Tuesday, November 18, 2014

School Start

My first-born, now 6-year old missing her 7th tooth, started school in Norway on August 18th.  There is no kindergarten for 5 year old in Norway, and I’ve learned at our first parent meeting that had I attended elementary school in Norway, I would not have begun school until ripe old age of 7 (as I believe is still the case in Finland)!

Starting school is a huge milestone in any child and parent’s life, although I realized that my anxiety and excitement about Greta starting school was definitely heightened due to the fact that she is taking this step in a foreign country, foreign culture, with foreign expectations. After Erik and I attended a new parent meeting at Greta’s school back in May, I was so grateful that I had four years to master the language before attending a meeting informing me of what a parent could expect with a first grader at our local school. I can’t imagine being unable to read the “Fredagsbrev” (Friday letter) that is sent home every week, or not understanding the weekly calendar.

Despite the reassurance and preparation we received from our parent meeting, I discovered on Day One of school that I had expectations that I didn’t even realize I had until those expectation weren’t met. I found myself really irritated that we hadn’t received a letter from the classroom teachers in the weeks leading up to school start explaining what school supplies a 6 year old needs. I found myself highly irritated that I could not find information anywhere—anywhere—on what the hours of school are for the 1st grade class (they differ from grade to grade, and apparently, from school to school within the same town!). Not on the school’s website (a public school), or on the class page, or on the town’s official webpage. . . nowhere! We had received this information in May at the parent’s meeting on a piece of paper, but that had long since been misplaced. I eventually emailed the school, who forwarded it on to one of the classroom teachers, who responed almost immediately—the day before school started.

These minor and major surprises will most certainly keep popping up—expectations I have about how a “normal” first grade class functions, based solely on my own dim 33 year-old memories and stories I hear from friends back in the US.

We received a letter from the school the Saturday before school started, welcoming the parents and children to an official start of school send-off, meeting outside at the flagpole, at 10am for the new first graders. With Henrik happily off at barnehage, Erik and I walked the 0.8km with our growing girl to the local public school—Søre Ål barneskole. We met a mass of parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings gathered at the flagpole.

Søre Ål skole has what they call an “open” classroom—an educational approach that has been used very successfully at this particular school for over 30 years, we are told. None of the other elementary schools in Lillehammer use this type of set-up, but we have heard that the teachers who work here are very satisfied and happy with this kind of organization. Greta’s class has 47 children in it, and three “kontakt” teachers. Each teacher has a set group of kids that they have primary responsibility for, but the children interact with each teacher as well. For math class, for example, the class is divided into three groups. For gym, they might divide into two, and alternate that activity with music, and then swap teachers.  For another lesson, an assistant might come in, and the class is divided into four.

The 47 children have two different rooms—one that has a divider down the middle, and another large open room where all 47 kids can sit in a circle on the floor. In the main classroom, the kids sit at tables of 5-6 kids (assigned, of course) and I’m told these table assignments will change over the school year. It is a system that sounds incredibly complicated and chaotic, but according to every parent that I have spoken to, it works.

So. . . 47 kids, plus their parents,  and potentially their grandparents, aunts, uncles,  and a few younger siblings are gathering at the flagpole. The rektor (principal) calls each child up individually to stand with their kontakt lære (main teacher). Some kids are nervous, and haul their parents along, too. Greta hangs back, but bravely marches forward with a gentle shove from her mamma.

I thought this was it (another expectation I didn’t realize I held). I thought we’d give her a hug and kiss goodbye , wave, and walk home for a cup of coffee before I had to turn around and pick her up in 2 hours and 45 minutes at 12:45 (more on that later).  But no. . . . now ALL the parents, grandparents and accessories go into school together, into the room designed to fit 47 kids in a circle on the floor. Now 47 kids plus 1-2 parents, some grandparents—let’s estimate 175+ people, shall we?—are trying to fit into a room where the teachers will welcome the kids and sing silly songs.

I whisper to another mother, “When do we go?” and she responded, “Oh-we stay all day!” And so it is in Norway. And so we stayed. Eventually the children separated from the parents—or most of them—and the parents hung around in the cloakroom, or outdoors on the picnic tables, drinking bad powdered coffee, occasionally peeking in on the kids, or quietly sitting on the edge of the classroom, or sometimes right next to their kids.

Which put me (Erik had since decided only one of us needed to hang out doing nothing with their day, and left for work, with a handful of other parents) in the situation that I hate most here in Norway—forced to mingle with a group of strangers, making small talk in a second language. Looking back it wasn’t nearly as bad as I perhaps thought at the moment—I now see these parents nearly every day, and will perhaps see them on a regular basis for the next upteen years, depending of course on the twists of fate.

