Settling down in Tree Town

It’s early morning as I walk down the avenue of a charming residential area. Walking down the sidewalk feels like walking through a park, in a giant tunnel of green. No wonder that Ann Arbor is nicknamed “Tree Town”! Passing one of the houses, an old lady greets me from her front porch, where she enjoys her morning coffee. I don’t really know her, but it is a friendly neighborhood, and I have gotten into the habit of greeting passers by when I sit on my own front porch too. Just before I reach the end of Olivia Ave, I notice a couple of squirrels crossing the sidewalk with hazelnuts in their mouths. My kids have already fallen in love with these bushy-tailed rodents, and our oldest daughter could spend hours squirrel-spotting in the backyard of our house.

A block later, our avenue ends, and I turn left at Hill street. All of a sudden, the cozy residential area that seem to be inhabited mostly by university professors is replaced by dorms that are populated by college students. Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Chi Omega, Kappa Kappa Gamma… As I approach East University avenue, more and more college students leave their dorms, getting ready for today’s classes—or perhaps on their way to picking up some coffee at Starbucks. I turn right at East University, and pass Ross School of Business. As I walk through the business school, I contemplate the difference between this new and fancy building—housing its own Starbucks restaurant inside—and the close to century-old building of the School of Education next to it. Obviously, there is more money in business than in education. I don’t really mind, but the contrast is striking.

Ten minutes after I left my own front porch, I walk up the stairs to my office in the aged School of Education building. As I open the door to my office, I remind myself of how lucky I am to have this opportunity. Being a visiting Fulbright scholar at one of the best public research universities in the US is indeed a dream come true. Even the daily walk to my office feels like an adventure. Although it has now been close to two months since I arrived with my family of five, I still enjoy the daily walk to work.

Before I left home in Norway, I told a journalist who interviewed me that going to the University of Michigan for someone in the field of mathematics education feels a little bit like it must be for a soccer player to come to Real Madrid. From day one, I have felt like a part of the team here. The first week after I got here, I was involved in a workshop; the last couple of weeks, I have been involved in writing a couple of grant proposals. Every week, I get to collaborate and discuss with some of most respected scholars in my field, and being a participant observer in an environment like this feels great!

Being at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is not only about work, however, and I have already gotten into the habit of taking weekend trips to nearby lakes and enjoying college sports. Last Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines football team played the second home game of the season. Walking around the streets on a game day is fascinating. Thousands of people gather up to see the drumline stepshow an hour and a half before every home game. After that, the Michigan Marching Band leads the crowds towards Michigan Stadium. This Saturday, the official capacity of 107,601 was exceeded by about 4,000. As crazy as it might sound, this was the 275th consecutive home game that had attracted more than 100,000 spectators. For a city that is somewhat smaller than Stavanger, game day at “The Big House” transforms the streets into a giant tailgate party in maize and blue. The Wolverines won 29–13, and the city is getting ready for more important Big Ten games to come. Go Blue!