My Final Blog Post in Oslo

I spent days thinking about what I would write for my final blog post. I considered writing about my research, my Peace Scholar class, or even just my general experience at ISS. None of these ideas seemed right. Although they are important, I can say it’s the people I’ve met here in ISS that have shaped and impacted me more than anything else. There are so many people I could write about, but I have chosen the other Peace Scholars because they’re the people I have shared this entire experience with. So, this is my thank you to all of you for the invaluable lessons you have taught me this summer.

Winnie, I have found a sister in you. It’s truly a blessing when you find someone who shares your vision and values. From you instantly knowing what I’m thinking, to you showing me the power and beauty of black women coming together, you have shown me that it does not take years to build a solid friendship. Thank you, my African queen. Your mom would be more than proud of the woman you have become.

Betsy, even though you are older, you’re like a little sister to me. First of all, thank you for not snapping at Matea for all those comments. But more importantly, thank you for staying true to yourself at all times, and thank you for showing me how much love I can have for a loud, energetic, beautiful, and smart person like you.

Ariel Pugwood, thank you for showing me what true grace and maturity looks like. I’ve told you this before, but I will always be in awe of how you choose to carry yourself, handle difficult situations, and live in such a carefree manner.

Nick, I appreciate just how unapologetically true you are to yourself. Nothing with you seems surface-level or fake, but incredibly genuine and deep. There’s a sense of comfort I gain from that, because it lets me embrace every part of myself too. You have also renewed my passion for reading. You have reminded me that we must humble ourselves and constantly pursue learning new things. For that, I’m endlessly thankful.

Theo, my salsa/dancehall partner, thank you for displaying how important it is to have a deep understanding of your heritage and to unapologetically claim your identity. Also, thank you for reminding me how crucial it is that we take a step back and just listen sometimes.

Andy, I wish you and I spent more time getting to know each other. I guess this is one of the consequences of having such a big group. Anyway, thank you for making me realize that we shouldn’t take our education for granted. Your commitment to learning and dedication to your work is truly inspiring.

I think we can all agree that Paul is one of the kindest people we have ever met. I don’t even know how you do it. You have treated everyone with such care, understanding and genuine compassion. Thank you for that.

Jauza, it was great to meet someone here who comes from a similar background.  Thank you for having all those long conversations about politics, religion, books, and so much more with me. Thank you for showing all of us what a strong, well-spoken and assured woman looks like. I hope to be half the woman you are.

Katie, I will never forget that conversation we had about our families. Who knew we would have so much in common? Thank you for pleasantly surprising me. Thank you for confirming that our journey is our own, and that we must go through it in a manner that makes us the happiest.

Nathan, thank you for being unashamed of acknowledging how much more there is to learn about this world and humbling yourself enough to listen and ask throughout this whole experience. It was something that I lacked in, and because of you it’s something I’m trying to change.

Jasmin, I’m incredibly grateful that you are the person I got to experience all of this with. I couldn’t have asked for a better Augie partner. Thank you for being sincere in everything that you do. Thank you for being a spokesperson and fighting force for all of those people we marginalize in society. What you are doing matters more than you know. Also, thank you for being the optimist and idealist of the group. Without you we would have been a cold, dark, and pessimistic bunch.

Love you all,

R

Rahiwa

A Not so Typical Day in Norway

It seems every day in Norway changes the way I think about the world. In the morning I may read an excerpt from a Gary Younge novel criticizing one-sided integration policies in preparation for the discussion in our Peace Seminar. Before lunch I attend my International Politics course where I learn ways to better understand how states interact in both a historical and contemporary context.

Afternoons may vary between taking a ferry to an island beach to go swimming or discovering my appreciation for visual art at the National Gallery or the Munch Museum. Every few days the burden of decision is lifted from our shoulders as we have a scheduled visit to one of the many organizations around Oslo that work to better the lives of others through social and political change. For me, these afternoons have been some of the most evocative since my arrival to the Scandinavian Peninsula.

Visiting and learning from Henrik Syse, a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and Tyler Hauger of The Karibu Foundation, a group that challenges the norms of humanitarian efforts by supporting the too-often-overlooked voices of the Global South in the fight for justice and equality, has transformed an international educational experience into so much more. The fullness of this experience has helped me feel more connected to and aware of those with whom I share this human experience.

Nathan Campbell

A Busy Week

 

It’s only Wednesday, but this week has proven to be the most intense week of my summer. It started with a seven hour hike in Jotunheimen National Park on Sunday, and has remained full with  preparations for the final examinations and goodbyes that will mark my final week in Norway.