The second day of school was how I expected the first day of school to be; I walked Greta to school, along with two other first-grade girls from our neighborhood, kissed her good-bye at the steps, and in she went. The third day of school surprised me—Greta met the two neighborhood girls, and the three of them walked to school alone.  And that has continued. For this, I feel very grateful to live in Norway and Lillehammer—that children are safe not just walking to school, but walking to school alone. Nearly all the children in the school are within walking distance to school, and certain neighborhoods organize “gågrupper” (walking groups) of children, so the sidewalks and paths are filled with children in the half hour before school starts. Older children are allowed to ride their bikes, but city/national laws (seriously—a national law) does not allow children under the 4th grade to ride a bike to school. In the winter, many children will ski or take a spark (kicksled). That will be something to write about for sure.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Coming to the news on May 5th

I don't know if this will actually get seen by anyone in Norway early enough for them to see a live feed but tomorrow, Monday May 5th, NRK will air a news report on my on-going, now 3.5 year fight for authorization as a nurse and midwife in Norway.

The case will be aired on NRK radio, there will be two print versions available on nrk.no in both English and Norwegian, and a report will be on NRK evening news--first on the local Østnytt and hopefully on the national Dagsrevyen.

I will post links as soon as they are available.

In the meantime, our fingers are crossed.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The nursing/midwife saga update

My blogging efforts of late have been pathetic. But, to cut to the chase, I feel I need to update those curious on the details of my continued quest to work in Norway as a midwife. I apologize if this seems really disjointed (and not at all funny). I have written it several times over in the last few weeks as information evolves.

In mid-February (2014), I posted on Facebook that my final appeal for a nursing license had been denied. At that time, I thought that was true, and believed it was as black and white as “go start your education over again”. The actual decision, which we learned a few days later once it finally arrived in the mail, was that I must repeat 6 months of clinical training in geriatrics, home health care and psychiatric nursing. Then I can be authorized as a nurse. Then I must work for one year as a nurse in Norway. Then I can re-apply for the fourth time as a midwife. . . wait 6 months for a decision. . . perhaps need to appeal. . . .perhaps need to re-train 6-12 months, as was once originally recommended. . . and then 2-3 years down the road I might be able to work as a midwife. But, no guarantee. ‘Cause I’m not going to get that answer for another 1.5 years.

In May 2012, the appeals board had upheld the recommendationof SAK (the Norwegian authorization board) that I begin my entire nursing education from the beginning. They suggested I contact a nursing school and that perhaps I could get credit for a few of my American nursing courses.

That’s what we did. And what we found when contacting Norwegian nursing schools and nursing educators is that they were overwhelmingly supportive of my education and, after doing thorough reviews of my coursework and job experience, maintained that I did not need to repeat any nursing education. 

By September of 2013, with the help of an attorney, we finally managed to send in the following information to the appeals board, demanding that they do what is essentially an appeal of the original appeal (an omgjøringsbejæring), something that we didn’t know was an option until we actually spoke with an attorney.
*A four-page letter from a former dean of a local nursing program that explains how the number of credit hours I have earned as a nursing student in the United States actually exceeds the Norwegian hours. She points out that although I have fewer clinical hours than Norwegian, my 12 years of work experience can compensate for this.
*A letter from the fiery PhD-educated Norwegian nurse educator, stating the above as well.
*A letter from a third nursing college educator, stating that he agreed with the other two evaluations, and recommends that I become authorized as a nurse.
*A letter from a midwife who started the first and only master’s degree program for midwives in Norway, (of note: I have my master’s degree, nearly all midwifery programs in the US are master’s programs, and many are becoming doctoral programs), stating that my midwifery education and work experience is equal to a Norwegian, and she believes I should be authorized as a nurse and midwife.
*A letter from the regional office of the Norsk Sykepleierforbund (the Norwegian nurses union/professional organization) stating that they support my authorization as a nurse and midwife.
*A letter from the Norsk jordmorforbund (Norwegian midwife organization/union) supporting my authorization as a nurse and midwife.
*A letter from the Norsk jordmorforening (a second Norwegian midwife organization/union) supporting my authorization as a nurse and midwife.

In November, we heard that the appeals board would review my case in December, but they were first sending my paperwork to two new nurse educator/experts to review my application. They were not given any of the three letters from their fellow nurse educators to review, contradict, argue against, or agree with. We felt this was not a fair or complete evaluation, but there was nothing we could do, even with an attorney helping us out.

