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February 16, 2014

Perceptions of Immigrants

I had an important realization about the situation of foreigners and their experiences in dealing with the native culture.

Earlier today, on my way to the grocery store, I saw a lone stroller lined up along the bike racks outside of a local restaurant. The weather is relatively mild around this time of year in Oslo, but it certainly does not make good conditions for an exposed infant. With no one nearby, a thousand thoughts immediately rushed into my head regarding my role in the situation: "If an infant is in the stroller, should I go into the restaurant and ask to whom is belongs?" "Is my Norwegian good enough to communicate that I am looking for the guardians of the baby I'm holding?" As I was walking over to check on the stroller, I started worrying about whether I would need to contact authorities. "Will I sour the mood with the police by requesting they speak to me in English?" "How will I appear to others walking into my dormitory with an infant?" "If I'm approached, will my difficulties with Norwegian lead to me being misunderstood, perhaps even considered a kidnapper?" As I was approaching the stroller, I felt a hesitation that I never expected. I am going to help a child that might be in danger. Why should I hesitate?  

No infant was in the stroller. I was relieved that this was likely just the solution of some restaurant patrons of what to do with a bulky stroller and that the infant was warm inside the building. However, I was also relieved because I wouldn't be forced into a situation where my foreigner status might work disastrously against me. This experience made me realize how foreigners might be misunderstood in native cultures for being hesitant to help in these sorts of situations. I was aware of the gaps in my understanding of the culture and the language, and I feared that by trying to help an infant find its guardian(s) that I might make the situation worse for the infant and for myself. This apprehension to help others might in other contexts be perceived as coldness, inappropriate reticence, or even hostility. Importantly, I was experiencing this apprehension as a Scandinavian-looking white person in Oslo; I can only imagine how much more hesitation a black immigrant from Uganda might feel in this circumstance.

I walked back into my dorm feeling much more empathy toward the immigrants in my home country. The large influx if Hispanic expatriates in the USA likely experience similar issues, especially if they have a limited grasp of English. Indeed, considering the monolingualism of many US citizens, there may not be a common language between the immigrant and the native. It is easy to criticize the Hispanic immigrant for ignoring an injured man on the street when natives flock to his aid. The immigrant, though, could very well fear that their intentions would be misconstrued and that they might make a bad situation worse, especially if the language barrier is strong.

I am a stranger in a strange land. I am of course familiarizing myself with the culture and feeling more welcome every day. However, the experience of being an immigrant is a unique one, and I intend to take the lessons I learn as an immigrant back with me.

February 11, 2014

Full Year?

February 11, 2014

I knew that studying abroad for a full year would be a much different experience than just a semester. While I'm glad I chose to be at the University of Glasgow for a full academic term, it has come with its new experiences and drawbacks that has challenged me yet again to be adaptable to change. 

Over my winter break I was able to go back home to Minnesota, however, I wanted to spend New Year's in Glasgow, so sadly, I was only home for 6 days. When I returned to Scotland I celebrated the New Years with a friend and then almost immediately after that I traveled up north to the Orkney Islands. I barely had any downtime during my winter break, and it seems as though this entire year I will not get to enjoy that luxury. 
When I arrived back in Glasgow to start up the new term, I had gotten a new roommate, who, to my surprise, happened to be a fellow Minnesotan. Classes started almost immediately and I started cracking down with my studies, as my impending 9 exams and 60 page portfolio in May are closing in. 

I have been told that I am quite adaptable, and thankfully, I think I am, otherwise this semester would be a lot harder. For example, when I started my study abroad experience in September, it seemed as though I immediately had friends, throughout the semester the same people I met in the beginning had become my core group of friends that I did almost everything with. Most of them were only studying abroad for the one semester. So, I knew that at the beginning of second term I would have to face change yet again and make new friends. The experience of making new friends in a city that you feel is home is interesting and worthwhile, but it can also be exhausting. (However, I blame most of my exhaustion on studying relentlessly, pouring over textbooks that are just "suggested reading").

I am missing home much more this semester than last semester, I miss UMM and the teaching and learning styles. Honestly, what I think I miss most though is Briggs library where I used to spend hours everyday. I never thought I would say that. :)
To anyone reading this who is struggling between studying abroad for a full year or a semester, let me try to give you some pointers from my own experiences.
1. Studying abroad for a full year is definitely worth it-
2. Studying abroad for a semester is definitely worth it-
As someone who is only taking psychology (my major) classes in her time abroad-that's 12 psych classes for me- I would never recommend that because that means 12 exams, most in the period of 1 month:
3. Choose your classes wisely no matter how long you're there for-
4. You will make friends, if you try, no matter if you're there all year or either semester-

I have come to some conclusion that my two semesters here are going to be entirely different experiences of study abroad, and when I eventually come to the end of my time here, I will think of them as separate, yet cohesive, parts of my life.
I know when I conclude my time here I will have even more advice. I just wanted to put some of my reflections and thoughts down now. I am going to get back to reading my wonderful Physiological Psychology textbook. 
Cheers!

-Rachael Blais




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