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.