I’ll start off with the very basic information. From January to June I was doing 1st year health at Strømmen Videregående Skole. I was in a class with 16 people with ages ranging from 15 (me for the most of it) to 22. When I first started school it was a massive culture shock. All of a sudden I was in this crazy world where other students would do online shopping during class, teachers were addressed by first name, 40 minute early marks were given ‘just ’cause’ and, despite what I’d expected, no one really seemed to care that I was there. I can vividly remember how I felt after my first day of school. In that moment, after having spent most of the day trying to hide the fact I was crying, I could understand why exchange students would ditch school (for the record I never did). I couldn’t bare the thought of having to go back the next day, let alone for the rest of the year. I don’t believe I could’ve made it to school on my second day if it wasn’t for the fact that my host sister walked there with me, I was so scared that I felt as though my brain was shutting down. I couldn’t think logically about it or even really think about it. All that I knew was that I couldn’t go back there. But I did (the fear of losing a visa that I didn’t even have at that stage certainly helped). My second day of school was one where all the students doing health were off in a sort of work experience, this meant that I was put into the only class that worked from school – the beautician group. I learnt to give proper hand and neck massages and then the day after how to do a manicure (this was actually the first time in at least 5 years (if ever) that I had painted someone else’s nails). Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays of my first month of school were spent in these classes and it was certainly an experience. Thankfully after the Winter holiday everyone went back to having their normal health classes on those days and I didn’t need to be worried about my lack of beauty skills anymore.
As well as health class I also had maths, English, gym, Norwegian and science. I loved English (surprise, surprise) and my teacher gave me a couple of online tasks I could work on during the class so that my Norwegian could improve. Maths was a bit of a similar story- I could use the numbers to figure out the words I needed to understand and actually did a maths test after a month in Norway where, despite the fact it was in Norwegian and was mainly word questions, got 90% (I also did the yearly maths test a lot later in the school year). Science and Norwegian seemed to be the bane of my existence though. Neither of my teachers had been given the heads up I was coming so they were thrown by the fact I was there. My Norwegian teacher used to look shocked every time I walked into the classroom as if I hadn’t explained that I was here for 1 year. To be fair no one in my class really liked my Norwegian teacher, she was too condescending and patronising. My science teacher was pretty similar.
Health class made up the majority of my week (Monday afternoons plus all day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) and could cover everything from empathy to heart attacks. At first it was incredibly difficult to follow any of the classes but gradually I learnt the lingo. We’d do these massive focuses on particular chapters and themes and do extensive tasks and writing on them. When we’d finish the topic I’d be confident discussing and explaining it in Norwegian and I have my health teacher to thank for this. My health teacher was a bit like a year advisor except she was just in charge if my class. If we had problems, had sick notes or had to leave early it went through her. It was relatively early in the year that she explained to me that the school wouldn’t be giving me a grade card. This meant that technically all I had to do was turn up but she explained to me that she thought I should do the work and exams and that she’d mark them the same, just not record anything officially. It started relatively simple. There was a day about a month after I’d started school where everyone in my class had to come to school for separate graded presentations for the teacher. The topic they were presenting on had been one that I hadn’t been here for so my teacher gave me 2 textbook chapters to read and then answer all the questions for. This seemed like a relatively simple task until I realised that it had actually taken me 4 hours to read the first chapter (I’d been translating the individual words I didn’t understand). I eventually figured out that it was considerably easier to just take a photo of the page and translate it all at once with google translate but the whole thing took me around 9 hours in total and I was left with 8 pages worth of answers (I’d used google translate). This sort of marked the start of me doing the class work like a normal student. I’d sit in class translating the sheets (again I cheated by using google to save time) and then translating my answers. Less than two months into my exchange I was expected to do a 5 hour test on what we’d learned in health about the respiratory and circulatory systems and when you’re expected to do it you just do. I got through the test (we were allowed to have our notes from class so I had copied mine out in both Norwegian and English so that I could translate my answers without my laptop) and actually managed a -5 (the highest is a 6). This mark is unofficial of course and I believe my health teacher was being kind but I’ll take it any day. The reason I detail all of this is because I honestly believe that my health teacher is to thank for the reason I can now understand and participate in all of my classes without translating every second word. I was expected to do the same work and the same presentations as the other students and so that’s what I did.
The fact that I didn’t have an official grade card had a slightly different effect on my Norwegian class though. There was a time when we all had to prepare a set of instructions that we could present to the teacher. Everyone else was allowed to do theirs in a separate room, alone with the teacher but for some reason the teacher felt as though i needed to do mine for the class. That sort of thing was fairly commonplace in my Norwegian class, the teacher wouldn’t be expecting me and so every week I was treated as a bit of a novelty.
Making friends wasn’t particularly easy either. As I mentioned before no one seemed particularly interested in me and many were put off by the fact my Norwegian wasn’t fluent. I did end up eating lunch with the 22 year old guy from my class and his friends twice but it was really uncomfortable for me (I was 15 at the time) and it didn’t really continue. For the record my experiences with youth who were older than me was sort of limited to my sister and her friends who are 18, so all of sudden being in a situation where I’m sitting at a canteen table with 4 22 year old guys was kind of terrifying.
I had tried talking to the girl who sat next to me in class but she refused to talk to me, even when we’d been told to discuss a question or topic in class. She used to argue and complain to the teacher everytime the task meant she had to converse with me (I kid you not, I don’t think she realised that I understood everything she said). But I did become good friends with one of the girls in my class, we had similar interests and she wasn’t as put off by the language barrier as the others were. This also meant I had a go to person when we had to do partner presentations and assignments which proved very helpful.
I admit there’s probably many things I’ve left out in my run through of my first half-year of school in Norway, my memory is rubbish and it would take me a while to read the first 164 pages of my day book. Those 5 or so months definitely weren’t always easy but, despite what I might’ve made it sound like, I wouldn’t actually change any of it. It is because I wanted to be able to communicate with my classmates that I wanted to learn Norwegian and because I was expected to do the work that I ended up learning all the jargon used for my health class. So, whilst I didn’t necessarily get this at the time, it was all worth it in the end. Because now I can sit in my classes like a normal student without having to pull up google translate every second moment and can focus on actually learning what is being taught which is actually quite interesting.