Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Norsk prøve 3: ferdig (finished)

Today, at 11am sharp, immigrant students across the country of Norway sat down to take Norsk Prøve 3 (the 2nd level of Norwegian proficiency). 

It was a challenge, that’s for sure. Reading comprehension, the easiest (as expected).  Listening, a bit more difficult than I expected, namely because I didn’t understand all the words in the question. “Is it higher, lower, or pblørjæreneskap”. One can only guess that means “in the middle” or “unchanging” or “pending” or something to that effect.  “Is Lars angry, sad, or skjeløerfætig”. Hmm. . . from the 5 seconds that my brain processed him to actually be speaking he seemed pretty positive, so he must have been skjeløerfætig! 

The speaking part was a bit easier than I expected, to be honest (so if I don’t pass. . .grrr. . . ). We were paired with a partner, mine a 50 year old woman from Lithuania, married to a Norwegian man, who takes the evening language course in Lillehammer two nights a week. We were given our first topic: “Talk together about what your ideal job would be in Norway.” Easy! This is a topic of conversation with just about every other person I meet in Norway. Second, individual topic: “Talk about something you enjoy doing, something you are very flink (capable) at”. Also rather easy. I talked about how I like to knit and sew, how I’ve made many sweater and hats for my daughter, how I don’t have a sewing machine in Norway, how I’ve met Norwegian friends through my knitting group. (I think the norsk teachers liked this: it shows I’m meeting other Norwegians, and using Norwegian outside of class, and trying to integrate. Not that this matters in trying to pass the test. . . but maybe???)  My partner was asked to speak, individually, about a place that she thinks is very nice. She kind of rambled on and on, vaguely, about Lithuania.

Finally, we were asked to discuss together “what we think is different or similar between Norway and our homelands”. This is one of those very broad topics that you can kind of bend whatever way you want. Are you most able to talk about food? Fine. Sports? Great. Weather? Go at it. I was a little annoyed with my partner, as I was told to begin the first conversation, and she was told to begin the second conversation. She proceeded to do so by saying, “So, Emily. . . what do you think is different in Norway from your homeland?” Cop out! “Maybe the weather?” she prompted. I responded by saying the weather is very much the same, where I grew up it’s cold, blah blah blah. In the end, while I was most worried about the topics of conversation being difficult, they weren’t. I just hope my grammar met their standards. We were certainly able to communicate, both with each other and with the teachers, but whether this is enough, is anybody’s guess.

The writing was the longest portion of the test (90 minutes) and also challenging. In fact, my hand is still kind of shaking from all the gripping it’s done in the last 4 hours. Every test begins with a short (100 word) “letter” of some sort, usually a complaint letter to the newspaper, city council, or neighborhood council. This was a letter to your neighborhood/community council regarding your neighbor who makes a lot of noise at night. It’s pretty easy to embellish these letters, such as “I hope you can help me with my big problem. My new neighbor moved into the neighborhood 3 months ago and . . . “ See—used up 20 words already. And have demonstrated my ability to properly use adjectives and several prepositions.  The second, longer (200 words) essays are generally more challenging. Today, we had a choice between two: 1) Write about a store that you’d like to open. If you’ve had a store before, you can talk about what you did.  Or 2) Write about what it takes to make a good [word you don’t understand]. Shit! What does that word mean? Environment? Together-something-meeting? Arrrrg. . .  So, the choice was pretty easy. I must write about a “butikk” that I want to open. (Turns out that mystery word was “community”. Probably should have known that one). Again, I fell back on knitting. “I have always had a desire to open a knitting and coffee store.” Problem was, I know how to say the verb “to knit”, but then became very unsure of the noun “knitting” (yes, it’s strikking). But norsk doesn’t use too many “-ing” words. Like, “running” isn’t a noun—you use “to run”. So, I’m crossing my fingers that in the variety of ways that I used the words “strikke, strikking, å strikke”, something will be right. I actually began eliminating it all together, simply describing it as “my store” and a place “to knit”.

But here’s the deal: I have been in an official Norwegian class for FIVE months. We had to write on a pre-test survey how many hours of instruction we’ve received, and I was told I had 304 hours. My classmate sitting behind me? Two thousand hours. Two thousand hours. I say this not to brag. Really, not at all. I am writing this down as a reminder to myself that should I fail, I’ve still come a helluva long way in five months. Results arrive in the mail in 3-6 weeks.

