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Norway universities criticized for overuse of English


Norway universities criticised for overuse of English
University of Oslo. Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB scanpix
The Language Council of Norway (Språkrådet) says it is concerned about the amount of English used in courses at Norwegian universities and colleges.

 

A number of classes at higher education institutions across the country are taught entirely in English, reports broadcaster NRK.

The council said that using too much English could be damaging both during studies and for life after them.

“We are particularly concerned for new students who find that almost their entire program is in English. We are not convinced about the learning benefits, as it’s not certain all students are good enough at English,” Ole Våge said to NRK.

“It is a big problem if only English is used in education. The vast majority of people will be working in the Norwegian labor market afterwards,” he continued.

Våge said that classes taught in English were beneficial but should not be prioritized at the expense of Norwegian.

“It is completely natural to use both Norwegian and English. But we have seen that some classes are using solely English reading material,” he said.

Norwegian students themselves are less critical about the amount of English used in studies, according to NRK’s report.

Mats Johansen Beldo of the Norwegian Student Organization said that English was not excessively used at universities and colleges in the Scandinavian country.

“No, we students don’t think it’s a problem. Books in English are good and provide the academic input we need,” he told the broadcaster.

University of Oslo Deputy Rector Gro Bjørnerud Mo said the Norwegian was the primary language of classes at the university, and that the amount of English actually used in classes varies between programs

“We monitor closely language policies and the balance between English and other languages in our course catalog,” she said.

The Local, Norway

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‘I am a woman with every fiber of my body’: Germany’s first transgender MP


'I am a woman with every fiber of my body': Germany's first transgender MP
The Bavarian state parliament building where Tessa Ganserer sits for the Greens. Photo: DPA
From: The Local Sweden
Lawmakers returning to the Bavarian regional parliament after elections three months ago will find a transgender woman colleague, Tessa Ganserer, on the benches where Markus Ganserer previously sat.

 

The Green party’s Ganserer is believed to be the first transgender person in Germany to hold a regional or national MP’s seat, or to change their gender while in office.

Just a few weeks after coming out on social media to a burst of publicity, the 41-year-old will make a first appearance before the press Monday to discuss her change of identity.

Long a laggard on social issues, some abrupt changes have taken place in Germany in recent years.

Parliament legislated last month for a third gender on birth certificates after a Constitutional Court decision that the documents must respect intersex people.

And in summer 2017, MPs pushed through gay marriage after Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would not whip her party on the subject.

While Ganserer won her Bavarian parliament seat in October, in the United States Democratic party candidate Christine Hallquist recently failed in her bid to become the first transgender woman governor in Vermont.

‘Madam regional MP’

“I am a woman with every fiber of my body and now Madam regional MP as well,” Ganserer posted on her Facebook account in early January, announcing her intention to sit in parliament as a woman.

She received lots of congratulations from well-wishers.

Just a few weeks ago, Ganserer had said both Markus and Tessa remained a part of her. But from now on she hopes to live as a female politician, wife and mother of two children.

While Bavaria is a strongly conservative and mostly Catholic region, the president of the regional parliament Ilse Aigner of the Christian Social Union (CSU) backed the change.

“Mrs Ganserer has taken a very brave and highly personal decision,” Aigner said.

The CSU usually takes very conservative positions on social questions and opposed the federal gay marriage law.

“Our male colleague is becoming a female colleague, that should not be a problem in this house,” Aigner said in a public statement after speaking with Ganserer.

“A person’s personality is always more important than their gender.”

At the first plenary session of the year from January 23rd, the Greens party MP — first elected in 2013 and reelected last October — will be registered as a woman.

“Life as Markus Ganserer was not bad. But I am Tessa Ganserer and I will finally live like this,” said Ganserer on Twitter.

‘Getting used to it’

Among fellow MPs, “many definitely still have to get used to it,” Aigner said.

One member of the pro-business FDP cried “what are you playing at here? A drag queen?” when he first saw Ganserer in a long blonde wig and makeup in the Munich chamber, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported.

As for her official identity papers, Ganserer has a little longer to wait. In late November, she received a medical certificate from a psychiatrist confirming she is transgender.

German law requires two medical opinions to back a name change in the official register. Securing that step “meant getting my real birth certificate to me”, Ganserer told the SZ.

While she has made little public comment, she told the paper that she “discovered” herself as a woman around 10 years ago when looking in the mirror wearing a dress.

Since then, she has picked her way through different roles: as man, father, husband, woman, wife, and mother.

Now, her doubts are so far gone that she has told her sons, 11 and 6, that “from now on I will always be like this”.