The topic we have been looking at the past week in our Peace Scholars seminar – the refugee crisis in Europe – has also been intense. On Tuesday, we learned about the work of NOAS, the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, who provide support for refugees applying for asylum in Norway . During our meeting, we were walked through the application process – a process which is long, complicated, and flawed. We were informed us that people may wait a year for an interview, and then be denied asylum, expected to pack up their lives and return home to the country they fled in less than three weeks.

Today, we visited the Torshov Asylum Center, where refugees are housed where they wait for their interview. I went into this meeting with a preconceived notion of what life in the camp must be like – stressful, uncomfortable. While the camp director was quick to point out problems with the d government response to refugees, she also changed my perception of what life in the camp is like. She shared struggles, but also hilarious stories about cross-cultural miscommunication. Most of all, she emphasized that life in the camp was about creating a home for people, where residents and employees alike exist as a family.

One thing I have been thinking about a lot over the course of this summer has been the amount of privilege I have been awarded with the Peace Scholar program. I have been given the opportunity to travel to another country, to study a subject I am interested in, to live in a comfortable environment.  I have been given the privilege to meet people working for peace through our outings as Peace Scholars.

I don’t have to worry about “fitting in” in Norway.  I have a home to return to when this program is over.

Were it not for accident of birth, I would likely not have been granted any of these privileges. I could be one of the refugees we have learned about this week. I think that this is one of the most important things I will bring back with me from my time as a Peace Scholar.

Katie

Imagine

A large part of our Peace Scholar program is a course that includes seminars and a research project..This year the topic of our seminar has been the refugee crisis and specifically Norway’s response to the influx of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Norway. My favorite part of our seminar is that we have the opportunity to have incredible field visits. We have visited scholars and activists and this past week, we visited an asylum camp in Oslo called Torshov Transittmottak (transit reception center).

When I was told we were going to Torshov, I didn’t know what to expect. We have learned a ton, about asylum seekers and the refugee crisis. We have discussed statistics and policy; we have discussed the Norwegian response to the crisis but in all of that talk, I failed to remember that there is a human side to this issue. Going to Torshov changed that for me.

Torshov is a transit center which means that people live in the center for a short period of time, or they are supposed to, but do to the influx of refugees last fall, some of the people at the center have been waiting for up to 3 months.

Unlike what some of the political rhetoric surrounding refuges and asylum seekers would suggest, the people, mostly men but a few women (and two young babies) staying at Torshov are not living in luxury. Honestly, they really aren’t even living comfortably. They stay in 8 people dorm rooms with a locker (think middle school lockers) sized storage space.

At Torshov, the asylum seekers wait. The people there do not have permission to work. They get an allowance of about 200 NOK ($23.27) every two weeks. The kids go to school and the center has activities and Norwegian classes to begin integration into the community but the main concern for people at Torshov is an intensive interview process that they have to prepare for. This interview (which can last up to 10 hours) is how the immigration officials make their decision as to whether or not the asylum seeker has a valid reason to stay in Norway. For some, this is the most important interview of their life.

Being at Torshov reminded me to see the human side of our political discourse.  Facts, figures, policy, those things are all really important. But at the end of the day, real people are impacted by the decisions the politicians make. Those politicians are able to make those decisions because we vote for them. And even in a country like Norway, that is known globally for its humanitarian efforts, people need to be reminded every once and a while that real people are impacted by our facts, figures and policies. Real people are impacted by how we interact with them. And I believe that we can do better. We need to do better to help real people, with real dreams, facing real hardship.

Betsyimagine

Norway is Pretty, Pretty

As part of my excursion to Hallingdal today, I rode a ski lift. In the middle of summer. Without a speck of snow in sight. Needless to say, the Montanan in me was quite confused. Why were we going up a ski hill if there was no snow to ski on?

At the top of the hill, I found my answer; the view was absolutely spectacular. A small town was nestled in the valley created by two mountains, and the sky seemed to extend infinitely. (Since one of my favorite idioms in the English language is, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” I attached a picture of where I spent my afternoon. I lack the adjectives to describe it properly.) I trekked around the top of the ski hill, attempting to find the best view. This was a difficult task, as all views of the scenery seemed to be better than the last.
The fact that Norway is beautiful is indisputable. Students from dozens of different countries enjoyed the view together. (I wandered the hill with people from India, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Mexico, and Russia.) Although we came from many different places where nature may look much different than Norway, we could all agree that Norway is pretty pretty.
Andie Palagipic

South to South

One of my favorite things about being here in Oslo as a Peace Scholar has been the people we have been able to meet through the Peace Seminar. In the recent weeks in class, we have been talking a lot about Norway as a moral super power and the Norway’s role in providing humanitarian aid to those in need. This week, we met with Karibu Foundation – a private organization based here in Oslo that supports alternative voices from the Global South. One of their main objectives is to provide economic support for organizations and social movements that work for a just world in the Global South.