A day after the deadline for the new nurse experts to turn in their evaluations to the appeals board, one of them asked to see the “reading list” (essentially the syllabi) from my nursing classes at St. Olaf. This is despite the fact that she had detailed descriptions of every prerequisite class and every nursing class I took at St. Olaf. Needless to say, getting ahold of syllabi from 1995-97 was nearly impossible. The nursing department at St. Olaf bent over backwards trying to locate these, but were only able to find one

In mid-January we finally received the two reviews from appeals board’s experts. The first was completely in agreement with our four—that while Norwegian and American nursing education programs are different in their approach, if one looks at the entire content and the final result, combined with a decade of work experience—I should be granted authorization. The second evaluation—from the nurse educator who wanted the syllabi—focused on the number of hours that differed in our clinical training, and felt that if I did 24 weeks of supervised clinical training in geriatrics, home-health care and psychiatric nursing I could be authorized as a nurse.

The appeals board said they could not give any weight to the four evaluations that we had submitted, as they were “privately engaged” (even though they were supported by one of their own independent evaluations). And so they focused entirely on the evaluation that recommended I repeat 24 weeks of clinical training, and additionally took phrases out of context from the more favorable evaluation and used them to support the less favorable evaluation.  

The TV journalist who originally reported on my case back in November 2012 has been hot on this case. The nurses who wrote the independent positive evaluation have been interviewed, the midwives in charge of the midwife organizations and midwife education programs have been interviewed, as well as some of the members of the appeals board. Our house was full of four journalists a few days ago—TV journalist, print journalist for the online version, and two camera people—still and film, interviewing Erik and me, and capturing the darling American children speaking English and Norwegian. But I digress. . . The questions are, how can an appeals board of lawyers and judges, not one with an educational background, an only one nurse, feel that they are more qualified to evaluate a foreign nursing education than 6-10 nursing professionals? And how can they give so much weight to the most negative evaluation over the other 4-5 that are in agreement with one another?  

Erik and I don't know exactly where this is going. The report will likely air within the next few weeks, and it appears that it will be going national (writing that makes me sick to my stomach). Officially, we don't have any recourse in regards to the appeal aside from a lawsuit, which would cost us somewhere around $18,000 and another 9 months of waiting. That is not going to happen. But, there are enough very angry and powerful nursing professionals out there that, well, who knows what will happen. I am not alone in this fight--these nursing professionals are not fighting for my case alone--there have been dozens of other American-educated nurses turned away because of SAK's inability and unwillingness to recognize and understand the American credit system and acknowledge that there are other countries in the world that can adequately educated a nurse. What this case means for me, and for my fellow RNs. . . .? Only time will tell. 

And hopefully not too much time. To say that I am sick of waiting is the understatement of the century. I need a paycheck, like, yesterday. Those lawyer bills aren't going to pay themselves. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

An American's guide to napping your baby outdoors in the winter in Norway*

*Alternate title (according to my sister-in-law): "How to Raise a Viking"

Step 1
 Locate a pile of wool and fleece. 

Step Two
Locate a sleepy baby. 
Make sure he is dressed in a wool onesie (aka "body") and wool tights. 
Yes, even if baby is a boy baby, dress baby in tights. 
According to Norwegian folklore, it is of utmost importance that wool be the closest layer to the skin.
Fleece elf booties complete the look.

 Step Three
Dress the sleepy baby in a wool sweater and fleece overalls.

 Step Four
Dress baby in a wool hat that ties under his chin and 
a painstakingly knit over-sized wool bunting that is too cute for words.
Binky is optional.

Step Five
Wrap baby in a wool blanket. 
You now have a burrito baby.

Step Six
Place the burrito baby in a baby-sized sleeping baby.
Most Norwegian mothers will insist on a down bag.
Our baby has survived with fleece and polyfil. 

Step Seven
Baby is sleepy and ready for a nap!
(Trust me).

Step Eight
Place baby into the dark and cozy confines of his stroller.
Baby should lie on a stroller liner made of. . . 
you guessed it! Fleece and wool. 
Cover the baby burrito/sleeping unit with a windproof-fleece-lined cover.


Step Nine
If is is snowing/raining/sleeting, you may opt to cover your stroller with a rain cover. 
Ours has the zippers open for good air circulation. 
Take note of the baby monitor located in the basket under the stroller.
This ensures that the baby's happy gurgles of delight are heard once he awakens in several hours.

It seems that the general consensus is that babies not sleep outdoors in temperatures that are below -10C/10F.