Norwegian student with muscular disease endeavors to attend UC Berkeley

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While many new UC Berkeley admits excitedly anticipate the upcoming school year, Norwegian student Karina Harkestad has been filled with reservation about her chances of attending the school.

Harkestad lives with a congenital muscle disease and has personal care assistants paid for by the municipality of Bergen, Norway, and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration. Because of a Bergen City Council regulation that prohibits these assistants from leaving the municipality for more than five weeks per year, however, her endeavor to study abroad at UC Berkeley has been jeopardized.

Despite the known restriction, Harkestad applied to receive assistance abroad, but her application to leave Norway for four to five months was turned down by the municipality. She also turned to the labor and welfare administration for support but has not yet received a response.

According to Dag Rune Olsen, the rector of the University of Bergen, the school regards international exchange as a fundamental component of its education. More than 30 percent of students at the university study abroad, he said.

As a third-year clinical psychology student at the University of Bergen, “I cannot exchange to UC Berkeley, like other students in my class are going to,” Harkestad said in an email.

In response to the council-imposed restriction Harkestad faces, students and faculty at the University of Bergen have rallied to support her. A local petition for Bergen to reconsider the law received 500 valid signatures, according to Elisabeth Omdal, one of Harkestad’s classmates who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall.

The municipality has stood firm thus far in its decision to not make an exception for Harkestad’s case, in accordance with national Norwegian law. But it is still working to appeal to national authorities, who may be able to permit Harkestad to study abroad, according to Nina Mevold, municipal director of health and care services.

“The request has to address the cooperation between universities, health and care sector and the social security sector,” she said in an email. “I personally hope that Karina Harkestad and other persons with similar needs will be able to travel internationally for studies or work.”

Harkestad has briefly been in contact with UC Berkeley’s Disabled Students’ Program to discuss accessibility and test-taking assistance on the Berkeley campus. She and her municipality, however, have not yet reached out to the program to discuss possible solutions to her situation.

Kevin Shields, the disabled students’ residence program coordinator for the DSP, said Harkestad could bypass Bergen’s regulations by receiving In-Home Supportive Services covered by Medi-Cal. To qualify for Medi-Cal, however, Harkestad would need to have a guardian living and working in California for a number of years. Even then, Shields said, the supportive services program may not be as helpful as Harkestad’s assistance in Bergen.

“Even In-Home (Supportive) Services, which is what our state has to offer people — it’s not a very good program,” he said. “It’s underfunded, it’s understaffed, it’s very bureaucratic. It’s very difficult to manage.”

Despite the constraints she has come up against, Harkestad remains optimistic.

“In the end I want to say that time is running out because there is so much to organize in advance,” she said in an email. “Maybe the time already has run out, but of course; I still have a hope!”

Contact Andrea Platten at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @andreaplatonic.