Friday, August 30, 2013

It's a wrap.

As I sit in my bedroom looking at photos, I can't help but smile when I think of all that has transpired within the last 23 days. It's hard to believe around this time 24 hours ago, we were still in Norway. Actually, that probably explains why I am having a hard time going to sleep right now. Imagine that!

There is no better teacher than experience. To be frank, there are things one can not learn via dictation, reading, or even taking someone else's word for it. You simply have to experience it for yourself. For me, this study tour put a face to that saying. Having the opportunity to live what we were learning took the retention and application of the material to another level. If you ask me, that is the most effective way to educate young people: by exposing us and allowing us to think and draw conclusions ourselves.

For me, this trip has been a time of growth not just in my knowledge about Islam, my waist size, or my hair, but of my honors classmates as well. I learned something new about each and every person that I did not know about them prior to our departure from the United States. I am very proud to say, without bias, that the La Sierra University Honors program is comprised of some truly amazing students, all with great personalities, brains, and hearts to match. I will forever cherish the memories made, and friendships formed with all of them, and can not wait to see what God does with and through them in the near future.

All in all, this study tour was awesome. There is no other way I would have preferred to spend my first time out of the United States. And for this reason, I will go to sleep with a song in my heart, and a smile on my face.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We saw Kristel tonight!

One of the reasons we were interested in coming to Norway (besides looking at the impact of the July 22, 2011 terrorism incident on the Norwegian people and on how they relate to Muslims), was that one of our former graduates, Kristel Tonstad, works here in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Kristel graduated from the Honors Program at La Sierra University in 2004 and has has had a long interest in international affairs and the Middle East.  She came to meet us at dinner tonight and talked with us for quite a while about current affairs in Norway, the impact of the July 22 incident, and her own shared interests with us.

Earlier in the day today we had walked around downtown and came upon an area where a number of government buildings were boarded up and those that were still in partial operation had high security entrances.  I was suspicious that this might be the area Breivik set off the bomb in 2011, but it looked like there was too much damage.  We confirmed tonight with Kristel that this was the site of the bombing.  Because there were only 8 casualties in Oslo, I hadn't expected the bomb damage to be so extensive.  Kristel told us, though, that the reason the casualties were so low was that the bomb went off on a Friday afternoon in the summer, and almost no one is still at work after 3 pm on Friday afternoon in the summer in Oslo.  The casualties would have been much, much higher if the incident had occurred in the morning and/or in another season of the year.  I think this part of the story was lost in the American media.  I know that after the carnage at the youth camp the bombing was secondary in most people's minds, but I was still shocked to see how extensive the damage actually was.  It was clear to me that the bomb was much bigger than I realized.   Also, although the foreign media immediately assumed the violence was from Islamic terrorists, Kristel said that locals knew right away that this had to be a local incident because the youth camp on the island where Breivik later attacked the young people was very much a locally-featured and locally-known event of the labor party.  It was recognized as symbolic by the local community, but the international community would not have seen it as a significant target, because it was a feature of domestic rather than international politics.  The report on the government and police response to the incident recently came out, and it reflected negatively on the preparedness of the government for such an event. There were a number of failures on a national and local level which allowed the event to be much more lethal and uncontrolled than it should have been.  Kristel talked with us about the elections coming up in two weeks, and said that because of the report on the government failures, no one expects the current government to be able to continue, but there is a lot of uncertainty about who exactly will end up being part of a coalition government.  There is a very anti-immigrant party as part of the ruling coalition in Denmark right now, and Norway doesn't have a party like this that is strong enough to get into power, but it's unclear exactly who will emerge as part of the next government and how that will affect the national stance toward immigrants and openness to foreigners. 

I think hearing Kristel's memories of what she was doing and how she and people around her reacted at the time of the July 22 events helped the students to put them into a more personal perspective.  We will meet with her again tomorrow afternoon and are looking forward to talking with a researcher here who studies the role of Muslims in the Norwegian community.

