Friday, January 21, 2005

Middle of everywhere

(Rambling post about the UWC experience)

If I had to sum up the experience of being at Red Cross Nordic United World College, it is with the following image: hearing a young girl from Sierra Leone discussing a Norwegian novel with its author, speaking in standardized New Norwegian with a hint of Sognefjord dialect, standing in front of a window opening up into a ridiculously beautiful snowy landscape that reveals only scattered signs of life: a road here, some streetlights, a cluster of houses in the distance); with the background noise being made up of equal parts conversation in Spanish, English and Norwegian, and Bjørn Eidsvåg.

I love meeting places. I feel that they are one of the most positive expressions of life in modernity. The internet is one of those places, the world is increasingly becoming such a place. I believe that United World College is one of those places as well.

I am not without reservations and apprehensions about the project, or its manifestations, but the idea of having 200 people from all over the world, and more or less all layers of society, living together in the middle of nowhere for two years, interacting, becoming friends, learning, is a very, very good idea. It does not work entirely as it should, but it works somewhat like it should, and that, since the idea is such a spectacularly good one, is enough of a justification for its existence.

My impression was that of an open, inclusive community. Bright, interested, conscious kids (my god - I'm calling them kids now, how long ago was this, anyway?*), asking good questions.

Weirdest part of the trip:

(Pre-emptive reservation: I think teaching is a very strong word, which should be reserved for teachers, but I did in some sense take part of the lesson on the side of the teachers desk I wasn't used to being at. But when I in the following use the word "teaching, I mean that in the loosest sense of the word. It was more like participating in a discussion with a slightly more authoritative voice than normal).

At some point, Norsklærer Arne suggested that I join him and R in his TOK (it's an IB subject. Stands for Theory Of Knowledge. Sort of like ex.phil) class.

So... um... I. Uh. Taught. Um. TOK. Heh. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

It was not unlike my old TOK classes. I found myself saying things like: "but if the bookshelf is being used as a coffee table, is it still a bookshelf?" Or: "But if you're sitting on the table, does it become a chair?" Thank God I didn't get into the whole do-vending-machines-have-language issue.

Later on, I participated in a Norwegian class, we discussed fact vs. fiction. Discussing Olaug Nilssen as related to Bertold Brecht's strategies for breaking suspension of disbelief, the factitiousness **/fictitiousness of "The Bookseller of Kabul," narrative desire vs. narrative resistance, etc. etc.

The students were, in both cases, smart, opinionated and well-argued. It must be a great job to teach them.

I was also glad to see that me and Ragnfrid are a good team when it comes to teaching/discussing. We know each other so well, that we know when to interrupt each other, and when to make comments. When to agree and when to shut up. (Well, she knows when to shut up, anyway).

It was a tremendous amount of fun, and I'm grateful I got to go on the trip. I even managed to get some work done, and to sleep in Queen Sonjas bed.

* When I think about it, it was one quarter of my life ago.

(Which is a very scary thought, indeed.)

(And a very comforting one, as well.)

** Factitiousness. Mmm. Good word. Does it actually exist?