Stefana is studying Norwegian literature in Romania

Diku manages multiple schemes and programmes that allow for educational cooperation across national borders. We have talked to Stefana from Romania who got the opportunity to study Norwegian both in Romania and in Norway. In addition, her home university is covered by the Foreign Lecture Scheme and has a Norwegian lecturer who teaches Norwegian language and literature.

Stefana Popa (27) is currently at the University of Bergen on an EEA-grant, where she is putting the finishing touches on her doctoral thesis on Karl Ove Knausgård and his authorship. Stefana has studied Norwegian language and literature at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, under guidance of the well-known professor Sanda Tomescu Baciu. We meet Stefana on a sunny spring day at the coffee shop in the humanities library.

First encounter with Norway

How did you end up in Bergen?

Stefana ponders the question for a while. In fluent Norwegian she talks about growing up in a typical middle-class family, with a mother, father and sister, in a small Romanian town an hour’s drive outside of Cluj. She always did well at school, especially in math and other sciences. She was keen to get good grades in order to study at university. When a female friend told her that one could study Norwegian at the university, life took a new turn.

“This was the first time I heard that one could study Norwegian, and it sounded exciting. I knew very little about Norway, only a little about vikings and that Norwegian women played soccer on a high level.”

Stefana followed her gut feeling and started studying Norwegian. She felt that she had a knack for learning languages and thought Norwegian was an exciting subject. While many of her fellow students chose Norwegian because they liked Norwegian heavy metal, Stefana loved the literary courses. After one year of studying Norwegian, Stefana received a scholarship for a six-week stay at the International Summer School at the University of Oslo. This would be her first trip to Norway.

“It was in 2011, in the summer, and it became my first and most important encounter with Norway. Oslo didn’t resemble any other capital I knew. It was so green and lush, with the sea inside the city and the forest just outside. I thought Norwegians were very pleasant, always smiling. I stayed at the Blindern student residence and had everything included through my scholarship. The university had far more resources than I was used to, and the teaching method was completely different. I fell in love and had to return!”

It took another year, but in autumn 2012 Stefana received a new scholarship, this time at Telemark University College. At this point, she chose to delve into Norwegian literature, and wrote her bachelor thesis on “The city in 1890s Norwegian literature”. In Telemark, she received guidance on her thesis from a professor in Nordic literature, Olav Solberg. Telemark was a completely different experience from Oslo, much quieter, and with even more nature.

Doctorate in Norwegian literature

Which career path did you think Norwegian language skills cold be useful in?

“The idea of a job within diplomacy was the reason why I chose to write my master’s thesis on cultural political cooperation between Romania and Norway. But even though I was now affiliated with another institute at my university, I read a lot of Norwegian literature in my spare time, it had become a passion for me.”

Stefana also missed the lively environment of her Norwegian studies, where they often had visits from Norwegian guest lecturers and Norwegian authors. The wish to do research on Norwegian literature was there all along, and the idea of a doctoral thesis started taking shape. Stefana reached out to her former supervisor, professor Sanda Tomescu Baciu.

“Sanda still remembered me and we started discussing the possibilities of taking a doctorate in Norwegian literature. We found out that there wasn’t much written on the author Karl Ove Knausgård in Romania and I chose his authorship as the subject of my doctoral thesis."

Schemes from Diku

Due to the many students learning Norwegian and the high level of teaching Norwegian, the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj received a foreign lecturer in Norwegian in autumn 2015. The scheme is funded by the Norwegian government and administered by Diku. Since 2015, the foreign lecturer in Norwegian at Cluj has been Fartein Øverland.

“All our professors and teachers are very good, and we have learned a lot from them, but having a language teacher whose mother tongue is Norwegian is something else entirely. It’s incredibly important and educational, and quite different from regular classes.”

Knausgård’s books had not been published in Romania at the time Stefana started her doctoral thesis, only the first book in the “My Struggle” series, and she had a great need to read more books by and about him. Stefana searched for a supervisor and got in touch with a professor of Nordic literature, Eirik Vassenden, at the University of Bergen.

Autumn 2016 she received a Mobility Grant for Norwegian Language and Literature for a two-month field work in Bergen.

“I was very well received at the university. I got my own office, got to participate in events, and felt like I was part of the institute. Eirik also helped me a lot. He’s been very good at challenging me, supporting me, and helping me find a direction, plan and structure for my dissertation.”

Now Stefana is back in Bergen, this time through an EEA grant, which, along with Mobility Grants, are administered by Diku.

“It was absolutely necessary to return to Bergen, because it’s always better to do research in the country of the person you are researching”. On a question about her future plans, she answers that she will finish her doctoral thesis, and afterwards, she wants to teach. “There is a lot of competition over university jobs in my home country, but I still hope I can teach literature at my university in Romania, and preferably Norwegian literature”, she says, smiling.

15 October 2019