The semester in Stavanger is passing by in a flash. I tried not to have any expectations when coming to Norway and this country has embraced me warmly. Still, every day when walking to the university, I am amazed by the beauty of the Norwegian landscape. At the beginning of March, the first snowdrops and crocuses are stretching towards the air, and it seemed to be the right point in time to reflect about my time in Stavanger. That’s why I decided to write about it.
Questioning the concept of integration
So far, the highlight of the semester in Stavanger was the first module about Migration and Integration. It was very refreshing to have class with only half of the students and to focus fully on one topic instead of having several simultaneous modules.
The first part of the course focused on theorising migration in integration, then we looked at integration policies, and the third part of the course focused on integration, the welfare state and vulnerable groups. I was surprised to learn that there is no widely accepted definition of integration in academia. We used, amongst other, the definition of Sarah Spencer (2014) who defines integration as the inclusion of immigrants into the majority population, with the goal of immigrants becoming functional members of the society, who participate in its development of an equal basis, and develop a sense of belonging on the local level.
During the module, we used the term ‘integration’, but we also addressed critique to the concept of integration, the major point of criticism being that ‘integration’ assumes the need of conformity to the norms and values of a dominant majority. However, the concept of this majority of the society can also be challenged, because the very notion of a homogenous society which is integrated normatively by a consensus can be questioned. Some scholars and policy makers thus prefer the terms inclusion or incorporation.
I find it very difficult to study integration, because there is no universal model. Therefore, it is important to constantly assess existing practices and policies and research can contribute a lot to this field. The Migration Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) (http://www.mipex.eu/) is one of the existing tools to measure policies to integrate migrants in the dimensions of labour market mobility, health, family reunion, permanent residence, anti-discrimination, political participation, education and access to nationality. However, the MIPEX rather assesses normative frameworks and migrants’ opportunities to participate in society, and not the outcomes of the integration policies in different countries.
Some literature recommendations
I felt that seven intensive days was not enough to study integration, being such a broad topic and extending into the legal-political, the socio-economic and the cultural-religious sphere on an individual, organizational and institutional level. We touched many interesting topics that I would have liked to dig deeper into, for example the role of ‘sending countries’ as third party in the integration process. For anyone interested in integration, I highly recommend one of the readings of the module, namely the book Integration Processes and Policies in Europe by Blanca Garcés-Mascareñas and Rinus Penninx.
And here is a list of other books that were recommended by our teacher:
Emergency sex and other desperate measures by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson.
The International Migration of Health Workers by John ConnellThe Ethnic Origins of Nations by Anthony D. Smith.
Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson.
Strangers in their own land by Arlie Russell Hochschild.
Stigma & Asylums & The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman.
Going first Class by Vered Amit.
Fatal journeys – an IOM report.
Student life at the University of Stavanger
After the first module, we had more free time to explore Stavanger and to get used to the university life. I found a place to live close to university. I have to go almost every day to campus because of classes, Norwegian class and the gym. It is a 15 minutes’ walk across a hill and every single time I am bewildered by the beautiful view of the hills and the sea.
I was very surprised by the vast amount of student activities offered at the university. The main organizations for international students seem to be the International Students Union and ESN. So far, ESN has organized some student parties and bar evenings, but there are a lot of other options to go out in the city.
My favourite activity is the weekly Coffee Around The World session, where international students present their country, followed by a Kahoot quiz and a cinema ticket lottery. I won a cinema ticket at the first session and enjoyed watching The Favourite together with other international students. On another day, Sofia presented EL Salvador and I supported her, trying to convincingly convey my limited knowledge about El Salvador. It could be criticized that the presentations are quite superficial and seem to want to promote tourism to the presented countries, but overall it is a wonderful opportunity to mingle and discuss with other international students.
Learning Norwegian and engaging with the local community
After some hesitation, I signed up for the Norwegian language class and I do not regret this decision. Norwegian is quite similar to German, but still I do not understand a lot when Norwegians talk to me. But thanks to the Norwegian class, now I am able to have a very basic conversation. The class takes place twice a week and costs 1000 NOK, but there are also many free Norwegian classes offered, in the university library, as well as in the city centre.
