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.