Student Blogger Study Abroad

Folktales, Films, and the Welfare State

group of students gathered around a fire reading from Norwegian fairytales

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Marissa Mikrot is HECUA’s student blogger for The New Norway program this fall. Marissa is a student at The College of St. Scholastica majoring in Global, Cultural and Language Studies. Read on for her next post!

Before we all knew it, week four arrived and we were able to mark the first month of studies complete. Each day is a new day. I am just as excited to go to class as I was the day before because within these last few weeks we have met so many people and explored parts of our identities that we often glance over.

This last month we have been focusing on media analysis by watching many movies and TV shows, reading articles, novels, and folklore.

So far, we have watched Max Manus (a film based on real resistance fighters in Norway during the German Nazi occupation during World War II), Borgen (a Danish TV series about politicians, reporters, and media spinners), The Bothersome Man (a film about a man thrown into the “perfect society” who finds himself longing for color and passion), Troll Hunter, and Skam (a Norwegian series similar to the Canadian series Degrassi). Additionally, we have taken field trips to the Munch museum and the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History where the entirety of Norway – from Finnmark to southern Norway – were represented in an outdoor exhibit by different styles of houses, churches, and farms that existed in those areas throughout history.

During class lectures, we have had many guest speakers come in to share their knowledge about a variety of topics. Two political representatives from the oldest and largest political groups in Norway, Mads Danielson from the Labour Party and James Lorentzen from the Conservative party and leader of the Health and Social Care Committee for Oslo City Council, came to describe what the values of each major party are and how those values are reflected in the laws and regulations that are proposed. Additionally, we had the University of Oslo’s main political science professor and election analyst Berndt Arndal present about political polls. Women and Gender studies professor Vera Sofie met with us to explore gender roles, privileges, and hidden meanings in media.

One of the classes that you sign up for with the New Norway Program is called Scandinavian Art, Film, and Literature. This class is primarily run by Hanna, who studied these topics for her master’s degree. Every Thursday, we spend our afternoons watching films, reading stories, and analyzing art from all over the world in all sorts of forms. Our main platform for analysis has been literature, which makes sense considering we read 2-3 articles per day.

Hanna, as a native Norwegian, has many connections within the community and continues to use those connections to enrich our learning experience. To start off in September, Hanna invited one of her close friends, Håvard, to join us on an excursion to a forest and lake called Sognsvann, just north of where our student housing is located. Håvard is a student at the university who is studying to become a teacher. One of his favorite (and specialty) topics to teach is Norwegian folk tales.

We started the morning off with a quick 15-minute walk to the heart of the forest, where we attempted to find shelter from the on-and-off rain by building a fire, huddling together, and listening to Håvard share three folktales that not only are his favorite, but are very important to the Norwegian identity.

In addition to Håvard’s stories, we all found examples of our own stories from the United States, Paraguay, Russia, and Finland. There is a woman in our class who was born and raised in Paraguay. Another student (who happens to be my Russian tutor at St. Scholastica) and I know a few from Russia, and I know many from Finland. This gives us a variety of stories to analyze and compare to each other to get a better understanding of the identities that are common in these countries.

Many of the Americans found it hard to think of American folklore because we all come from a country that was founded on many cultures. The Brothers Grimm is a great example because stories like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood were the first to come to our minds, but the stories are German. Instead, we focused on Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed which represented the strong work ethic and a respect towards nature, specifically apple orchards, lakes, and pine forests in regard to these stories, that some American values were based on.

During the afternoon, two students led an integration seminar. Each week on Thursdays, we have one integration seminar led by two students on different topics. The students create an interactive activity that the entire class takes part in to help us gain a better understanding of the topic we are reading about and discussing throughout the week. That week, we were focusing on the Nordic welfare state and identity. Håvard’s stories focused on the identity portion of the week meaning that the integration seminar was all about welfare states.

Group of students standing in a circle near lake Sognsvann
Simulating different forms of societies. Photo credit Hanna Andersen.

For this activity, we all split into three groups. Each group received a piece of paper with a list of services related to a welfare state such as; education, health care, maternity and paternity leave, prison systems, and public transportation. Each group had to perform a specific task in order to award themselves with any one of the 30 services. Each task was worth a specific amount of points based off of the category that one wanted the service to be given – either universal, tested, or provided by employer. Then, the points would be totaled up after 45 minutes and the society with the most points would win a prize.

The purpose of this activity was to better understand how difficult it might be to start and maintain a successful welfare state. For those who were given the socio-democratic society (Group 1), it was easy for them to gain universal access to many services because the population was willing to supply resources, like high taxes, to support a better return system. In contrast, the capitalist society (Group 3) found it difficult to complete universal tasks because their society ran on values of personal gain. The liberal society (Group 2) lands in the middle, though, as the society is willing to give in some areas but resists in others.

Each group was given their own challenge. Group 1 had to wait 10 minutes before they could begin taking on the different challenges but were given 20 points to start. Each member of Group 2 had to choose a number between 1 and 100 and whoever was closest got to choose which aspect and which category they wanted that service to be in first. The second closest went second and the third went last. In Group 3, everyone had to play a game of rock, paper, and scissors. The winner was able to begin the challenges without the help of their group mates until their group mates had found jobs by supplying the moderators with objects that they wanted.

Quickly, everyone was in the game and challenges were assigned according to what was wanted and what resources the group had. The challenges ranged from picking 50 unique rocks, to running the 5-kilometer trail around the lake. Needless to say, groups began getting very frustrated and developed strategies to get the most points; like only completing tasks that were easy, so tasks for services that were “provided by employer”.

This was only the second integration seminar we had and I am looking forward to the many more interactive ways to learn about the topics we are studying that are to come; including my own seminar where I hope to be just as successful as the rest of my classmates.

students gathered in a circle
Welfare state simulations. Photo credit: Hanna Andersen



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