Student Blogger Study Abroad

Meeting Norway’s Newcomers

Featuring hands holding UNO cards

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Marissa Mikrot is HECUA’s student blogger for The New Norway program this fall. Marissa is a student at The College of St. Scholastica majoring in Global, Cultural and Language Studies. Read on for her next post!

One of the most important factors that I looked for in a study abroad program was if an internship was offered and available during my studies. HECUA offered just that and offered a variety of internships that suited the needs of the students that were accepted into the program.

For me, an internship meant that I was given the opportunity to explore a career that I seriously saw myself working in after graduation – teaching English, or any language, as a second language. Additionally, it is a way for me to explore if my current career choice is the one I want to go into or if I should begin to look into other career options my major offers me – including human rights, community-based organizations, or international human services. I expressed my interests in working directly with those who are affected by migration and helping with their integration into a society so unlike their own. I also offered my ability to speak, read, and understand four languages very well to help with a diverse group of people, and history of teaching a second language to a variety of age levels.

With this information, Alex and Hanna were able to find me a position working with Byomfattende Senter for Enslige Mindreårige Flyktninger (BYMIF) or, in English, the City Comprehensive Center for Single Minor Refugees.

BYMIF was established in 1982 when the Child Welfare secretariat in the Oslo Municipality saw a need for special housing and resources to be offered for the many refugees and asylum seekers entering the country. In 2007, BYMIF acted as a separate, city-wide service that was a voluntary and free additional service to what the Child Welfare secretariat in Oslo provided; however, in 2011 it was incorporated as a business whose primary client is the municipal child welfare service.

According to BYMIF, their values are as follows:

“Our professional work is based on resilience theories and knowledge or trauma-aware care. We are a child welfare professional resource center, which mean we see our users as children and young people in need of care and stimulation for growth and development within given growing conditions. At the same time, these young people must be understood from a refugee perspective as they have special challenges and needs as refugees in a new country, some with complex trauma after care failure, experiences of war, refugee and various types of abuse. They must develop belonging to a new society and learn the norms and rules of that society, while learning to master a life in exile, developing appropriate strategies for dealing with grief, need and trauma.”

BYMIF works with single minor refugees with applications for residency and visas, passports, grants and loans, housing, bank support, schooling, health services, case discussion, recruitment of caregivers and support staff, and many other services. BYMIF also provides aftercare and support by monitoring youth in transition phases, overviewing finances, safeguarding and expanding youth’s private networks, organizing leisure activities, and assisting in internships and jobs.

There are three specific services for unaccompanied minors in Oslo that BYMIF offers: foster care, the book collective, and the evening program. I have been placed within the evening program so this is the program that I know the most about.

The evening program is not only offered to unaccompanied minors but also for young people living in their own. This program is offered three nights a week and focuses on following up with the young peoples’ schooling, providing activities and tours throughout the community and country, and offerings support in acquiring and perfecting everyday life skills – such as computer and web work, economics, cooking, and first aid. The faculty and staff at BYMIF maintain regular contact with the young peoples’ teachers to schedule school-oriented courses and groups by levels to help with retention of materials being taught by multilingual volunteers. The activities and tours are opportunities for these young people to explore the community and country through cultural and outdoor life experience to promote coping and independence so that they begin starting things on their own.

I have been volunteering at BYMIF for over two months. Each time I arrive, I am greeted by the most beautiful smiles and warmest greetings. Most of the youth are male. In fact, I have only met three, young women who are a part of the program. They all migrated from the Middle East – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. – and Northeastern Africa – Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, etc. Many of the youth have just started high school, so their main subjects of study are Norwegian, history, math, various sciences, and English.

My main responsibility while I am at the volunteer site is to interact as much as possible with the youth, specifically in English and help them with their English homework. Every week, I prepare an English class that aims to promote the understanding that they have of English grammar and expand basic vocabulary that they will more than likely use in everyday life. Considering they spend their entire day in class, I try to keep the “classes” fun and interesting; therefore, most of the time I create games and use the thrill of a competition to gain and keep their interest in what I am trying to teach them. So far, we have played Pictionary, board race, UNO, matching games, and have tossed a ball around with different questions on it to get to know more about each other.

Sometimes, it can be incredibly difficult to involve participation. The youth are often swimming in homework for a variety of classes, have had a long day and want to relax, or would rather play a game of ping pong or foosball. Days like these are honestly what I enjoy the most because it gives me the opportunity to really get to know each person in the program.

Some of the youth speak English extremely well. They were the first to welcome me to the program and often help translate for me to understand what others were saying. They also act as buffers to help warm other individuals up to me. I understand how anxious it can make someone feel to have a stranger come into their space and speak a foreign language with intense fluency. You put walls up because you do not want to embarrass yourself trying to speak the language, and when you do not know the language, it is hard to get yourself to find the courage to speak to them.

I, myself, have anxiety in approaching some of the youth for the latter reason. Although I am taking Norwegian classes, my vocabulary is very limited. They undoubtedly know more than I do. But knowing that they are in the same shoes I am in, just with English, gives me enough nerve to sit at the table with them or invite them to play a game of foosball. I have yet to regret approaching these wonderful young men and women because every time I do, conversations never end. We talk about all sorts of things from lifting weights to what they miss about their home country or what new adventures they have found themselves in since arriving in Norway. The last is my favorite because I am invited into a part of their lives that not many people get to see. I have been invited to cricket and soccer games that the boys play in on the weekends and even church services to meet friends and family members.

I am very thankful for the fact that they have warmed up to me so quickly. I love walking into a room and hearing someone shout, “Hello, America! Do you speak English? I speak English today. How are you?” They walk over to shake my hand, invite me to sit, ask about my day, and tell me about theirs as the best they can. They are so eager to learn and retain so much of what I give them.

I feel incredibly honored to be a part of their lives, even if it is for only a short amount of time.



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