Unlike many NGO in Norway that provide humanitarian aid, Karibu is different because they are privately owned and also funds development projects or social movements in order to enhance the South- to – South connection across the globe. I think this is very necessary as this promotes tackling problems by looking at the root causes and after consultation with locals. I also believe this is very important as it emphasizes the solidarity within the states that belong to the Global South.

Apart from getting to know great organizations such as Karibu Foundation, and learning more about what can be done in the area of Peace building and conflict resolution, the next best thing about these meetings are the connections we build during these meetings. So far, we have had the privilege of meeting Henrik Syse, a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo as well as many other students here in the International Summer School taking the Peace Research class, who are equally passionate about these issues. At the Karibu Foundation, we met with Tyler Hauger, a St. Olaf alumnus (whoop whoop!) who works as an advisor at the Foundation. This was very inspiring as we got to talk to him a little at the end about the types of work that can be done in this field and paths that can be taken in terms of graduate school.

There are only two more weeks left in Oslo, there is still a lot of people that we will be meeting with and lots of great conversations to have, and be inspired by. I am really looking forward to it.

Jauza

Far From Home, yet Right at Home

Only four weeks and it feels as if I have been in Norway for a year! Despite the rocky transition from Lillehammer to Oslo, I have been able to settle in and make Blindern dormitory feel like home for the remaining few weeks. As much as Oslo has welcomed me and only made me fall more in love, I am honestly homesick. With everything going on back home, I have found myself needing to find my footing again, and often times questioning if I am in the right location this summer.

Yes, I am in the right place for the summer. Only discovering more about Norway as a ‘Peace Nation,’ I have recognized that the reason I am here is to absorb different ways in which peace is established and fostered. With the rise of police violence, and the conscious murder of black individuals and other people of color in America at the hands of police, now more than ever is a significant time to be studying peace. Protesters back home have been painted as vicious thugs whose only goal is to violently remove the police from power. This of course is incorrect. With what I learn, a group of Augsburg students and I plan to create a dialogue between police officials, the Augsburg administration, and community leaders to dismantle the conflict between the groups and wish to move forward as a stronger, safer community.

Jumping right into my International Politics course, I was surprised at how unidirectional this course has presented itself. Mainly focusing on theories, world powers, wars, and the future of international politics, we have examined the way in which states interact on a political, economic, and social level, and as much as I consider myself an optimist, I am disappointed at the little respect states give each other and the power imbalances within the international system.

On the contrary, the Peace Seminar course I am required to take as a Peace Scholar, has enriched my experience here in Oslo greatly. As I chose my research project last week, I was bombarded with resources and information from Jeff, the course instructor, who is very knowledgeable about the dynamics of sexuality in Norway. Straying from my usual track of gender, I decided to research Norwegian sexuality. My project, The Color of Queer aims to analyze the way queer people/immigrants of color have been excluded and underrepresented at the policy change level, as well as examining the difficulties they face as both queer and a person of color within a predominantly white society. This is a project I plan on continuing in different contexts throughout the rest of my education at Augsburg and hope to gain a massive amount of information from Norway.

I have about three and a half weeks left to explore and learn as much as I can about the peace process and Norwegian culture but until then I am off to Berlin, Germany for five days for the long weekend!

Winnie (Eron)

Peace, Love and Volleyball

One of the most incredible things I have learned here in Norway is how much I have in common with others who speak different languages, who live in different countries, who practice different religions, and who live amongst entirely different cultures from my own. Last night while playing sand volleyball with other International Summer School students from every continent (excluding Antarctica) I found myself thinking about exactly that: commonality. As I stood there in the middle of the sand volleyball court, I missed a pass sent directly toward me because I was too busy wondering why our world could be so divided despite the fact that all these people surrounding me, though very different from me, breathe the same air as me, have ten fingers and toes—as far as I could tell—and love their friends and family with the same ferocious love with which I love my own.

Let me explain.

