Sunday, August 21, 2011

There and Back Again (borrowed from Tolkien)

...and on the fifteenth day, he blogged again. When I said "a few days," clearly I meant over two weeks.

Since returning, I have been busying working at two jobs in Watertown, starting work at Augie's International Programs Office, and spending time with family and friends at Lake Kampeska. Monday, August 8th, at 7am, I found myself once again bouncing down the fairway of Prairie Winds golf course on the mower and thinking to myself that Norway seemed like only a dream, like nothing had changed. Here I was at the same job, doing the same thing, cutting the same blades of grass that needed cutting in early June. Huh.

At that moment and in the time since I've thought a great deal about discussions concerning the end of a pilgrimage that our class had with Dr. Looney and Dr. Blank-Libra in January. The whole idea of a pilgrimage is that you go, and then you come back to where you began; come back to this place changed by what you have seen, heard, and received.

a misty walk in the Jotunheim mountains

I shared the following thoughts in my letter to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum scholarship donors:
Like any good pilgrim, I came away from my 7 weeks in Olso with an abundance of new ideas and personal challenges. Jewish philosopher Martin Buber describes the “sphere of the between” as a crossing point where people with different backgrounds can use their similarities as a basis to discuss and bridge their differences. While I found it easy to enter this “sphere” with new friends at the International Summer School, it is now my challenge to engage in dialogue in a similar manner with people whom I encounter more regularly and disagree with. In our study of peace and conflict, I also saw more clearly how easily we tend to look outward when we want to offer aid, but there are many within our own borders who face serious humanitarian needs such as those in America’s inner cities and on our Native American Reservations. For seven weeks I was able to be more mindful of others and more aware of myself. In school, in a career, and in life, my experiences offered by the NPPF Peace Scholarship will be an invaluable asset. I look forward to discovering where I can invest what you all have invested in me.

Now that I have had a chance to share pieces of my trip with the many who have asked me about it, I've been able to reduce my final thoughts and conclusions to a few main points:
  • The great irony of the Norwegian terrorist is that he targeted the Labor Party--both the Prime Minister and the Labor Youth--for what he felt were their overly liberal policies on immigration. In the aftermath of the explosion and shooting, the Prime Minister has gained tremendous support and will likely win an easy victory in this fall's election. This will ensure at least another four years of Labor leadership and influence over all areas of government, including immigration. Aside from being crazy, Breivik seriously miscalculated the immediate political effects of his decision.
  • Norway is not a fairytale place. In the Midwest, where many people have ancestral ties to Scandinavia, we tend to create a very folksy image of this area and its people. In fact, they do not eat lefse, lutefisk, or rømmegrøt with any regularity. They do spend more time outside in their picturesque cabins dotting lush hillsides and fjords. BUT, these places are simply the typical escape from jobs and lives in an extremely busy and highly productive economy. They know how to work hard, relax, exercise, and enjoy the good life.
  • Norway is having to confront issues rooted in globalization like many other developed countries. The politics of the welfare state and growing immigration may soon reach a critical climax as Norwegians decide just who should and shouldn't benefit from a way of life they have worked so hard to create.
  • Unlike much of the rest of Europe, Norway has never been a historically wealthy country nor has it often found itself at the center of international political, literary, or philosophical thought. It is from the value of Norwegian "modernity" that the rest of the world should learn. Their work as a "peace nation" gives them more relevance than ever before--both considering international affairs and internal conflict.

Suffice it to say that the trip was transformative and will continue to make impressions on how I think and study and what I do next. A big thank you is owed to the donors and coordinators at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and at Augustana College. As Executive Director Maureen Reed says, the work of these groups truly does "inspire peacemaking."

This blog has been an interesting thing. The short version of my thoughts on it are that I am happy I kept up with it reasonably well and could share some reflections with a broader audience of family and friends. Of course, these thoughts will be around for me just as long as Google's California servers aren't attacked. The longer explanation for my thoughts on the blog are that it creates kind of this unnecessary pressure to write and think of writing all of the time. I suppose this is a good thing, and I tried to temper this instinct by writing more thoughtfully less often.

In closing, I share with you this quote from T.S. Elliot found in Pastor Paul Rohde's And Grace Will Lead Me Home:
"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

a foggy summer morning back at Lake Kampeska

Click here to view pictures of my time at the University of Olso.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 5, 2011


The bags are packed and we are ready to fly over the pond. After rides on a metro, bus, plane, and car I will be home.

A variety of update blogs as well as a conclusion to my journey will be completed somewhere over the Atlantic and will be posted in the next few days along with pictures from the University of Oslo.

Prepare for a BLOG BLITZ!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finals Week Update

Since it's been almost a week since I posted anything of substance, I thought I would send up a flare with a brief update amidst a busy week. It's hard to believe that this is our last week in Norway; this also means that we have a test to take, a paper to write, and research to present.

Over the weekend we did our fair share of sitting and studying. This was rewarded by several outings in Oslo. On Friday night, the ISS hosted an International Cultural Evening complete with food, presentations, and performances from around the world. The talent from our diverse student body was stunning. I was most impressed by the different cultural and historical dances from different countries. As Americans, we had to ask ourselves, "what is our culture?" What clothing, dances, and food are fundamentally "American"? The best answer would probably be the culture of the Native American, but history and white settlement have not been kind to their culture and sadly most of us don't know enough about their traditions.

I was also struck by the photos and videos that played showing the country of the performer. CNN and world media are good at showing worn-torn countries, disasters around the world, and struggling populations, but the images we saw showed that territorial borders don't magically make countries look different...most places look much the same, or at least more similar than different. After the performances, much singing and dancing of our own ensued.

