Valuable weeks in Virginia: Going abroad during my PhD

This spring I had the privilege of spending four weeks at George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia, thanks to the generous funding from OpenGate. OpenGate is a collaboration between Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway and GMU in the US. As an OpenGate host, I had welcomed both GMU faculty and doctoral students to Oslo. In this way, I had made some contacts and friends. Additionally, I spent hours exploring the GMU webside to discover faculty and courses of relevance to my doctoral project.

Visiting the war memorials at The Mall in Washington DC

Even before I had recovered from the jet lag, I attended my first class: “Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition Research” with Dr Ramos. I was very impressed by her students’ ability to discuss and critique research, while considering the studies in the light of teaching practices. Besides looking for input for my own research, I had also been tasked with checking out courses of relevance to OsloMet’s student teachers, and this class was an excellent option. Many professors kindly invited me to their classes, and I attended courses at both bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level. In addition to second language acquisition, I attended classes in advanced research methods, literature and content area literacy. In this way I gained valuable insight into the GMU teacher education programme; its similarities and differences to our own programme at OsloMet.

As a teacher and teacher educator I find it very exciting to visit schools in other countries. While in Virginia, I had the pleasure of visiting three very different ones. The first one was Franconia Elementary School, where I spent two days. I was welcomed by Principal Andrew Smith, and we had a long discussion comparing and contrasting the American and the Norwegian School system. I sat in on classes from kindergarden through grade 6, and got to talk to the literacy and maths specialist, positions I’m not familiar with from the Norwegian school system. As a former secondary school teacher, I was primarily interested in the higher grades. However, the most fascinating part was seeing how the kindergarden teacher connected with her kids, involved everyone and managed the class. Everyone who’s tried to manage a group of five year-olds knows what I’m talking about. My admiration for those who manage is bottomless! The next visit was to Kent Gardens Elementary School, which has a French immersion programme. This means that all teaching takes place in French. It was a welcome opportunity to practice my French again, and discuss how language learning happens in this context. Finally, I visited the school where my hostess, Laura Spencer Conley, teaches: Oakton High. Entering Laura’s art room was an experience in itself! I would have loved to teach in a room decorated by such talented students! I sat in on a number of language arts classes, in addition to a combined history/literature class. This seemed to be a fruitful combination, allowing the students to learn history through literature.

In between classes and school visits, I attended meetings and seminars, which provided useful insight into the life of a university. I am truly grateful to the professors who volunteered their time to discuss my research, and the students who patiently listened to my presentations. A special thanks to Dr Baily who helped me and April along with our project, in addition to all the hard work she puts in for OpenGate and GMU! A million thanks to Dr Fox for discussing intercultural theory with me, and broadening my network. Dr DeMulder and Dr View: Our discussion on dialogic theory was so helpful and really advanced my writing. Finally, many thanks to Dr Ramos, who is an excellent teacher and who advanced my understanding of social-cultural, socio-historical and social-constructivist theory. They all gave me valuable input, which helped my work progress. Finally, getting away from one’s daily life is a welcome opportunity to write. There are no football matches or parents’ meetings to attend, and no one’s mess to clean up but one’s own. It’s amazing how much time this frees up, and I wrote both the draft of a text book chapter and a conference presentation.

I could not go to a new part of the US without doing a bit of sight-seeing. Washington DC was only a ride on the metro away, with its numerable museums and monuments. NY is just as exciting as everyone makes it out to be, Alexandria; just as charming. Finally, my beautiful hostess Laura brought me on an unforgettable road trip to two equally historic, but very different villages: Middleburg in Virginia and Harpers Ferry in West Virginia.

A million thanks to the future Doctors Ege and Poland and Laura for making me feel at home and showing me around, in addition to Betsy and the other lovely doctoral students and student teachers. You all contributed to an unforgettable stay

From the GMU campus – The benches are decorated by the student unions.


OpenGate is not over yet. New fellows from the US are visiting OsloMet in September, and April and I are attending the NOCIES conference in Stockholm in October! Wish us luck!

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