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Stories from School

At OIS, the 17th of May celebration is anything but ordinary...

At Oslo International School, a third of the students are Norwegian. Finn, in the middle, is originally from Ireland. He celebrated his first 17th of May this year. From left, Elicka Sohrabi, Finn Ruane and Hugo Wemmestad Haaland.

More than 50 nationalities gathered to celebrate a slightly different Constitution Day in Bekkestua.

A children's parade, ice cream, bands and games. All are things we are well used to seeing on 17th of May. But here in Bekkestua, things are a little different.

Firstly, Constitution Day is celebrated on the 16th of May. Secondly, the bunads are mixed with local folk costumes from all over the world, from Indian saris to Japanese kimonos.

Finn Ruane, who is in the sixth grade, celebrates his first 17th of May this year.

"I've heard that there are long parades, and many national costumes. I don't know much about the 17th of May, but my teacher said it's children's day and you eat lots of ice cream and sausages. And I like sausages."

The colorful parade filled the school's neighbouring park.

One Third of the students are Norwegian

Oslo International School lies in Bekkestua. The school hosts a large variety of nationalities  – with more than 50 different nationalities represented at a school consisting of around 600 students. Just over a third of them are Norwegian.

They also represent many zip codes – both in Oslo, Asker, Bærum – and further out in the Eastern region of Norway. This is why the 17th of May is celebrated on the 16th. This way, the students can join their local celebrations on the 17th.

Elicka, Hugo and Finn at the local celebration of the national day. Finn has put on his green Irish hoodie with the Irish shamrock symbol.

Elicka, Hugo and Finn are Year 6 students at OIS and celebrate their  classmates’ local traditions, as well as their own.

“We don’t talk so much about there being different nationalities here. But we celebrate Diwali, Eid and other special days. It’s cool that you get to see the other national costumes. Some are like suits but very decorated. And some wear shirts that are relevant or significant to them,” the students explain.

Learning from Each Other

Hugo and Elicka are Norwegian and eagerly share some of the main traditions that characterise the Constitution Day in Norway with their international classmates . "We have told them that we eat a lot of ice cream, collect ‘russekort’ and walk in a parade. We have also explained that this is the day when we became independent."

OIS caretaker, Ken Gowie, dressed in a kilt (his national costume), raising the Norwegian flag with with help of a few students.

From Lunar New Year to Carnival

Lena Hammerø is the leader for the pre-school students. She explains that they celebrate all the students’ local traditions – ranging from Eid, Diwali, the Sami national day, Lunar New Year, Jewish holidays and Brazilian Carnival – to name a few.  

"Yet, more than a third of the students here have a Norwegian background. Therefore, Norwegian traditions are an important part of the history we teach. That's why we make a little extra out of the 17th of May,” Lena explains.

Lena thinks it's particularly important  to celebrate the national day in a diverse manner in a year of global unrest.

Preschool leader, Lena Hammer√ł.

"The students here are children – not nations. And children are fantastic in that way. Here, Russian and Ukrainian students are best friends. We hope that children who grow up in such an international environment will prevent us from ending up in the same geopolitical situations again," Lena says.

A Judgement Free Zone

On the 16th of May, the school playground was crowded with students and parents. One of the parents who came to watch the parade was Henrik Bjørnstad.

What inspired him to enroll his children in Oslo International School, was the judgement free environment the school offers.

“From day one at the school, my children became accustomed to mixing with a diverse group of people. That makes diversity the norm, rather than them thinking that something is different when they meet someone from another culture,” Henrik explains.

All of Henrik's three children attend Oslo International School.

When looking back at his own school years, he remembers less room for individual expression. “Everyone was expected to do a certain sport or wear certain clothes. The variety and diversity here prevent that; there isn't just one 'cool' norm. This allows for more individuality,” he says.

His three children are now in Year 1, Year 4 and Year 6. The oldest, Alexia, has been at Oslo International School for five years.

“All my children are eager to learn. I don't know if it's because of the school, but I've noticed that they have a very positive experience of learning. This encouraging environment was a major factor in my decision to enroll them here.”

Rounding up 13 years of School

One thing that certainly makes the 17th of May celebrations at Oslo International School a bit different, is the ‘russ’. Or more specifically: the lack of them.

At Oslo International School, there is no norm to become ‘russ’. Some go all in, others decide not to join, and some only partly participate in the ‘russetid’. Another difference is that most of students have final exams that run throughout May.

“There is no pressure to become ‘russ’ and join the ‘russetid. You are free to do what you want,” says Mahsa and Zara, two final year students. “We made a fun concept and joined, but we didn’t go all out. I guess more people who have a Norwegian background chose to be ‘russ’. But we have some friends who have only been here for a few years who joined too,” they explain.

Mahsa Khajavi and Zara Sturrock are among the few who finished their exams ahead of the 17th of May. They are ready for university in, respectively, the US and the UK.

Zara moved to Norway from South Africa four years ago and has been at the school for the last four years. She plans to study Renewable Energies at Exeter University in the UK.

“I knew about ‘russ’ when I came here since my mum is Norwegian. We always celebrated the 17th of May when I lived in South Africa. On a smaller scale obviously, but I was familiar with it,” Zara remembers. “Here, it is really big”.

Mahsa and Zara are done with their exams. They are now getting ready for studies.

Mahsa has been at Oslo International School since first grade. Now, she is ready for Engineering studies at Columbia University in the US.

“I was given the opportunity to go to OIS, and I believe that has taken me in the right direction. I chose the classes that would help me pursue what I wanted,” she explains.  “I was delighted when I got into the university of my dreams. There is some luck to it, a lot of hard work, and great support from teachers and staff”.