On Saturday morning, Michael and Nathaniel and I got up early(ish) and hiked to a secluded cabin near Songsvann Lake where they sell waffles and coffee in the morning. We had the trail to ourselves and even picked raspberries on the way up. What a way to start our day! In the afternoon we went down to Aker Brygge where we got fresh shrimp on boat/restaurant.

Sunday we took a break in the afternoon and went back to Sognsvann Lake where, surrounded by many happy Norwegians, we grilled hot dogs and took in some sun!

Yesterday we presented our research projects in our Peace Prize Seminar. Each of us gave a 10 minutes presentation on research that warranted at least 30 minutes each. In any case, I think my presentation might be a good start toward my Government Department senior thesis. Michael and I will both have the chance to present our research at the 2012 Augustana Symposium.

More to come soon on my research, the conclusion of my Scandinavian Government and Politics class, and hopefully within the week some final reflections on a very transformative 8+ weeks abroad!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

KELO interview is online!

I'm not sure why it won't disply on the blog. Visit the link to see the footage!

Home of the Giants

Driving out of Oslo early on Saturday morning, the city seem quiet...too quiet. I'm sure Saturday mornings are usually like that, but this particular day a sense of grief and mourning seemed to hang over the city and over those who we saw on the streets.


50 students and two young guides set off for Jotunheimen, a wilderness area several hours north of Oslo. The name translates as the Home of the Giants. During our hike I thought many times of the Big Friendly Giant created by Roald Dahl, who spent his childhood summers in Norway, emerging from the fog. The fog prevented us from seeing anything at the top, but made for a good hike nonetheless. On the way up and down we could see a network of small lakes with steep mountains on all sides. A few cabins and a herd of wild reindeer dotted the hills near the water. The only thing that could have possibly completed this picturesque scene would have been Ganldalf appearing over a hill in all of his glory.

We stayed at the Sjoa Rafting camp where a compound of teepees and grass-roofted buildings gave us a warm bed, delicious food cooked over an indoor grill, and a wood burning hot tub and sauna! We lived well on Saturday night!

Sunday was much of the same weather - fog, rain, cool temperatures. The rafting was absolutely incredible. The water was cold, but not unbearable and the guides let us jump out when it was calm and float down the river along side the boats. We stopped for lunch along the way and the guides had hot soup and bread for us. After lunch we went cliff jumping to get back down to the boats.

I'm not sure if this was covered in the release form

It was an incredibly relaxing weekend before returning to the final stretch of research, writing one lengthy paper/exam, and preparing for another.

This evening I interviewed over the phone with Keloland's Don Jorgenson about Norway's reaction to the events on Friday. Hopefully that interview will be online soon and imbedded on here. Tomorrow we meet with Barry White, US Ambassador to Norway.

To see pictures from our weekend in Jotunheimen, click here.

As usual, thanks for reading!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Norway, the Peace Nation

This popular poster/picture hangs in Ingun's school in Bergen

As a traveler, a student, and a person, today has been one of the more trying days of anytime I have been abroad. As I said on my Facebook page earlier, a quiet, rainy day in Oslo took a turn in a very different direction this afternoon. First, my Augie colleague Michael Seeley and I were made aware that Augie's Associate Dean of Students of 21 years, Tracy Riddle, passed away. She was a friend to everyone in the Augie community; her presence will be greatly missed. I remember meeting with her on the day after finals this spring and she was so excited about projects for the next academic year. The remembrances of Tracy that quickly appeared on Facebook affirmed the community that Augie is and Tracy's impact on it.

Next, we saw a short news clip online about an explosion in downtown Oslo. We all heard a loud noise a little while before, but never imagined the destruction created and sense of security that was penetrated in that moment. The local newspaper, Aftenposten, shared a few images with a brief report in Norwegian. Soon, the BBC was carrying video and live updates. Two of the American students I am with were downtown at the time and felt the windows shake in the office they were in. Those two were able to get back to the University Campus (a 5 minute metro ride) safely. As of now, we do not know of any ISS students who were at the scene or injured in any way.

I suppose it is the natural reaction of any people or country under attack to ask themselves: why us? Many people around the globe, including Norwegians, are especially asking, why Norway? The small, Scandinavian kingdom has not seen a bomb go off in its capitol city since the Nazi occupation during World War II. Norway is a world leader in peace and humanitarian efforts. Why Norway?

It doesn't do any good to speculate "why" this happened as enough people are already doing that and more news is developing at present. What I do know and can speak to is the reaction felt in Norway. Norway is known as peace nation and is not used to being the subject of attack. Few people here or abroad could have predicted the day would come when we would see the headline "Terrorism in Norway" as one website put it.

Shortly after the senseless attack downtown, a gunman dressed as a police officer opened fire at a youth camp about 30 miles west of Oslo. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose office was targeted earlier today, was scheduled to visit the camp tomorrow. They now suspect that the gunman claimed the lives of several people at the Labor Party rally on the island.

One of my Norwegian friends shared the following message on his Facebook page: This is a time for unity and togetherness, not hatred and fear! Keep a cool head, and a warm heart. Please keep the people of Norway in your thoughts.

