NTNU wants to be internationally outstanding and hopes that its temporary foreign guests develop long-lasting ties with the university. These foreign guests, exchange students and researchers, are usually open to these ideas. However, it appears that many foreigners struggle and often fail to integrate within the local university population and generally within the Norwegian society. There is many reasons for this, some more obvious than others.
Studying abroad was once reserved to those with a strong ambition to understand foreign cultures, to learn the language of their host country and to actively take part into the local university social life. The availability of scholarships and better collaboration between universities now makes it easier for students and researchers to attend universities located in foreign countries. The mobility of academics increased dramatically and brought new challenges to higher education institutions. Academics are led to spend time in foreign countries while they may not be adequately prepared to live in a different environment or ready to take the necessary steps to integrate into a new society. Foreigners often end-up building social networks among themselves, living in segregation from their host society; not understanding neither the language nor the different social dynamics of their hosts. This is unfortunately becoming a common situation at NTNU.
While in certain countries you may face strong daily incentives to learn the local language and to follow local life traditions; this is not the case in Norway where virtually everyone understands English and where you may well live barely interacting with locals. Measures taken by a university to ease the transition of foreign students and researchers to their new environment may inadvertently fuel segregation instead of integration. Languages policies, accommodation support and the organization of workplace may help transition, but may easily be detrimental to integration in a country like Norway. An attractive, modern and internationally outstanding NTNU where foreign guests foster long-lasting ties with the university requires carefully designed policies around foreigner support.
This is the start of a series of articles looking at the paradoxes of integration of foreigners at universities located in non-English speaking countries. These articles will be largely based on my own experience attending universities, living and integrating within different societies. The articles will tackle language policies and social dynamics with a focus on integration in Norway and NTNU.
I base these articles on the believes that foreigners need to understand and adapt to the way people communicate, interact, socialize and to the values and traditions of their host society; and that universities have much to gain creating a framework that ease and encourage this understanding and adaptation. Such framework will help a university to develop long-lasting ties with its foreign staff and students, thus strengthening its international network and reputation. The host institution can inform, assist and provide a robust framework for foreigners which themselves need to be ready to put forward the necessary effort to integrate. There is a fundamental difference between to integrate and to be integrated, a message these articles attempt to convey.
Special acknowledgement to Nora Nedberg Hersoug, Stefan Lindtner and Roald Fernandez for their valuable comments in the redaction of this article.
Julien S. Bourrelle