School, two weeks down!

So, we have survived 2 weeks of school in the new school. I have to say that (knock on wood) everything is going really well. One of the main things that I have noticed so far is that Anders seems really happy and excited to go to school everyday. He was happy back in Lexington too, but never excited to go to school. Since school starts later, he has not been tired at all in the mornings. His class is small. There are 6 boys including him, and 7 girls, and his class is the largest in the school! They do a lot of learning activities with different age groups, which I think has been really cool. All of the kids seem to really get to know each other. They went on a scavenger hunt hike last week and split into groups. The groups had a few kids from each grade, and the kids from the 7th grade were the group leaders and responsible for the younger kids. It’s nice to see them all working together and getting along. So far, he really has not learned much Norwegian, which has me irritated. I can see that he is trying to get as far as he can knowing that everyone speaks English really well. The subjects that they are doing include Math, Norwegian, English, Science, Social Studies, and RLE (which is religion, spirituality, and ethics), as well as having gym, music, swimming, and art/handwork. He has homework each night, but it’s not a lot and it seems to be at his level. Another thing that is different here is that the kids get at least one textbook in each subject, so they have these huge backpacks that they lug their books around in. It’s funny to watch Anders bike away toward school in the morning with his giant backpack. Luckily, they don’t have to bring home every book every evening, just the ones that they have homework in. There is not a hot school lunch in Norway. All kids bring a lunch. Lunches are generally pretty small and consist of a couple of slices of bread with a piece of cheese, or a piece of meat on them, and a piece of fruit, cheese, or veggies. You are not supposed to pack anything sugary. I don’t think they are allowed to have juice or sugary drinks, cookies, candies, or any sweets in their lunches. They can drink milk or water. Anders takes a water bottle with him. I really do agree with not packing any sugary foods in the lunch, but I do miss hiding a cookie inside his lunch box every once in a while. 🙂

 

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University in Norway vs. the USA

I was feeling relatively confident academically speaking this summer as I checked in to my dorm and prepared myself for an intensive 6 weeks of summer school at the University of Oslo International Summer School. I had been awarded 4 out of the 5 scholarships that I applied for, one of which was a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, a national scholarship for International study from the Department of State that is competitive and would cover the entire tuition cost for the program. The things that I worried about were would I have a roommate? I am too old to get stuck with a roommate!! It will be really hard to be away from my family… how often can I make it back to Sunndal for the weekend, and things that revolved around my personal comfort while living in a dorm with folks who were anywhere from 18 – 75 years of age. When I checked in, I was happy to learn that people over 40 got their own room, so that was great! Walking down the hall to the toilet would be a minor inconvenience, and things seemed to be going swimmingly!

 

And then, the first day of class happened. The main class that I was taking was Norwegian level 3, or Norsk trinn 3. I had previously taken 101, 102, 201, 202, and an independent study where I read a novel in Nynorsk and wrote a 15-page paper on it, in Norwegian. I felt that I was pretty experienced and ready for this class. To say that I was wrong would be putting it mildly. The first day of class I struggled to understand my teacher and found myself shocked and in awe by how much better some of the students from Europe seemed than me, and my American cohorts in my class. They had such a vocabulary and seemed to be already nearly fluent. Immediately following this class I had Nynorsk for the first 3 weeks of the summer school. Another shocker. Once again, the European students seemed so much more advanced. Why? It would seem that their education is equivalent to ours, and they had taken the same sorts of classes at their home universities. I went back to my dorm that afternoon and nearly cried and proceeded to have a terrible migraine. Yep, off to a great start! All of my academic confidence…. gone with the fresh Norwegian summer wind.

 

As the weeks flew by, I found the classes to be much better and I could completely understand my teacher in trinn 3 once I got used to her Kristiansand dialect. I worked extremely hard to keep up with all of the readings and assignments, one of which was to write a 10-15-page paper on a theme of our choice. I chose to write about comparative masculinity in modern and classical Scandinavian literature and was extremely happy with my paper. What I would come to learn about our assignments and our participation was that none of it would count. What? You mean I slaved over this beautiful paper in Norwegian and poured my heart and soul into it as I was joined at the hip with my Norwegian/English dictionary, and it wouldn’t even count toward my grade? And that is when I learned that nothing I did in the class counted toward my grade. The only thing that would count would be the 4-hour final exam and the oral exam on the last 2 days of class. Ugh. I am a terrible tester, especially in a crowded auditorium. I still haven’t received my grades from the program, but lets just say that my hope for the classes changed from, I hope I get an A, to I hope that I will pass!