So where does this leave peace? I'll conclude with this passage, one of Tracy's favorite, that Augie's Dean Dr. Jim Bies shared with students in an email today:
"For I know the plan I have for you, says the Lord . . . plans to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

On a lighter note, I'll be white-water rafting in Jotunheimen (The Home of the Giants), north of Oslo, for the weekend. BBC is your best bet to get the real story out of Oslo. More when I return on Monday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Great Minds Convene

A few days ago I read an article that happened to show up on the side of the Huffington Post's main page. The article brings together the work of several great minds:
  • The Dalai Lama - not only a spiritual leader but the leader of the growing international inter-faith dialogue movement
  • Eboo Patel - Rhodes scholar, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, speaker at the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Forum
  • reference to highly acclaimed book, American Grace, which includes research contributions from Augustana Professor Dr. Pehl
  • and of course, Arianna Huffington, because she's just great.
Patel is the author is this editorial entitled "His Holiness and the Art and Science of Interfaith Cooperation." I encourage you to read the entire article - here is the paragraph that struck me most:

Over the past decade or so, enough research has been done on religious diversity and interfaith cooperation to constitute the beginnings of a science of the field. Here's what we know from Robert Putnam and David Cambell's "American Grace": positive personal contact with people from different faiths significantly improves people's attitudes towards those religions and communities. Here's what we know from work done by Stephen Prothero and Pew and Gallup surveys: appreciative knowledge of other religions improves people's attitudes towards those communities and traditions. In other words there is a strong relationship between attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge -- a magic triangle, so to speak. And that is precisely how the Dalai Lama has shaped his book and his recent teachings. Get to know people from other religions personally, preferably by doing service work together. And get to know some things you admire about their traditions, especially those areas that have commonality with your own. A good place to start is on the shared value of compassion. In his simple and straightforward way, the Dalai Lama is telling stories that work the triangle.

Much of what Patel writes and the Dalai Lama teaches fits perfectly in the context of what we have been learning at the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer and in Oslo at the International Summer School. Education and contact at a human level are the best ways to break through barriers and build bridges; even where barriers do not exist, there is much to be learned.

After reading bits and pieces of the Dalai Lama's writing and listening to him speak in January I can say he that he has a "less is more" way of communicating. To that tune, the Dalai Lama is very effective at spreading his message in 140 characters or less via Twitter. I started following the Dalia Lama on Twitter over a year ago and I always appreciate his reminders to treat others with compassion and live so that others might live well. It's people like him who make Twitter a worthwhile network.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why yes, we did eat cake.

Much like the famous (albeit unverified) quote from Marie Antoinette suggests, we indulged ourselves in some of best of what Paris has to offer...including good food!

Over the weekend, four American colleagues and I left the periphery of Europe and landed in the middle of Paris on France's biggest national holiday, Bastille Day. It's ironic that the things I liked most about Paris - Versailles Palace, the Louvre - are the products of the extravagance and class disparity that those who stormed the Bastille Prison were protesting. The combined wealth of French Royalty and the planning done by Napoleon in the early 1800s clearly made Paris what it is today.

Here is a link with pictures. The pictures from the Louvre and Versailles are just a sampling of what we saw to try and give you a taste of the sense of awe these places left us in.

Our very own Michael Seeley is a French and Napoleon history buff (nerd) and very eloquently gave us a complete history/defense of Napoleon as we wandered the city. Our favorite part of Paris may very well have been that they don't use the Norwegian kroner. As a result, we were good patrons of most bread and pastry shops we passed.

Versailles and the Louvre were both entirely overwhelming with the extravagance of the structures and their contents. We spent seven hours at Versailles on Friday. Inside, we navigated the labyrinth of rooms to see some of highlights: the Hall of Mirrors, state apartments with extraordinary art displays, the royal chapel, and some of the King's reception rooms. After converting square meters to square feet, Versailles is over 700,000 square feet. Suffice it to say that the Palace left us in awe and unable to fully comprehend the size and extravagance as it exists today, and the wealth and grandeur that once filled the royal court. After two hours inside we went to the extensive gardens and then to the rear of the grounds were Queen Marie Antoinette had her "retreat" (retreat from what?) and farm - all of which stand perfectly preserved.

The Louvre, a former royal palace, is perhaps equally impressive as a building and contains so many pieces of art that we usually see in textbooks or as copies of official portraits. Particularly, I liked seeing statues and paintings of Psyche and Cupid and paintings of Dido and Aeneas that we have studies in mythology classes. Time is never on your side in a public art museum.

The rest of our time was spent enjoying Paris, its gardens, its food, and other attractions. It was a perfect 4 day break from classes, but we were happy to return to Oslo!

Look for two posts in the next few days: one on our meeting with former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and another entitled "When Great Minds Convene"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Refocusing (or maybe challenging) our lens

In conversations with so many new friends from abroad, it is important for me to remind myself that my way of thinking and seeing things is affected by my lens, or rather my political, social, religious outlook. When looking at the welfare state in Norway, we need to refocus the lens from an American paradigm, to that of Norwegian politics and society.

The phrase "from cradle to grave" is commonly used to describe the welfare state in Norway. Norwegians enjoy healthcare, education (childhood through university), additional monetary support for students, unemployment and disability pensions, and many other services as a result of what Norwegians have come to expect from their government. Essentially, the entire political spectrum of Norway is shifted to the "left" so that even those on the "right" expect many of these government services while still advocating for more private investment and lower taxes. Of course, the multiparty system (which, incidentally, avoids a gridlocked Parliament!) allows for parties to be positioned above and below the political spectrum as well as from left to right. A common political science model looks like this:

Bear in mind that the severity of these labels becomes more moderate as you move toward the center.

Some of the common political debate over the welfare state and role of government include the use of Norway's tremendous oil fund, tax rates on the wealthy, and economic support for Norwegian industries (i.e. fishing).

It is important to keep in mind that modern Norway is a wealthy nation, but a modest one. Between the 19th and 20th centuries Norway rose from being one of Europe's poorest to one of the world's richest nations. Oil provided an incredible boon to the economy in post WWII Norway. Some would argue that oil has created a greater class divide in Norway, something that some Norwegians fundamentally oppose.

These comments and observations come from my limited time in the country and surface study of the subject. Later in my course, we will actually get more into the particulars of the evolution of the welfare state.