Stay tuned. . .

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Busy busy busy

I know, I know. . .
Our first Syttende mai in Norway, and I don't even have a post up. For all of you die-hards, wondering how our first Norwegian Constitution Day was in Norway, you're just going to have to wait a bit longer.
And the other crazy stuff going on in our household, also wait a bit for news and pictures.

I'm putting in serious time studying Norwegian, as the norsk prøve 3 (Norwegian test 3) is coming up on Tuesday. I am not sure how it will go, as it consists of 2 parts: a speaking portion, in which I am paired with a partner, and we are given 2 different topics to talk about together, and then an individual topic. These topics are usually something along the lines of, "talk about traditions in Norway compared to your homeland", or "talk about differences between generations", or "what makes for a good life". Vague, strange stuff, that I don't feel I have sufficient vocabulary to address. I will be surprised if I pass the speaking test.

The second portion of the test is reading, listening and writing. I believe I will pass, likely pass and probably not pass this portion of the test, in that order. Ahhh. . . such confidence!

I won't have results til mid-July, but will write an update on Tuesday on my initial impressions of norsk prøve 3!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Opinions on a new Støvsuger?

This is a question for all you Norwegian readers. . .

I'm looking for a new støvsuger (you know, English readers. . . a dust-sucker?), and need some help. We have wood floors with a few scattered area rugs. . . but dog hair, too. It seems that most European model vacuum cleaners aren't designed with a rotating brush like a traditional American vacuum. (I'm assuming this isn't a problem, although our rugs don't seem to be quite as deep cleaned as before).

What do you recommend? Is there a Norwegian/European version of Consumer Reports I can refer to? Brands to avoid? A model that has won your heart?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flashback: 3 Weeks into Norwegian Classes

Dear readers. . . Here is a post from late January that I never completely finished and therefore never posted. I realized recently that I never have posted anything very specific about my Norwegian classes. This really surprises me, seeing that so much of my life over the last 8 months has revolved around my ability--or inability--to learn and speak the language. 

So, without further ado. . . 

I now have 3 weeks of Norwegian classes under my belt, and hopefully have a little something to show for it other than some new gray hairs. Arg.

I wanted a challenge, and that is what I got. So for that I should be grateful. I was concerned that I'd be in a class where I'd be re-learning present tense verbs, and instead I got a class where the teacher wrote down and students recited four new tense of verbs I hadn't learned yet. Note to self: skip ahead to "new verb tenses" chapter.

The bureaucracy surrounding the Norwegian language classes has been a frustrating experience up until this point, and the first day of class was not any different. I was not given any information ahead of time other than "class is at 8:15am" --no room number, no class level, no teacher name--nothing (although I actually thought they said 7:45am, but the entire building was still dark and locked up at that time of day). Note to self: review "how to tell time" chapter. I spent nearly a half hour trying to find someone who could tell me which class I was in, and where the class was meeting. I thought this would be relatively simple, but the Learning Center does not teach just one Norsk kurs. They appear to be teaching at least 3 adult level classes, and have an entire elementary, middle and high school program running for immigrant students until they can be absorbed into the regular public schools. I was delivered to the appropriate room, 10 minutes late on the first day of school-thank-you-very-much, to a room with 6 other students and to a teacher who had no idea she was getting a new student that day. Again: thank you very much.

We made simple introductions, and I learned that the majority of my classmates had been in Norway for at least. . . 1.5 years, and some off and on for nearly 6. They included a married couple in their 40s from Lithuania, a dating couple in their early 20s also from Lithuania, a man from Somalia and another man from Eritrea (which took me 3 weeks to figure out what he was saying, and then another day to look it up on Wikipedia, ignorant American that I am).

To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. The students have a very good grasp of Norwegian, and seem to understand everything the teacher is saying to them, and can also rather clearly express themselves. I, on the other hand, could not. I quickly realized that I was lagging behind in two important areas: comprehension of "real" spoken language and verbal expression. I tried to remind myself that it was only natural for me to feel overwhelmed. After all, I've never taken a Norwegian class in my life, and this was the most intense exposure to the spoken language than I've had in the last 5 months. And I tried to treat the experience as a true "immersion" language class, knowing that the struggle to comprehend will eventually pay off. But it's hard not to feel like an idiot nonetheless.

