Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heading to Norway

I am writing this blog for four reasons, and three of them are people.

My first reason is that when I picked up the call telling me I had received a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Norway, I googled “Norway Fulbright ETA,” and then “ETA Fulbright Norway,” and then “Fulbright ETA Norway,” and found nothing. Not a single blog, not an interview, not even a Twit. Just the official stuff about bringing extra-warm pajamas and not approaching native Norwegians on buses (they glare coldly if cornered). Of course, that’s partially because Norway only started its ETA program a few years ago, but I decided I’d fill in the gap, so that whoever comes after me can read to their heart’s content about what it’s like to teach English as a Fulbright grantee in Bergen, Norway.

The second and third reasons are both teachers. One of my professors, who wrote a recommendation for me, asked if I was going to blog when I told her I’d been accepted. Ever obedient to awesome teachers, I though, yeah, why not? Then there's the other teacher: like all students, I once had an idiosyncratic but inspiring high school English teacher who gave me the habit of compulsive journaling, and I don’t mind that this blog be its newest manifestation.

The fourth reason is last year’s Norway Fulbright ETA, who told me she really wished she’d kept a blog because it would have helped her synthesize her thoughts. No problem there, I’ll do it all and BETTER than she did! (But thanks for all your advice, Courtney, you were really helpful and are going to be an awesome Teach-for-American). 

Okay, with four reasons to write a blog (which is six more than most bloggers have), I’m off.

My father says my going to Norway is something like Thoreau retreating to Walden. Though audacious, I like the comparison. I’m sure he’s right, and that after eleven months of the legendary prices of Bergen, I’ll be calculating the costs of petty objects in infuriating detail just like Henry David did. But I also hope to live deliberately. To teach. To write. To hike. So why not aspire?

The details: As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I will split my time between teaching English at the University of Bergen, and teaching English at Bergen Katedralskole (Cathedral School), an upper secondary school. I’m going to be running a writing workshop at the University and co-teaching the American literature/American culture seminars, and teaching ESL to different groups of students (regular high school, adult, and adult minority) at Bergen Katedralskole. I’ll also learn Norwegian at the University. Plus joining in the exciting life of Bergen.

Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway. It is a city that, as I have repeated to countless people countless times since March, nestles between a fjord and seven mountains. My sister thinks I should leave out the word “nestles” in favor of “squats”, “swells”, or “is plunked,” but if she was going, it would probably “divinely dwell,” so I figure I’m okay with nestling. 

My knowledge of Norwegian was nil until I found out I’d be living there for a year and began to seriously cram my mind full of Norwegian words and phrases. Now I’ve repeated “Je kan bare litt Norsk”—“I speak a little Norwegian” almost as many times as I’ve told people about nestling between a fjord and the mountains.

The attacks in Oslo a week ago mean that the Norway I arrive in will be radically different from the Norway that existed before. And yet, I hope that going to a traumatized country will express my solidarity and support for its people. Norwegians will spend the next months mourning for the people who were so brutally attacked, and for its own lost innocence. Having lived in countries where terror changed the attitude of the people towards daily living, I hope to see Norway grow stronger and more courageous as it rethinks its identity.

People keep telling me I’m brave, for going to a foreign country where I know nobody. But Norway looks like this:

And this:

And this:

I’m not brave. I’m just a glutton for breathtaking scenery.

I’ll post pictures as I hit each spot. And I’ll post the stories that come with them, all of the hilarious inevitable embarrassments that envelop a foreign traveler, and the cultural epiphanies, and the development of my teaching skills, and the magical mythical Norwegian lore as I see it thread through contemporary Norwegian political-social realities. 

I board the plane for Norway in a week. 

-- The Official Disclaimer suggested, humorously enough, by the US government:
I in no way represent the US government or its views, though they are being kind enough to put me on the dole for a year. Also, according to my contract, they allow me full artistic and academic freedom. Watch out, blogosphere.