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My real education as a student in Norway

We invited IB Diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. Alumna Sunniva Midtskogen is one of this year’s cohort of alumni contributing authors. She received her IB Diploma from Sandefjord Videregående Skole.

Sunniva Mitskogen studied abroad at the Univeristy of Maine. The library and center of campus pictured above. Photo courtesy of Sunniva Mitskogen.

Sunniva Midtskogen studied abroad at the Univeristy of Maine. The library and center of campus are pictured above. Photo courtesy of Sunniva Midtskogen.

By Sunniva Midtskogen

For me, the IB Diploma was preparation, and the opening to, or maybe the beginning of, my life abroad. My IB class was the only one at my school, a regular, public Norwegian school, located only an hour away from my hometown, and pretty much all of my classmates were also Norwegians. Our teachers would have heavy Norwegian accents, and my biology teacher struggled so much with the pronunciation of some of the terms that I didn’t even understand what he was talking about if I didn’t follow the textbook when he lectured.

I still remember my Norwegian teacher from secondary school telling me about the IB Diploma. It’s all in English, she told me, and wouldn’t that be perfect for you? At that point, I had my mind set on pursuing Media and Communications, but I changed my mind the same day, and I never looked back. I thought the IB would propel me into the international world, that I would have an advantage over students who hadn’t studied the IB. I don’t think it did. Academically, it left me better prepared for further studies, my English competence was significantly higher, but it wasn’t the first step outwards as I had thought. I still left Norway, I had had my eye on England for six years by the time I graduated. Another four of my classmates went to the US, France and Australia, but that’s still less than 20% of my whole class. Not everyone had wished to go abroad, but those who had somehow ended up falling through. To them, Norway seemed safer, closer, seemed easier, despite having studied for the IB Diploma Programme.

Me, I dived into it. I went abroad, and then I went abroad again. Last year I lived for a year in Maine, USA, and had to explain that I was an English student, from Norway, currently studying in the States. Since I began university, I haven’t lived a whole year in the same country. What I found was that the IB, as I had thought, would help me feel self-confident in moving to a foreign country where I had to speak a foreign language. I was as shy as ever when I had to speak in class, and I dreaded the days where I had to read out loud from my creative writing in class. My heart beat so loud I couldn’t hear my own words, and it did not help that I was the single non-native English-speaking student in the seminar. What I found was that university, after two years in the IB Diploma Programme, was easy. I was accustomed to reading the language, to the amount of reading I was required to do, to write essays, and most importantly, I knew how to take exams. I was shocked to find that at the end of the year I only had two exams. So while my friends were all studying the entire last term, I felt confident after spending only a few weeks researching the films, researching the novels, before I decided to spend the remaining time building up to the exam to continue learning Spanish.

Since I did not have to adapt and adjust into a university student, I found that I could focus on the cultural changes. To suddenly being surrounded by people from all over the world. For the first few months I hardly spent any time with another Norwegian apart from in lectures and seminars. Having to find new food products at the grocery store, learn the rules for sports we don’t have in Norway, learn how to find a book in the library. And the scariest of them all, talk to people on the phone in English. I had the time to reflect on all this, not consumed by my obligations to my studies, and I realized that by leaving the safety and comfort of my home country, I was exposing myself to a whole different type of education which was what I had come for. The novelty of my experiences challenged me in ways I never before had been challenged, and by learning how I reacted or handled those situations taught me more about who I am as a person outside of being a student.

Sunniva Midtskogen writes about being abroad and her thoughts on the idea of home. She is now studying a BA English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University, UK and graduated from the IB Diploma class at Sandefjord Videregående Skole in 2013. She likes to escape her daily routine through literature and travel.