Certainly there is wide variety of opinions of the welfare state amongst Norwegians. The bottom line that I have come to hear and understand is that Norwegians live a very good, secure life and they are all well aware of their good fortune and are grateful for all it provides.

In closing, allow me to stoke the fire a bit: The same Americans who like to say the average tax rate in Scandinavia is well over 60% (which is incorrect) are likely the same as those who think socialism and communism are the same thing. Norwegians have decided that at the price of high taxes, they want their government to provide the assurances of health and education to its citizens. Their progressive tax has not killed the economy and has not killed jobs. It seems to me that they get what they pay for. Food for thought.

So many political, demographic, economic differences make it impossible to talk about the Norwegian and American models on the same level. However, to emphasize the closing point, please consider the following editorial from Augustana President Rob Oliver:

Oliver: 'Sacrificing Now for Kids, Schools, Will Pay Off Later'Friday March 11, 2011 The following editorial, authored by President Rob Oliver, appears in the Friday, March 11, edition of the Argus Leader:

As a proud South Dakotan, a parent and an advocate for education, I am compelled to contribute to the dialogue surrounding the much-talked-about proposal to cut our state’s K-12 education budgets.

As we look to solve South Dakota’s budgetary challenges, I believe we can find the answer to our dilemma by looking to the past.

What might we learn from those who settled this great country, who saw it through hardships far beyond what we now face, and who were the architects and builders of the most productive economy in the world? What might we learn from those who built the finest education systems in the world, the best infrastructure, and the model of democracy that so much of the world craves today? I believe it can be summed up in one powerful word: Sacrifice.

After surviving the economic difficulties of the late 1800s, the challenges of the War to End All Wars, the Great Depression, the Dirty Thirties and World War II, our nation’s Greatest Generation set about paying off our country’s massive debt and building America’s infrastructure, including the educational systems that became the envy of the world, with a determination the likes of which other countries had never seen.

How did they do it? They did it with tax rates far higher than we complain about today. They taxed themselves because they believed that a strong America was good for the world, and for their children who would take over upon their retirement.

The challenges we face today are not nearly as simple as some would try to tell us by suggesting that cutting government is the only answer. The issues before us are complex and multi-faceted.

Make no mistake about it, investing in education is the best means for developing an appreciation for complexity. Education is our best means for developing solutions to complex problems. And, education is the best and most lasting stimulus for building our economy and developing a civil society. Yet, even as we acknowledge this, education funding is being placed on the chopping block in most states and in our nation’s capital, and education in America is losing ground rapidly to other countries.

The power of investing in education is not a new or novel idea. Whatever our voter registration card says, at our core, we all know that teaching children today will ensure a better tomorrow. Yet, each year, education seems to be losing its position as a public good, and salaries for teachers and education funding overall (especially in South Dakota) are a sad reflection of our budget priorities.

I believe that what is needed from all of us, and from our elected officials, is a bold call for collective sacrifice. If we are honest with ourselves, we can readily see that the budgets of our cities, counties, states and country will not be balanced only by cost cutting. Raising taxes is not something anyone wants, yet it is obvious that it is a necessary part of the solution.

The popular argument however, is that we dare not raise taxes in these economic circumstances. It is important to remember that economics is a social science, a study of human behavior both individually and collectively. Just as it is wrong to conclude that any single economic tool will have a guaranteed outcome, it also is a fallacy to conclude that there is a linear relationship between raising taxes and stalling the fragile economic recovery. It is more appropriate to ask what drives consumer confidence and confidence in public-sector decisions such that individual and social behaviors are positively influenced by economic and public policy.

It is my feeling that many – not all – of our elected representatives have underestimated the electorate by perpetuating the thinking that voters are unwilling to face higher taxes in exchange for real solutions. I believe that most Americans, and most South Dakotans, would feel a greater sense of confidence in the future if legislatures around the country set aside bitter partisan politics and focused on real problem solving, including the potential of raising taxes as part of a multi-faceted approach to balancing budgets without abandoning priorities, such as education and appropriate care for elderly.

Bottom line: Let’s quit fighting about how to cut education, and let’s invest in it – together. Let’s tax ourselves to do this and invest in our young people. It begins at pre-kindergarten and continues through K-12, preparing our sons and daughters to then enter the work force or continue their preparation through post-secondary educational opportunities. We will be proud that we invested, and countless young people will gain from it, producing tangible benefits to our communities, state, nation and the world.

But now, as author Ben MacIntyre says, I'm really starting to over-egg the pudding. On a lighter note, tomorrow's post will be about my long weekend in Paris!

As usual, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


St. Chapelle cathedral in Paris (click to enlarge)

For several years I have observed France through Scott Shephard's camera lense. While I'll see many of the sites he's captured, one stands out as a point of inspiration for me to go and explore the extravagance and grandeur of Paris.
Incidentally, Scott has a wonderful Photo A Day blog that is worth looking at...every day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2012 Peace Prize Forum Speaker

This week, the Nobel Peace Prize Forum (the entity organizing my program) announced that the speaker for the 2012 Forum will be former South African President F.W. de Klerk.

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum website shared the following announcement:

You deserve some very big, very good news. It’s an honor to announce that former President of South Africa F. W. de Klerk has accepted our invitation to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Nobel Peace Prize Forum. We’ll send specific details later, but for now hold the dates of March 1-4, 2012. You will once again experience the inspiration that only a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate can deliver.

President de Klerk, who won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, was the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa, serving from 1989 to 1994. He is best known for engineering the end of apartheid, South Africa’s racial segregation policy, and for supporting the transformation of South Africa into a multi-racial democracy. In recent years, his passion for peace continues through his work addressing the complex challenges of the 21st century, such as building multicultural societies, rethinking immigration policy, and understanding global economic forces.

