Peace Scholar Post: Immigration and Assimilation – No Easy Answers.

This is part of a series of blog posts written by the 2014 Peace Scholars as they experience their summer program in Norway. This post was written by Anna Jeide from Luther College.

We are halfway through our second week at the International Summer School in Oslo and time is flying fast. In two weeks we have discussed the challenges of peace building, visited the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, met Norwegian diplomats, practiced Norwegian folk dancing, and watched several World Cup matches in downtown Oslo.

This week, we had the honor of meeting with Norwegian diplomat Knut Vollebaek, who currently serves on the Board of Commissioners of the International Commission on Missing Persons. Mr. Vollebaek also served as OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, Ambassador to the United States, and Foreign Minister of Norway.

Mr. Vollebaek graciously answered our questions regarding his extensive work in international affairs and protection of human rights. One peace scholar asked about the challenges of integration and assimilation with regards to immigrant populations in Oslo. Mr. Vollebaek honestly admitted that there are indeed challenges that come with the recent increase in immigration, which has been changing the demographics of Norway.

He explained that one challenge is that many immigrants who come to Norway do not necessarily want to be “Norwegian.” Many want to work and receive education in Norway, but do not want to assimilate completely into Norwegian culture or identity. Mr. Vollebaek compared this phenomenon to the United States, explaining that he believes in the U.S. immigrants want to “become American” and that this process of assimilation is more feasible than in Norway, given that the U. S. is traditionally a nation of immigrants.

Mr. Vollebaek’s comments caused me to reflect on the status of my own country and my own community. It was not the first time that I heard someone from another country describe the United States as an ideal place where it is easy for newcomers to assimilate and become “American.” I wonder about the accuracy of this perception.

Is it that easy for immigrants to assimilate and become “American”? Are we a nation ready and willing to receive the “other” with open arms? Who is responsible for instigating the process of assimilation -the immigrant or the “American”?  As a young adult and an American, what is my responsibility in addressing and responding to these issues?

There are no simple answers to these questions. No politician, religious leader, or community organizer can conjure a magic solution, but with four more weeks to go, I hope Oslo and the Peace Scholars Seminar can provide some answers.

 

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