 

Having had some time to be introspective I have really thought about my American experience (and I am sure lots of universities in the states are very different, but just in my personal experience) as a university student.. I find it very comforting that I am not judged solely on my test performance in the US. Can the way you perform on an exam solely evaluate what you have learned and what you have taken away from the course? I think not, personally. Any manner of things can happen to a person on the day of an exam that can alter their ability to do their best, be it nerves, personal issues, illness, etc. Not to mention, I am fairly certain that I have ADD, but have not been diagnosed. And this is not to say that exams are not important, because they are! It is just not a good holistic assessment of what a person has learned and what they are capable of after having attended a course. If I had only been judged on my final exams in my classes at UND, I would not have received those scholarships, nor would I have a 4.0 GPA.

 

And, looking back at why the European students seemed so much more advanced I came up with a couple of different theories. One of which was that Norwegian, for many of these people would be their 3rd or 4th language. They probably have a more built-in/natural ability to understand language structure. Maybe I didn’t use Norwegian enough. Maybe I should have found more opportunities to speak Norwegian and listen to Norwegian over the last two years. Americans are at a huge disadvantage by not learning a second language from an early age, though I think that is changing a lot and many children are now learning Spanish or Chinese, for instance. At any rate, it is what it is. And in conclusion, it was an interesting opportunity and something that I learned a lot from, and that alone is worth its weight in gold.

Kids with knives

One of the hardest things for me, coming from the U.S. is to let go a little bit when it comes to my kids. Here in our little town in Norway you see kids walking all over the place or biking together with no adult supervision. It’s strange to me, yet I like it. It reminds me of my own childhood. You get the sense that the other people in the neighborhood/town are keeping their eyes out for the kids, and in general things are really set up for safety here. It is the law for cars to stop for pedestrians crossing the street, and people actually follow the law. Speed limits are low, and you see signs in every neighborhood warning to be aware because children are at play. One thing that I am really having a hard time with is that kids are allowed to use tools, such as pocketknives. My husband grew up here, and was using a knife when he was 4 or something crazy like that. He thinks it is great developmentally and that I am overprotective for being scared of my 8-year-old son wielding a Mora knife. He has been taught how to use it, how to be safe, and the importance of being careful and responsible. Today, my son had another kid over. They had made wooden swords and wanted to shape them and carve in them with their knives, which made me super nervous. I asked the other kid if he was allowed, and he said that he was.  So, I decided that I would let them do it, but I would supervise. (Parents here don’t supervise children’s play like we do in the U.S., but hopefully they would when they are playing with pocketknives!). As I stood there watching, I found myself being very impressed by the way these little guys handled the knives, safely, with great care just as they had been taught.

Back to school

Anders is about to start school on Monday here in Norway. The schedule is very different from what I am used to as school begins at 8:45. 2 days a week he is out at 12:45, 2 days a week at 1:45, and 1 day a week at 2:45. They have an after school program for kids of working parents which Anders will be attending as I’m hoping he will pick up more Norwegian by hanging out longer. When parents are home from work and are ready for their kids to come home they simply call the school and say that they are ready for their child to come home, then the child either bikes or walks home by themselves. The after school program ends at 4:30 each day. Most people only work until 4:00 around here, and some places have summer hours where during the summer they only work until 3:00 (husband has summer hours 🙂 ). I was waiting to get a letter or something in the mail about the first day of school and the school year in general but nothing came. I started asking other parents and they didn’t think a letter would come. I was waiting for some sort of instructions; a school supplies list, teacher name, etc. I found out that first of all, there really are no school supplies, everything is provided by the school. Anders literally just has to show up to school with his backpack and will be given everything he needs. However, most kids go and get a pennal hus(a zippered cylindrical pouch which holds pencils, pens, erasers, etc.) and fill it with cool pencils and pens that they like, and buy wrapping paper looking stuff to wrap their text books in to personalize them. I still didn’t know who the teacher would be so I finally we sent an email to the principal. She confirmed that Anders’ teacher is named Roger. All kids call their teachers by their first name here. The principal confirmed that there is no letter or any information that will come in the mail. Everything we need to know will be sent home in Anders’ backpack the first day.

This is all very different and strange to me. I am excited to experience the newness of it all, but also a bit nervous. I can’t help thinking about the shorter days, which I am very happy about, but on the other hand worry that he won’t learn enough. The focus is so different. I am thinking of all of my friends back home, walking their kids back into their familiar classrooms, and the whole routine with which I am well acquainted. I am missing everyone and I can’t wait to see all of the pictures. 🙂