In Oldenburg, I volunteered in a reception centre and I wanted to find a similar opportunity in Stavanger in order to combine the theoretical knowledge that we acquire in the course of our studies with practical activities. Unfortunately, I have not found any volunteer opportunity related to migration, but I decided to volunteer for Amnesty International. The university of Stavanger has an Amnesty student activist group and me and a few other EMMIR students are now supporting the organization of the Human Rights Week that takes place in the first week of March.
I really enjoy the university library, but sometimes it is very crowded, and it is difficult too find a good spot. Another good option is the library in the city centre, which provides an amazing study environment and can be used 24 hours a day. The gym is wonderful as well and somehow, everyone has become a lot sportier than in Oldenburg. Overall, the campus life is fun, and the days pass quickly.
Hiking around Norway
It is a little bit difficult to combine studying with planning for the next semester and at the same time being social and exploring Stavanger and Norway. I really appreciate SAPS, the Society of Active People of Stavanger, which organizes many social events in the city library, such as language cafés, art workshops and board game evenings. Thanks to SAPS, I have created many good memories in Stavanger, also outside of the student bubble. For example, one weekend in February, I went on a cabin trip with SAPS. We took a car to a place only two hours away from Stavanger- but it felt like a different world. In Stavanger, there was no show, but suddenly we were in a winter wonderland! We were around 30 people in a cabin, eating, laughing, playing games, drinking and dancing the whole weekend. We made new friends from countries all over the world and learned how to do cross-country skiing. I knew how to do downhill skiing, but I rediscovered my love for skiing through cross-country skiing while crossing the snow-covered hills of Norway.
Next to skiing, hiking seems to be the favourite activity in Norway. My first hike was to Dalsnuten, a mountain close to Stavanger. The beginning was easy, we walked under an incredibly blue sky and enjoyed the sparkling snow and the view of a shining frozen lake. Slowly, the trail became steeper and steeper until we basically had to walk on our feet and hands. There was not path anymore, and we just followed red crosses painted on stones, trying not to slip on the ice. We were very proud when we made it to the top and enjoyed the view of Stavanger. But when we walked down, holding onto stones and taking careful steps, the proud feeling disappeared quickly because we saw children that were twice as fast jumping around happily, we saw mothers with their children on the back as if this would be a fun walk, and we saw Norwegians in normal sneakers, sliding above the ice. They all outpaced us, while we walked down slowly, trying to beat the darkness. Getting to the road, we tried to catch a ride. There was a couple behind us that did not even try to stop a car, but they were offered a ride. The same driver just laughed at us and drove past us. We continued walking, but when we arrived at the bus stop, we saw that we would have to wait one hour in the cold for the bus. So, we decided to walk back to Sandnes. The walk took one hour, and we barely spoke, because we felt so exhausted. We continued trying to get a ride but not even a single car would stop for us. Overall, the first hike was a very fun, but exhausting experience.
The next hike was even more challenging. On a weekend in February, Barbara, a couchsurfer from Hungary stayed at my place. It is fun to receive couchsurfers in Norway, especially because they might bring some alcohol or chocolate, which I appreciate very much. Barbara was very motivated to see the sunrise at Preikestolen, so we and two other Hungarians left very early in the morning. We were the only hikers to be seen and we started to hike up in the dark with flashlights. After five minutes, it started to rain. But we did not give up, of course, and so we continued to make our way up, feeling soaked and cold. The sun rose, but it was so foggy that we could not even see the sun.
High up, the trail was covered by snow and ice and it became very difficult to walk. I did not have any equipment, so Barbara gave me one of her spikes for one of my shoes. We all fell several times and I started to feel very sick. I had started to feel bad the evening before, but I had really wanted to do this hike, so I ignored it. But the closer we came to the pike, the more I doubted if I would ever make it down. I felt weak, cold and nauseous. When we arrived at the peak, the fog blocked our view, so I just sat down and stared into the grey, wondering if I would survive and already calculating the cost in my head for mountain rescue. On the way back, I fell and I when I got up, I could not see anything for some seconds, everything was shaking and moving around me, and one of my arms hurt and I could not use it anymore to hold onto the stones. I do not know how I managed to climb down all the way, but somehow, we made it home. I fell into my bed and was sick for an entire week. I will never forget this day. It taught me to respect the mountain and the importance of good equipment. I hope that I will be able to go there another time to enjoy the view.
The past months were quite eventful, and I am looking forward to the upcoming time in Stavanger.