Norwegian,” Anderson said. “But luckily, for some important stuff, they would say things in English. But our main focus was to learn the language, so we really were immersed in it. Everyone was willing to help out with it.”
Sandstedt, who grew up in Rothsay and Evansville, Minn., is also of Norwegian heritage and spoke Norwegian before spending a year in Oslo, as he began learning the language as a child. Besides language courses, Sandstedt studied runology, which is the study of runic inscriptions; Old Norse palaeography, the study of Old Norse handwriting and medieval manuscript culture, among other subjects. He said many of these subjects are not offered in the U.S., making the journey to Oslo crucial to his development as a scholar. His future plans include completing a master’s degree at the University of Iceland (Reykjavík) and to pursue a doctoral degree in Old Norse philology.
He emphasized how much his language skills improved while studying in Norway, and how much Norwegians appreciated this effort. For example, he said he was once at a bank and did not know how to say, in Norwegian, that he wanted to deposit money. Though he didn’t initially know the correct phrase, Sandstedt said the bank employee told him how nice it was that he was trying.
“Norwegian is one of the most interesting languages you can study because when you learn a smaller language like Norwegian or Icelandic, the [native speakers] are so excited,” Sandstedt said. “There is all this variation among the dialects, and I think this is very exciting. The Norwegians have their own identities within Norway, which is tied to the dialects they speak…. But they all support each other’s dialects. They think they are all just as valuable.”
Each of the students expressed gratitude for the opportunity to study in Norway, saying the costs and paperwork were worth it.
“I believe it is worth every penny,” Trench said. “It changed my life. It got me to see a whole other culture.”
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.