Today the students were assigned to choose one of three museums to go to.  A number of them went to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, which sounded very interesting.  They reported back on what they had learned about the history of the prize, various efforts for peace in the world, and how the Nobel Prizes developed.  Another group of students went to the Jewish Museum here, which is what my family did as well.  The Jewish Museum is a history of the fate of the Jews living in Norway at the time of the Nazi occupation.  As we've been studying religious minorities and how these groups are perceived by majority groups in Europe, it's been very interesting to compare what happened to the Jews in various countries and consider that in light of how the Muslim religious minority is perceived today.  As in Denmark, many of the Jews of Norway took refuge in Sweden if they could get there, and the Swedes' openness to assisting these refugees was vital to their survival.  Unlike in Denmark, though, the Norwegian Jews who were unable to escape to Sweden did not receive the widespread support of the general population, and in fact in many cases they were betrayed by neighbors.  Clearly this happened in many places, but it has been interesting for us to discuss the various factors that contribute to creating situations in which people help those who they perceive to be different from them vs situations in which people turn their backs on others.  I wish we had more time here to visit the Norwegian Resistance Museum and the Intercultural Museum.  As we look at historical reactions to religious and ethnic minorities and the types of reactions we see to Muslims now, it's been interesting to see similarities and differences.  Muslims certainly seem to be perceived as being "different" from previous stigmatized groups, but some of our reading has made clear just how similarly people have reacted to previous waves of Jewish and Catholic immigrants. 

Having previously studied the French situation, we are able to look at ongoing events in France in new ways.  We talked today about the defenstration (apparently a suicide attempt) of a young Muslim woman in the outskirts of Paris, after police harassment claiming she had filed a wrongful report of discrimination.  We also discussed today reactions to Lady Gaga's new song about the burqa and the report of the UN weapons inspectors in Syria confirming chemical weapon use there.  Although we have not had as many opportunities to spend a sustained amount of time with individual Muslims as we do in Turkey, the chain of people we've met and their reactions to and opinions about the situation of Muslims in Europe has definitely impacted us. 

We are enjoying Oslo and our apartments are very nice and convenient to everything, and are also very close to where Kristel lives, which is nice. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

 Well, hello from Norway. Sorry we (this is a joint post by Katy and Laura) are posting a little late. In the past day we have been in Denmark, in Norway, and on a cruise boat somewhere in between the two. Traveling can knock the energy right out of you! But so far, we approve of Oslo!
1. They have delicious, salty green soup! This soup was the perfect thing to enjoy after being cold and hungry for a couple of hours.
2. They have good French onion soup. Its caramelized onions and thin broth far surpasses the overly creamy, cheesy thing Laura experienced in Brussels.
3. Their sweater shops are beautiful and depressing. Beautiful, because these are the most fine, soft, ornate, lust-worthy sweaters known to man, and depressing because they cost about 1,908 Norwegian crowns. Which means we will never be able to afford them. :(
4. People think Laura and I are Norwegian. People at the grocery store, the restaurant, the yogurt shop--they start talking to us in Norwegian, and when we look confused and say, "What?" they try to re-explain what they Norwegian. After a red-faced, "I'm sorry. We don't speak Norwegian," they smile and quickly switch to perfectly fluent English.
5. The entire city of Oslo, which is the largest in Norway, has a population of about 600,000, which is only twice the size of Riverside! Though this population is packed into a small area, Oslo gives off a peaceful, quiet feel.
6. Munch! As in the artist from Norway (I'm pretty sure his name has little dots in it somewhere but I have no idea how to enter them). They are having the Munch 150 exhibit here in Oslo. I (Katy) went to see the exhibit yesterday and was surprised at what a versatile artist he was. He was able to paint in many styles, including realist, impressionist, and modernist. While some of the works were disturbing, it was exciting to see the collection, which had pieces borrowed from museums across the world.

