Student Blogger Study Abroad

Welcoming refugees: the US vs. Norway

A group of people stand, looking off the camera. One person holds a large sign with the words Welcome, Asylum Seekers and Refugees encircled by a pink heart.

Source: John Englart (Takver)/Flickr CC-by-SA

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. Click here to read Ramah’s second post.

The first two years of my college career, I was pretty involved in the Colorado College Refugee Alliance, which has two responsibilities. The first is to recruit volunteers from Colorado College, and the second is to assist Lutheran Family Services–the organization responsible for resettling refugees in Colorado Springs–in teaching refugees English, helping them settle in their houses and any other needed tasks. Working with CC Refugee Alliance is the main reason that I wanted to apply for HECUA program in Norway. I wanted to compare US system and Norweigan system in “integrating” or resettling refugees. In this blog, I will share some insights about the difference between the two systems.

In Norway, when refugees/asylum seekers arrive in Norway, they enroll in a two-year program called “The Introduction Program.” The program is designed for 18-50 year old immigrants from various nationalities. The program provides basic Norwegian language skills, basic insight into Norwegian social conditions, and preparation for participation in working life. The program may run for up to two years, with additional periods for approved leaves of absence. The program is paid as long as the participants attend classes and take the exams.

After a decision to admit an applicant is made, the case is referred to a resettlement agency, a nongovernmental organization that receives funding from the Department of State (DOS) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to resettle refugees in local communities. The U.S. resettlement program emphasizes getting refugees in jobs as fast as possible – a key difference with the Scandinavian resettlement model. The DOS Reception and Placement Program provides resettlement agencies with funding to support refugees’ reception and accommodation for the first 30 days after their arrival, including food, housing, clothing, and support for employment guidance and language training.

I found that the US has more of a capitalistic approach to the resettlement of refugees. The main goal is for refugees to get jobs. While in Norway, it is an approach that suits the welfare state. Most importantly for refugees to learn the language, delve into the Norwegian society, then to be prepared to enter the work environment. However, the American approach can be constructed this way because the language is English and it may be assumed that refugees and asylum seekers would have a background and directly be prepared to enter the job market.

While in Norway, the language is Norwegian. It is a rare and difficult language to learn that takes more time to practice. The American approach can also depend on the fact that the world’s media and culture are already Americanized so it will probably take less to integrate to the American society. Both systems have their pros and cons. That said, a lot of things are assumed in both systems.


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