“Children don’t have prejudices. If you present the world to them in a friendly way, they will accept it as it is,” Ganserer said.

She doesn’t plan to undergo any medical procedures, but to mark the definitive arrival of Tessa, Ganserer took a major step: she packed all her ties, shirts and suit jackets into bags and gave them away.

Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome


Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome
Fireworks in Venice. Photo: msavoia/Depositphotos
By:Catherine Edwards/ The Local
The Italians have a reputation for being a superstitious bunch, and some of their New Year customs can startle the uninitiated foreigner. From the correct underwear to smashing crockery, The Local looks at the stories behind Italy’s strangest New Year traditions.

 

They wear red underwear for the occasion


Photo: nito103/DepositPhotos

Whether you’ve got a date for your New Year’s Eve party or not, you need to put some extra thought into your undergarments. Red underwear will apparently help to fend off evil spirits and negativity, bringing you happiness in the coming year.

A study carried out by the Italian drinks company San Pellegrino revealed that 60 percent of Italians think the custom is linked to fertility or good luck in your sexual endeavors, but it is actually much more general. The color red has been used for centuries to ward off war and other disasters. You might even see red underwear hanging in the streets or shop windows during the lead-up to New Year.

However, it’s traditional that your capodanno underwear should be new and a gift from someone else, so no digging out a tattered pair of red pants, and if you buy your own, you’re cheating.

The food: lentils, sausage and grapes


Photo: aizram18/DepositPhotos

This is Italy, so food is of paramount importance, and although the traditional New Year’s menu might seem like a random selection of foodstuffs, it’s actually carefully thought through.

Lentils symbolize wealth and prosperity – either because their round, flat shape and golden brown color means they resemble gold coins, or because they are long-lasting and so represent longevity.

Then you’ve got the sausage meat, replaced in some parts of Italy by stuffed pig’s trotters, which again means good fortune for the coming year, because it is a rich food symbolizing abundance.

But don’t forget to finish your meal with grapes. These ensure you will be frugal with your new-found wealth, because it was thought that only someone with excellent willpower could save the grapes from the spring harvest time until the New Year meal.

They spend the evening playing bingo


Photo: soniacri/DepositPhotos

In many parts of the world, card games and bingo are associated more with pensioners than trendy parties, but at many Italian New Year’s Eve parties everyone settles around the table for a game of ‘tombola’ – similar to bingo.

Tombola was created in Naples in the 1700s as an alternative to gambling, which the church did not approve of. King Charles of Naples made a concession to the Catholics and said he would ban gambling during the Christmas period only. But Neopolitans found a way to get around the new law by playing tombola at home during the holidays.

They party until sunrise


Photo: arkade/DepositPhotos

Italians don’t do things by halves, and though you may be used to New Year celebrations fizzling out shortly after midnight, be prepared to keep the party going until the early morning. In Italy the celebrations usually last until at least sunrise, so that you can see the new year arrive.

They throw things 


Photo: victoriagam/DepositPhotos

Watch out for falling objects – in some southern parts of the country, it’s traditional to throw possessions, particularly crockery, out of your window to show that you are ready for a new start in the new year.

If you’d rather that new start didn’t involve arguments with the neighbours about why you chucked a plate at their head in the middle of the night, an alternative tradition is crashing pots and pans together at your front door, to frighten away evil spirits (see below).

They love a big bang (with a purpose)


Photo: maforche/DepositPhotos

True, this New Year custom isn’t unique to Italy, but while other nationalities may simply enjoy the bright colours, Italians have a different reason for setting off fireworks.

According to superstition, demons and bad spirits don’t like loud noises, so this a way to ensure they’re all scared off before the new year begins. Some people even say the pop of champagne corks is the reason prosecco or spumante are favoured over normal wines – well, it’s as good an excuse as any for a glass of fizz.

You’ll have your future mapped out (so avoid babies, doctors and priests)


Photo: shippee/DepositPhotos

Superstition dictates that the first person you meet after midnight on New Year will dictate how the rest of the year plays out. If you see someone older of the opposite sex first, congratulations, you’re going to have a great 2017(it’s a sign that you will live a long life and be lucky in love this year).

If it’s a baby or someone of the same sex, your year hasn’t got off to the best start. Variations on this legend state doctors are a bad omen too, because it’s a sign your health will deteriorate, while others say you should be wary of seeing a priest or a postman, though the reasons behind this aren’t clear.

Man buys entire family DNA tests for Christmas and there are some shocking results


A man has revealed how he almost ruined his family Christmas (stock image) (Image: Getty Images)

By: Courtney Pochin/UK Mirror

There’s always one family member who turns up at Christmas with a rather bizarre present.