We have yet to assess what we think of the running routes here in Norway. We are about to head out on our eight mile adventure and are sure to get lost! Only two more days of running in foreign countries before we can return to our routes in California. Katy and I are proud of ourselves for running every single day of this trip (except for our two rest days per week), and we know our running habits will help us deal with jet lag once we endure the long flights back to California on Thursday.

Farewell, Copenhagen

Hello this is Pupae and Daniella, the roomies!

(we’ll be using 3rd person sometimes in this entry because this is a joint blog)

So, this is our last day in Copenhagen, Denmark and also the first day we decided different things (for half an hour). Daniella went to the gym with some of the girls and to the sauna at our fancy hotel called “Scandic.” We met for breakfast at 9:30 a.m. The breakfast was really great and fancy. We had a couple of hours before we had to check-out, so Ashlee joined us to a walk to the National Museum to see the Viking exhibition.

At the Viking exhibits, we saw lots of antique artifacts, saw the life-sized Viking boat, learned some interesting things about Vikings, and tried on the Viking helmet. Did you know that Vikings filed their teeth as a fashion statement?

After the exhibit we power walked back to the hotel area and had lunch at Luna’s Café with Barbara and Chloe. Daniella had a veggie wrap and Pupae had Roma pasta. By the time we finished eating lunch, it was time to leave the hotel and head to the ferry (mini cruise) dock. The ferry was bigger than we thought. However, we were so shocked and amazed at the overall experience here the cruise. After exploring the cruise, a group of us decided to sit in the café area. While reading our textbooks, we sipped beautifully decorated lattes and overlooked at the ocean. Then, we had a buffet dinner and class. Now we’re all really tired, so now we are going to bad. Sadly, we are in separate rooms today.

This is Daniella and Pupae signing off. Good night!

P.S. There’s a Jacuzzi on the cruise! But it was too late so we didn’t get to go. L

Netherlands and Denmark

I wrote most of this post when we were traveling from Belgium to the Netherlands and back, but haven’t had a chance to post it, so I’m doing that now, completely out of order.  We’ve had some difficulties with internet access in the last few places we stayed, and my MacBook Air has always had problems with staying online (is “searching for networks” a familiar phrase for anyone else – it’s seems to be a consistent problem reported with this series of computers, but Apple doesn’t seem to have addressed it effectively). 

In any case, a week ago we went to the University of Leiden to meet with a Dutch colleague of Paul’s, Colette van Laar.  She is a social psychologist who studies intergroup relations, specifically focusing on stigmas and discrimination between societal groups that differ in terms of ethnicity, religion, national origin, etc.  She was quite surprised to find that we had made a day trip to the Netherlands to see her.  Apparently for most Europeans, the idea of traveling two hours, and to an entirely different country as a day trip to visit someone is quite remarkable.  In California it can easily take two hours to reach West LA from Riverside, and it’s not too unusual to have school trips that are that far away.  For us, of course, the idea of traveling to an entirely different country seems like a big trip too, but one has to drive much further in most of the US to reach another country.  Somehow I had the idea that the because so many of the European countries are small and close together, it would not seem strange to them to go back and forth.  Perhaps the psychological barriers around crossing borders and changing cultures are not so different here than they are at home. 

I think most of us enjoyed the fact of visiting the Netherlands almost as much as the actual things we did.  It’s true that the part of the Netherlands we went through is full of windmills, but they are not the stereotypical old-style Dutch windmills that we picture.  Wind power still seems very significant, but almost all the windmills we saw were the modern style with a white pillar and a set of blades mounted near the top.  These are very similar to the ones a Californian would see going over the Altamont Pass (if this means anything to anyone) or in the desert near Palm Springs.  As we’ve traveled to Denmark and now Norway, we keep seeing these windmills and observing that the presence of the windmills is one of the big differences between the US and these countries.  There seems to be a significant objection to windmills in the US (often of the “not in my backyard” variety), and it’s kind of puzzling to me why people object so strongly.  My leaning is to say that it has something to do with oil and gas lobbying power, but I still find it odd.  It’s weird to me that we are less concerned about off-shore oil rigs that periodically leak and cause major spills than we are about windmills off shore blocking the view of more ocean.   We are coming to enjoy seeing the windmills out into the ocean here.

