Reflections on the ISS
When thinking about my relationship with The International Summer School during the last 26 years that it has been a part of my life, I have to go way back to when I was a kid.
We used to play a game where we would spread our arms out wide and twirl around until we were so dizzy that we would collapse. Lying on the grass, we would stare up at the blue sky and dream that it could transport us anywhere in the world we wanted to go. And do you know what we called this game? We called it «Going to Norway».
Now, because of The Summer School I get to «Go to Norway»« every year. Not just in those blue sky dreams, but in reality…
I’ve been around long enough that I remember the first computer in the office on the 5th floor of the administration building, -- a Wang---with one printer down the hall. Now many of us have two computers on our desks.
Norwegian language placement exams were held on Sunday morning in a big auditorium in Sophus Bugges Hus, and evaluated by a small group of experienced ISS teachers. Class lists went up sometime around 4 am Monday morning, before classes started. So we’ve made some advancements in that respect.
These 26 years at the ISS have included being a student, working as a volunteer at registration and other events, office assistant in the front office, weekend receptionist at the dormitory, and directing the North American Branch Office office in Minnesota. I’ve loved doing all of these things, but perhaps my favorite job is what I am doing now every summer in Oslo: Being a student and teacher advisor, helping students academically, and helping teachers so they can do the best for their classes.
When I came to the ISS as a student many years ago, one of the first people I met was a student from Malawi. He was a labor organizer and had been in prison for his activities. Suddenly Malawi was no long longer a stamp, an exotic, colorful stamp in my stamp collection (which we still had back then), but a real human being.
It is moments like these that are transformative for our students, and I never get tired of hearing about them, whether they are from a student who was here a year ago, or it has been 50 years since they were a student here.
It’s what we hear all the time. And it’s due not only to what happens in classes, what happens in the dormitory, what happens on excursions, or what happens with all the extra-curricular activities.
The ISS is unique among study programs in that it brings together students from all parts of the world (this summer there were 550 students from 90 different countries) to spend six intensive weeks living and studying together at UiO. As students from Russia, USA, China, Poland, Mexico, Tanzania, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Kosovo bond together and become friends, the world becomes both bigger and smaller at the same time
This kind of experience is something most students do not expect to have before they are here, because they don’t really know what they are coming to. But it stays with them forever afterward.
There are some students we know about because they become well-known public figures, or diplomats, like the current President of Austria who was an ISS student in 1970. Or, in our office in Minnesota we have this big panel on the wall that’s done in brown butcher paper by elementary school children. Their teacher was once a summer school student, and when she came back to the US and became a teacher, she always had a unit on Norway. So this artwork imagining Norway that we have on the wall is something her students produced. And so she has spread her knowledge and appreciation of Norway on to several generations of elementary school children.
I love what we do as staff and teachers to create an environment for students to enable them to grow academically and personally. To provide service that enables our ISS staff and teachers to give their best, in and out of the classroom. And it is great fun!
ISS is my family in Norway! I have relatives, but the ISS is my family. Over the years my Norwegian family has expanded. People may leave the ISS for other jobs, or even to take summer vacations again, but they always remain part of the ISS family.
And, like all families, we support each other, and that is what I feel the most. We disagree once in a while, maybe we even argue a little bit, but we are all together to fulfill this mission of making sure that our students see people instead of stamps, or pictures, or news headlines. And that, in addition to what they learn in the classroom, they take these experiences home with them.
Torild Homstad is Administrator of the ISS North American Branch Office located at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. NABO is responsible for recruitment and admission of students from North America. The summer months are spent in the ISS office at UiO, in program administration and as academic advisor for both students and teachers.