 

From homemade items that didn’t quite go to plan, to last minute gifts purchased on the way over, we thought we’d seen it all.

But one man has raised the bar for unusual presents by purchasing DNA testing kits for his entire family – and the bemusing item almost ruined Christmas for everyone.

The unnamed son revealed all in a post online, which has had thousands of views.

He bought the same gift for everyone (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)

Taking to Reddit, the man starts his story by revealing that earlier in the year AncestryDNA had a sale on their kit and for some reason he thought it would be a great gift, so he bought six of them – one for himself, his mum, his dad, brother and two sisters.

However when it came time to open presents on December 25, the kits didn’t exactly garner the reaction he’d been hoping for.

He wrote: “As soon as everyone opened their gift, my mom started freaking out. She told us she didn’t want us taking them because they had unsafe chemicals. We explained to her how there were actually no chemicals, but we could tell she was still flustered.

“Later she started trying to convince us that only one of us kids need to take it since we will all have the same results and to resell extra kits to save money.”

The man bought DNA tests for his whole family – and almost ruined Christmas (Image: Getty)

The children were still keen to give the tests a go which caused an argument to break out between the parents.

According to the post, the pair went upstairs and argued for about an hour, leaving the four kids to wonder what exactly was going on.

At this point, the man truly thought he’d “f***** up” and ruined the family Christmas.

But then things took a surprising turn.

TIFU by buying everyone an AncestryDNA kit and ruining Christmas

Earlier this year, AncestryDNA had a sale on their kit. I thought it would be a great gift idea so I bought 6 of them for Christmas presents. Today my family got together to exchange presents for our Christmas Eve tradition, and I gave my mom, dad, brother, and 2 sisters each a kit.

As soon as everyone opened their gift at the same time, my mom started freaking out. She told us how she didn’t want us taking them because they had unsafe chemicals. We explained to her how there were actually no chemicals, but we could tell she was still flustered. Later she started trying to convince us that only one of us kids need to take it since we will all have the same results and to resell extra kits to save money.

Fast forward: Our parents have been fighting upstairs for the past hour, and we are downstairs trying to figure out who has a different dad.

TL;DR I bought everyone in my family AncestryDNA kit for Christmas. My mom started freaking. Now our parents are fighting and my dad might not be my dad.

Update: Thank you so much for all the love and support. My sisters, brother and I have not yet decided yet if we are going to take the test. No matter what the results are, we will still love each other, and our parents no matter what.

Update 2: CHRISTMAS ISN’T RUINED! My FU actually turned into a Christmas miracle. Turns out my sisters father passed away shortly after she was born. A good friend of my moms was able to help her through the darkest time in her life, and they went on to fall in love and create the rest of our family. They never told us because of how hard it was for my mom. Last night she was strong enough to share stories and photos with us for the first time, and it truly brought us even closer together as a family. This is a Christmas we will never forget. And yes, we are all excited to get our test results. Merry Christmas everyone!

P.S. Sorry my mom isn’t a whore. No you’re not my daddy.

 

His parents eventually came back down and shared some shocking news with them all – one of them had a different dad.

He explained: “Turns out my sister’s father passed away shortly after she was born. A good friend of my mom’s was able to help her through the darkest time in her life, and they went on to fall in love and create the rest of our family.

“They never told us because of how hard it was for my mom.”

The parents went on to share stories and photos for the first time and the son claims the experience brought them “even closer together as a family”.

The situation ended up bringing them closer together (stock photo) (Image: Getty)

He added: “This is a Christmas we will never forget. And yes, we are all excited to get out test results. Merry Christmas everyone!”

More than 9,000 people have taken the time to comment on his post, with many sharing their own unusual family stories.

One person wrote: “I was adopted by my grandparents and didn’t know until I was older. The person I grew up with as an older sister was actually my biological mother.”

Another said: “My friend discovered through AncestryDNA that her grandpa wasn’t actually her grandpa. Her actual grandpa was one of her grandparents’ neighbors.”

A third added: “I work at AncestryDNA. This actually happens all the time.”