Around the world forces which favour peace are on the move. Amongst those, economic development is fundamentally important. Economic growth, generated by the free market, is transforming societies everywhere.

- F. W. de Klerk (from his Nobel Peace Prize address)

Even today, President de Klerk’s 1993 Nobel Address delivers goosebumps. We all know that the path to peace is often steep and costly. For South Africa, the price of peace assumed many forms, as the country moved from negotiation to reconciliation and beyond. President de Klerk himself paid a price – personally and politically – by ushering South Africa into a new era. With that in mind, I also would like to announce that the official theme for 2012 forum will be: “The Price of Peace.” We feel this theme fits well with the work of President de Klerk, as well as the many current and past struggles for peace taking place around the globe.

Also at the 2012 Forum, the other nine Peace Scholars and I will share our research from this summer. My topic: can reforming the United Nations Security Council better facilitate and sustain peace?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Midterm, McConnell, much much more

It's a shame the other topics don't have any relevant words starting with m. Maybe more alliteration Monday.
As it turns out, midterms hysteria in Norway is the same as midterm hysteria in the U.S. Those who have midterms here are noisily chattering in the common room tonight preparing drafts of papers and study guides. I, on the other hand, am without a midterm this week and am content to research, read, and blog (while putting off reading!). A combination of recent experiences, reading, and news have me thinking tonight...

This flattering image of Mitch McConnell is straight from today's HuffingtonPost Headline. Everything we have been learning in the classroom and from our international friends, as well as my own philosophy, indicates that lines in the sand have never been the tools of good dialogue and compromise. So it seems ironic at best, and down right embarrassing at worst that the US and the world watch as one side in particular refuses to budge on a compromise to raise the debt ceiling. The BBC headline earlier this week was "Who will default first: Greece or the United States?"

I bring up this example for a variety of reasons. The first reason returns to my thoughts following our week in Lillehammer when we talked about dialogue with those whom we disagree. The second loosely connects with one of the main messages in Jan Egeland's A Billion Lives: industrialized nations could be doing much more to provide financial support to humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. When these measures are restorative and protective, innocent people are given the chance they deserve. When these measures are preventative, we save lives and costs of more aggressive options down the road. The constant struggle of these causes, like most, is funding. Egeland cites a poll conducted in 2004 that surveyed Americans on how much of the federal budget they thought went to foreign aid (this excludes Department of Defense spending). The average amongst the respondents was 24%; the actual figure was less than 0.25%. The United States continues to lead amongst developed countries in its contributions to the United Nations and a variety of peacekeeping (NATO) and humanitarian efforts. But we can do better. I think this also illustrates how seriously out of touch people are with how their money is being spent.

Jan Egeland's career exemplifies the word extraordinary. Formerly the UN Envoy to Colombia, Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross, and State Secretary of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry--just to name a few--he most recently served the UN as Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The book is his account of missions he was part of in Sudan, Colombia, Ivory Coast, the aftermath of the Indian Ocean hurricanes, and helping to broker the Israeli/Palestinian Oslo Accords. The title of the book, A Billion Lives, addresses his claim that "a billion lives are still at stake in humanity's front lines." While he says that on the whole humanitarian efforts are working, and the world is a more peaceful and better educated place, we can do better. At various times I have read and heard the words of UN critics; Egeland lays those claims to rest, and despite his bias, presents a very straightforward case for why peace and humanitarian missions work. Results are not immediate. As Nansen says, "the difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer."
Suffice it to say, I would be satisfied with having any of Egeland's jobs...or any job in that field :)

This week will be a whirlwind of bliss. After catching a few of the Harry Potter movies at a local sci-fi convention on campus over the weekend (yes, all in attendance were card-carrying nerds) several of us will see the last installment on Wednesday night at the Colosseum Kino theater: the world's largest IMAX theater. Tuesday our group visits the Holocaust Museum and Wednesday we visit the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and its founder, Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway. Early Thursday morning, before most of you have gone to sleep in the U.S., four of my colleagues and I will travel to France and arrive amid chaos on Bastille Day! It will be a great four day break!
More discussion forthcoming on the welfare state...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tusen Takk!

...or "a thousand thanks" as they say in Norway! Thank you to those of you who have left comments. While I'm sure my delayed response, in some cases, left you in terrible suspense for many sleepless nights, I have and will try to respond. Also, thank you to Cecilie from Bergen, who was kind of enough to take me to dinner at Akker Brygge Wednesday night while she was in Oslo for work! It was great to see her again and I did not mind skipping a meal in the dorm! Norway continues to provide friendly faces and generous hospitality.

Here is a brief recap on last week:
Our two excursions for the week took us to the Nobel Institute and the Nobel Peace Prize Center. The Nobel Institute is the building where the Nobel Peace Committee meets throughout the year to review nominations, compile reports, and select the Nobel laureate(s) each year. Our guide was the Librarian at the Institute who has worked there for over 40 years. Her presentation of the Institute and its work made a strong impression on all of us. The librarian might best be described at matriarchal and presented history about the Peace Prize and its winners in a very humble, yes respectful way. Her role as librarian is to oversee the in-house resources used to compile reports on nominees once the selection committee begins to narrow their initial list. The room were the decision is made is lined with a small black and white photograph of each of the laureates since the inception of the award. The room, like the entire building, is classy, classic, and gives the award the prestige it deserves.

in the Nobel Committee Room

The next room we entered was adorned with copies of the certificates each laureate is presented with - each with a different piece of art that is commissioned by the committee well before the laureate and their cause is known.

