Thursday, November 17, 2011

Big Plans: A Writing Center in Bergen

Extras from Dublin

While talking to a group of my high schoolers today, I discovered the fact that I was the first American they’d ever met. Apparently, the Americans shown on tv are either fat, gun-toting farmers or rich, snobby, city celebrities. I was relieved to be told that I’m neither. But I think I’m going to have recruit all my American friends here in Bergen to stand up in front of the class and represent the diversity of America. Walking out of the class, I felt the first wave of homesickness I’ve felt surge over me. Suddenly I wanted to be home with the awesome friends whose regional quirks I’d been describing.

Dazed with awe: Felicia Hemans!
I met with Lene yesterday to discuss plans for next semester. Apparently there’s some small print somewhere that states I must do something connected with America, so moving on to the Britlit class that all my American lit students from this semester will be taking isn’t going to work. Too bad; I love the Victorians. I’ll still run a writing workshop for that class, though. Lene asked if I’d be interested in TAing her masters seminar on American travel narratives. I said “hellz yeah!” (you actually can, to Lene) and am so excited to work with her. She seems the best teacher of the profs I’ve worked with here at UiB and, like Auchard back at UMD, I think I can learn tons just by following her around like a puppy dog and listening to all she says. We spoke about the class a bit, and then I made my pitch.

There's no handle on this door!
I want to start a writing center at UiB. A cross-departmental English (and perhaps later Norwegian) writing lab, where students can take their papers for help on any subject. It wouldn’t take much, just a room and some tutors and a good online program to sign up. Why not use the Fulbright ETA to organize and run the center, since the US government is paying them anyhow? No skin off the uni’s nose. The biggest issue, I think, will be finding grad students to tutor. In the States they’re all dirt poor and eager to tutor for a measly ten bucks an hour, but here in Norway, on their student loans and with free education and health care and all, that’s less of an incentive. So I’m going to draw it up from the resume angle and fight it through thus. Lene said she’ll help me set up a meeting with the head of the department, to pitch it. Then I’ll try to build up the center over the course of the semester, and just let the Norway-US Fulbright foundation know that whoever gets placed in Bergen from now on needs to have serious writing capabilities. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oscar Wilde looked pretty scary
At the student center this evening, all the lit masters students ordered what is apparently traditional Thursday dinner in Norway. It’s potato balls that look eerily akin to matzah balls minus the soup, some kind of carroty mush, and strips of meat. They gobbled it down happily, but I did not feel at all bad that I could not join in this particular Norwegian custom. Later that night, the UiB profs complained about the UiB administration, and my favorite American prof told me that he was fed up with his mac because it didn’t work now that he’d spilled tea on it, and he was going to get another computer soon. Careful to keep my expression neutral, I asked whether PCs react better to liquids. Luckily, we were interrupted by Zeljka exclaiming about dialect differences in Norway. Interesting conversation since, in America, having a particular dialect quirk often indicates a class difference—those without a clear dialect are generally of the upper echelons of class. In Norway it’s much more to do with region, though the slopes of Fløyen apparently do boast a socialect different from the regular Norsk.

I’m utterly exhausted. I have not had much time for sleep since Dublin—what with grading my high schoolers’ big project and learning their online educational system, prepping my review sessions for my lit students’ final exam, creating a presentation on ekphrasis and Rita Dove, and trying to figure out the orthodontia system in Norway, plus organizing various cheider-related complexities and returning to contact with all the friends who felt neglected while I was in Dublin, I’m a bit overwhelmed at the moment. Looking forward to shabbat. 


  1. The traditional Norwegian meal? This is where it's at:

    Wikipedia is your friend. ;)

  2. Reading your last post gave me thrills of joy and shivers of deja vu.
    To be young and able to see the world with fresh eyes.
    Finding better way of doing things and even being bold enough to pull it through.
    Good luck and thanks for contributing to a better education for our young ones.