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 Amy Delo from Pacific Lutheran University.
People around the world come together over coffee. Trust me, as a Seattleite I know the importance of a good cup of coffee on a rainy Monday. However, going to a Starbucks is just not the same as experiencing European café culture. Today after class I decided to pack up my homework and head out to a coffee shop where I could sit, work and chat all afternoon.
I got on the T-bane with a few friends and headed out to Grønland, a neighborhood in East Oslo. We found a café and claimed a spot outside with our drinks. We had been told in class and by past Peace Scholars that East Oslo is the more diverse part of the city, where more immigrants and non-ethnic Norwegians live. This was readily apparent. Upon sitting down we heard two men at the table next to ours having a conversation in Serbian. Looking down the street there was a store selling fabric to make saris, a fruit and spice market, many women wearing the hijab, and many men wearing thawbs. In a homogenous society, like Norway, it was startling and refreshing to observe passersby from every different ethnic, linguistic, and national background imaginable while enjoying my latte. The people-watching from the café terrace was so fascinating that my homework never left my backpack.
Immigration and the changing makeup of Norwegian society have been a prominent topics of discussion in the class I am taking in Scandinavian Politics and Government at the International Summer School in Oslo. It has only been in the last 30 years that immigration to Norway has become significant and the large influx of people (relative to the overall population size) has created a more diverse population, especially in Oslo. This change in demographics has caused negative sentiment towards ‘others’ and an increase in Norwegian nationalism. This fact is unfortunately supported by the 22 July terrorist attack by Anders Behring Breivik, thought to have been undertaken as a response to the Labour government’s pro-immigration position destroying the Norwegian nation (among other reasons).
While some scholars, like Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations, would insist this xenophobic action was carried out because different cultures are destined to fight for the rest of time due to their irreconcilable differences, as a Peace Scholar that idea is utterly ridiculous. Bridging the gap between different cultures while respecting the integrity of each is a challenge, however, creating an understanding and appreciation for those who are different than yourself- the ‘other’- is a possible and worthwhile endeavor. So if you have the chance, grab a cup of coffee in Grønland. You will observe a community of people from all over the world rushing down the street, chatting with friends over coffee, and going about their everyday lives. When you take the time to look around, Grønland doesn’t seem as different from the rest of Oslo as it did by first glance.