Learning both Inside and Outside the Classroom

The International Summer School has a deep place in my heart for different reasons.

Melissa Gjellstad teaches the ISS courses “Norwegian Literature” and “ Norwegian Life & Society”.

I recruit my students to come to the ISS because I know firsthand what kind of transformative experiences are here on academic and personal levels. I have felt them myself and I have seen my students come home with broader horizons and better language skills, changed by the successes and also the failures of meeting a new academic system and finding out what higher education is like in another country and what it means to be a global citizen.

The International Summer School at the University of Oslo was my first study abroad experience as an undergraduate. It was my initial encounter with art history as a discipline, and with the city as a classroom. We used Oslo’s museums and public art installations as learning spaces, creating vivid memories for a girl from the prairie whose hometown had less than one thousand residents.

The course also pushed me to integrate the arts and the sciences in my undergraduate work, feeding a curiosity for the humanities and a desire to learn more about this place and its people. That fueled my study of the language, which made ISS a natural destination for advanced coursework in “norsk trinn IV” a few years later, when I came back as a graduate student. Courses in language and literature at ISS shaped my research on contemporary Norwegian fiction as I completed my Ph.D. and then pursued an academic career in Scandinavian studies.

It was a pleasure to return to ISS for a two-week seminar for Norwegian teachers abroad as a tenure-track faculty member in the USA, able to interact with peers from Europe and the Americas about teaching a less commonly taught language in our home countries. It is a privilege to have been invited to spend the last five summer sessions as a faculty member at ISS, teaching the literature course and working with talented cohorts of students each summer as they read canonical and contemporary Norwegian literature in English translation.

For the second year running, the afternoon Life & Society seminar has also been my course, which offers an opportunity for me to share with all ISS students a window to aspects of Norway I find fascinating that might help inform students’ own perspectives on their academic and lived experiences here. This year’s “City Classroom” assignments aspire to integrate students’ learning outside and inside the classroom, capturing the synergies of this place-based learning community.

Students exploring Oslo in the City Classroom.

To experience the daily joys and frustrations of the international classroom in such a supportive learning space is a delight for me, personally and professionally. It is an honor to join the ranks of the teacher-scholars who have held these positions before me; it is a privilege to collaborate with the current dedicated staff and faculty who bring innovation to higher education and keep the ISS program vibrant. Friendships forged during these intense six-week summers sessions at ISS have developed into lasting connections, leaving me feeling thankful for the community we build, accomplished for work we do together, and hungry for the opportunity again next summer.


Melissa Gjellstad is an Associate Professor at the University of North Dakota, USA, and teaches the UiO courses ISSN 1320 - Norwegian Literature and ISSN 0500 - Norwegian Life & Society at ISS.

By Melissa Gjellstad
Published Oct. 8, 2018 1:28 PM - Last modified Oct. 8, 2018 1:37 PM