IHOB – Senior Edition: HAAKON FOSSUM SAGBAKKEN
Interview by Sakura Nakada ’17. Photos by Victor Alvarez ’19.
Where are you from?
What is your major?
What languages do you speak?
Norwegian, English, Swedish, and decent German.
By “decent German” I mean that I can speak, write, and listen to German effectively, but not in a technical and professional setting.
Which clubs have you been involved in at Brown?
I have been Events Coordinator for Brown International Organization (BRIO); Coordinator for Ambassadorship for the Brown International Scholarship Committee (BISC); and I’m an Associate Editor for the Brown Journal of World Affairs.
Why did you decide to study in the U.S.?
I was uncertain about what I wanted to study. I also think that a large part of my reasoning was that I wanted the college community experience. My boarding school also had university counselors who were very persuasive and knowledgeable about the U.S. They gave me a better picture of how university life would be like here, so that also affected my decision.
How have your four years here been different from what you expected?
I thought that I would be more interested in subjects other than the ones that I studied, but it turns out that I had quite a narrow field of interests. I also think that I had a significantly more international experience than what I initially thought I would have, and that has shaped my experience at Brown and in the U.S. in both positive and negative ways.
What do you mean by “a significantly more international experience”?
Both the courses and the community at Brown take a strong international angle, especially if you take subjects that focus on anything with a global dimension, like politics world-wide. This affected my education by putting a significantly more international spin on everything. Additionally, Brown is a very international campus, which means that if you want to, you can have a very international experience with an American touch to it. That’s not necessarily what I expected, nor is that something that is necessarily available everywhere else.
What did you find most difficult to adjust to here?
I guess I expected a sort of stereotype about America. I expected there to be a lack of knowledge about the rest of the world and about the perspectives held in the rest of the world, but I found that that wasn’t really the case at Brown, at least not in my experience. What I found challenging was putting myself in the shoes of the people of this country. It is very easy to empathize intellectually with U.S. history and its very complex social landscape, but emotionally and personally it is an experience so unique and very different from a European experience like the one I come from, that it has been challenging for me to truly grasp it.
Shifting the focus a little bit, what would you say was the food or dish that you missed most from home?
Fish. We eat a lot of fish. It is a staple of Norwegian cuisine, and the fish here is not the type that I am used to, nor does it have the quality that I have been accustomed to.
Was that surprising, since you could say that the East Coast is well-known for some types of seafood?
No, not really. It’s not particularly disappointing, but it’s more that you become very spoiled with this type of food when you’re from Scandinavia, and I think that there is less of a culture surrounding fish here than there is there.
What is an Americanism that you have picked up in the last four years?
In an intellectual discussion, opening a statement with “I feel that” or “I feel like,” which is an absolutely absurd statement to make when you initiate a reasoned argument. Feelings should not serve to initiate an argument that is based on rational thinking. This is something that I have caught myself doing a few times.
How has living here changed how you act or interact at home?
I don’t think that it has changed how I act or interact at home. The main reason why it hasn’t is that my home situation is very stable, and I go home quite frequently. Of course, when you don’t speak your native tongue for some time, you start to put in some American or English expressions in your speech, but I think that’s the only change I’ve experienced.
What advice would you give to incoming international students?
I would say that they should be aware that Brown is a relatively international campus with many international students, and that this has both benefits and potential risks for them. On the one hand, you can have an entirely international experience, but on the other, you risk insulating yourself from the wider community. The Brown community is divided into many smaller communities, each of which have specific, defining features, and, in my opinion, there is less than desirable interaction and inter-connectedness between these communities. I think that as an international student you can be very tempted not to make the effort to penetrate these communities because it might require a lot of effort, but that’s definitely something that people should try to do, and if not, they should be aware of how international the campus is.
And, lastly, what’s your favorite Halloween costume that you have worn in the last four years?
I dressed up as Draco Malfoy during my first year in the U.S.