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Alumni of the month

Alumni of the month: Hope Corbin

Meeting a foreign culture can be challenging, but for our alumni of the month Hope Corbin, studying in Norway was a great experience. 'Get involved' and 'listen to others' is Corbin's advice to students. Today she is an Associate Professor at the Western Washington University, but has returned to Bergen as a guest to work with colleagues on the Refugee Resilience Network project and to create lasting partnerships between her university and UiB.

Hope Corbin alumn
Learn to listen and get involved in organizations is Hope Corbins advice to todays students

What persuaded you to take your degree in Bergen in the first place?

Serendipity! In 2004, I moved with my husband to Bergen for his work at NHST (a Norwegian media company). Before we left the States, I had been looking into graduate programs in public health, but not finding anything that really resonated with my interests.

As a smoking cessation counselor, I noticed that quitting smoking is always hard. However, for some people with the right nicotine replacement therapy and some ideas for changing habits, they could manage it. Nevertheless, I noticed that other folks were dealing with circumstances that made quitting much more difficult. For instance, if you were experiencing such poverty that you had to constantly worry about how to make ends meet – it was much more difficult to plan or to find a “less stressful time” for such a life change.  I also saw people who used cigarettes to self-medicate anxiety, depression and struggles that are even more serious. I was interested in the context these people were living within – I would later learn that these are the social determinants of health.

I had been looking for a master’s program that could help me make some sense of that. I did not find that in the States in the 2000s, but that is exactly what was being offered at the University of Bergen: International Masters in Health Promotion. I applied before we arrived in Norway and was admitted to the program for the fall of 2004. After I finished my degree, I began a PhD at UiB in Health Promotion and Development.

As a foreign student in Norway, what challenges did you encounter with the Norwegian society and way of life?

Well, I was fortunate to be warmly welcomed by many Norwegian friends. I think the biggest challenge I encountered was in the early days of the Master’s program. The program used a teaching strategy called “problem based learning” which involved a lot of group work. I am American and a pretty extroverted American at that. To say I was “enthusiastic” about group work would have been an understatement. I would enter into these groups full of boisterous creativity – sharing ideas at about a mile a minute.

A couple of weeks later I would find myself doing a lot of the work on my own and wondering how this happened. It took me a bit of time before I realized how I was alienating people – I needed to learn to back off a bit, to be quiet, and listen much more than I had been doing. I guess you could say that I learned to collaborate in Bergen (from Norwegians, but also from other students from other global contexts). This is pretty funny because collaboration is actually my area of research now.

For students who are considering to study in Norway, what should they have in mind before coming here?

I encourage my students to consider pursuing education in Norway all the time – particularly if they are in the health field. While it is better than it was in 2002, the US still has a mindset largely based on individual behavior change for promoting health – learning from Norway’s policy approach can really help to open thinking in ways that can, in my opinion, be very helpful for US society.

Do you have any fond memories from your time at UiB and Bergen?

Well, I had my first child in Bergen – so that is a pretty spectacular memory! From an intellectual point of view, I have experienced the two best days of my life at UiB: the evening after the first day of my master’s program, I could not sleep because of how excited I was for what I was about to learn. I had felt for the first time in my life that I had found my place.

Then, of course, the day of my PhD defense was incredible – I had been so nervous in the weeks leading up to it, but in the end, I loved every minute. I also have amazing memories of time with friends, walks in nature, music and theater during Festspillene (The Bergen International Festival – the foremost music and theatre festival in Norway, held every year at the end of May), and on and on.

You are an Associate Professor at Western Washington University – could you tell us more about your work there?

Now I am an Associate Professor in the Health and Community Studies department, in an interdisciplinary program on Human Services at Western Washington University. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work there as it provides the opportunity to think very broadly about health and its social determinants. The program has a conscious focus on promoting inclusion and social justice – it is incredibly important to me to work in an environment committed to these ideals and working to purposefully dismantle the structural inequities that lead to health disparities.

You are currently working as a co-leader in the Refugee Resilience Network; could you tell us more about what your role in the project is?

I have been working with some colleagues here at UiB on an application examining the experience of young people who migrated to Norway as they transition out of care services at age 18. The work package I would co-lead is on how organizations collaborate with one another to support these young people through this transition.

Do you have any tips for students who wish to work in the same field as you?

Get involved in professional organizations! The International Union for Health Promotion and Education has a Student and Early Career Network that provides incredible opportunities for students new to the field to begin to build an international network. (Link in the about box to the right).

Where do you go from here?

In addition to my collaboration research, I am exploring the ways the arts can be used to promote health. My next big project involves working with colleagues here at UiB, at the University of Connecticut (also an alumna of UiB) at a research organization in Argentina on a book exploring the opportunities there.