(The title of this piece is inspired by PASU’s event “Your Africa, My Africa = Our Africa)
It truly is a shame. An embarrassment that we share. That we, born and raised, aren’t the ones who say, «Welcome to our country”. This is a reflection I was grazed with following a chat with two young men.
People say we don’t know how lucky we are. Born in the richest country on earth, with well-functioning political and educational systems. Righteousness, moral and equality stands tall in Norway. People say we are spoiled. That is the truth. I am spoiled, and it’s quite likely you are too. I suspect this makes us indifferent to struggles. Now, since people have a tendency of filling in context as they please I would like to make something very clear. I am not saying we don’t have mental illness, I’m not saying our problems have no value, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be looking out for our fellow neighbor. However, I am saying there are other kinds of struggles that we don’t understand. There are struggles we have never thought of. There are problems that have never braced our existence, which we therefore pay little to no attention to. There are problems we don’t even know exist. We can do better.
ISU is running for election with 16 representatives, with 2 currently in parliament. The previously written articles, for the other lists, have been mainly informative. Upon interviewing ISU, I quickly realized they operate quite differently. I have to admit that as a fresh student myself, and just recently exploring the world of politics, I had no idea what ISU represented. What are their core values? What are their main goals and ambitions? What would they like to see happen, and what do they already have in action? This is the story of my awakening.
I could go on forever about the misconceptions regarding a list like ISU. You can compare this to the stigma around the Norwegian political party “KRF” (Kristelig Folkeparti) who literally have the word “christian” in it. (Yes, I am aware the correct spelling of the word is with a capital C, however, I refuse to follow this ridiculous norm). Now, having that word in your actual name brings a lot of confusion. Is this party only for the religious? How can they assure and preserve the goals I would like to see fulfilled? “I don’t really connect with the whole religious thing…”. You get the idea. This is where I admit my own shortcomings. Thoughts like these occupied my headspace upon discovering ISU. And after all, I’m not an international exchange student, how can this list promote the same interests that I have?
Thursday, 13.00 hours precisely, I sat down to talk to the list leader of ISU and the founder of PASU. Who might PASU be, you ask. PASU (Pan-African Student Union of Stavanger, founded 2017) is a sister-organization of ISU, who are currently cooperating for the upcoming election based on sharing the same goals. My questions had been sent to them prior to the meeting, the document had been prepared, and the nerves had settled. I was ready to follow a format I had created. A format soon to be completely disregarded.
As we started talking I realized that there’s an obvious cultural difference between us. I will never be fully capable of understanding what it’s actually like to be a foreigner in Norway. Especially as a student, with lectures, updates, and everything else written mainly in a different language. A language that not everyone has the chance to adopt in time. Because of this imaginary wall, I felt the need to fully understand the thought process behind these people sitting in front of me. So, I started asking questions.
I was on the receiving end of great tales of the members, the founders and the leaders themselves. Many who’ve embarked on the great journey to study in a foreign country, understanding a different culture and learning a new language. From what I could gather there are an estimated 1000 students at the university with a foreign background. This is around the same number of votes that the entire election gathered last year. Every now and then my interview-subjects stopped with their stories and reminded me that ISU is not just the party for international exchange students. ISU is the list for everyone, with every background, every hope and every ambition. We represent people – all people.”
The understanding I was hoping to reach was getting closer. There’s a certain invisible barrier between me and the exchange students. I don’t understand why or how it’s challenging to come to my country. Not the way they do.
As the conversation progresses I’m told of the challenges with establishing a social network. I’m told of the challenges with joining certain activities. During the midst of the back and forth I notice a certain line from John Sigvard detailing his early time at the university; “focused on fitting in everywhere…”. That’s a feeling I could never relate to. I automatically fit in. I have deep respect for that challenge, and the courage on display that goes with it.
Imagine you travel to Indonesia, hopeful and eager to embark on a new chapter. At the time of arrival, you quickly realize the situation you’re in. “Who will help me? How will I know where to go? How does transportation work here? Do I need an app? How do I figure out the name of that app? Sigh, I don’t even speak the language…”
I respect the work being put in. Someone has to work for bettering the day to day of the exchange students. That someone is ISU. Someone has to work for bettering the day to day of the Norwegian students. That someone is also ISU. They don’t care what you like, where you’re from, or what language you speak. They care about you plainly based on your existence. Are you human? Congratulations, you made the cut.
As a journalist I’m supposed to be unbiased. And for the large part, I truly am. I could’ve written an in-depth piece like this from the perspective of every list. But I have this feeling that we aren’t nearly as inclusive to our visitors as we can be, and that we may forget why this matter. We can get so lost in our own bubbles. Invite someone into yours for a while or visit someone else’s. All in all, it might be best if we dissolve them entirely.
Remember that the election itself is about politics, and you need to agree with the lists before casting a vote. However, I will be forever grateful for this kind of service. If you find yourself loving these idea, or sharing these values, you know what to do. It truly is a shame. An embarrassment that we share. That we, born and raised, aren’t the ones who say, “Welcome to our country”. To our university, to our culture, to our norms – into our lives.