A global, digital summer

A special summer awaits all of those taking part in the very first digital International Summer School, which UiO will be presenting this year. I am impressed by the zeal and enthusiasm of the ISS team and the near 500 students worldwide who will be a part of this experience, and look forward to seeing the launch of the digital ISS on June 22nd.

Bildet kan inneholde: begivenhet, ungdom, publikum, samfunnet, publikum.

The International Summer School will be held digitally this year. Photo: Oda Davanger/UiO

Every year for almost 75 years, we have seen hundreds of students from all over the world come to the University of Oslo to attend 6 intense and wonderful weeks of summer school. This year, this will not be the case. It was with a heavy heart that we realized the impossibility of arranging the usual International Summer School for the summer of 2020. However – and this years’ summer school wonderfully illustrates the point I am about to make – every disaster or crisis harbors within itself amazing new opportunities and nascent beginnings.

After the initial disheartening experience of the extent of the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only in Norway but all over the world, the team behind the International Summer School turned itself around within the span of a few weeks in order to find a viable option to offer its hundreds of students who had been accepted for the 2020 session. With considerable determination, and inspired by the ISS ideals of international cooperation and goodwill, the ISS has been able to offer a digital alternative that 500 students from almost 80 different countries have decided to follow. The most important mission for the ISS has always been to forge meaningful relationships between people across borders – whether the crossing of those borders happens here in Oslo, or online.

Digital Summer School

I know that the ISS – the course instructors and the administration – have seen this crisis as an opportunity to show students and alumni that they believe in the ISS mission even in hard times. They have shown us that they are willing to go the extra mile to find ways to give students a summer of international goodwill and academic achievement this summer as well, because the staff and administration believe in its value for the world. Therefore, the ISS this summer will be offered free of charge, and for ECTS credits. 

Rector Svein Stølen giving the welcome speech to students of the International Summer School in 2019. His adress will be digital this year. Photo: Terje Heiestad/UiO

As the summer approaches, the ISS has already established practice with digital teaching. When the pandemic hit Norway in mid-March, all schools and universities were shut down almost overnight. In just a few days, the Norwegian language courses that take place in the spring semester had to be reorganized so as to enable the students to complete their semesters. Hundreds of Norwegian language students have passed their language exams this May, which proves that the digital summer school is highly feasible.

High Expectations

That is not to say, that we will not expect a lot from our summer school class of 2020. On the contrary, perhaps now more than ever, we rely on our students to engage head first with their courses, their classmates and their lecturers and professors, and the extra-curricular activities of the virtual ISS. I do not take lightly the challenges that present themselves for students taking digital courses, nor the challenges that the lecturers will face. There will be lots of screen time, and the reality of exploring Oslo and Norway in person will not be possible for our students. Nevertheless, there is great opportunity for academic development and important intercultural exchange even with a virtual program.

Although the ISS will be digitalized this summer, it will also stay very much the same. It is the core values of the ISS that guide it, even now. The lecturers will still focus on creating the sense of the international classroom, where students from all over the world will contribute to the learning environment by giving of themselves. The lecturers will still expect academic excellence from the students, and will follow them up closely throughout the 6 weeks. Students will be expected to prepare for class, complete assignments, collaborate and discuss with one another, and to complete a final exam. ISS is staying true to the values of developing critical thinking on themes of how to co-exist in our communal world, which includes academic thinking on justice, ethics, reason, and humanity.

Valued Lessons

It is perhaps the most central lesson we teach our students this summer, that although we at times might have to make concessions and make adjustments in conjunction with the realities we face, that with some grit and tenacity, we can still follow through with our goals and our projects. Even in times of hardship, we can nurture and channel goodness. And what the ISS is about, at its very core, is forming meaningful relationships across borders. I cannot but recognize the utmost significance of this in our present time of crisis, and I am amazed to see the willingness and urgency with which students from all over the world are ready to launch themselves into our virtual and communal summer school where they will learn not only from the lecturer, but from one another – and hopefully along the process, learn more about themselves. I am confident that no serious contribution toward the promotion of international peace, security and cooperation can be made in any other way than by fostering knowledge and understanding, whether that is done analogue or virtually. I have no doubt that the ISS will be a memorable one this year too – and that the students and lecturers will remember this special summer for the rest of their lives.

I look forward to witnessing the special ISS-summer that lies ahead, with all students, lecturers and staff that will be a part of this impressive and meaningful venture.

I wish you all the warmest of welcomes to our digital summer school this year. True to the long tradition of ISS-students before you, you the students will in truth make this summer what it will be: A new beginning, a time of learning, engaging, and deep connections with others from all over the world.  

Dear participants of the International Summer School: A very warm welcome to you all!

Av Svein Stølen
Publisert 15. juni 2020 11:04 - Sist endret 15. juni 2020 11:05
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