Greetings to the 72nd International Summer School

Excellences, partners and friends of ISS, faculty members, and – most importantly – students of the International Summer School.

Welcome to Norway!

It is impressive that the ISS is bringing together 550 students from 90 countries. It is practically a mini-United Nations coming together at the Blindern campus. I’m also happy to see that international students are finding their way to Oslo – and that you will get to experience Norway first hand.

So what is the real Norwegian experience?

Norway is known for its beautiful nature, with cool fjords, deep forests and high mountains. If you look at the beautiful Munch paintings in this room, you might well think that Norwegians love nature so much that we walk around naked in the woods and on the beaches. Norwegians are also known for being keen skiers – born with skis on our feet. Of course, that is a fact. But I beg you to look beyond the stereotype. Norway is so much more than its nature.

We are a country of musical superstars, from Kygo’s tropical house music to Sigrid’s mellow melodies.

We are a country of Nobel prize winners. For example, May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the prize for medicine in 2014.

We are a country of high-tech  entrepreneurs. Kahoot, the app you may have used in your classes or to create fun quizzes at preparties, was created in Norway.

We are a country of skilled salespersons. We export seafood for 10 billion USD annually. Salmon sushi did not really exist until we talked Japanese chefs into using more salmon.

We are a country of electric vehicle owners. Now, more than half of the cars sold here are electric, hybrid or hydrogen vehicles.

And most importantly - Norway is an open country which has benefited greatly from contact with the outside world.

We are a coastal nation, looking outwards. And our long maritime traditions have put us in contact with other people, cultures and nations ever since the beginning of our history. Our very high standard of living would be unimaginable without close connections with the rest of the world.

I believe deeply in the importance of cross-border cooperation. Historically, academia has been one of the most globalised sectors of our society. Students and professors have always travelled, visiting other universities. They have understood the inherent value of meeting new people, having their views challenged, engaging in open discussion and, perhaps after extensive discussion, agreeing to disagree.

Agreeing to disagree. That is a wonderful phrase. Sadly, in our world today we see signs of the opposite. We sense increased polarisation. Our international system of multilateral cooperation is being challenged. The risk of a trade war is evident. The world can seem less open.

We do not need to go far back in time to be reminded of what is at stake.

Today, we are all sitting in a magnificent room, the Aula, with paintings by Edvard Munch on the walls. You are all eager to start summer school. However, 75 years ago, in 1943, the University Aula was the scene of something very different.

In 1940, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany. During the first years of occupation, classes were still taught at the University of Oslo.

Students were, then as now, seen as the nation’s future. And the German military government was worried that students were not showing enough loyalty to the occupying regime.

One winter morning in 1943, as the students were getting ready for lectures, the building was quickly surrounded by German troops. All the students were arrested and taken away.

My grandfather was among them. He had left his student house in the morning to go to a lecture and in the afternoon, he was on his way to a German prison camp. After two years in various camps, he returned to the university after the war and finished his law degree.

Sitting in the Aula today, I think this is a great moment to remember that we cannot take academic freedom for granted. And we should celebrate the fact that today we have gathered people from 90 different countries in this hall.

There are numerous studies and individual testimonies that demonstrate the value of an international education. The Erasmus Impact Study from 2014 describes how international student exchanges lead to the development of ‘transversal skills: increased tolerance, confidence-building and problem-solving abilities, curiosity and decisiveness.

Those skills sound like the right recipe for securing a more open, prosperous and better world. And for defending the great gains that globalisation has brought to mankind.

ISS has been important for Norway’s international engagement since the Second World War.

The courses taught at ISS reflect our wish to address contemporary challenges and find solutions through higher education.

Through the years, many hundred locally employed staff at Norwegian missions abroad have attended the ISS courses to gain a better understanding of Norway.

Oslo is a diverse city. I encourage you to explore its many different neighbourhoods, see the sights, talk to the people (who may seem distant, but really are friendly). It has much to offer for enthusiastic students, from nightlife to hiking.

I hope that all of you ISS students will enjoy Norway. That you will create memories together, establish new friendships and forge lasting bonds. I wish you all the best for the coming six, intensive weeks at the International Summer School.

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