For this being my first time out of the United States, I could not ask for a more incredible experience. I have gotten the question, «Why did you want to go to Norway in the winter of all places to study?» many times. My answer, at first, was always that it was an opportunity that was brought to my attention by my special education professor, Matt Johnson. He visited Peder Morset last year, and raved about the great experience it was for him. After taking his introduction to special education class, I decided to add it as a minor to my other studies of Psychology and Spanish. I knew that I needed to take a practicum course during the month of January, and I thought there was no better way than to do this other than studying abroad. Now, after being in Norway for over two weeks, my answer to that same question is, «There is no other place I would want to travel to.»
Our small group of 7 students and our professor arrived in Oslo, Norway on January 2, after many hours of traveling. The first three days in Norway we spent touring the amazing city of Oslo. We visited the Viking Ship museum, went on a fjord boat tour in the freezing cold, admired the Nobel Peace Prize museum, and attempted to get over our extreme jet lag. Nonetheless, it was easy to forget about the exhaustion while being in such a beautiful country.
The day finally came for us to go our separate ways to two different schools in Norway. Two students and our professor took a train to Hamar to start their practicum experience, and the other 5 students, me included, flew to our next destination here in Peder Morset. We were not really sure what to expect, but we have not been disappointed. The first night when we arrived, we were greeted by many students, staff and volunteers. We were thankful to have one student give us a tour of the entire school, so we might have some idea of where to go the first day.
For all of us, being here the first night created many nerves. However, throughout the first week, all of our nerves vanished. There were many moments that made me feel at home. From playing basketball in the gym with the students at night, playing cards in between meals to pass the time, watching American films in the TV room, and learning about each and every student, I have become more and more comfortable being in a completely different environment. Each day we engaged in the same activities that the students were doing while observing the differences in education. Being completely immersed in the culture has been the best way to understand the reasons for the implementation of certain things.
Yes, it was easy to become comfortable, but I have also been challenged more times than I have ever been challenged in these two weeks. I have gotten the opportunity to try many different things during my stay at Peder Morset. I may be from Minnesota, but I tend to do more inside sports during the winter. I have never cross country skied, so when I was told I was going skiing for class one day, you can imagine how nervous I was. Especially since most Norwegians have been skiing since they were born. I did not have great expectations of my skiing skills, and I definitely did not exceed those expectations either. We had a contest of who could fall the most times, and I am almost positive I won that contest. I may have been terrible, but the encouragement and assistance from the students was greatly appreciated. I have also gotten the opportunity to consume many different types of food. I do have Norwegian descent, but I had not even heard of most of the food I have been eating the past two weeks. Fish balls, brown cheese, and grøt are just a few examples. Skiing and the different foods have been obstacles to overcome, but I think the biggest and most humbling challenge is the language barrier. I came to Norway with no knowledge of the language whatsoever because I did not think I needed to learn it. I was told that all students are taught English from elementary school and on. All classes at Peder Morset are taught in Norwegian, and most students and staff know better Norwegian than English; however, we are constantly impressed with how well some of the students and staff can communicate with us. It has been important for us American students to discover alternative ways of communication in order to create relationships with the students that cannot do so.
I asked my fellow students who have also been here what they have noticed while being here or what their most memorable experience has been. Our professor, Matt Johnson, said that he loves the folkehøgskole philosophy. At our university, we are doing something similar called Augie Access where we are giving students with disabilities the opportunity to thrive in a postsecondary education, while also focusing on independence. He also mentioned that we are always willing to learn about what others are doing to promote inclusion. The United States is making progress, but there is still work to be done so that all abilities have equal access for quality employment as adults. The other students agreed with this, and also added that they are blown away with how well the students are able to speak English with us, especially while overcoming a disability that could hinder the learning of a new language. We are all impressed with how much focus is on independence here. All students are required to clean their own living area, bring the food to the table, clean the food up from their table, etc. Another difference from our schools in the United States is the Norwegians’ emphasis on incorporating the outdoors. It has been said that Norwegians go by the saying «there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.» Some memorable experiences for us have been building a ginormous snowman, going cross country skiing, learning to knit, going horseback riding, meeting the students and staff, spending time with the volunteers and traveling to Trondheim for a day.
Once we depart from Peder Morset, we will head to Lillehammer for two days to go downhill skiing and explore the city. Then, we will head back to Oslo for three days before we finally leave to go home. This experience at Peder Morset will definitely be one to remember. I am thankful for the many challenges, opportunities, friendships and information I have gained during these two weeks, and I cannot wait to share everything I have learned when I go back home.
Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA