The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 26, 2010

West graduate heads to Norway

Miller part of six-week Oslo program with the Nobel Committee

MANKATO — It almost seems unfair.

When Hannah Miller sat down to write her essay — the one she needed for acceptance into a prestigious scholarship program — she was in Slovakia, surrounded by inspiration and getting a summer’s worth of teaching experience in a setting and situation she organized on her own.

That Slovakian experience, where she taught literature to grade schoolers, must have looked fairly impressive to the scholarship committee, which chooses 10 students to study in Norway each summer. Because Miller, a 2008 graduate of Mankato West High School and a junior at Augustana, got in.

And so last week, she and fellow stand-out students from St. Olaf, Augsburg and other colleges left for Norway where they’ll spend six weeks studying at Oslo International Summer School and getting to know the country a little better.

Why Norway?

Every year the colleges cooperate for an event called the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, which takes place at a different U.S. college with Norwegian roots. This year it was at Augsburg. Next year it will be at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

As part of the program, students from the colleges apply for the chance to travel to Oslo for six weeks to study and immerse themselves in the work of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Miller was in Slovakia when she decided to apply. While working at a Bible camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota, she met a family from Slovakia that had come to the U.S. on an exchange program. After getting to know the family and learning about their school, she decided to spend time teaching in that school. That was last summer. While there, she applied for the Nobel program.

When she got back to her campus, she learned her essay — full of the wisdom and knowledge she’d been picking in the Slovakian school — was good enough to put her through to the next level. And after her interview with college officials, where they asked about her work in Slovakia, she was told she’d be one of two Augustana students heading to Norway.

As Miller prepared for her trip, she said she was heading to Norway with an open mind and no preconceived notions of what should happen.

“I like to go into a situation with really no expectations. I just like to be myself and really soak up the experience.”

One thing she does know is that the Nobel organization stands for social justice, and that fits her personality perfectly. Her goal in life is to be a teacher. When she becomes one, she plans to make her classroom a place where stereotypes are broken down, bullying is nonexistent and respect and learning are key.

There is one thing, however, that she’s looking forward to that probably sets her apart from other students in the program.

Somewhere in Norway — she’ll soon found out exactly where — is a working farm owned by relatives of hers. Miller said she’ll spend some of her time getting to know the Norwegians on that farm and piecing together some of her family’s genealogy.

When it’s over, part of program is to go back to your school and spend your remaining time their working for peace. Miller already had started work in that vein last year by helping organize a concert. She plans to continue that work during her junior and senior years, making the event an even bigger venue for spreading the word about peace.

And when she’s done with college, Miller said she may go into teaching.

“Right now teaching is where my heart is at.”

She’s leaving her options open, however, for other careers as well, maybe even law school.

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