Student Stories: Torbjørn Røe Isaksen

Torbjørn Røe Isaksen spent a year as an exchange student in Carl Junction, Missouri, in high school. (Photo: Marte Garmann)
Torbjørn Røe Isaksen spent a year as an exchange student in Carl Junction, Missouri, in high school.

Torbjørn Røe Isaksen should be familiar to most of you, as he is the Minster of Education! Torbjørn has a cand.mag. and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Oslo. In high school, he spent a year as an exchange student in Carl Junction, Missouri.

Why did you decide to go on exchange to the United States?
I decided to do that when I was sixteen. I really wanted to experience the U.S. and was probably inspired by American TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210.

What are you best memories from your year as an exchange student?
I have many, but especially the friends I made lead to many great experiences. I also did a lot of things I’d never done before, like play in the marching band, run track and go to church every Sunday. I also went on a trip along the east coast with my class. That was an exciting trip though American history.

What were the biggest challenges?
Firstly, it was a huge culture shock. I’d dreamt of Beverly Hills and ended up in a small town with 5000 people and 60 churches. But the hardest part was actually going back home. I’d gotten an extra family, friends and a girlfriend. There were a lot of tears that week before I went home.

How would you say that year has helped you in your career, if at all?

I learned English really well, which is a major benefit. I also got to know the U.S. in a completely different way than though the media and popular culture. I was in a very conservative, Republican area, and that means I interpret U.S. politics differently than the correspondents who live in New York or Washington and get their news from the New York Times or Politico.

Minister of Education, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, talks to children at Heer Kindergarten in Drøbak. (Photo: Norwegian Ministry of Education)
Minister of Education, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, talks to children at Heer Kindergarten in Drøbak.

How did that year affect you personally?
It was a very exotic experience. It gave me both cultural understanding and a great language foundation. And, not least, it gave me a social network, and I’m still I touch with my host family and many of my friends from Carl Junction.

In the National Budget, the Government is proposing to reintroduce Lånekassen funding for the freshman year of a U.S. bachelor’s degree, so we assume you’d recommend studying in the US! Why do you think studying in the U.S. is a good investment, both for the individual and for Norwegian society?
The U.S. is the world’s most powerful country. It’s a country all Norwegians have a relationship with, but which few actually know well. English is a world language and it’s a big difference between knowing English and mastering it.

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