Free Homes in Japan


Japan has so many vacant homes it’s giving them away

By Emiko Jozuka, CNN
Okutama, Japan,  Four years ago, Naoko and Takayuki Ida were given a house. For free.
It’s a spacious, two-story home nestled amid trees on a winding country road in the small town of Okutama, in Tokyo prefecture. Before moving, the couple and their children — two teenagers and a five-year-old — were all living with Naoko’s parents.
“We had to do a lot of repair work (on our new home), but we’d always wanted to live in the countryside and have a big garden,” said Naoko, 45.
Naoko Ida converted an old Japanese-style house into a cafe.
It’s a popular stop among bikers.
Ida opened her cafe in September 2017.
A free house may sound like a scam. But Japan faces an unusual property problem: it has more homes than people to live in them.
In 2013, there were 61 million houses and 52 million households, according to the Japan Policy Forum. And the situation is poised to get worse.
Japan’s population is expected to decline from 127 million to about 88 million by 2065, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security, meaning even fewer people will need houses. As young people leave rural areas for city jobs, Japan’s countryside has become haunted by deserted “ghost” houses, known as “akiya.”
It’s predicted that by 2040, nearly 900 towns and villages across Japan will no longer exist — and Okutama is one of them. In that context, giving away property is a bid for survival.
“In 2014, we discovered that Okutama was one of three Tokyo (prefecture) towns expected to vanish by 2040,” says Kazutaka Niijima, an official with the Okutama Youth Revitalization (OYR) department, a government body set up to repopulate the town.
Vacant houses are a common sight across Japan as the country's population shrinks and many young people move to urban areas.

Vacant houses are a common sight across Japan as the country’s population shrinks and many young people move to urban areas.

Akiya bank schemes

Okutama is a two-hour train ride west from Tokyo prefecture’s dense, neon-soaked center.
In the 1960s, it boasted a population of more than 13,000, as well as a profitable timber trade. But after the liberalization of imports and falling demand for timber in the 1990s, most young people left for the city. Today, Okutama has just 5,200 residents.
In 2014, it established an “akiya bank” — or vacant house scheme — which matches prospective buyers with aging homeowners and empty properties.While akiya banks are now common across Japan, each town sets its own conditions.
For example, Okutama subsidizes home repairs for new akiya residents, and encourages akiya owners to relinquish their vacant properties by offering up to $8,820 per 100 square meters (1,076 sq feet).
However, it stipulates that those who receive a free home or renovation assistance must be aged under 40, or be in a couple with at least one child under 18-years-old and one partner aged under 50. Akiya applicants must also commit to settling in the town permanently and invest in upgrading second-hand homes.
But even giving away homes is tough in a country where people prefer new builds.

Constructions for Ogouchi dam in 1945. (Okutama Town)

A view over Okutama, 1955. (Okutama Town)

Second-hand homes

Niijima leads the way into a vacant, box-like house with a blue roof and white walls that was built 33 years ago. Though sturdy on the outside, the musty smell inside hints at the decade it has sat empty. The kitchen is in need of a makeover, and the tatami floor is faded.
“It will suit someone who likes DIY,” Niijima said with a grin.
There are 3,000 homes in Okutama, and about 400 are vacant — only half of which are believed to be salvageable. The rest are either too dilapidated or were built in areas at risk of landslides.
In the 20th century, Japan experienced two major population spikes: the first after World War II and the second during the economic explosion of the 1980s. Both created housing shortages which led to cheap, mass-produced homes that were quickly erected in densely populated towns and cities.
These Okutama locals regularly meet to play gate ball.
Fujiko Masuda runs a popular Japanese-style pub.
They remember when the timber trade boomed.
Many of those properties were poor quality, said Hidetaka Yoneyama, a senior researcher at the Fujitsu Research Institute. As a result, about 85% of people opt to buy new homes.
Japanese laws also don’t help things.
In 2015, the government passed a law designed to penalize those who leave houses empty, in a bid to encourage them to either demolish or refurbish their properties.
However, akiya owners are taxed more for empty plots of land than for having an empty property, according to real estate expert Toshihiko Yamamoto. This is a deterrent to razing a vacant home.
Urban planning regulations are also weak in Japan, said Chie Nozawa, a professor of architecture at Toyo University in Tokyo, meaning developers can keep building houses despite the glaring surplus.

Kazutaka Niijima inside one of the akiya that Okutama will give away for free in 2019.

Kazutaka Niijima inside one of the akiya that Okutama will give away for free in 2019

