I am now three weeks in to my Fulbright experience at Lund University, in southern Sweden, the area known as Skane. I have the privilege of being situated at a leading human rights institution, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI), with an amazing and talented set of people who engage in research and programs all over the world. In both formal and informal settings I am learning about human rights programs, advocacy and research at a time when human rights could not be more important locally and globally. I am also coequally linked to the law department of Lund University, where RWI is situated, a university celebrating being 350 years old (the king and queen came). It is an outstanding department that I previously worked with as a guest professor with the Norma Research Project in 2013. Two faculty members from Lund have been to UF, one as an informal visitor, and the other taught in our foreign enrichment program.
Just this past week I presented my overall research that is the basis of the book I am writing while here. In addition to my overall research plan, I spoke in particular about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as a potential tool for greater equality among children. ACEs provide the link between toxic levels of stress for children and the impacts for health, education, development and well-being, in childhood and on into adulthood. Almost all of us have 1-2 ACEs; over 4 can generate some major challenges unless countered by fostering resilience (or, as I advocate, using the ACEs to identify systems that are dysfunctional, or unequal, or that are needed). They had never heard of ACEs, so I got to share a very important indicator about child well-being.
Also this past week I got to sample at coffee time (known as fika) a unique Swedish treat, semla. Think a pastry burger with almond in the pastry and a heap of whipped cream as the “beef.”
But I almost didn’t get here at all. And as I read the news of immigration policies being radically changed, and the resistance to this sweeping change, and the disruption it has caused to so many, it underscored for me the importance of the ability to engage in the Fulbright, to benefit from this incredible interchange. For refuges, of course, this is an entirely different calculus, where the ability to cross borders could mean literally not only their future, but their life.
I am proud of the statement that President Fuchs has made about where UF stands. I am so proud of the countless lawyers who have leapt into action on behalf of individuals and to support necessary litigation. This is the epitome to me of what it means to be a lawyer. And it especially is heartening as I sit here, far from home, and nearly every conversation I have is about this. It is not my country’s finest moment, and yet, it is its finest moment, in the depth and breadth of the response that embraces immigrants and refugees, and embraces Muslims. I am proud to be an American.
But as I said, I almost didn’t get here. The day I left I approached the ticket counter with my passport and paperwork all complete, backup paperwork in my backpack, hauling my huge duffle with all the cold weather clothes needed for Sweden (it’s been in the 30s since I got here). The ticket agent said “Where is your visa?” I responded, “I don’t need one; I have the paperwork for my work permit with me, and I will complete that process when I get to Sweden.” “No, you have to have a visa. I can’t give you your boarding pass without it.” Usually if you stay past 90 days, you need a visa. I had one, in the sense that the Swedish authorities had approved my longer stay, and simply asked me to do fingerprints and have my photo taken within 10 days of arrival. But to this ticket agent, that did not suffice. An hour or more of pleading, showing her my file of Fulbright information, seemed to be getting nowhere. I was also contacting the Fulbright link I had in Stockholm, and in Lund, in case I needed to come up with an official letter or something from the Swedish Embassy, which was what the ticket agent wanted. It was awful. Months of preparation seemed to be going out the window (years actually, since this started way back). Finally, it worked out. No I did not ask why. I was given several stern warnings that I had better get this work permit formalized or I would be expelled from Sweden or hauled back by the American authorities, or both.
What I experienced was nothing compared to what the individuals and families affected by the Executive Order are going through. But I could relate to the arbitrariness, the dismay, and the frustration. And had this happened after I got here, it would have been even worse.
I have my work permit now. I also carry my passport 24/7, as it is frequently needed if I am asked to identify myself. And a trip to Copenhagen, less than an hour away, involves a border check for my passport before I return, a consequence of Sweden’s effort to control the number of refugees coming in (not stop them, but control the flow; and if they are without a passport, it does now stop them).