Lessons lasting a lifetime

We arrived with different starting points, but left with a common experience and fuller hearts, wrote students from Sokna and Haugsbygd upper secondary schools after participating at Learning Democracy at Utøya in May 2021.

Written by Anders Robert Sandholm, Adrian Røine-Elsrud, Tuva Tutanrud Åsen og Frida Haugen, elever, Sokna og Haugsbygd. This text was first published in Norwegian in Ringerikes blad 04.06.21 Translated by EWC.

We were prepared for strong impressions but had no idea how it would change our view about 22 July and ourselves forever.


With the help of skilled trainers, we have learned about the importance of democracy, and to stand up for our own opinions, all the while having a wonderful experience together with our fellow participants.

A special focus was put on discussing consequences, causes, respect and perspectives. Through creative and practical ways of teaching, many became more self-confident and dared to show new sides of themselves.


We did many different and fun activities, all with the aim to create engagement. One example is “One step forward”, an activity that is designed to let the participants experience how some people are very privileged and can move forward easily, while others struggle to get ahead due the lack of privilege.

Another great example is “Agree/Disagree”, where we had to choose whether we agreed or disagreed to a statement. This exercise showed how important and valuable it is to discuss our opinions, both to learn how others resonate, but also to be confident in ourselves when others might disagree.

Strong impressions

For many of us, it was the tour around the island and the conversations with two of the survivors of 22 July, Astrid Willa Eide Hoem and Per Anders Langerød, that made the strongest impressions. They sat down and shared their personal stories about how they experienced that day at Utøya.

For them, one of the most important aspects of “taking back Utøya”, is to talk about the attacks to make sure we never forget. One hears a lot about 22 July, in the media or in movies, but to be where it happened, talking to those who experienced it, affects you in a completely different way.

The new learning center, «Hegnhuset» which shelters the café building, also made a strong impact on all of us. It was one of the places where many were killed and severely wounded during the mass shooting. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls.

We all found it remarkable to learn how they had built it as a memorial, with 495 columns surrounding the building and 69 bigger columns holding up the roof on the inside, symbolizing the 495 young people who survived and the 69 who were killed 22 July 2011.

Thank you for having us!

The students at Haugsbygd and Sokna thank you for a wonderful stay at Utøya. You have created memories for us all, and we will always carry the valuable lessons we learned with us. We have learned so much about 22 July, gotten different perspectives and seen the importance of respect and not the least, to stand up for our beliefs!