May 2011 update:
To say my Norwegian class is an interesting experience is yet another understatement. Am I learning? Reflecting back over the last 4 months, I would say "yes". Has it been as effective as it could--or should--be? Absolutely not.

But, more on that later. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Royal Nut

I did something kind of crazy two weeks ago, only because I could. . . only because I live in Europe and I can, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity, and because my parents offered me a free place to stay, because I believe in the power of love and college sweethearts marrying after 8 years of dating, and because I was (am) a big Princess Diana fan. 

Yes, I did. I flew to London to witness Prince William marry his sweetie, Kate.
My mom, me and Big Ben
As I mentioned before, my parents are vacationing in England this summer in their RV. They had planned their trip to ensure they would be in a campground outside of London on the days surrounding April 29. I flew to Heathrow a few days before The Wedding, announcing to border control that I was in town for The Wedding (well, they asked, so. . . ), and met my parents in downtown London at a predetermined Tube stop. My parents have been to London something like 12 times, so to say they know the city is an understatement. They were like, "We need to take the 36 bus to Dorchester Road, because the Tube only goes to Dorchester Court, and then we have to walk the extra two blocks in the wrong direction, but the bus puts us on the right side of the street, and you don't have to deal with the roundabout there. . . " I am generally the navigator in my own little family, but in London I just sat back and let my parents be, well, my parents. And enjoyed the ride.

Enough about family dynamics. Our campground did not have easy access to London. We started out the morning with a 10-15 minute walk along a rather treacherous, narrow footpath to the bus stop. Then a 30 minute bus ride to the Tube, where we would spend the next 45 minutes or so until we arrived in central London. To spend 3 hours a day just "commuting" on vacation was exhausting.

Did I mention we had awesome seats?
We spent Thursday walking around London, walking the route of the wedding procession, scoping out potential good spots, gawking at the people who pitched tents outside Westminster Abbey and along St. James Park. There was palpable energy in the air already, with thousands of others doing exactly what we were doing. I had a slight pang of disappointment that I hadn't brought my own tent and sleeping bag, although I can honestly say I don't know of anyone who would have been crazy enough to sleep out with me (Alyssa maybe? If she hadn't been 35 weeks pregnant?).

Who is that, you ask? Oh. . . only the Queen.
The order of the day was printed on every newspaper and magazine available, so it was very clear that at 10am on Friday morning Prince William and Prince Harry would be leaving Buckingham Palace in a car and driving to the Abbey. The wedding started at 11am. So. . . when to arrive? Or more accurately, how early can I pull my willing-but-retired parents out of their comfy king sized bed in the RV, and get them to start the 1.5 hour journey into London? Answer: 6am, with departure scheduled for 6:30am. I admit, I was nervous about what kind of crappy seat/views we would get, arriving into London at 8am.


(Editorial note: I do have to laugh at my use of the word "awesome", because it is not one I use regularly in my day to day speech. More so, in October a British B&B owner said to me, "oh, I have Americans coming? I've been told I'll hear the word awesome a lot.")

Kate and Wills wave from the balcony, as seen
on the huge screen at Trafalgar Sq.
All modes of transportation into London were surprisingly underused. We walked past Trafalgar Square towards Westminster Abbey, down Whitehall, and noticed a few legs dangling from above. A few people were sitting on wide stone windowsills, just kitty-corner from the Horse Guards Arch--through which the cars and carriages would drive to and from the Palace and the Abbey. We spotted an open windowsill about 6 ft. high, and I scrambled up. The sill was amazing: enough room for the 3 of us, with extra room for our bags and jackets. But the view: even better! The route would take a 90 degree turn essentially right in front of us, slowing down to make it through the narrow Horse Guards arch. Had we been 5 minutes later, the spot would have been snatched up. We couldn't believe our luck. Tents be damned.

At 10am, the procession started with William and Harry riding by in a car, William very visible in his red uniform. I heard someone screaming, "yeaaaaaaaah William! Whoooo-hooooo Harry!" only to realize--it was me. I honestly was not expecting that! But there was just something about the crowd's excitement, the band, the flags, the cheering--I couldn't help myself! Although as the Queen drove by, yes--it was exciting--she is the Queen--but even silly-American me knew not to yell, "yeeeeeahhh Queenie!!!" 

