Friday, September 2, 2011

Doorway to Norway

Randall Stephens

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness," Mark Twain famously quipped. So, here's to broad-minding it and globe trotting.

In spring 2012 I’ll be traveling to Oslo, Norway, to begin six months as a Fulbright Roving Scholar in American Studies. Rovers shuttle around the entire country, leading seminars with high school English teachers and teachers-in-training at colleges and universities, and deliver lectures and seminars to upper and lower secondary students on a variety of topics, broadly under American Studies themes.

For the students, or pupils as they calls them, I’m preparing lectures and discussions on: "Remembering the American Civil War 150 Years Later"; "To Begin the World Anew: The Founding of the American Republic and America’s Political Debates"; "Advertising the American Dream"; "European Travelers in 19th-Century America"; "Race, Rock, and Religion: 1955-1966"; "The Praying South: Why Is the American South the Most Religious Region of the Country?" (I've been thinking of another one on regional American accents and what those tell us about the nation's history.) My workshops for teachers will deal with online resources, getting pupils interested in historical and cultural debates, creating digital archives with students, and Norwegian immigration to America.

One of the country's most famous sons, Roald Dahl, once remarked: "Though my father was Norwegian, he always wrote his diaries in perfect English." I’m especially interested in the close connections between America, Great Britain, and Norway. Norwegian students learn English from a very early age and their proficiency and knowledge of both the US and Great Britain is surprisingly extensive. In English in Europe (Oxford, 2004), Manfred Görlach observes:

English first received a place in Norwegian secondary schools with the Education Act of 1869, and in 1896 it was made compulsory as the second foreign language in secondary schools. However, it did not become the first foreign language until 1935, and although English was well established as a school and university subject before 1939, the war accelerated a shift in emphasis from German to English. English played an important role in the democratization process in Norwegian primary education in the 1950s, under the slogan "English for everyone," and Norwegian children now receive at least seven years of compulsory English in school, and usually more after that. Today, a majority of Norwegians have had at least some formal training in English (63).

Though, it is true, students in Norway know less on the specifics and more on the generalities, and perhaps, gain much of their understanding from pop culture and television. (A little like knowing about California through Entourage, Baywatch, or Beach Boys songs.)

I’m just getting back from a one-week stay in Norway, where I met with my fellow Rovers—Isaac Larison and Sarah Anderson. (Both have terrific plans for conducting their work in the classroom and with teachers! Interacting with them and our hosts gave me some great ideas about how I’ll be proceeding. Isaac and Sarah will start their travels shortly.) I also got a good briefing about Norwegian life from the Fulbright office in Oslo—thanks to Kevin McGuiness, Rena Levin, and Petter Næss Sara Ullerø, and Abbey Schneider for the thorough orientation. And I spent some valuable time with the other Rovers observing English classes in Halden and Sarpsborg. Karin Pettersen, Steinar Nybøle, Thomas Hansen, and the faculty and staff of the Norwegian Centre for Foreign Languages in Education were tremendous hosts, telling us much about the Norwegian education and describing the ideological context of the system. A visit to Halden Fortress and a traditional four-course Norwegian feast in one of the castle’s buildings was a treat.

I’m looking forward to interacting with students and teachers and seeing how American culture is perceived through a Norwegian lens. In the months ahead I’ll be writing dispatches from Norway about my experiences in the classroom and my work with teachers.

Are Norwegian students more or less like American high school juniors and seniors/college freshmen and sophomores? How do they view the United States’ and America's relationship with the rest of the world? What interests them most about American culture and society? I’m eager to explore these and many other questions once I’m in Norway in four months. (I'm already thinking about a survey to conduct with the pupils about the US.)

Finally I want to get in a plug for the Roving Scholars Program. If you would like to teach and conduct research abroad and if you are at all interested in a Fulbright like this, you should apply for a position for 2012-13. The application deadline is in the middle of September. Have a look at the refurbished Norwegian Fulbright site here for more details.


Sarah Anderson said...

Nicely summarized, Randell, and I would add my thanks (tusen takk) to our hosts as well! We will have to discuss much more after my day at Ostfold U after your departure.

Gabriel Loiacono said...

I love the rhyming title of your post. And this Fulbright Award sounds very interesting.

Petter said...

Good to meet you Randall, and sorry I couldn't accompany to Østfold (but Vienna was good!) Looking forward to welcoming you back to Norway when you begin your roving in January. I'm delighted to see you quoting Twain - I've used that quote myself on occasion, it captures very nicely the essence of the Fulbright exchange idea. Twain doesn't mince words - nor did Fulbright; in "The Arrogance of Power", JWF quotes the prayer from Twain's short story "War Prayer" in full---pretty astonishing considering he was chairman of the SFRC at the time. Today I think invoking that prayer would put a speedy end to any political career!

Randall said...

Thanks Petter. Agreed about Twain. I've been surprised to read about how much of his skepticism he kept under wraps.

solveig said...

You will leave your mark on those you teach and they and you will be richer for the experience... your fan, solveig