First Volunteering Shift with the Red Cross

I woke up at 5:30 am this morning. I rolled out of bed, almost simultaneously pulling off my candy cane stripped pajamas. I pulled on some black jeans lying over a chair and stopped for a beat considering which shirt would be appropriate. I was going to volunteer at the Red Cross at an overnight housing center for male immigrants and homeless men. I pulled up the approval email and read over the rules. I needed to wear neutral colors and cover my chest and arms.

I found some old t-shirt and pulled a jean button up over it. I walked to the kitchen where I grabbed two Baby Bell cheeses. It would be enough to hold me over for a couple of hours.

I took the elevator downstairs and entered the still dark plaza of Kringsjå. I walked towards the train thinking about how with the time change the day before, I could see the sunrise and not have to wake up so early in the morning.

At 6:20 am, I arrived at Majorstuen and followed my phone’s GPS in circles for a few minutes until I orientated myself and began walking in the correct direction. I found the address just across the street. I wasn’t sure where to find the entrance at the intersection. From the corner of the street, I saw a church in front of me and walked further around the side of the building. I tugged at two door handles, but they didn’t budge. I looked at the names on doorbuzzers but none of them read Røde Kors. As I looked walked back up the street, I saw a glass window that showed into the basement of the church. I went to the entrance where I met Khalid, the volunteer who would get me started.

He had been here since 9 pm the previous night and had not slept. Khalid pulled the laptop from his lap and introduced himself. I read over the information and filled out the form. I grabbed a vest when the second volunteer of the morning arrived. I learned she was from Boston. She took her Masters in Norway and never returned.

As we stood in the churches foyer, we asked questions about the those who were sleeping in the beds below. Most were Romanian immigrants who came to Norway to work or were homeless. Most spoke Romanian or a little English. Red Cross offers shelter in the church for a symbolic 15 kroner a night, which is about $1.60. Each person interested in one of the 51 beds comes to the church at 9 pm and reserves a space. They pay and can have the reservation for 5 days, paying 15 kroner for each night they stay there. If there are extra beds for the evening, they are given away on a lottery system.

Each person gets an IKEA bag with a duvet, a sheet, a small hand towel, and a cot that sits 18 inches off the ground. I arrived for the morning volunteer shift so I saw the process for the handing in of this large, blue bag instead of the distribution of it.

My primary role today was to pick up the cots and stack them in the storage room. Each cot had a small, square blanket that was excluded from the IKEA bag, and used by each member. After the other volunteer, Fey, and myself understood what we had to do, we got started.

At 6:30 am, Khalid woke up the sleepers by turning on the lights in the large room of the church where I would have expected to see pews. The men woke up a few at a time. They pulled on their clothes, washed up in the restroom, and folded up their blankets stuffing them back into the IKEA bags.

When I could start my job, I descended the stairs where I saw trollies with numbered sections for the IKEA bags. To the left was a large door where I saw dozens of white cots, surly with sleeping bodies beneath. As I walked past the threshold of the door, I was assaulted with such a strong odor. I imagined many of the men hadn’t had showers in days or it could have been the accumulation of their bundles.

I began picking up the cots one by one and taking them to the back room. I folded the blanket that was on each cot, which I assumed acted as extra cushion or sanitation. I maneuvered through the cots of men still sleeping to the storage room in the back. Beds were lined wall to wall.

It took an hour to get everything folded and stacked up. I would occasionally walk to the numbered trollies to make sure each bag was in the right order and it was then that I could see some of the men prepping themselves in the bathroom. As I stacked more cots, I observed some of the men. Some men were joyous and shouted good morning for all to hear. One man was well dressed and had good quality duffel bags that reminded me of a professor for some reason. Another man was ethnically white and had backpacking gear. It’s as if he knew about this resource and used this instead of staying in a hostel, then again, I don’t know his story.

One by one the room was cleared. When everyone was gone, I gathered my things and walked to the Tbane.

I wanted to become a volunteer because I have become increasingly interested in immigration and the narratives behind the bodies. Some people come here as refugees, escaping danger in their own country. Others come for seasonal work or rejoining their families.

Based on conversations with a few Norwegians, there seems to be a general, while not unanimous, attitude towards immigrants. Norway is the land of let’s work together so we can all benefit. Immigrants should be doing their part to support the benefits they also enjoy. Part of them doing their end of the work is apparently learning the language, because it is very challenging to get a job here if you don’t know the language. I have several qualms with those Norwegians who are angry at immigrants for not learning the language or not learning it fast enough. Yes there are resources to help them learn, but we don’t know their stories and there are numerous emotional, social, and cultural reasons it can be challenging for them to learn.