The crows in front of us had grown from 4 people deep when we arrived at 8am, to 11-12 people deep at 10am. Fathers were holding daughters on their shoulders for hours, boyfriends giving up years of life in their backs by supporting girlfriends on their shoulders, smart people were sitting on ladders, and the lucky people were sitting on window sills (us!). We could see over the heads of all of those sad saps, 12 people back. 

As Kate and her father drove by, the 13-year old girl in me emerged again, and I heard myself screaming, "Kaaaate! Kaaaaate! Yeaaaaaaa!" Even 50 meters away, through the blurred window of a steadily moving car, she looked radiant--but even more importantly--calm and happy. What also struck me (and this will sound a bit lame) was how real these people looked. After years of seeing pictures of William and Harry, the Queen, Charles and Camilla--here they were in front of me! Moving, waving, smiling, humans, simply excited about the day like the rest of us!

The day after, at Kensington Palace. One of
few regrets of the trip is not having brought
flowers to Kensington in honor of Diana.
I know. . . I'm a sap.
Although there were speakers lining the street, we were really only able to hear singing and organ music. Any speaking was lost. The hour passed quickly, although the cappuccino that my parents had fetched me at 8am was really beginning to take effect. . . .

Shortly after 11am, we could spot the beginning of the parade down Whitehall (was it a parade? I don't know what else to call it. . . ). Strangely enough, a rider-less horse galloped down Whitehall in front of the entire procession, took the tight 90 degree turn into the Horse Guards Arch, and disappeared into the safety of its stable. It had apparently bucked its rider quite a ways back up the road, spooked by the crowds (Youtube has a gazillion videos, if you're curious). But nearly immediately after the horse ran past us, Kate and William were approaching, and the crowds went wild. Yours truly included. Harry (looking impish even at 50m away and a few of the kids were next, Pippa and a few bridesmaids, and as the Queen rolled by, the military band next to us struck up "God Save the Queen," to which the entire crowd sang along. Yours truly included, again. (I think I learned it in 1985, when I thought it might come in handy when I married Prince Edward).

Check out the ring!
After the procession was finished, we made our way up to Trafalgar Square, not in any big hurry, found a clean, indoor bathroom, and waited for "the balcony scene," with military jet flyover, scheduled for 1pm. It was rather impressive, WW2 planes and modern jets, in two separate flyovers directly up The Mall over Buckingham Palace. After Kate and William kissed--two short, little proper British pecks--we headed out into the streets of London in search of discounted theater tickets, coffee, and an internet cafe.

I spent the next two days in London seeing the sites with my parents: a trip to Kensington Palace, Victoria and Albert museum (kind of), National Gallery, a show, Covent Garden, Camden Market, and plenty of double-decker bus riding. At 9pm on Sunday night I took the Tube to Healthrow, and spent the next 7 hours sitting in a Costa Coffee shop at the airport, waiting for Security to open (never would have guessed that it closes). By 1pm the next day, I was back in Lillehammer, to a bemused husband and daughter who was very excited to have a Union Jack flag with the faces of Will and Kate plastered on it. 

All in all: totally worth it, incredibly fun. I will sleep in a tent with Greta in 30 years when William and Kate's firstborn get married. You can count me in. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

A bit of honesty

It's not always a fun adventure to be living the ex-pat life here in Norway. Sometimes it kind of sucks, to be brutally honest. Yes, we moved here primarily for the adventure factor, saying we wanted to look back 20 years from now and say, "wow, that was crazy/fun/amazing/remember when we lived in Norway. . . ". And we knew there would be tough times, so I'm going to write honestly about those tough times.

When we moved, our American friends and family asked me, "are you going to be able to work there?" I replied, naively, "Yes! They have midwives everywhere, and everyone (i.e. non-official, lay folk) in Norway says, we need midwives!" Here are the problems I did not anticipate:
  1. Norwegian bureaucracy not immediately recognizing an American nursing and midwife education to be the equivalent of their own. 
  2. Norwegian bureaucracy taking 7+ months (and counting) to review nursing license applications.
  3. Not even considering my midwife license until after all qualifications have been met on my nursing license.
  4. Being required to take a national nursing course for foreign educated nurses that is only offered two times a year (March and November)
    1. Needing to pass a language proficiency test (Norsk prøve 3) prior to taking the nursing course, and that test only being offered three times a year (February, May, and October).
    2. The October test results arriving too late to allow you to take the November nursing course, thus delaying the nursing course until Spring of the Following Year (i.e. 2012).
  5. So. . . if I can't get a nursing license until Spring 2012. . . and they won't evaluate a midwife license until after that. . . and it took 7+ months of processing for a nursing license. How long til the midwife license is processed? Maybe Late 2012, early 2013?
Have I mentioned this was not at all what I had planned?

