Kennedy Secondary School (KSS) has been hosting exchange students of a different kind this past month: exchange student teachers. Ruth Anna Rusnes and Pernille Flatner Ask are students at the University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway studying to become English teachers and have spent three weeks in Fergus Falls observing classes and occasionally teaching alongside language arts teachers Jen Thielke and Jessica Anderson at KSS.
The exchange is the result of a grant that Minnesota State University Moorhead history professor Sean Taylor and a professor from the University of Agder won in Norway. Taylor, who has lived in Norway a few different times, made connections at the university during his time there. “One of his best friends is also a professor at this university, so they started talking about the value of sending people back and forth, hopefully both ways at some point, and so then they applied for a grant in Norway to help pay for some of these experiences and they won the grant,” said KSS Principal Dean Monke. “We’ve also had numerous professors from this university in Norway come to Moorhead State as well, for all kinds of varying reasons.”
Rusnes and Ask are the second set of exchange student teachers at Kennedy and Monke hopes to make it a regular annual exchange. “We’ve been working through some friends and professors that have been over there to try and get an exchange started where students, especially students interested in teaching English as a second language, would be able to come over here for either four weeks, six weeks or longer, whatever works, and get some immersion experience in relationship to their teaching of English,” he says. “And it’s a great exposure, then, for our students and staff to meet people from another country as well.”
The two students are both studying English, but Rusnes is also studying to teach physical education and Spanish while Ask is studying to teach sciences. As a result, while both are primarily working with the language arts and English language learning classes at KSS, they also have the opportunity to observe classes they have other disciplines in, like physical education, science and Spanish. “We’ve been observing a lot of different classes so that’s pretty cool,” says Ask.
The pair have about a week left in Fergus Falls and they’ve enjoyed their time here. In addition to learning a lot at the school, not just about teaching skills but also how the education system is different in America, and seeing a lot of Norwegian last names among their students, they’ve also gone out into Fergus Falls and tried the food here and met new people. “Everyone’s so kind to us and Dean and his wife and the Taylors, they’ve been so welcoming. I really felt like I was at home actually,” says Ask. Both women have been in the U.S. before, though they had the pleasure this time around to try brisket at a barbeque Monke’s family hosted, something they hadn’t eaten before.
When they return to Norway they’ll have to write a paper about their experiences here and have about a month and a half to prepare for their exams. It’s a lot of work, but they love traveling and are passionate about teaching. Ask spent four months in Asia last year and Rusness will be going to Chile next semester. Next fall, they’ll have another opportunity to spend time abroad and Ask will be going to England. “It’s really typical in Norway, I think everyone wants to take an exchange year and many students take a year in the U.S. or England the second year of upper secondary school.”
After graduation, Ask hopes to work with both children and adults. She’s also looking to add Norwegian to one of her disciplines so she can teach Norwegian as a second language to immigrants in Norway. Rusnes hopes to work with students in eighth through 10th grade, and is also thinking about adding Norwegian as a discipline.