Although I couldn’t talk to any of the inhabitants of this church beyond good morning, I did see the diversity of their appearances. I want to know their stories and the why  and how they found themselves sleeping on a cot in a church in Norway. I continue to think that by listening with empathy, we can better understand others’ experiences, be less prejudiced or discriminatory, and shape policies to better address their needs.

Links

Red Cross

Make an account, sign up for shifts – it’s that easy. This place is for the men’s shelter. There are other resources for women, children, and reception centers (where you can hang out and talk with them) that I am still searching for.

 

Advertisements

Oslo – Spring

I’ll be in Oslo for the Spring semester and before the semester has moved too far along, I want to introduce you to the city, the university, and my motivations for coming here.

Why Oslo?

Since the moment I arrived in Norway, the most common question I hear is “Why did you choose Norway of all places?” Each person asks it with such surprise and disbelief, that I am forced to reaffirm why I am here. First off, the nature is spectacular and offers some of the most remarkable views I have seen in my life. The fjords, constant flurries of snow, frozen bodies of water, and views as far as the eye can see are some of them. While I came here to be imersed in this natural type of environment, I also came for the academics

What UIO offers

Oslo is a hub for research in Norway and also has an expanisive selection of courses to choose from. Some places for research are the thirteen Centres of Excellence (abbreviated as SFF for the Norwegian translation), tweleve of which are connected to the University of Oslo. Here the researchers focus on specific, long-term research of high international calibre. Quality is a dominant focus for the reseach and there is a good amount of researcher training here as well. Each center seems to have a different focus, so if these are related to your areas of study, it could be useful to check out the the link above. Consider contacting some of the researchers there and learn more about their work. You may even find yourself involved on a project.

I’m interested in education policy and since the Education Department at UIO is one of Norway’s largest departments for education research, it made sense to come here. My courses are in Sociology, social geography, and education. I am most excited for my Comparative International Education course. The classes is full of people from all over the world, therefore, it is a perfect opportunity to learn about the varying models. By the second class, we each gave a presentation of our school systems in America. I was surprised to learn that Germany has a system whose structure can and very clearly limits social mobility. The discussion also helped me draw out some features of our system that I take for granted. No one else seemed to bring up the appearance of charter or magnet schools in their systems. It could be that they don’t have them or that they are under a different name, but it is worth exploring nonetheless.

Student Associations at UIO

There are dozens of student orgs at this university ranging from politics and sports, to music and even Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), if that’s your thing of course. I’ve joined a kayaking club and SAIH, which is an org I am continuing from my time at UIB. I have a club meeting for each org once a week. The kayaking club is awesome because our weekly practice in the pool will lead to trips through fjords later in the summer.

Demographic and City Vibe

Oslo is a more diverse city due to the increased number of immigrants who come here. (I should be able to tell you why when I finish my course on migration…hopefully.) There are migrants from all over the world, many of which are Polish. With the crisis in Syria, Norway has also seen an increase in the number of Syrians who enter the country. People migrate for many reasons and it isn’t always limited to dangerous wars that have caused them to flee, effectively making them refugees. People migrate for work, to rejoin their families, or even because they are forced to by the state or government. Migrants come and stay in Oslo for numerous people and it continues to add to the beauty and diversity of the city.

Vibe in the city is similar to other places in that you feel the energy which comes from the meshing of people and an internal desire to continue looking forward. At the edge of the city, near the Oslo Opera House, is the Barcode District. The collection of buildings that make up this area add to the memorable and modern landscape of Oslo. Come here and you’ll see the modernization of Oslo paired with the nature of the open harbor.

Things to do

There are tons of things to do in this city. One can check out the museums and tour the city, or become one with nature on a hyttetur (cabin trip) lost among the trees. Making dinner with friends and sharing recipes is a great way to remember this experience through your tastebuds. There is tons to do and so little time. Do yourself a favor and enjoy every bit that you can. You won’t be sorry to share these experiences with others.

 

 

Pepperkakenbyen

Back in November, I wrote a post about an event I hosted with ESN Bergen where we built gingerbread houses. Dozens of international students came to the event to roll dough, cut shapes, bake the fragrant dough into houses, and decorate them in different candies and chocolates. Mine was lovely because it was so tiny and had stained glass windows (yes, stained glass windows made from melted hard candy.) Each of these houses help make up the Pepperkakenbyen, also known as the WORLD’S LARGEST GINGERBREAD CITY!!

Each year, the innhabitants of Bergen come together to  build this gingerbread city! Children, students, and even organizations build their own houses and deliver them to the venue and they receive free tickets for entrance in exchange, otherwise, it’s 70 kroner.