Aside from the intermittent curses in Urdu or strategy shared between the students from Mexico in Spanish, we all connected through English. And even beyond the formal language that we shared, we all experienced connections that resulted not from our race, nationality, language, or religion, but instead from our humanness. For instance, the student who stood next to me from Russia laughed with the same obnoxious, high pitched laugh as me. The men from Ukraine chuckled just like the students from Pakistan giggled (rather loudly) to themselves. I found myself responding instinctively to the smiles of the student from Turkey with even bigger smiles. And when the shortest girl on the team, a student from southern Mexican landed us a point with a beautiful hit, there was no concern for nationality or race before we squealed and high-fived each other in celebration. Finally, when the star volleyball player, a 6’5” middle hitter from Pakistan smashed the ball into the face of a young girl from Russia—accidentally, of course— no one considered the language she spoke, the stereotypes connected to her nationality, or the color of her skin before groaning sympathetically and rushing toward her to ensure she was ok.

Of course, using the International Summer School as an example of how the world ought to be isn’t entirely realistic, but I happen to believe that this kind of cooperation and unconditional kindness regardless of race, sexuality, gender, nationality, language, religion or any other social construct we choose to divide each other with is possible beyond the confines of Blindern Dormitory. This school is an example of how humans, if we simply connect ourselves with our humanness rather than label and divide ourselves, are capable of living, working, studying, playing, and living with and for each other in a way that is beneficial for all.

R2P and Research: Week Three of Being a Peace Scholar

This week, we’ve been discussing the concept of R2P (Responsibility to Protect) a lot in our coursework.  R2P, as was adopted unanimously at the 2005 UN World Summit, states that all sovereign nations have the responsibility to protect their populations from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” (§138) and that UN member nations have the responsibility to step in if the Security Council deems it necessary (§139).  I wish I knew more about the circumstances that gave rise to this document, as it seems uniquely applicable to the current Syrian Civil War and refugee crisis.  Besides this, our seminar now has us writing our research project proposals.  I personally hope to conduct a number of ethnographic interviews with leading members of Oslo’s Islamic community, in order to ascertain the challenges faced by Muslim immigrants to Norway.  This topic seems especially pertinent given the rise of right-wing movements across Europe, along with the refugee crisis generated by the Syrian Civil War.  Along with this, I’m curious to investigate the conception of “Norwegian-ness” and whether it extents to Islamic immigrants in Norway.  Anthropologist Marianne Gullestad, in her article “Invisible Fences: Egalitarianism, Nationalism and Racism”, argues that many Norwegians still do not regard Islamic immigrants as not “true” Norwegians.  This topic interests me for two primary reasons: the potential parallels to be drawn with contemporary Islamophobic rhetoric in the United States, and how Norwegian society reacted to the present influx of Muslim immigrants, as well as how integrating into Norwegian society has changed those immigrants’ day-to-day lives.  My line of inquiry still needs refinement, but I’m hopeful for what will come of it.  In the meantime, I look forward to continuing to study Norway through the lens of Peace Studies.

Hopeful Reflections

During our time in Lillehammer, we had the opportunity to learn about the life of the famous Norwegian scientist, explorer, diplomat, and promoter of human rights Fridtjof Nansen from Inge Eidsvåg, a former director of the Nansen Center. Throughout the presentation, I was surprised by how honestly Nansen’s life was portrayed in both his accomplishments and mistakes. This openness brought back fond memories from the research unit of Paideia, the compulsory first-year course at Luther, where we read excerpts from James Loewens Lies My Teacher Told Me. In his novel, Loewen analyzes United States history textbooks and found that the stories of historical figures may not have been presented in their entireties, possibly in an effort to preserve the good names of those we hold in high esteem.

When I asked Inge about the importance of this honest portrayal, he explained that when someones story is presented more completely and objectively, it is easier to see that even the greatest historical figures are still human and made mistakes, just like we do. Upon further reflection, I find that presenting only the positive characteristics of the lives of historical figures (especially U.S. Presidents) may lead to a deep-rooted sense of nostalgia and, in turn, a much more negative and seemingly hopeless outlook for the future. It may even make some of us believe that we need to make America great again. In contrast, if the great names of the past are portrayed at their best and worst, we may find hope in the fact that, despite our mistakes, we can still search for ways to leave the world in a better place than when we found it.

Today, we had the opportunity to see the power if this optimism when we met Henrik Syse at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. Among other impressive credentials, Henrik is one of five members on the committee who determines the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I am safe in saying that all of us (Peace Scholars) learned something new or found a new way to look at the world during our short time in discussion with Henrik. Personally, the most inspiring part of our meeting with Henrik was how hopeful and optimistic he was for the future of humanity. He also stressed that while it is easy — and often helpful — to focus on the negativity and hate around us, it is crucial that we recognize the positivity and love around us as well.

Nathan Campbell