The countryside in the Netherlands struck me as looking very much like a Playmobil set.   For those who haven’t seen Playmobil toys, they are a little like Legos, but Legos are more free-form, in the sense that you can make anything with them.  Playmobil sets tend to include specifically shaped pieces to make specific objects and people.  There are houses, vehicles, people in varied historical dress, etc, and all look neatly groomed and perfect.  The Netherlands looked like that to me.  It was almost like a storybook: a little too neat and organized and perfect.

Upscale jogging stroller bike with moon roof

One of the really remarkable things about both the Netherlands and Denmark is the sheer number of bicycles.  In both countries there are distinct lanes for bikes, and on significant roads these are often set off from the main roadway by a median or other barrier to protect the bikes from cars.  In the University town of Leiden, from the outer edge of the road to the center there was a sidewalk, a wide bike lane, a grassy median strip with trees, and then the main roadway.  In Copenhagen the bike lanes are delimited in more subtle ways.  Generally the sidewalk will be a few cm higher than the bike lane, and the bike lane may only be distinguished from the sidewalk by that slight dip or by a slightly different design on the paving stones.  In general, bikes seem to be allowed to park anywhere there is a wall as long as there is no sign specifically forbidding it (and some seem to ignore the signs).  On a lot of streets bicycles will be parked two or three deep against the walls for the entire length of the street.  We’ve been surprised that so few of them are locked up.  Many riders just seem to get off their bikes and leave them wherever they are, with full confidence that the bike will still be there when they return.   We’ve been by the bike stores, and they are not cheap here, so I think it’s more of a general assumption that no one will harm your property (or perhaps a view that bikes are sacrosanct).  We have some friends who lived in Denmark about 40 years ago (Hi Mike and Linda) who say that when they lived here people would actually park their baby strollers WITH THE BABIES STILL IN THEM outside of stores while they went in to shop.  They said that the babies were always bundled up if it was cold outside, but no one seemed to be concerned about whether the baby would still be there when they returned.   This seems a bit shocking to me as a parent in this era.

which apparently holds FOUR kids in addition to the one adult!!
(the mini-van of bikes)
Brochure-rack bike (the seat is on the left side with the handles
against the red brochure bin
In any case, the most interesting feature of the bicycles in Denmark has been the wide variety of modifications people seem to make to them.  It’s not entirely clear whether people buy bikes with all the designs I’ve seen or if they buy a cruiser bike or something like that and modify it.  Certainly some of the designs look quite original, which makes me doubt that they are manufactured that way.  Probably the most common bike mod looks like a combination of the back 2/3 of a cruiser bike and the front portion of a jogging stroller.  Some of these are fairly high class vehicles, and some look like a large garbage can on wheels with a cut-away window welded below the handlebars of the bike.  We also saw several bikes that looked like they incorporated the concepts of a flatbed truck.  These sometimes had a platform for cargo just in front of the handlebars, with the front wheel of the bike stretched way out in front of the platform.  People seemed to be using these to haul a variety of things, including hardware or tools or groceries.  We saw one of two that had the platform behind the seat with a back wheel trailing behind the platform.  There were also bikes that had been modified for other purposes.  For example, one bike had a brochure rack mounted over and in front of the front wheel so it was essentially a rolling advertising stand.  It was parked in a prominent place so people could take the advertising brochures for city tours, from the rack and then the business owner could ride the whole thing home at the end of the day.  In addition to these special modifications, people had every kind of carrying contraption you can imagine mounted on their bikes for carrying smaller packages.  A lot of bikes had the classic wicker basket on the front or metal mesh professionally made baskets, but some of them had milk crates, plywood platforms or other home-made or make-do solutions for carrying things with them.  There were also a lot of baby seats on bikes as well as a few that had platforms built onto them for older kids to sit on.  It    At one point we were scolded by a group of Danes for blocking the WALL, because people wanted to park their bikes against it.  Sigh. 
was pretty clear that bikes are the preferred mode of transportation, and people seem to be very open to a variety of ideas about what is considered proper to do with or to one’s bike.
Baby-in-a trash-can bike modification, with rain hood.  I think these are available to rent

