Student Stories: Thor Steinhovden

Thor Steinhovden, adviser at think tank Agenda. (Photo: Maria Mikkelsen)
Thor Steinhovden, adviser at think tank Agenda.

Thor Steinhovden (28) is from Florø, but lives in Oslo, where he works as an adviser at think tank Agenda. Before that, he worked in the Public Affairs Section here at the U.S. Embassy. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science and history from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He also has a Master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

“With a U.S. Bachelor’s degree, you stand a great chance of gaining strong English language skills, well-developed research and reasoning skills, as well as a work ethic that’ll give you an edge over many competitors in the labor market.”

Why did you decide to study in the United States?
I decided to study in the United States after first attending a year of high school as an exchange student in Louisville, Kentucky. I then applied to St. Olaf College, which offered the perfect mix: a highly-ranked liberal arts school where I got the “full campus experience”, and where I could pursue my degree and play sports at the same time. St. Olaf also offers financial aid specifically for Norwegian students, through grants from the Norway-America Association. This gave me the chance to attend the full four years despite not receiving funding from Lånekassen for the first year (Note:  From the 2015/16 academic year, the Government will introduce funding for all accredited U.S. colleges and universities for all four years of a Bachelor’s degree though Lånekassen.)

What are your best memories from your time at St. Olaf?
When you live on a tight-knit college campus for four years, you become part of a community. Something is always going on, and I have countless memories. These range from Halloween celebrations, homecoming football games, and “all-nighters” in the library before exams, to hosting parties at our apartment off campus and receiving my diploma along with 800 classmates. It’s hard to pick memories from four years – there are so many great ones!

Meeting with co-workers at Agenda.
Meeting with co-workers at Agenda.

What were the biggest challenges during your time there?
At St. Olaf, like at most colleges in the U.S., you have to be motivated to put in a real effort, both in the classroom and when it comes to homework. That can be tough, especially in the beginning. It definitely was for me! But once I got used to it, I appreciated the more continuous approach to academic work, where class participation and assignments throughout the year count, as opposed to just cramming for the final exam.  Although you definitely do that too! On a more personal level, it’s is not always easy to be so far away from friends and family. But in return, I got new friends for life, some of whom I consider part of my family today.

Aside from getting an education, in what way would you say that studying in the U.S. has been a benefit to you professionally?
My degree from the U.S. has directly benefited my career. My English skills improved my chances of getting into graduate school, and having studied in the U.S. played a crucial part when I got an internship with the Norwegian Consulate General in San Francisco. This position helped me get a job at the U.S. Embassy in Norway, which in turn helped me get the job I have today. This won’t be the case for everyone, but with a U.S. Bachelor’s degree, you stand a great chance of gaining strong English language skills, well-developed research and reasoning skills, as well as a work ethic that’ll give you an edge over many competitors in the labor market.

In what way did your time at St. Olaf affect you personally?
In the U.S., you’re expected to be more open and social towards other people. That pushed me to become more self-confident and extroverted. Being far away from home also made me independent and able reflect more on big life choices. I also learned a lot about American society, which is very different then what you learn though mass media and pop culture. All of this and much more are things you gain in addition to your degree.

Would you recommend other Norwegians to study in USA?
Absolutely!