copies of past award certificates

Our final stop was the room where the ceremony used to be held each December 10. The media and crowd that the awarding attracts has moved the annual ceremony to the University of Oslo for a time, and most recently to Oslo's City Hall. This small auditorium is currently used for the announcement of the laureate in early October as well as for the press conference in December. Here, the Librarian told us various stories about the "winners." She very nonchalantly said that "we like the give the laureate about a 30 minute heads up before the they can be ready for the press." One winner was flying across the Atlantic when the announcement was made. Once he arrived at the airport in the U.S. he wondered why there was so much media at the gate. He was very surprised to get the news when get entered the terminal.
me and Al Nobel

On Friday, our group visited the Nobel Peace Prize Center: a museum with traveling exhibits as well as interactive exhibits about all of the previous Peace Prize Laureates. The two traveling exhibits gave us more Nansen! as well as a photo exhibit about displaced people around the world. The emphasis of this Center was definitely less about the individual laureates and more about peace and conflict around the world. Our group of 10 had "class" inside the Center for an hour after going through the exhibits.

Thursday of last week we ran into Augsburg College President Pribbenow. The world is small.
President Pribbenow wearing one of his signature bow ties

This weekend we tried to act like Norwegians...relax, take a hike, sit by the lake, walk down by the docks. All around, a good weekend. The week ahead is filled with reading and coursework. Next time I'll share some thoughts on my Scandinavian Politics class and the welfare state! (Gasp!)

Hipp Hipp Hurra! the Norwegians say for their biggest national day, Syttende Mai. Today in America, we celebrate the founding fathers we have always known about...and the one Michele Bachmann recently added to U.S. history.

America's 6th President, John Q. Adams

Happy 4th of July to all!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Nansen Group

I forgot to share this photo of our group in Lillehammer. The Nansen Dialogue Network also has some information about our group on their website.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

God Save the King!


To view photos from Lillehammer, click here.
To read an amusing story, skip to the end.

I can hardly remember names and precise events of Titus Livius' History of Rome. But what I do recall is his idea that the same human experiences occur again and again throughout history. To lend brevity to Livy's wordy preface, history repeats itself.
Inge Eidsvåg

Not so fast, says Nansen Academy instructor and Norwegian radio personality Inge Eidsvåg. He presented two wonderful lectures to us on the life and legacy of Fridtjof Nansen and on how to teach and receive history. Here are his pointers for teaching history for you all to mull over:
1. Use all relevant sources
2. Be critical of all sources
3. Be careful with moral judgements of the past; dead people can't defend themselves
4. Different views should be presented in a fair way; defend views different than your own
5. History never repeats itself (but you may see trends)
6. Events are not inevitable before they have taken place
7. History is a construction or model of the past
8. History means interpretation
9. History must be rewritten...again and again
10. Be conscious of our enormous responsibility to learn true and balanced history

In small group discussions, many students from former-Yugoslavia voiced their concern that history and the way it is taught and interpreted is one of the things that continues to damage and divide society in the Balkans. Steinar and the Nansen Academy believe firmly in using education as the starting point for integrating people of different cultures and beliefs. The students we spent time with were able to recognize that conflicting parties teach history in a way that supports their beliefs. They also said that some parts of their national history are omitted in order to only focus on a period of time that is not disputed (which happens to be hundreds of years ago). One girl, Dafina, said it best: when we get better at teaching history, our society will get better. This is certainly open to discussion and it is hard to replicate on here the discussion our group had. But there is not doubt in my mind that knowing a discussing history fully and openly is beneficial for all.

Inge told us about a growing "field" of history where the story of time is written through a particular lens with the disclaimer that this lens affects the model presented. He referenced Philippe Aries' Centuries of Childhood (childhood in early modern Europe) and new textbooks written by collaborating historians telling, for example, a history of Germany and France, or a history of the Balkans. I'm sure these historians had plenty to talk about and surely the early outlines were burned over much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the point is that in the end people of different backgrounds came together to at least have a rational discussion which presents a model of reality and life on both sides.

Let me tell you, it is very easy as an American to sit in quiet, quaint Lillehammer and think to myself, "Why can't Serbians and Albanians just get along. Why can't they look beyond petty arguments, integrate, and develop?" My own challenge was to think about instances where I might have to sit at the same table as someone else and discuss an issue when each of us thinks the other is just plain wrong.

It's incredible how one experience can totally shape another. All of the participants of at the Nansen Dialogue Network last week agree that this experience is invaluable to shaping our time at the International Summer School.

The University of Oslo rolled out the red carpet for us Monday night with the official opening of the 65th International Summer School. We started our evening at the original University of Oslo campus on Oslo's main street, Karl Johans Gate, immediately east of the Palace. The Greek-styled buildings are currently used for the School of Law and the Aula (great hall) was just reopened last week after three years of renovations. We heard from the Rector of the University, Norway's Minister for Higher Education and Research, and an alum from the first ISS in 1947. A folk group sang and danced wearing their bunads. After the opening, the group of 500 walked to Oslo's City Hall. The site of the annual Peace Prize Award Ceremony, city hall was filled with good food and drink, live jazz, and a diverse body of students, professors, and various representatives of embassies in Oslo.
University of Oslo

Classes are off to a good start, although rolling out of bed for 8am class in Norway feels almost the same as rolling out of bed for 8am class in Sioux Falls. Scandinavian Government and Politics is an entirely new field for me. We are starting the course by examining the political and social trends of the last 150 years in Scandinavia to better understand the roots of the Scandinavian welfare state. The Peace Scholars Seminar meets once a week for lecture and once a week for a class excursions. Thursday of this week we will visit the Nobel Institute and hopefully meet with its director, Dr. Geir Lundestad.with Michael Seeley, Rob Oliver, and Geir Lundestad

