Meet the student: Sweden meets USA in Norway


In this issue of «Meet the student» the writers of the column, Anne Marie Haws and Isabelle Kongshaug, have interviewed each other. You probably didn’t know that one of them is Swedish and the other one is American, did you?

Text and photo: Isabelle Kongshaug & Anne Marie Haws.

The semester is going to an end. For some of you it means graduation, for others it means an exchange period is ending, and for some it’s a well-deserved break to charge the batteries for next semester.

For the writers of this column, Anne Marie Haws and Isabelle Kongshaug, it means the ending of a year of completing interviews and writing together. Together we’ve met students from Italy, USA, Indonesia, South Korea, Pakistan, Mexico and Serbia. Now we’d like to share with you our own stories from our home countries: Sweden and USA.

Growing up: Where do you come from? What was it like growing up there?
I’m from Blackduck in northern Minnesota, USA. It’s a small city with about 800 inhabitants, located by the lake. Both of my parents are biologists, and they appreciate outdoor activities, so growing up I spent a lot of time in the nature. I went to school in Blackduck from preschool to 12th grade, and it was always a very safe and not so competitive environment. In my spare time I did most of the things that was offered: I played volleyball, softball, basketball, did speech and debate, sang in choir, played the flute and the piano. I actually dreamed about becoming a professional flutist in an orchestra.

Isabelle: I am from a town called Västerås, located one hour driving distance from Stockholm. The town is similar in size to Stavanger. I really enjoyed growing up there. The city is vibrant and has a lot of culture and energy. When I was six my father moved to the countryside outside of Västerås, so I was able to spend some time outside in the nature as well, as a child. Music was a big part of my life in my youth. My father was a violin teacher and I started learning music from a very young age. My music career began with playing the violin, and then later also singing and playing the guitar and piano. Music is so engrained in my life that in a way, it becomes a second language and a way to express myself.

Culture and environment: How is the weather and geography in your home area? Can you describe the culture?
Since the U.S. is so big, all the states are very different when it comes to geography, weather and culture. Minnesota has many lakes and farming areas, very similar to Sweden, actually. The four seasons are distinct, and with them comes different outdoor activities. In summer fishing and canoeing is very popular, and in winter people make holes in the ice – so that they can keep on fishing. The culture in Minnesota has big influences from the Native American Indians, and also some Scandinavian influences since many Scandinavians immigrated to Minnesota during the 19th century. People are generally very proud of their heritage, and keep the traditions alive. My grandmother was Danish and my grandfather was German, so in my family we’ve kept some of their traditions, like the rice porridge with almond for Christmas.

“I’ve always loved drawing and designing, and I think civil engineering has some similarities to art; you have an idea, you go through with it, and you get to see the result.”

Isabelle: Västerås lies on the shores of the Lake Mälaren. It is a really nice summer town. When there is good weather it is a perfect place to sit by a cafe near the lake or go to the beach. There are four distinct seasons. I grew up with a cold winter and snow, although the winters have been milder in recent years. Living in Norway, I don’t often feel like I am in a different country because the two countries are very similar. Other than the language there are only smaller cultural things that set the two apart. We do have some special holidays in Sweden that they don’t celebrate in Norway, such as the midsummer celebration with a Maypole and old traditional songs.

Leaving home: What did you do after you finished high school?
When I was 18 I moved to Minneapolis to study civil engineering at University of Minnesota. I’ve always loved drawing and designing, and I think civil engineering has some similarities to art; you have an idea, you go through with it, and you get to see the result. I like that kind of project based way of working. Moving to Minneapolis was a very big change from having lived all my life in Blackduck. The University had appx. 40,000 students, and the environment was very competitive, so I had a hard time adapting. But eventually I found my place there and I came to have a very positive experience! After my graduation I got a job as a water resources engineer in Saint Paul, where I worked for two years.

Isabelle: I’ve always been interested in creating something through music. Often when I go to concerts with classical music I have a feeling that I am remembering the composers through their music. I have the philosophy that creating and writing music will leave a unique personal message that will be remembered throughout history. I guess that’s a reason why I want to be a musician. So after I graduated from secondary school I wanted to go to a “folk high school” to study classical singing. I had a dream of becoming an opera singer. While preparing for auditions I worked part time at the concert house, and the year after I was accepted to a school. During that year I started having a very big interest for jazz music, and I decided to switch my emphasis. I applied and got accepted to Ingesund School of Music for a program in Music Education with an emphasis on jazz (without really knowing anything about jazz from before). Now I’m doing an exchange year here in Norway. I really enjoy it here in Stavanger, so I’m actually planning to stay and graduate here instead of going back to Sweden.

Coming to Norway: Why did you want to study in Norway?
I’ve always been interested in my Scandinavian heritage. When I was in college I took a language course in Norwegian just for fun, and I became friends with two Scandinavian girls. I decided to visit them in Norway, and that was how I met my boyfriend, because he was friends with them. When I found out that Norway had free schooling I looked up the opportunities for a Master’s Degree, and so I decided to specialize in Environmental Engineering with focus on water and wastewater. And now I live here in Stavanger together with my boyfriend, and I graduate in June – hopefully!

Isabelle: The reason I wanted to come to Norway is because my grandfather is from Trondheim and I have always been interested in going back to my roots. He passed away when I was only four years old, so I don’t really remember him, but I’ve always felt that my Norwegian heritage has been part of my identity.

The future: What do you think of the program you are taking here? What are your plans after graduation? Do you want to stay in Norway?
Anne: I really love it here; the environment, the mountains and all the hiking possibilities. I’m open to stay in Norway, but it depends a bit on where I can get a job after my graduation.

“I’m fulfilling my dream of creating my own music and I’ve started a band called “The Swede and the Sweet Singers” this year”

Isabelle: I love my classmates and the music community here in Stavanger. This exchange year I’ve learned a lot and develop as a musician. I’m fulfilling my dream of creating my own music and I’ve started a band called “The Swede and the Sweet Singers” this year. The program here is focused more on performance than the teaching program back home. I also really feel that the jazz scene here in Stavanger helps build a connection between the school and the city. In Stavanger there are many more platforms to be involved with music outside of school than there ever was at my institute in Sweden. I have a dream of both singing at Lindy Hop dancing events, teaching and writing music, and being in Stavanger is helping me achieve my dreams.

Writing for SmiS: How has the experience been of writing these articles?
I feel that it has contributed a lot to my everyday life. Although writing this article does not take too much effort in the grand scheme of my life, I find myself thinking about the people I’ve met during interviews and things I’ve learned about other cultures, and I feel that I get so much more out of it than the actual effort that I put in. And it’s also been a good way of practicing writing and social skills, so I’m very happy about this experience!    

Isabelle: I really feel it’s been so nice writing these articles because I am interested in other cultures and I feel that I’ve learned a lot from the people we’ve interviewed. Also, I feel it’s been nice to have something that’s happening outside of school because sometimes the music school can feel isolated from the rest of the University. In a way, writing this article is one way to help me fulfill my dream of creating something original and unique.

Isabelle Konghaug og Anne Haws, Meet the Student.«Meet the student» is a column written by Isabelle Kongshaug and Anne Marie Haws. The columnist meets students from different countries who live in Rogaland, and talks about their home country and their lives in Norway.


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