Making rural areas alluring

In Okutama, revitalization official Niijima has found families for nine vacant houses so far. They’ve come from places including New York and China — the akiya scheme is not limited to Japanese citizens.
Filipino-Japanese couple Rosalie and Toshiuki Imabayashi, who livein central Tokyo with their six children, will move to the town in early 2019.
“It was getting too cramped for us in Tokyo and we liked that Okutama was within the same prefecture but surrounded by nature,” Rosalie said.
Overgrown vegetation surrounds a vacant house in the Yato area of Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Empty homes are an issue across the country.
Overgrown vegetation surrounds a vacant house in the Yato area of Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Empty homes are an issue across the country.
For most newcomers, though, free homes are not enough. Depopulated areas like Okutama also need a sustainable economic development plan — and community-building activities between locals and newcomers — if they are to thrive.
“If people can find a way of engaging in productive economic activities and supporting themselves, they will come and stay in rural areas,” said Jeffrey Hou, an architecture professor at Washington University.
Kamiyama, a town in southern Japan, added more people than it lost in 2011 after IT companies set up satellite offices there, attracting workers keen to escape city life.
Okutama station was previously called Hikawa station.
Okutama station, October 2018.
The ingenuity of new residents is also a boon for fading towns.
Certified as caregivers for the elderly, the Idas knew they would have job opportunities in Okutama. However, in September 2017 they tried a new venture, buying and converting a second-hand “kominka” — a Japanese house more than 100-years-old — into a roadside cafe catering to roving hikers and bikers.
“The beauty of this place lies in retrofitting something that already exists,” said Naoko, inside the cozy cafe, which brims with vintage objects and local craft work. “Some people like this culture and really like old things but they hesitate about committing to rural life.”
On their quiet street, there is another empty house and the home of an elderly woman. Before the Idas came, wild monkeys kept eating the woman’s vegetable patch — now the area is busier, the animals keep their distance.
Yet while Naoko has found a permanent home for herself in Okutama, she shakes her head when asked whether her children see a future there.
“Actually, my eldest daughter says she can’t wait to leave home and rent a place of her own in the city,” she said.

German project spotlights happiness through the eyes of a child


German project spotlights happiness through the eyes of a child

Happy surfing students. Photo: Karina Sillmann

By: Rachel Stern/The Local Germany

What is a happy day for you? To find the best answers, dance teacher Karina Sillmann began asking the children, ages 7-12, in her class in Aschaffenburg near Frankfurt.

Even over the holidays, amid the gift-giving and glittering Christmas markets, happiness for them boiled down to the immaterial. One girl said her most joyful day was baking cookies with her mom. For others it was simply spending time with their sister, brother, parents or anyone they love.

“I like the honesty that children have and I was curious of their answers,” said Sillmann, who began collecting their answers in the form of letters. “It shows that the simple things make us happy.”

An avid world traveller, Sillmann sought to hear what happiness is for children around the world – from Bolivia to Thailand. In February, she started Children’s Happy Days project, and through the blog and connections in other countries, began asking for letters from around the globe.

Sillmann has now received 52 letters from 16 different countries, and responds to each of them personally – sometimes through the help of friends who can translate, as was the case when she received a letter from a boy in Thailand.

She published the letters on her website as a way of reminding people what happiness is when seen from a child’s perspective.

When she travels abroad on holidays, Sillmann also participates in other sports projects with children, be it surfing on the Portuguese coast, or football in the hills of Bolivia.

The dance-enthusiast observed how movement makes children happy – abroad and at back at home. “A happy day to me is a day on which I can dance or do gymnastics. I just feel well then,” wrote a 10-year-old student from her class.

Letter reprint courtesy Karina Sillmann. Photo: DPA

Other non-materialistic experiences that give Sillmann’s students joy are finding a new song to dance to, or inventing their own dance moves, she says.

In general happiness lies in their favourite hobbies such as reading books from a particular writer, playing an instrument or doing sports.

“It’s good to see the world through the eyes of a child,” said Sillmann who continues to collect letters through post. “We often forget what’s important.”

On her website, Sillmann writes letters in five languages, including her German mother-tongue, to request letters from around the world. Photo courtesy: Karina Sillmann

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is slowly losing its lean


The Leaning Tower of Pisa is slowly losing its lean

  The Leaning Tower of Pisa is now stable and has even straightened slightly thanks to engineering work to save the world-renowned tourist attraction, experts said on Wednesday.

The tower’s Surveillance Group, set up to monitor restoration progress, said in a statement that after 17 years of observation “the Tower of Pisa is stable and very slowly reducing its lean”.

Engineering Professor Nunziante Squeglia of Pisa University said that the 57-metre monument had straightened by four centimetres, Italian media reported.


Photo: Giulio Napolitano/AFP

The so-called Surveillance Group was set up after Michele Jamiolkowski, an engineer of Polish origin who adopted Italian nationality, coordinated an international committee to rescue the landmark between 1993 and 2001.

The Tower was closed to the public in January 1990 for 11 years over safety fears, as its tilt reached 4.5 meters from the vertical. It has since been straightened by more than 40 centimetres.

The medieval tower, a symbol of the power of the maritime republic of Pisa in the Middle Ages, has leaned to one side ever since building started in 1173. 

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