The American Heritage of the ISS
As I am writing this, 2016 is drawing to an end. We are looking back at a year which has given us plenty of opportunities to reflect on the history and mission of the ISS, as we have celebrated our 70th session.
A central aspect of our tradition is our link with the United States. Many of you may wonder why we have a branch office in the US and not anywhere else. The reason is that the summer school originated as a study program for American students only. In the wake of World War II, Norway wanted to offer American students a study opportunity in Norway as a token of gratitude for all the Norwegian students who had received their higher education in the States before, during and after the war. A summer school was the solution they came up with, with 221 U.S. students participating in the very first summer session in 1947.
A member of the planning committee, Norman Nordstrand, was Dean of Academic Instruction at St. Olaf College. He was also Dean of Students at the first summer school, and because of this link, it was decided that applications for admission to future summer schools would be channeled through an American Admissions Office on the St. Olaf College campus. This was a practical and rather logical development considering the college’s background – it was founded in 1874 by Norwegian immigrants – and strategically located in the heart of the summer school’s most fertile recruitment ground. This laid the foundation for a fruitful cooperative venture between St. Olaf College and the University of Oslo, which has continued to the present day. Today, Torild Homstad and Michelle Fredrickson, staff the office and handle recruitment of and admission work for students from all over North America. In the summer they are part of the ISS staff at Blindern.
Personally, I visit our North American office at irregular intervals, last time in October. I have also had the pleasure of teaching a course on Literature from the Top of the World during a January interim term at St. Olaf College. So the links work both ways.
The Summer School originated in an atmosphere which very much saw education as a tool for nurturing understanding and goodwill between nations and cultures. The very first group of students actually crossed the Atlantic on an old war ship called the Marine Jumper. The New York Herald Tribune reporter who wrote about the students going to Oslo together with som 600 other students bound for other summer schools in Europe, called the program ”Operation Understanding, a Force for Peace”. When the summer school through the 50’s gradually opened up for admitting students from other parts of the world, it only involved an expansion of the scope of the mission and vision of the program. As early as 1958, there were so many non-American students in the program that they changed the name from the Summer School for American students to the International Summer School. In the early 80’s, enrollment tipped the balance from an American presence of more than 50% of the student body: Over the past ten years, approximately 20% of the students have been American.
I find it intriguing to see how the continuity of the program has been maintained as the summer school has grown, expanded, and widened its vision. We have just celebrated our 70th session with around 600 students from some 100 countries world wide but the American heritage is still a dynamic and vibrant part of our summer school.