When we decided we were going to live abroad for our sabbatical, one of the hardest decisions we faced was where to send our children to school. Should we send Maddie and Ada to traditional Norwegian schools? The Norwegian education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, schooling is free and it would just be fun to say I’m dropping my 3-year-old off at “barnhagen.” At the same time, even though it’s “easy” for kids to pick up a foreign language, it still takes time, and the thought of our introverted 7-year-old trying to get by in a Norwegian classroom gave us some pause. Then when were having dinner with our friends, Terence and Hilary, who faced a similar decision on their sabbatical in Israel, Hilary sang the praises of international schools—how well they handle traditions, and how much finding the right school put all the pieces of their sabbatical into place. This turned out to be the best piece of advice we’ve received in thinking about living abroad for a year. We enrolled our girls in the Oslo International School, found an apartment within easy walking distance of the school, and so far, everything has worked out pretty amazingly.
Today was the real payoff—the first day of school. Last week, we met with the heads of the elementary and preschool, and I was impressed by how they had carefully read Maddie’s file, and already knew her well. They also did a great job of talking to Maddie, not us, about what her new school would be like. Her principal talked to her about how she would likely have some classmates that didn’t speak English at all, and how that wouldn’t be a problem, because they’d learn it at school, and from playing with her on the playground. This gave me a moment of appreciation for what it means to run an international school. Sure, I teach at a school where 20% of our students are international, but I’ve never for a moment had to think about what I would to teach a student who didn’t speak English, since all of the students who attend my school are fluent English speakers.
My brief experience with international schools tells me that they need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected at every moment. When we spoke to the director of the preschool last week, she told us how Ada’s class would likely be quite small, since they have have lower than expected enrollment this year, but when we showed up today, Ada’s class was filled to capacity at 18, just like the classroom next door—it seems a bunch of last minute enrollments have come on board in the last week.
We’ve now gone through all the preparations for Norwegian school—we managed to find used versions of the special rain suits that consist of a jacket and rain pants with suspenders that look like they could stand up to a cruise under a waterfall. We’ve got indoor shoes that will stay at school, and we’ve been working with Ada on putting all of this stuff on and taking it off.
I’ve also tried my hand at packing Norwegian lunch. Last year, most of the lunches I would pack for Maddie would go uneaten, and it was the source of constant frustration and back and forth conversation, often starting with her asking for a Lunchable (you can imagine how that request was received at our house).
This year, with an individual apple going for nearly $1, I was keen to work with Maddie to find a solution to the great lunch impasse. I never would have guessed the magic bullet would be Leverposti. Here’s a photo of it:
It comes in a can similar to a can of tuna, and here are the ingredients.
I don’t need Google translate to figure out svinlever; this is liver pate, a bright pink paste that Norwegian kids (hence the kid on the can) spread over bread and crackers and find delicious. Amazingly, Maddie does too, and so we now have a solid foundation for lunch. Ada has become a big fan of brown cheese, or brunost, which could be a subject of another post.
Ok, enough babbling. I know what everyone really wants are all those cute first day photos. So here’s what I’ve got.
When we get to school, we wait in the outdoor playground (just as the girls will in the winter, unless it is below -10°C), and look for a sign listing all of the kids in Maddie’s class. It’s quite a scene, and the teacher is making her way around to meet all of the students, and there is nervousness all around. Pretty quickly, 9 am rolls around and Ms. Willums brought the class in, showed them their cubbies, and invited the parents to join us for the first few minutes. I was deeply impressed by her ability to get the kids started on making a drawing of themselves, and pretty quickly, it was clear we weren’t needed, and so we made our way to Ada’s first day.
The first day of preschool was more of a parent information session where we learned more about the wonders of fleece onesies and the right type of snowsuit to buy, and Ada explored the classroom and playground in back.
She was deeply disappointed that after about 90 minutes, she had to come back home while Maddie got to stay and work. Over the course of this week, the preschool will work the kids up to full days.
We went home, gave Ada what is likely to be her last afternoon nap in a long time, and pretty soon it was time to pick Maddie up.
Here was the moment of truth—how would she respond? Would she like her new school, or hate it? If she hated it, it would be all my fault for taking her away from the school she loved back in Delaware. Luckily, she loved it. Since I’m “Dad”, sometimes known as “go away Dad” it’s hard to get a full report, but here are a few of the things I overheard her saying to Diana and Ada.
- She got her iPad—hooray! She has to carry it to school fully charged each day in a bright blue bag
- She made TWO new friends during recess.
- Her teacher is very nice—she like beekeeping (very eco-kiddy) and books.
- Lunch was good. Leverposti is a hit.
Walking home, I snapped this photo of her telling Ada all about her day, and how she doesn’t get an iPad since she’s only in preschool, but maybe she should put one on her wishlist.
It was a good day.