The "wheelbarrow" bike in front of the "Boger" store (apparently it's a book store, but it's well suited for American junior
high school humor)
The "flat-bed" bike modification (it's not entirely clear to me how the steering works on this one.  Perhaps it's just brute force?  Perhaps "lean to the left" might work just as well?).  You can see Aydin reflected in the window.  I think he's
saying, "Mom, why do you keep taking pictures of bikes??"

Greetings from the Copenhagen to Oslo ferry

Sorry I haven't posted anything in a few days.  Internet access has been unreliable.  We just boarded a cruise ship ... Errr...."ferry" but it looks more like a cruise ship to me.  I may be an unreliable witness on this point, though, as my only experience of cruise ships has been in magazine photos. We just passed a room full of our students who brought more that the recommended amount of luggage (a frequent problem), and they seemed to be drowning in luggage in their teeny room.  We ran into Allan a few minutes ago, and he was running up and down the stairs like a kid who has just discovered sugar!  New experiences are fun.

This is an overnight trip, and we will arrive in Norway in the morning.  Thus far the trip has been productive and interesting.  Our project has been to compare the way that Muslims, particularly Muslim immigrants, are perceived and treated in various countries in Europe. Because of different political systems and different histories and social norms and values and different populations of immigrants, the countries we have visited have had a different types of issues to address and different levels of success in achieving their own particular models of integration.

In France the official form of secularism makes use of the school system to attempt to produce a homogenous, idealised Republican (as in the French Republic) citizen.  This means that differences are things to be overcome rather than appreciated.  This creates conflicts between those who resent others who won't comply and immigrants who feel a part of their identity is systematically suppressed.  It also creates splits between those who are seen as "good Muslims" because they try to comply with the secular ideal by suppressing any signs of religion, and the "bad Muslims" who maintain aspects of their religious and/or national identity.  There is no religious education in the schools, and the issue of headscarves, face veils, and burkas is very problematic and conflictual.  We spoke with a representative of a group in France that addresses violence and discrimination against Muslims, and this is a serious and widespread problem there.  There is sometimes a sense among people that Muslims who "look like" Muslims are actively resisting becoming assimilated and thus have no place in France.

Belgium teaches officially recognised religions in the schools (families can choose).  The Belgians we talked to seemed to see the French model as too antagonistic, although they hastened to assure us that Belgium is a secular state and holds secularism to be an important value.  This value seemed to be share by the religious people we met.

Denmark is very different because there is an official church that is the State church of Denmark.  This means that the church by and large fulfils some of the functions the state normally would like registration of births and deaths.  Religious expression and practice are much less restricted than they would be in France, but Denmark is also one of the few countries in Europe that has a nativist party in power.  The Danish People' Party is based on the premise that Denmark should be for native Danes and that immigrants, particularly Muslims, are a threat to ethnic Danes.  The DPP is currently part of a coalition government.  This is a great concern for the Muslims here, as these Nativist parties tend to support policies that promote deportation of those who are seen as incompatible with "Danishness."  We talked with a La Sierra alum who is African American who said that prejudice is a bi issue in Denmark and she hasn't found Danes to be very open to or welcoming of those they perceive as different.  Anyone who comes to Denmark from a non-EU state is required to learn Danish, and even with fluent Danish, looking non-Danish is an obstacle. When we were in Odense we didn't see inter-ethnic friendships with Danes with the exception of people involved with the church inter cultural outreach program.  This was one of the reasons the program seemed particularly powerful to me.