There is a human side to everything

A large part of our Peace Scholar program is a course that includes seminars and a research project. My favorite part of our course is the opportunity we have for field visits. We have visited scholars and activists and today we visited an asylum camp in Oslo called Torshov.

I didn’t know what to expect from our trip to Torshov. We have learned a ton, especially in the last week or so about asylum seekers and the refugee crisis. We have discussed numbers and policy; we have discussed the Norwegian response to the crisis but we didn’t have the opportunity to see the human side…until today. 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 some of the political rhetoric that surrounds refuges and asylum seekers would suggest, the people staying at Torshov are not living in luxury, 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, they honestly just 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 safety concern and thus a valid reason to stay in Norway.

I was reminded today about the importance of remember the human side of any political debates. Facts, figures, policy, those things are all really important. But at the end of the day, real people are effected by those decisions. And even in a country like Norway, that is known globally for its humanitarian efforts needs to be reminded every once and a while that other people are effected by our fact, figures and policy.  As far as the refugee crisis in the world today I believe that we can do better. We should do better to help real people, with real dreams, facing real persecution and hardship.

 

Traversing Telemark

I wrote this like two weeks ago but never got around to posting it. Here it is!

This past weekend, I spent time in a mountainous area of Norway called Telemark.

heddal stave chruchWe started our trip with a tour of the largest Stave Church in Norway, the Heddal Stave Church. This extremely large church was built in the 1200s and is STILL in use today (but only in the summer because they don’t have heating). The church had some amazing history which I nerded out about. I also noticed (and loved) how proud Norwegians are of their history. They don their brunad and proudly describe the culture and history of the area miles around.

My favorite part of the Telemark trip was actually all of the time we spent in the bus. I had so much time to watch the scenery and just think. And the scenery in Telemark allows one to think about a lot-how big this world is, how small I am-it was existential.

After the Stave church we went to the Vrangfoss locks. This was the part of the trip I was most skeptical of. I kept saying to my friends…are you kidding me? My excursion includes boat watching-how lame! And while the locks were not my favorite part of the trip, I realized they weren’t that bad. They too held lots of history as they are one of the oldest sets of locks in Norway. They are still man run without the help of machinery.

telemark

Pictures can’t do this place justice.

We drove more after the locks and headed up in the mountains to our overnight accommodations. Our night at the lodge was probably my favorite part. We had a great dinner, then hiked, canoed and sat around a fire. I was one of the only people on the excursion who has canoed or built a fire so I got to use ALL of my camp counseling skills (shout out to Sugar Creek!!). It was such a relaxing night and made me miss my nights on Riverboats last summer.

On Sunday of our trip we headed to the town of Rjukan. This town is unique in that September-March, they are so far down in the valley that they do not see the sun. The locals have came up with so ways to deal with this. Including a cable car, the Krossobanen that goes to the top of the nearest mountain. At the top there is all sorts of hiking trails. We spent over an hour explore and found a beautiful waterfall that we could drink from. We had plenty of time to take adventure selfies.

After that we went to the Vemork museum. This museum was added to the UNESCO world heritage list last year. It has interesting history rooted in WWII and the occupation of the Nazis. As a WWII history buff I really enjoyed myself.

So that was my trip to Telemark! Before I left, I had a bit of a bad attitude about the trip, I even considered skipping it to stay in Oslo with friends. But, I am so happy that I forced myself to go and to be positive about the experience because it turned out to be an amazing weekend exploring a part of Norway that I wouldn’t have otherwise. So lesson learned: stop complaining.

 

Now, I am headed into my long weekend. I am spending five days in Berlin with three other Peace Scholars and two of our friends that we have met at ISS. Look out next week for highlights from our trip! (This blog will be up at some point…I still have to write it).

 

Week 3-CHECK!

pic

Relaxing after an afternoon hike 

Wow! Week two at the summer school is already over. What the heck is up with that?

These first two weeks have been such an amazing chance for me to grow, as a student, a friend, and as Betsy.

As a student, classes here are very different than what we have at home. The hardest part for me has been balancing fun and Oslo exploring with when I am going to do my 50 pages of reading each night. But, even if I don’t always get my reading done, I have learned TONS in my Scandinavian Politics class. If anyone ever has questions about how the Norwegian party system works…I am on my way to being able to answer your questions.

Personally for me, this week was a little hard. I think (at least I have heard) that most students studying abroad hit a bit of a loneliness wall (that is what I am calling it) and I think I hit that this week. It is amazing to be surrounded by so many students from so many different countries and cultures, but honestly this week I really just wanted to be with my Luther people for a little bit (and thank god for Facetime because I did get to be with some of them J).

But, as weird as it might sound, I am SO grateful for the loneliness I felt this week. I have been able to do a lot of reflection. I have spent more time alone, with my journal or a book, listening to music and just observing the people around me. This has been a great exercise for me. I also have gained a weird sense of independence and confidence as I realize that I don’t NEED other people to make me happy. Yes, it would have been nice to have people who really really get me when I was going through a round patch this week, (I am looking at you Pay and Alexa) but I survived without those people AND was able to cultivate new relationships with new friends here who are quickly turning into those I can turn to when I need them. Patience has been key-patience with myself and patience with others.

Overall, I am loving this place and I am not sure if I am ever going to come home (just kidding mom!). I will be writing again in a few days (after I watch the Euro Cup game and do my homework) about my adventure to Telemark this past weekend!

Also, if you understand anything about Scandinavian national pride you should check out this article about the twitter fight between Denmark and Sweden. It is hilarious.