We must revitalize our relationship with the United States

Peder Chr. Løvenskiold

Photo: Norway-America Association
Peder Chr. Løvenskiold is the chair of the Norway-America Association and a strong proponent of international educational exchange.

Norway-America Association (NORAM)

The attack on Capitol Hill in January shows the United States is at a crossroads after the years with Donald Trump at the helm. At the same time, the pandemic has intensified a trend in which fewer Norwegians choose to get educated in the United States—our most important ally and trading partner outside of Europe. Even though the bonds between Norway and America are strong, it is important to nurture our cooperation. We can do this by encouraging more young Norwegians to study in the United States. 

The storming of Congress bears witness to a divided United States. The country is divided along party lines—and many describe their political opponents as “immoral.” This is happening while a whole generation with personal experience of the war and Norwegian emigration to America is slowly disappearing. New generations of Americans do not have the same closeness to and affection for Norway and Europe. For young Norwegians, Australia or South America is as exciting as the United States, the promised land of earlier generations. An increasing number of English-language study programs in countries that previously did not have such offers means more competition for students. 

But the United States is not Australia. The United States is Norway’s most important trading partner outside Europe and our strongest NATO ally. According to statistics from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund, the number of Norwegian exchange students to the United States dropped by half between the academic years 2014–2015 and 2019–2020. We know that this is partly related to the unfavorable exchange rate—and currently the pandemic—but it is also due to the fact that young Norwegians no longer have the same close bonds to the United States as before. 

The Norwegian government highlights these challenges in it its report (white paper) to the Storting called “A World of Opportunities,” where the Minister of Education encourages more students to study in Bavaria and fewer in Brisbane. It is positive that the government is taking the challenge seriously, but we must encourage more people to take an active part in supporting our traditionally strong relationship to the United States. This is why I and several others are deeply involved in strengthening these bonds—including through supporting the Norway-America Association (NORAM). We want to revitalize our relations with the United States, to make the country come as alive to young Norwegians as it was to me when I traveled to the United States to study and later work as a young man. 

My wish for 2021 is to be part of a movement that inspires affection and enthusiasm for the United States among young Norwegians. This is one of NORAM’s missions, and every year we award around 40 exchange scholarships to Norwegians and Americans. Financial support is essential if our students are going abroad to study and learn, but most important of all, it is NORAM’s task to generate enthusiasm for the country that has given us Thoreau, Pollack, Kerouac, Seinfeld, and Beyoncé—not just technological innovations from Silicon Valley or vaccines from Pfizer. 

The attack on Capitol Hill shows that times are changing in the United States. Norwegians must understand these changes and the complex undercurrents that move through American society and affect how Americans think and act. Norway is a small country, and we cannot expect Americans to take an interest in us without reciprocating. Let us, therefore, work together to ensure that the Capitol Hill insurrection does not become the defining American moment for young Norwegians. Let them be immersed in campus life, road trips, the Ivy League, and the Norwegian-American universities, such as St. Olaf College, Concordia College, and Pacific Lutheran University.

The experience of studying in the United States is of great value to the individual. Even more importantly, student exchanges between Norway and the United States strengthen connections between Norway and our most important ally. I both hope and believe that we, as a nation, can maintain a wider historical perspective and that the students of the future will not be deterred by the events of recent weeks—the United States still holds a magnificent promise of educational opportunities.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.