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ISSUE 120 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/9/2007

Ambassadors support exchange

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor

Friday, March 9, 2007

U.S. Ambassador to Norway Benson Whitney and Norwegian Ambassador to the United States Knut Vollebaek spoke with students, members of the administration and the media Wednesday afternoon as part of their joint tour to promote study abroad opportunities. Their tour included stops at the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, St. Olaf and other Midwestern colleges. This effort to connect with students comes after a sharp decline in the number of American students choosing to study abroad in Norway and Norwegian students choosing to study abroad in the United States.

“Both Knut and I are committed to international education,” Whitney said. Whitney, a Minnesota resident, has been the U.S. Ambassador to Norway since January 2006. An important issue for the ambassador is the place of international education for both countries. “It is educational exchange that will provide the heart for person to person talks,” he said. For Whitney, the general decline in foreign exchange students between the countries is a problem for future relationships between them.

Vollebaek, ambassador to the United States since March 2001, is the former Norwegian Foreign Minister. He holds an honorary degree from St. Olaf.

“Very early on, I realized the importance that North American colleges played in the relationship [between Norway and America],” Vollebaek said, mentioning colleges that retain strong ties to Norway and its heritage. “These colleges provide us with unique opportunities to connect back to Norway, and to present Norway into American academic life.”

The ambassadors gave several possible reasons for the recent decline in students who choose Norway or the United States as a final study abroad destination. Both men stressed that they were touring college campuses in United States in order to find out what students wanted in regards to opportunities to study in Norway. “How can we turn this downward trend,” Vollebaek asked. “What can we do? What are the obstacles?”

With increased travel options, students can literally go anywhere in the world to study, and the ambassadors are realizing that both countries need to take a more active role in promoting study in each country.

Vollebaek mentioned the difficulty for students in each country to find accurate, precise and relevant information about available programs. “It is difficult to find practical information,” he said, taking the opportunity to mention a new website, Whitney also mentioned the site, hoping that it makes finding information easier for students. “We need to have [all the information] in one place,” he said. “We’re going to be marketing this.”

Whitney said that the tour helped him realize that the United States does not actively recruit Norwegian students, but “takes a ‘Field of Dreams’ approach in Norway.” Whitney said that adjusting financial aid packages, increasing the amount of available information and building up additional partnerships in Norway are all necessary to help increase the number of students from each country who choose to study in the United States or Norway.

Both ambassadors saw huge benefits for students who choose to study abroad during their high school or undergraduate careers. “The skills they will develop in having an experience outside the country will help them,” Whitney said. He said that students who spend time studying in another country gain sensibility and a more flexible lifestyle. “All these things will be necessary in the 21st century,” he said.

When asked why American students should want to study in Norway, Vollebaek deferred the question to Whitney, saying that “Norwegians are not good at bragging.”

Whitney rose to the occasion, saying that the “Norway of 2007 is an extraordinary place.” He mentioned how many university-level classes are offered in English (over 700 from the University of Oslo alone) and that Norway offers research opportunities, especially in the biological sciences, that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Vollebaek spoke about the benefits of studying in the United States, calling it a “vast, academically rich country.” Norway, a relatively small country with four universities and 4.5 million people, has limited resources. “Teaming up with your people is important and it means a lot,” he said.

The two ambassadors met in an open forum with students Wednesday afternoon to hear input from Norwegian students studying at St. Olaf and from St. Olaf students who spent time studying in Norway. Students, faculty, staff and members of the media filled the Sun Ballroom for the hour-long panel, which included short talks by both ambassadors and input from students who studied abroad as well as a question and answer session.

Meredith Sorenson ‘07, a student interested in studying in Norway, attended the panel. “They seemed eager to help and promote study between the United States and Norway,” she said. Sorenson had difficulty finding information about possible study abroad programs in the past and was pleased to see that the ambassadors were taking steps to improve communication to interested students.

“It was encouraging that they wanted to hear from the students about what problems we were having finding adequate funding and information,” Sorenson said. “Studying in Norway for nine months is so expensive. People don’t realize that $3,000 scholarships aren’t going to cut it.”

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