Study Abroad

Beyond the Classroom: On the Frontlines of Community and Culture in Oslo

Stock image of houses in norway

Emily Gardner is HECUA’s fall semester student blogger for The New Norway program! She is a Psychology major and an Anthropology minor at Colorado College. Emily will be posting on the HECUA blog regularly this fall semester. You can read her first post in this series here. Read on for Emily’s take on her volunteer placement site, outdoor education organization FRIGO.

One of the major factors that drew me to HECUA is the internship component. The opportunity to engage in long-lasting volunteer work with an organization in Oslo is invaluable. After an extensive placement-matching process I found myself at FRIGO, an outdoor education organization that partners with local schools coming from immigrant-heavy neighborhoods. Some of the children FRIGO works with have been socialized to see nature and wilderness as an unsafe place, and a place where one would not choose to go “hang out.” FRIGO strives to teach children through school field trips that nature, a valued space in Norwegian culture, can be a safe, fun, and beautiful place to spend time.

From canoeing to skiing to camping, FRIGO teaches kids the skills they need to feel comfortable in nature and perform a variety of outdoor sports.In our HECUA course, we have just begun the second half of the semester, where we are transitioning into learning about the challenges globalization has presented the Scandinavian Welfare States. We have begun discussions of immigration and integration into Norwegian society, and the political and cultural barriers for a Norwegian newcomer. My work with FRIGO and children from immigrant families is incredibly relevant.

Especially for children from immigrant families, a sense of belonging in Norway is crucial. Enjoying Norwegian nature (and understanding this aspect of Norwegian culture) could significantly contribute to a child’s feelings towards his new home. It has been very exciting to connect classroom discussions to my work with a local organization. At Colorado College, I volunteer with a student group very similar to FRIGO. Every week we pick up a group of middle school students and lead outdoor-focused activities for them. Because I have some experience with youth outdoor education, it has been fascinating to reflect on these experiences in different cultures.

Though many aspects of outdoor recreation are the same in Norway and the United States, I have noticed some striking differences in safety measures. For example, at FRIGO, more than fifty eleven-year-olds will be handed knives to whittle a skewer with only a few chaperones present. This was shocking to me! For liability reasons, this could never happen in Colorado. Similarly, during an orienteering exercise on my first day, kids were sent with maps into the forest. No meeting place or time was established, but sure enough, no kids got lost.

Maybe we are too fearful in the United States; I seemed a lot more nervous about these activities than any of the FRIGO staff. There seems to be more trust in the kids at FRIGO. Even something as simple as the weather is less of an issue; it was pouring rain my entire first day and every single kid still enthusiastically hopped into a canoe and paddled in the freezing downpour for a few hours. I didn’t hear a single complaint about the rain or the cold. My experience with middle schoolers in the United States leads me to believe there would have been a plethora of complaints if this had back home. Though this reinforces a stereotype of Norwegians as tough, one-with-nature mountain people, I have gotten the impression from my time with FRIGO that Norwegians truly seem to be less phased by weather and potential danger.

Another standout cultural difference I have experienced relates to the work environment. I injured my ankle a few days before I was scheduled to complete my second day at FRIGO. I found myself hobbling painfully, and terrified for the implications of this injury for my internship. Would this leave a bad impression? Would they think of me as weak or unfit for the job? Nervously, I approached my professor and explained that I didn’t think it would be wise to hike around on my hurt ankle for six hours. He cheerfully made it clear that Norwegians, and certainly FRIGO, would never want me to work while injured. Clearly what I needed was rest, and they would completely understand. This sparked a further discussion about values in the workplace in Norway. In the hyper-competitive, individualistic U.S., a new supervisor might expect you to show up to work no matter what. But in the more collectivist Norwegian Welfare State, (where every worker starts with six weeks of paid vacation), it is understood that every worker should be given what they need to be at their best, at all times, for any reason. This, in turn, will benefit the entire work community.

I was thrilled to hear this and quickly realized how irrational and cutthroat it made the average U.S. workplace appear. Overall, I am incredibly thankful for the internship component of my semester. To me, there seems no better way to be immersed in Norwegian life than being on the front lines of nonprofit organization work in the Oslo community. It perfectly supplements my academic experiences, helps me to feel like a participating member of the Oslo community, and expands my knowledge of Norwegian culture.

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