We Are Family – A Visiting Faculty Perspective

What is it like teaching abroad at the American College of Norway? Fall 2017 faculty member from the University of North Dakota, Ashleah Wimberly shares great insight into what it's like to be a visiting faculty member at ACN. Ashleah also opens up about her transformation not only as a teacher, but as a now global citizen in this reflective blog piece.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that students are people. They have lives, joys, struggles, hopes, and flaws – just as any instructor does. As I sit here in my now-empty office at the American College of Norway, I realize just how much I know about the students here at this institution. Songkran loves skittles. Halldis is a budding artist. Amalie and Kristine are inseparable, a truly dynamic duo. Karsten is hilarious. Vibeke is possibly the most positive person I have ever met. These students are only a small sampling of the wonderfully unique individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting while teaching abroad at ACN this semester.

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Would I have learned these little details about students in an American institution? Probably not. There is a distance between “us” and “them” and American universities do not typically encourage professors or students to bridge that gap. This allows many, including myself, to forget that students come in all shapes and personalities. They are funny, they make mistakes, and they are often confused and scared when they first come to college.

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The proximity to students may put off some instructors, I admit that I thought that it might put me off initially. However, the exact opposite ended up happening while teaching abroad at ACN. I love knowing what’s going on in their lives. As an instructor, I feel that knowing what your students are struggling with first-hand allows you to better prepare for how to help them grow as people. And isn’t that what college is for, really? Not only are we here to teach students the ins and outs of our disciplines – we are also here to help them grow as individuals. College is where we make mistakes. From those mistakes, we either grow – or we don’t. The faculty at ACN strikes the perfect balance between allowing students enough autonomy to make mistakes and having the compassion necessary to help them grow from those mistakes.

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The best way to describe ACN is a family. When you come here, you become family. The students and visiting faculty all live here, on this little street. The school is a single building and the faculty is small and closely-knit. We do our best to always eat lunch together, where we can laugh over our meals and talk about everything from current events to our latest adventures around Europe. Since coming to Norway, I have been everywhere from London to Munich. These experiences have only enhanced my appreciation for how incredibly diverse the world is, and it has reinforced how lucky and fortunate I am to have had this teaching abroad experience at the American College of Norway. 

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This has been a truly global experience for myself and for the students here. Early in the semester I even had the pleasure of traveling to Norway’s northernmost territory, Svalbard with students and another instructor in a course offered on global perspectives in the Arctic. How many people can say that they traveled to an island where the polar bears outnumber the population, or that they drank crystal clear ice water from a glacier?

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The American College of Norway allows you to experience the world while always knowing that when you come back to Norway, you will be coming back home. As I prepare to leave in the next few weeks, I know that this will be one of the hardest partings that I have ever faced. I loved every minute of my time here and the people that I spent it with. It was truly one of my greatest joys, as an instructor and an individual.

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