Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Ramah Aleryan will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Globalization, National Identity, and the Politics of Belonging program in Norway this fall semester. Ramah is a junior at Colorado College, majoring in Sociology and double-minoring in Journalism and Feminist/Gender Studies. Read on for Ramah’s first post.
I chose the HECUA New Norway program because it focuses on national identity, globalization, and politics of belonging. I am really interested in immigration and the refugee debate going on right now in the world. I’m a current student at Colorado College, and on campus, I am heavily involved with CC Refugee Alliance. This has allowed me to volunteer to teach English to Arabic-speaking refugees. I get to experience how the American system deals with refugees and what kind of services they provide. When I was looking into study abroad programs, I was interested in the HECUA program because I wanted to experience how the Norwegian government deals with refugees in comparison with the US, especially refugees from the Middle East. Scandinavia is an appealing area for many refugees and asylum seekers.
When I arrived in Norway, I began to volunteer with the Syrian Peace Action Center (SPACE), which is a nonprofit, independent association that focuses on providing culturally-specific space and programming for Syrians, with the aim of combating the violent fragmentation the people of Syria are undergoing. It is a huge learning opportunity for me to learn about an Arab Spring country with a distinct social fabric, political circumstances, and devastating current situation. I got to recognize my own ignorance toward my region, but I also had a great opportunity to hear stories from Syrians themselves. I got to realize how distorted the media narratives about Syrians are and even how the representation is sometimes lacking.
A public conversation during SPACE’s “The Question of Syria” forum.
As part of the HECUA program, there is an independent study project component where I am allowed to research any topic that I desire. I decided to make my research about the notion of integration of refugees and asylum seekers, focusing my research on the newest population in Norway, Syrians.
Through SPACE, I had access to many Syrians. I have been humbled by their stories. In spite of being from the Middle East, I got to realize my privilege to be in Europe or move around Europe freely as an exchange student or a tourist at times. I am displaced myself; however, there is no comparison to refugee displacement where there is nowhere to return. There is no safe space or comfort zone.
Not everybody tours Europe as an exchange student or a tourist. Some refugees risk their lives through different migration routes like the Mediterranean in search of a safe place. Some do not even survive those routes. After surviving the journey across the Mediterranean, they tour most of Europe illegally in search of safety, home, and belonging in the future. I saw resilience and strength in people who were forced to start over in a completely new place.
It has been such a privilege to work with them on organizing events around Oslo to encourage dialogue around Syria and also provide awareness about the Syrian political situation. We just finished an annual conference –The Question of Syria– which this year revolved around the idea of hope. The conference invited many scholars and activists to talk about their work revolving around Syria. It has been amazing volunteering in Norway with a population that I relate to, and doing research with and about Syrians. I can highlight struggles that the Western media often ignores, or frames in a disempowering or xenophobic way.