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!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

slapper av

As the Norwegian title suggests, our time has been totally "relaxing" so far. I'm not entirely sure why my ancestors ever left this beautiful place.
Since arrival, we have relaxed much, eaten well, and been graciously hosted and welcomed. My Aunt Berit, her sister Ingun, her brother Terje, and his wife Cecilie all met us at the Bergen airport. Additionally, we were able to meet up with Eva Mathisen in the Oslo airport. Eva was an exchange student to Watertown High School in 1978 and stayed with my Mom and her family for a few weeks in between host homes.

The four of us are staying with Ingun and her family while in Bergen. We arrived late on Thursday and stayed up and talked for quite a while despite severe jet lag. The house has a typical scandinavian look to it inside and out (pictures to come). We'll explore Bergen more when we are out in the city on Monday and Tuesday.

Since Friday afternoon we have been enjoying cabin life at Terje's cabin in the mountains and Ingun's cabin on the fjords near the North Sea. Terje and Cecilie's "hytte" in the mountains lies between the small towns of Dale and Voss. The rainy drive to the cabin took us on narrow, windy roads lined with small farms, waterfalls, and lakes surrounded by mountains. Their hytte (pictured above) is in a quiet and secluded area with stunning views. The cabin is built to fit both the historic Nordic style as well as blend with the landscape and other small cabins nearby. The white-washed pine walls, ceilings, and floors as well as the simple design and wood-burning stove make it a perfect mountain retreat.

Saturday we hiked to a nearby waterfall and saw many of the other cabins in the area. A farmer owns all of the common land that surrounds the cabins. We encountered many of his sheep who roam the land surrounding the cabins and near the water. All of the mothers have bells around their neck creating a chorus harmonized by the nearby stream. The lambs follow their mothers closely and are a favorite of my Mom. I think they oddly remind her of our schnauzer...

The rest of the time at the cabin was spent reading and talking. There seems to be endless conversation with family and friends from different corners of the globe.

This morning we drove down from the mountains and had another two hour drive that passed quickly. The entire route was lined with calm water in the fjords and mountains speckled with small groups of cabins and homes. Their way of life looks modern, yet entirely simple and enjoyable. I would contend the state of Nebraska is in trouble when they claim the title "the good life."

Our destination was the seaside just outside of Bergen. Ingun's husband, Ivar, picked us up from shore in his boat and brought us out to their cabin. The cabin has been in Ivar's family for four generations. It was the first of its kind in the area when Ivar's grandfather purchased the land from a local farmer. In the last 60+ years Ivar and his family have continued to enhance the cabin - adding electricity a mere 3 years ago and building various wooden decks molded to their rock foundations on different sides of the small peninsula to capture the sun's rays at all times of the day. My Mom caught her first fish at their cabin when she visited in 1982 and we found her entry in their Cabin Book. Ivar took us on a boat tour of the labyrinth of channels in the fjords to show us various cabins and islands. To the west we could get a clear view of the North Sea.

It has been a completely relaxing and picturesque journey so far. Thank you to those who have taken us to their favorite places!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Welcome to my blog! I look forward to sharing my experiences and reflections with you as I travel and study in Norway for the next two months. Augustana College has given a true gift to my friend, Michael Seeley, and me as we study at the University of Oslo International Summer School. My studies will focus on Scandinavian government and politics, as well as peace and diplomacy with wonderful resources of the Peace Prize Center in Oslo. The culmination of our study will be an independent research project that we present to our immediate group, and bring back to our home campuses. Our learning and sharing will continue throughout next school year and at the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

The Sanskrit word tirtha (tee-ruk) means a pilgrimage site, a holy place, a crossing point. I give thanks to Dr. Sandra Looney and Dr. Janet Blank-Libra for guiding us on our own pilgrimage during the month of January and helping me to better understand what a pilgrimage means and how to reflect on it. Over the next two months, I will have the privilege to go on my own pilgrimage. Of course, the journey isn't my own, but one to be shared continuously throughout as well as beyond. On this journey, I'll travel back to my roots, establish crossing points with students from all corners of the globe, and look globally at the challenges that we face today and in the future. A pilgrimage requires self-reflection and assessment. What is my role as an individual to create and maintain peace in the world? How can I do this most effectively? How can I listen to others better? How can we all work to live in community and not just as individuals?

As I both look back to my roots and study the past, present, and future, I am reminded of these words from Stanley Kunitz:

The Layers
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.

I'm grateful to be joined by my parents and sister for the first leg of my journey. We will travel to Bergen, Stavanger, and Oslo where we will be graciously hosted by friends and family at some points, and free to roam and explore at others. The land of my ancestors will be our holy ground, and connections with relatives will be our crossing points. Our pilgrimage is especially meaningful because of the strong Norwegian heritage that my Grandma Titze (or Gam, pronounced Gom, as I called her when I was little) proudly claimed and professed. She was the only one of her siblings born in the United States. Her parents and siblings emigrated to the United States in 1923. Their passport is pictured above which I thought helped set the tone for my first entry. Gam was extremely proud of her heritage and I think of her often as we prepare for our trip. We will meet some of our cousins in the Simonsen family in Stavanger.

Along the way I hope to update this frequently and not just use the blog as a journal to chronicle where we went and what we saw, but rather a thoughtful forum for my thoughts about what I learn and what is left unanswered.

You'll see quotes, passages, and poems from outside sources as I blog. Many references will be grounded in what I learned from Drs. Looney and Blank-Libra, Pastor Paul's recently published Pilgrims Guide, the Augustana Pilgrimage celebrating our first 150 years, and other texts and sources I have previously encountered or will encounter very soon.

I appreciate your interest and I hope you'll join me on the journey. I am excited beyond words for what I know will be a transformative, life-changing experience!