Friday, June 8, 2012

Retreating Forward

It is a beautiful Friday afternoon in June.  What have I been up to?  Most people (many of whom don't work at a university) assume that I have the summer off.  Nope, that is the time when other pieces essential to my job get done.

This year I joined five of my tenure-track colleagues and a writing scholar/ mentor for a faculty writing retreat.  It was a week of discussing the scholarship of writing, getting to know colleagues from other departments, but most importantly writing!  It was purposely planned at the beginning of June to jump start our summer scholarly writing projects. 

I have always been what Paul Silvia, in his book How to Write A Lot, refers to as a "binge" writer.  I find that my schedule affords so little time during the school year to anything other than teaching, service and administrative duties, that I write a lot for a few weeks and then nothing at all for months.

I didn't know exactly what I would get out of the writing retreat, but I had heard from veterans that they very much enjoyed it.  And, when lunch is included for something I'm already required to do, why not sign up?

I've realized that I am glad I put down my dissertation and didn't work on re-writing a piece of my data into an article right away.  The topic consumed my life for some time and I needed to work on other projects so that I could be excited about it again.  Being able to put all other work aside for an entire week-- not answering emails or dealing with other administrative tasks, not doing anything helpful at home either, helps me focus.  This focus nurtures my ability to analyze at my data with a critical eye.

My goal for the week was to get a good start on an article entitled "Virtual Collaboration" and to finish two short translations.  And I'm shocked to report that I have finished the article, put the final touches the blog post about the royal visit, am almost done with this post, made significant progress on the translations and I have an hour left of the retreat to now think critically about my specific goals for the rest of the summer and next spring when I have a semester completely devoted to my research.

So, what do I take away from this experience?  Sometimes you need to retreat to move forward.

Royal Reflections

Looking back to my early years, some of the most vivid memories I have are the ones when I was doing something with my Norwegian roots.  I remember learning how to move my mouth in weird ways in Mindekirken's busserull choir, I remember being on stage with Lillebjørn Nilsen and Steinar Oftsdal and swaying back and forth to the beat, I remember enjoying every moment  at Skogfjorden, Norwegian Camp.  One of the highlights of my involvement in the Norwegian community was when our choir sang for then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja of Norway. 
A picture from after the concert, I'm the one in front of Sonja
Eventually this involvement in the Norwegian-American community became my vocation as a Norwegian professor at St. Olaf College.  As a professor of a heritage language, many assume that I acquired Norwegian at home as a native language.  Nope.  My parents are second generation English-only speakers, but both have always been very interested in their heritage, encouraging us to be involved in heritage communities and organizations.  So, I twirled around in a Danish dance group, attempted Deutsch in college, attended Slovak camp and dinners for many years.

Anyway, after many years I became a professor of Norwegian at St. Olaf College, a college that prides itself on being founded by Norwegian immigrants.  And sometime in late spring 2011, I was told that I would not only be meeting the King and Queen for the second time, they would be visiting my Norwegian class.  I immediately called my mom with tears of joy and excitement.  And then the planning began...

As the event neared, I received more updates and worked on my lesson plan some more.  I couldn't quite decide how my students were feeling until the first visit with a very large camera in class about a week before the event.  My poor students were freaking out nervous.  My nervousness only intensified every time someone asked how nervous we were and if I had everything planned.  I knew that there would be lots of media at the event itself, but I totally underestimated how much pre-event interest and coverage there would be.  Totally overwhelming but enjoyable in way, too.  Here are articles from the Star Tribune, The New York Times, and a video clip from KSTP news.

And then after much anticipation, Friday, October 14, 2012 finally arrived.  And I thought the pre-event coverage was overwhelming... from the moment the royal couple set foot on campus they were greeted with huge Norwegian-American smiles and sweaters. Hundreds of Norwegian flags waved in excitement.

On the way to my classroom, c Stephanie Fay
I asked my students to arrive very early that day and shortly after we got the room in order, a few more press people arrived to film our preparations.  There were a few last minute changes to the room and protocol from the palace was reviewed and our plans were changed.  About 5 minutes before the royal couple arrived, I walked outside my classroom to see hundreds of people gathered from every floor of Tomson Hall; I was overwhelmed by the number of colleagues and students who had come catch a glimpse of the King and Queen.  They were calling my name waving their flags to wish me and my students well.  This is a moment i will never forget, I felt so honored to represent St. Olaf and Norwegian-America.  And it was also this moment I realized a bubble bath and a drink would be needed later that evening.