I leave you with this brief and amusing anecdote:
Last Thursday, Lillhammer's large, historic, Norwegian village, Maihaugen, hosted a midsummer celebration. All of the old homes and churches were open with actors inside to describe the time period of the structure, its contents, and its inhabitants. While the night ended with a huge bonfire in the middle of the lake and a large bowl of rømmegrøt, a true collision of cultures and nationalities happened before the height of the festivities. When we entered the historic Stave church, we heard organ music and saw many Norwegians standing in the pews and singing. The American and Balkans students very noisily made our way to a few of the benches. While we were initially confused as to why the Norwegians were singing My Country Tis of Thee, we very proudly came in on the last line: "God save the King." I guess you had to be there. It reminded me of the time a certain member of my family went to a rehearsal of the German Round Singers. I guess that will be something for you to talk about the next time you see them...
with friends Marko and Милош at the Maihaugen bonfire

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Medley of Musings

I have a few delicious links to share today:
Click here for the link to my photos from my first two weeks in Norway.
Click here for the link to the Peace Scholars page on the Nobel Peace Prize Forum website.
Click here for a recent Argus Leader article from Dr. Anna Madsen talking about Christian faith in a diverse world. I was reminded of this yesterday in our session on Religious Dialogue.
Click here for a ripe example of a lack of dialogue and re-writing the facts.

In the aftermath of The Great War, a very angry German soldier returned home feeling cheated by his country for losing war in which he and his colleagues had invested so much. Adolf Hitler went on to gain tremendous momentum over the next two decades all the while increasing his hatred and anger and talking much more than listening. Would Hitler have benefitted from dialogue with those who once looked across the trench at him? Would dialogue have helped veterans and families of the Great War move on and live with respect and understanding for The Other?

While the example is my own, this is the premise of the Nansen Dialogue Network. We spent all of Tuesday, our first full day, learning about dialogue and how it is a tool for movement and progress. I have heard many business people, professors, students, etc. mock the phrase "let's have a meeting..." or rather, let's have a meeting so that we might talk about and plan another meeting. Dialogue moves beyond worthless rambling, and helps others to understand. As our seminar leader Steiner Brynn (who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago) teaches, dialogue is not negotiation, debate, or discussion. Those, too, can be part of an exchange between two parties. But dialogue involving listening and asking questions is beneficial for all involved.

The nine Americans at the Nansen Academy this week are learning an incredible amount in a very neutral environment about the Kosovo war and the disputes which both preceded it and and those that continue to this day.

In the spring of 1999, just a few months before NATO bombings in Kosovo, Steiner Brynn conducted another one his highly effective dialogue seminars between Albanian and Serbian young adults. Emotions were in full force, tempers were hot, accusations ran rampant, and debate penetrated the dialogue scene many times. This was all filmed and combined with footage from a reuniting of the same participants in 2009 for another dialogue seminar conducted by Steiner. The result of the two filmed seminars is a real, well-balanced, emotional film entitled "Reunion." The film was released last week and received with high praise and much media attention following the premiere in Oslo. It is being shown in theaters around Norway right now and we were privileged to watch in in the local theater last night along side our peers who live in some of the very places the actor/participants live. I think we were all in a bit of shock as the credits were rolling. Witnessing the dialogue helped clarify so many of the positions and the clear lack of communication between the two sides. It was also entertaining to watch the outsiders sitting in the audience jump when they recognized Steiner on the screen as the same man sitting just a few rows behind them. In the 10 minute debriefing Steiner conducted in the theatre following the film, Nansen students and outsiders alike all shared two common thoughts: the balanced way the conflict was presented and the strong impression it made on each of us.

As we continue our discussion today, tomorrow, and Friday, several questions are at work in my mind. If you have thoughts on the following, please share.
Does respecting, or at least recognizing, the position of our enemies put our own principles in jeopardy? How would our friends in the same "camp" react if our principles or reaction were changed as a result of dialogue?
Many people say war is inevitable. Others say it is not inevitable. Assuming that war is not inevitable, surely conflicts, even the slightest of which, are inevitable. How can we work to ensure there is always dialogue between friends and enemies even if it means changes will come or differences will not be settled? Maybe this is better described as peaceful change or peaceful disagreement

On a lighter note, we are all having a great time with the other Nansen students who will also travel to Oslo with us on Friday for the University of Oslo International Summer School. I am currently enjoying our afternoon break and working on my tan outside a cafe at a park in downtown Lillehammer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Oslo in a day (but returning soon!)

in front of the Royal Palace

We played tourist all day in Oslo visiting the Folk Museum, Fram Ship Museum, Viking Ship Museum, and the Royal Palace. My boss, Scott Peterson, at Prairie Winds Golf Club, would have something to say about the Palace grounds. It appears that the Royals have fled the Palace and no one cares about the surrounding gardens. In any case, the Palace grounds are not that impressive, but the structure is spectacular and a focal point of the city.

The museums we visited today gave context to Norway's history and its role in international events over time. The Fram Museum (about the Fram ship that explored both the North and South polls) also had an exhibit on Fridtjof Nansen. He was an explorer who was well known throughout Norway for having skied across Greenland before he was part of the Fram expedition. He went on to play a lead role in international relations and humanitarian efforts during Norway's independence, World War I, the League of Nations, and life under the Bolsheviks in eastern Europe. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. On Monday I travel to Lillehammer and spend five days at the Nansen Dialogue Network where students from the U.S. and the Balkan region will study the work of Nansen and how dialogue and identity are important today. More importantly, we'll look at how to engage in productive dialogue that crosses cultural, religious, linguistic, and stereotypical boundaries.

