WORKSHOP: WHAT CAN WE DO TO BECOME BETTER HOSTS?
What can we do to make Oslo feel more like home for everyone coming here? Are we as Norwegians part of the problem? What can we do to help? Does Norwegians have international friends? And if not, why not? What could we do or offer to the city and new arrivals?
These were just a few of the questions we asked a bunch of Norwegians that happily came to share their thoughts with us last week in the lab.
We asked them to tell us about their experiences around studying or working abroad, about their everyday habits in Oslo and what they can do to make the city a more welcoming one for internationals coming here to study or work.
This workshop was one of 4-5 workshops we are hosting in the next few weeks, and the answers we got will hopefully lead us in the right direction in suggesting different initiatives for Oslo Host Program. Interested in reading more about our learnings? Check it out below the video and the pictures.
Video by: Kristoffer Myhre
Music by: Atmospheric Soundsystem
We started the workshop by asking; what does Norwegians think foreigners say about Norway?
Norwegians are reserved, quiet, blonde and beautiful. They are naive, but independent. Polite, but difficult to get to know. Norway is all about rich people, oil and mountains. Fjords, vikings and beautiful nature. Cold weather, cold people. Socialism, equality and welfare. Salmon, binge drinking on the weekends and wooden houses. And apparently, in Norway hitchhiking is easy!
It's going to be very excited to compare this to the answers we get from upcoming workshops with people with an international background later on in the week. Is this really how foreigners see Norway and Norwegians? Whatever the answer is, this says a lot about how Norwegians see themselves. If we’re not mistaken, it says a lot about how they (we all) introduce newcomers to Oslo and Norway as well. Note to self: be more proud of what we have to offer!
Norwegians on where they’ve met their international contacts and friends
Participants who have international friends or contacts, have met them through work, studies, on holiday, through friends or family, through joint interests like sports or other activities, from studying abroad, or through events like international pub or language cafes.
.....but a lot of Norwegians never make international connections. We asked why?
For a lot of Norwegians this is about language, and the barriers having to talk english brings. A lot of the workshop participants also said holding short conversations / small talk in English is hard. For some it’s just an interest that is not there, and they dont feel the need in getting to either know more people (wether this be internationals or Norwegians). For some it’s about not being exposed to an international environment, and as well wouldn't go out of their way to “find” international contacts/friends.
This is very interesting. Though a few said it's about not needing a bigger network or group of friends, most Norwegians are open to new friendships. But wether they are stopped by a language barrierer (that is not even really there), or it's about laziness, or not working in an international environment, there should be more focus on why and how Norwegians can mix better with an ever growing population of people from all countries and cultures.
So what can Norwegians do to make Oslo a more welcoming city?
There was a lot of good ideas and suggestions to what the participants thought they and other Oslopolitans could do differently. From Food initiatives like Eat With and Food Race, to creative positive stories around what we could learn from each other, creating networks for shared academic experiences, keeping conversations in offices where there is an international presence to english (also in social gatherings), smiling more, making Norwegians see the value in having international friends and contacts, creating shared activities, networks and language exchanges. Better “buddy systems” in the universities was also something that came up a few times.
Oslo & you
The participants were asked to draw where they spend their time in the city. Where is your favourite spot in the city? Who are you with? What do you do there?
The answers were many. “Work” and “the gym” were the obvious ones. There were a lot of drawings of cafés and restaurants, clubs, bars, “places with cheap beer” and the cinema, where people go with friends, partners and sometimes family. MESH was mentioned a few times: one of the spaces where there are work-related events and meetups, people go to network and to meet new people. The latter is not something you hear very often from Norwegians -- wanting to meet new people. Luckily, many still do.
Walking, skiing and “being outside” was also mentioned. There were passionate conversations about how lucky we are to have nature - both the sea and the mountains - so close to the city.
In general, Norwegians tend to spend more time outside in the summertime than in the winter. Going for a swim at Sørenga, Tjuvholmen, Huk and Hovedøya is popular, and Oslo Bysykkel - city bikes - are the preferred means of transportation. It seems as if it’s easier to talk to “strangers” in summer too. People have barbecues, hang out in the parks, often with larger groups of people. The rest of the year, most of the participants said they spend a lot of their free time with friends at home. Watching movies, having dinners, hosting parties and of course, pre-parties almost every weekend.
So what did we learn?
Norwegians, are in general, not that conscious about how they welcome internationals in Oslo, or around the topic of having international friends or network. Though a lot have studied abroad and have experiences related to what it means to move to a new country and the difficulties that might bring, very few uses that experience when returning home to help someone in the same situation coming here.
For some it’s even embarrassing to admit not having any international contacts, as there not really being any good reasons for it.
We have to create positive stories around what friendships and networks across different cultures, languages and countries can do and bring. So many possibilities, but Norwegians are not that good at seeing what these means for them individually, for their career, for language skills, for possible future travels etc.
Food connects people, even when there’s a language barrier.
There needs to be initiatives that connects people with the same interests, professions or interests. How could f.ex a Norwegian Art director help a newly arrived Art Director from Scotland in understanding the business in Oslo, and also gain both professional and personal network and friendships? And what needs to be in place for Norwegians to want to take part?
There's still questions to be answered, and ideas to look into further. What's interesting now is to see what people in Oslo with an international background say and what ideas they have for making Oslo a more welcoming city.