As I not-so-patiently wait for SAFH to declare my obviously poor American nursing education to be on-par to their vastly superior Norwegian nursing education, I study study study Norwegian. I am now faced with a language proficiency test at the end of May: a level that I (and my teacher and a not-so-supportive classmate) feel I am unlikely to pass, seeing that I have only been in language classes for 4 months. This tests consists of a reading comprehension test (which I do well on in our practice tests), a listening comprehension (which I sometimes pass and sometimes fail), a writing test (a 100 and 200 word essay on various topics, in which I struggle tremendously with prepositions), and a speaking/conversation portion (which we rarely practice in class. Go figure). So, to correct this, Erik and I are trying to speak bare norsk hjemme (only Norwegian at home) until the test on May 30. Many days I cry, frustrated with my inability to express myself or understand him. Other days I feel a bit more flink (capable). 

And so, we wait: wait til the end of May, and see how the tests goes. . . . wait until SAFH gets their act together and gives me some sort of response. . . . and we'll reevaluate this roller-coaster ex-pat adventure, make new goals, new plans. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What I do in my spare time: Alphabet Sweater

Can this be a knitting blog for a day?

Of course it can. . . it's my blog. I can do whatever I want.

Knitting a sleeve: only 8 different
strands of yarn in about 6 inches
In my spare time, I like to knit. When we moved to Norway, and I didn't have a job, I thought "I'll have so much time to do so many things I didn't have time for when I was working. . . I'll knit, I'll read books, I'll bake homemade bread, I'll learn to love to cook again, I'll ski every day, I'll paint my toenails, I'll start a blog, I'll finally finish that journal article, I'll read medical and midwifery journals to stay up to date, and oh yes, I'll take a Norwegian class on top of it all, and quickly become fluent. . . "

Didn't happen. Trying to learn a foreign language--in an attempt to actually master it and become fluent, so one can earn an income, and not simply for fun so one can chat with the shop owners--is my full time job. No homemade bread. Medical journals still wrapped in plastic. But, I have managed to knit a little.

Gazillions of loose ends woven in
I started this sweater in February 2010, making it in a 4 year size, so Greta could grow into it, as I knew it would take me quite some time to finish it. During our 6 week moving process in June-August 2010, I had finished the back and two fronts, and the two sleeves. All I had to do was knit the button placket and the collar and sew the seams. After a few weeks in Norway, I began to assemble the pieces. . . .

I was missing a sleeve.

A few norsk letters: Æ and Ø
ARGGGGGG!!!  I had knitted this sleeve in a number of different locations over the summer (the above picture is at my brother's house in Washington D.C.), but the most likely hiding spots were my parents condo in Minneapolis and my in-laws house in St. Paul. I begged the grandmothers to turn their homes upside down, which they did, but to no avail. The missing sleeve could not be found.

I put this project on the shelf for about 3 months, unable to get myself to knit a third sleeve. By January, I had the energy to start it up again, and while knitting about 3 other projects, finished in in March. Just in time for Greta's 3rd birthday in April.

She really likes the pink "G" on the front. 
For those knitters out there who might be reading this for hints, here are a few changes that I made: I didn't follow the pattern for the colors and letters. If I had, there would have been a lot of repeated letters throughout the sweater. I actually got so anal about it, that I kept track of how many letters I used, and which were underused. I even added a few Norsk letters: Å, Æ, Ø. Some letters were too difficult to fit into the square: K, Q, U, V, W, X, Y.

One clever change I did on one side seam, that I recommend simply for aesthetics: I matched letters and colors along one side seam (would have done it on both, if I had thought of it early enough). For example: on the back right side, bottom row, knit the left half of an "A". On the front right side, bottom row, knit the right half of an "A". When you sew up your side seams, you'll have a (nearly) complete "A". 

So yes, it took me 14 months to complete, but as usual I started--and finished-eight other knitting projects. It was time consuming, but worth it, because it's definitely the cutest thing I've made yet.