Summer School for American Students
Autumn 1945, approximately 50 Norwegian students travelled to the United States to study. The Post World War II academic revival was underway, the after-effects living on in today’s International Summer School at the University of Oslo.
By Anne Vaalund. Translation: Jeanne Sanderson.
In the months following liberation, the Norwegian Ministry of Church and Education established a committee – Amerikakomitéen - to implement plans to meet Norway’s need for academic manpower. This resulted in Norwegians being able to receive full scholarships to attend American educational institutions, and by 1946, there were over 500 Norwegian students in the United States. There was general consensus that this American generosity should be reciprocated, but the question was how?
Norwegian-American Frank Nelson, on leave from the University of Arkansas in 1945-46, as leader of the University of Oslo’s off-campus program The Anglo-American House (an experiment in «teaching English and American literature and language to Norwegian students»), proposed a smart solution: that the University of Oslo should consider offering a summer program for American students. Nelson’s proposal would be a means to reciprocate the scholarships Norwegian students received, at no cost to the Norwegian state, as students would pay for themselves with much-needed dollars. So began the Summer School for American Students at the University of Oslo, held for the first time during the summer of 1947.
After the war, the United States had increasingly viewed cultural diplomacy and student exchange as a means to promote peace and better understanding between nations. The “G.I. Bill of Rights” provided generous financial support for American students to study at home or abroad, and with additional support from Norwegian-American associations, a number of students were able to find their way to Oslo.
Saboteur or Ambassador?
These cultural diplomatic ideals are emphasized in the “The Student Abroad: Saboteur or ambassador?”, a pamphlet written by the Summer School's director, Philip Boardman, in 1948: «The new waves of academic travelers, whether G.I.s, Fulbright fellows or United Nations stipend-holders, will surely come closer than many of their predecessors to being ideal students abroad. They will be the ones who, with sound knowledge of their own home region, are able to observe impartially and with fruitful results when visiting either a neighboring state or a foreign country.” The text ends ambitiously, on the student’s behalf: “The traveling student, man or woman, who has these qualifications, will fully deserve the title of academic ambassador and leavener of international relations.”
Making contacts in the United States
Amerikakomitéen was not only comprised of University of Oslo faculty representatives. There were also three Americans, one of whom was Dr. Philip Boardman. He was sent to New York for four-months as Summer School representative, to make its case as a viable opportunity for students and find suitable educational institutions to cooperate with. He worked zealously to promote the Summer School, resulting in many excellent student applications that first year.
The first 220 selected students came from 33 states. The “Norwegian-USA”, the upper Midwest, was strongly represented from the beginning, though this changed over the next ten years, with an increasing number of students from the east coast and southern states. The courses offered were an introduction to Norwegian language, culture and nature. Science courses came into conflict with course leaders’ summer field research and were discontinued in 1949. Sigmund Skard, American Literature professor, and Johs. Sandven, professor of Education, were central to the Summer School board and faculty for many years.
American education profile and college experience
Teaching had to be adapted to comply with American college pedagogy, which placed greater importance on breadth of knowledge and intellectual development rather than the standard Norwegian university in-depth focus typical of degree studies and research. Blindern Studenterhjem provided dormitory housing in a familiar setting for the American students, the college experience further enhanced by arranging social and cultural events there too, for example, visiting folk dancers in national costume who could dance on the lawn, accompanied by Hardanger fiddlers.
Study-trips and excursions were also organized with faculty leading or participating. They marveled at modern architecture, visited the Storting and were even invited to informal garden parties in the company of the Crown Prince and Princess at Skaugum or Oscarshall. On board the ship to Norway, the American students formed a choir, arriving in Oslo with a repertoire of Norwegian songs. After the completion of Oslo City Hall in 1950, receptions for the American students were held there.
Norway-devotee in France
Philip Boardman became Managing Director of the Summer School in 1948, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. Boardman studied at the University of Montpellier, France, in the 1920s, and was a housemate of Anders Wyller, who would later be a founder of the Nansen School. Through friendship with Wyller, Boardman became interested in Norway and Norwegian culture, and when his later French PhD studies took him to the Sorbonne, he studied Norwegian language there too. During the war his knowledge of Norwegian came in useful and in 1944, he was sent to London by the Office of Strategic Services to liaise with the Norwegian government-in-exile. After the war Boardman decided to come to Norway, rather than return to the USA.
Guides to Norway for Americans
Boardman explains the strange Norwegian custom of thanking for the last time you met, each time you meet, in his book “How to feel at Home in Norway”.
Boardman was an engaged American Norway-expert, and wrote several amusing guides to Norway for Americans: How to feel at Home in Norway (1949), Nuggets of Norse (1952) and Language Feuds of Norway (1952) are examples.
Not only Americans
For the first 10 years, Summer School students were mostly American, and if not American, mostly English-speaking. This changed towards the end of the 1950s. Post-war reconstruction cooperation gave way to Cold War antagonism. Student funding had also changed and as an increasing number of students came from other countries, the Summer School curriculum had to be revised. In 1958, the Summer School’s name changed from the University of Oslo: Summer School for American Students, to the University of Oslo: International Summer School. The change must have felt natural, as the decision aroused no debate.
Closer ties to the university
Boardman worked to forge closer ties with the university throughout his many years as administrative director, with the result that the Summer School slowly transitioned from a cost-free arrangement to something for which the university took greater responsibility. Boardman also wanted the school to hold courses during the winter, and by the early 1960s, other courses were held under the auspices of the Summer School, including compulsory English-language tests for Norwegian students wishing to study in the United States and all necessary language training for Norwegian development aid projects, while Norwegian development aid also involved offering students the chance to study at Norwegian educational institutions.
The International Summer School (ISS) began as post-war reciprocity to the United States. Since then, the ISS has evolved to embrace the whole world. Much has changed since its inception, but the motto of the Summer School: "Six Weeks of Academic Achievement and International Good Will" shows that academic cultural diplomacy has not gone out of fashion.
The Ambassador, Summer Book, The University, Oslo, American Summer School 1947
Dittmann, Reidar 1996 “Oslo summer School for American Students (1947-1958)” i Einar Vannebo (red): Fifty Years of Academic Achievement and International Good Will. ISS.
Larsen, Eirinn 2011. «Jubileumshistorie nedenfra. UiO og nye studentgrupper» i Universitetet i Oslo - Samfunnshistoriske perspektiver. Unipub.
Lundeby, Einar og Svanhild Ruud 1996. «Growth and Changing Structure 1958-1978» i Einar Vannebo (red): Fifty Years of Academic Achievement and International Good Will. ISS.