I had a minute to catch my breath before the press literally stormed in the room. The only sound I remember from the first two minutes of the visit was the click of the camera button, of which there were hundreds.  There were more press than students, also in attendance was Ambassador Strommen (Norwegian Ambassador to the US), St. Olaf's President Anderson, secret service and a few other assistants.

The King and Queen each greeted me, took their seats and the visit began.

Me greeting the King with the Secret Service behind us.  
c Flight Creative Media.

Me greeting the Queen.  
c Flight Creative Media.

The press was only allowed to be in the room for a few minutes of the visit.  Can I tell you how much more enjoyable it is to hang out with their majesties without the press?  It was just so overwhelming to have so many bodies in the classroom and so many flashes in your face.  Here is an example of what I mean.

The press.  
c Flight Creative Media.

While the press was there, there was a few key pictures taken, this one being my favorite.  What a great photo which truly captures the fun we had.
C St. Olaf College

When the press left, I gave an introduction to Norwegian at St. Olaf, telling their majesties a bit about the St. Olaf Norwegian Studies program and the number of students in each level, etc.  Then, each of the students went around and introduced themselves på norsk.  Here I should interject that each of these students are beginners and they had only had 14 hours (total) of instruction.  And they rocked!  At that point, we just finished learning the key phrases for why they are studying Norwegian, so the timing of the royal visit couldn't have been better.  After that, we talked in English for awhile about the introductions.  They seemed so genuinely interested in the students and so thankful for their interest in Norway.  It was very touching.  And talking about touching, quite possibly my favorite moment in the class was when the student sitting next to the queen said he was a wrestler, she felt his arm and gave him an approving grin after feeling his muscles.  Too funny!  Things like this made the class realize that their majesties are real people, with a good sense of humor and genuine smiles.

After their visit to my classroom, I rushed off for a reception with about 40 others.  Here again I got to talk with the King and Queen. And yet again everyone was full of smiles, happy to a part of this event.  Later that day there was a short service in the chapel called a sammenkomst. It was a hot ticket item and I was thankfully able to get a ticket with my mom so she could be a part of the big day as she fostered much of my involvement in my heritage.  Here the choir and band performed, the King and two students spoke about the ties between St. Olaf College and Norway.  It was a very memorable event!

The King's Speech, c Flight Creative Media
Written documentation of the event includes stories from the Post-Bulletin, Patch, and the Northfield News.  Video news stories included NBC affiliate KARE 11, ABC affiliate KSTP 5, and FOX 9.  We were also featured in Norwegian press: NRK (my personal favorite because they show Sett i gang, the text I co-authored), TV2 (here the royal couple is asked how they liked the classroom visit and the queen responds that she would have liked to stay longer!), ABC Nyheter (including this classroom visit video), Klikk, and VG Nett

And if you thought the excitement was over after all this, you thought wrong.  Just as I finished up the events at St. Olaf, I rushed up to the Minneapolis to attend Norway Seminar.  This is a seminar is where everyone who teaches Norwegian at the University level gathers to further our knowledge of Norwegian and Norway.  And it is where I would be greeted by many familiar faces who could truly appreciate today's events.  Although it was lovely to be surrounded by and catch up with everyone, I was too exhausted to concentrate and fully enjoy it.  I skipped one of the receptions so I could instead have some downtime with my Ben, a beer and a bubble bath.

Eventually Sunday evening rolled around and the last of the royal events was to dine with their majesties at the Hilton downtown... and 1,063 of their other bffs were there too.  The King gave a good speech reflecting on his time in the Midwest and the ties between Norway and Norwegian-America, we ate an excellent dinner, and we conversed about the one thing that bound our table together- our Norwegian heritage.  

One of the many tables. 
c Nancy Aarsvold
Yes, it's pretty cool when you get all dolled up to have dinner with the King and Queen of Norway.  Being able to enjoy it with your favorite person is just icing on the kransekake. 

Me and Ben.
It was a week to remember. 

Og snipp, snapp, snute, her er eventyret ute! 
[Snip, snap, snout, this tale's told out!]