Norwegians are fortunate to live in a wealthy, beautiful country. They are also well aware of these things and take immense pride in their Kingdom. Today our friendly guide was Eva Mathisen who graduated with the Watertown High School Class of 1979 as a foreign exchange student. She shared this link with us which provides a 24/7 video feed from a coastal ship that gives observers a very real sense of the Norwegian landscape. Apparently, it is very popular in Norway both to watch and to try and be seen on camera. The wake of the boat and nearby waterfalls are nice background noises, but I think Hanz Zimmer could/should write an epic score to accompany the video of the terrain.

Tomorrow I leave my family having completed a great vacation! Probably the best yet! I'll greet 9 very tired students, including Augustana colleague Michael Seeley, at the Oslo airport, as well as our faculty advisor, Dr. Frankie Shackleford. The next adventure begins shortly - stay tuned!

with Michael Seeley on our last big adventure in 2010

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Uniting and Reuniting

yacht club docks in Stavanger

Today we traveled from Stavanger to Oslo via train. My friend Kaia met us at the station and was nice enough to drive us to the University of Oslo campus where I'll live and study, and then dropped us off at the hotel. The Norwegian rail line winds through even more picturesque Norwegian scenery following the coast south to Kristiansand, and then north to Norway's capital.

Stavanger is the city where my great-grandparents and their four oldest children emigrated from in 1923. My great grandfather, Nils Simonsen had a sewing machine shop that eventually went bankrupt before the family left Norway and came to Chicago. My Grandma and Grandpa Titze found the shop when they visited in 1986 and we were able to do the same yesterday. The shop today is not likely as Nils left it. With few structural changes except the upper windows, the bright yellow storefront is flanked by a tattoo parlour and the SHIT Skateboard Shop. I'll post the pictures from the early 20th century, 1986, and yesterday on here later.

Sigval, Atle, Kirsten, Dad, me, Per, Ole

My Dad's second cousins, Per and Sigval Simonsen, live in Stavanger. Per surprised us at the bus/train depot when we arrived on Wednesday and gave us a ride through downtown to our bed and breakfast. His son, Ole Henrik, who is only a month older than me, picked us up later in the afternoon and took us to their house which sits on the water across the harbor. Per's wife made a typical Norwegian meal with rømmergrøt, smoked salmon, potatoes with dill, and a variety of other meats and cheeses - entirely delicious.

Ole Henrik and his cousin, Atle, took me on a tour of Stavanger from the water in Per's boat. Like Bergen, Stavanger has its own brygge lined with shops and restaurants. Outside of the brygge docks are many cruise ships and local ferries.

Ole and Atle both spent a year of high school in the U.S. - Ole in Wisconsin, Atle in California - so the three of us had plenty to talk about. Atle is setting out on an all-American road trip on Monday with his friends from Stavanger. We had a great evening at Per's house and are grateful for his hospitality.

Thursday we climbed Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen. My friend for Augustana, Ann Marit, joined us from her home in Håvik nearby. The rock ledge boasts a 604 meter drop to the water below in Lysefjorden. A ferry and bus took us to our starting point from which it was a 4.5 hour. As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I'll let the photo do the talking.

Monday night my we rode with Per to Sandnes, a town just south of Stavanger, to meet my Dad's first cousin, Linda, whom he had not seen since he was in grade school. She had interesting families stories about the siblings who stayed in Chicago since she also lived there until after college when she moved to Norway. Linda lives with her son, Johan Olav, who is a brilliant, 13 year-old boy with autism. He is obsessed with movies and he just recently got into Laurel and Hardy. I think he was surprised that I knew who they were.

Tuesday was spent exploring Stavanger. Our time spent at the Norwegian Emigration Centre was fascinating and we had the entire exhibit and library to ourselves. More on that later as well. Although this was not talked about at the Centre, I think it is interesting that the growing population of immigrants has put even more focus on other elements of Norwegian society including equality, education, religion. Maybe this will end up being the focus of my 6 week research project.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Norwegian letters in the box at Ingun's school

Charlie Sheen might say that the Norwegians are "winning" when it comes to education, the environment, and overall efficiency. I'll continue to think about the Norwegian approach to these social issues and how the United States might do things differently. Moreover, how can we overcome current apathy and consumption to push ourselves to do better...for ourselves and the future?
Some of the simple efficiencies of Norway we quickly noticed are the small cars and garbage cans. Of course, these are not unique to Norway. But Norway is a progressive, wealthy country, yet its lower levels of consumption per capita seem to be something engrained in society. I don't want this blog to become a political commentary, but anyone who knows me will also know that I think a great deal about how policy and politics affect our lives and society. When the US government regulates the types of lightbulbs available to consumers or sets standards for carbon emissions, maybe it will be better for the environment and incidentally stretch human creativity and consumption. Just a thought. As I said, I will continue to observe and explore these facets of Norwegian society and think more about possibilities for our own country and others.

In recent conversation with Italian friends and students visiting Watertown, I was again reminded of how strict, or rather rigorous, early education is in other countries compared to that of the United States. We do a lot of things right in American early education, but sometimes I thing "rigor" is not part of it. Specific examples include exposure to foreign languages and intensity of studying. Ingun teaches first grade at what the Bergen newspaper calls the "dream school." Ingun describes her school as a "family." The school, built in 2004, has few walls and allows students and teachers to move between different work and study areas. Some areas provide an instruction area where students sit attentively taking notes and listening to instructions. Students then can disperse to small round tables, reading areas, and interactive boards on the walls. Norwegian-to-English vocabulary cards are in many work areas. Artwork from various artists and thinkers in history line the walkways of the building for older students. Old meets new; collaboration equals learning.

But does a good education demand the flare and technology of some modern classrooms? Hmmmm.

Surely, Dennis Daugaard would be aghast at the investments Norway is making in education.

On a lighter note, here is a picture of downtown Bergen. It was a great day with unusually hot and sunny weather!