I did this very Bergen activity with my American friend since it was one of his last days in the city. It was such a Bergen thing to do and it was well worth the experience. If you don’t participate in an event that gives you free acess, just know that the 70 NOK student discounted is well worth it!

As soon as I walked in, I was struck by the detail of the gingerbread titanic! It was amazing. When we walked further in, the magic of the event hit me. The first time I came to this venue was for a electronoic pop music night. The room was completely transformed. Painted walls were put up to help the visitors escape into a winter wonderland. The room was massive and was actually a giant, empty pool. As I walked around the room, the wave of gingerbread hit me repeatedly!

The collection of houses was massive. It replicated in good detail the city of Bergen from the Bybannen to the red stave church up on the hill. The best part was finding the gingerbread house I made during the ESN event.

There was giant slide for kids and a cafe/bar type thing for adults! Check it out!

Fløyen and Rundemanen

I hiked up Fløyen and Rundemanen with some friends from ESN, Erasmus Student Network, which is a student organization I joined. We’re planning a hike next week and today was the practice run to make sure we know the course. I wasn’t feeling so well so I planned on not going, but I got a message from one of the guys encouraging me to come. Although I was a bit late, I threw on some clothes, grabbed some apples, and jumped on Bybannen (the metro).

I met Benjamin and Robert with his three friends and we started up the path to Fløyen. It was just as challening as I remembered. The trail starts as a zigzag trail up the mountain – up flights of stairs and brief, yet steep paths. Even though it was challenging, it was a beautiful path! The three friends of Robert seriously work out and are in GREAT shape. They moved up the mountain really fast, but stopped now and then to wait for us…well, me… to catch up. I was lucky because Ben and Robert were super wonderful and walked at the same pace as me and helped me feel more comfortable about walking a little slower.

We reached the top of Fløyen, which is where I stopped last time, and saw it differently. I saw more troll statues and they were the neatest thing. There were a bunch of them – there were kid trolls, mom trolls, dad trolls, and even old trolls.

We continued on up the path and at this point, it was incredibly challenging. I felt kind of bad for holding up the three more advanced people, but over and over, they waited for us to catch up. We reached our destination, the grills that would be used during our hiking event, and went over more details about the day. I had lots of energy and wanted to walk more so we went higher. The crowds of tourists thinned as we trekked higher and gradually, the views of Bergen got better and better.

My lesson today: Build and maintain your network. It’s important to have people in your life who will support and encourage you when you feel especially low. The guys made sure I came and even offered to pick me up a sandwich for the top of the mountain.

Goooooaaaalll!!

Today was an awesome day! (Well, October 16th) My language buddy, Eros, invited
me to join him at a soccer game at Brann Stadion (or fire stadium). I met him and his friends at the entrance. Everyone in the group was from a different country – Tunisia, Spain, Italy, Norway, and U.S.A. The game was between Lillestrøm of Oslo and Brann of Bergen (the home team).

It always surprises me how much I enjoy a live sports game! This one was no different. Although our home team didn’t win, it was exciting to watch the players’ technique and see the enthusiasum of the crowd. Everyone wore the teams color, which is red. I luckily brought my red beanie!

Hopefully I have some cheers memorized for the next time I return!

Gingerbread Houses with ESN

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. As soon as November twenty-fifth hits, holiday lights are up and inflatable Santas are being pulled on roofs. For me, Christmas is family, hot chocolate, and driving up to Thoroughbred to look at the decorated houses, each with hundreds of flashing bulbs and lawns with over-sized candy canes and nativity scenes.

This year is a bit different. Strings of lights are going up everywhere and Christmas trees are sprouting up all over the city. Although I haven’t seen Thoroughbred, I do get to participate in other cultural traditions, like the making of gingerbread houses.

Bergen takes Gingerbread making serious. ESN, a student organization I am involved in, hosted a gingerbread house-making event. We provided everything from the fresh dough to the decorations. This was such a neat experience! Gingerbread houses at home cannot hold a candle to those created with the technique of Bergen. While I use gram crackers at home, we rolled and baked fresh dough here. While I use icing to stick walls together, it is traditional (and quite clever) to use melted sugar!! That moment of realizing how much stronger gingerbread house could be changed me. The technique will change my life for holidays to come.

My house below and all of those made at the event may be included in the Bergen’s annual Gingerbread Town.

 

ESN & SAIH Christmas Parties

The semester is ending quickly, but luckily that means Christmas is coming fast too! I joined two student organizations this semester – ESN and SAIH, both of which have celebrated Christmas and all of our semester with a party.

Each party was full of their own traditions. There were meals with traditional meals, secret santa, and lots of time to bond even more. For ESN secret santa, I got Polish cards and candles shaped like the buildings of Bryggen! I’m so grateful to have met so many wonderful students.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.