Immigrant Heritage Month: Asbjorn Osland
During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.
BBorn in Stavanger, Norway, Asbjorn Osland remembers the day his family members were naturalized as United States citizens. Seven years old, he did not understand the significance of becoming American.
“I don’t remember much from childhood, but I remember that day,” says SJSU’s business professor. “We were on the steps of the federal building in Minneapolis. My parents had gone through the whole citizenship process; taken courses and everything. They wanted to become Americans. I protested because I wanted to be Norwegian.”
The naturalization ceremony signaled the final step of a family journey that had begun a generation before and foreshadowed Osland’s career in international business. He describes Minneapolis in 1955 as the quintessential melting pot, where his father encouraged Osland and his siblings to learn English in an effort to fully assimilate.
Osland’s father had fled his tiny Norwegian hometown of Sandnes at 16 to join the merchant marine and travel to the U.S. Upon arrival, he chose to study chiropractic medicine at the Palmer School of Chiropractic Medicine in Iowa before returning to Norway. There was no market for his father’s new skills. Instead he began selling farm equipment, which he continued through the German occupation of Norway, aside from a brief time as a prisoner of war. Later, he relocated the family to Minnesota when an opportunity arose with a company selling farm machinery.
While his father traveled weekly for work, Osland’s mother remained at home and worked as a cook in the schools where he and his siblings studied. The family took in Norwegian relatives from time to time as they were transitioning to life in the States. Thus, Osland grew up code-switching between his Norwegian customs and the post-war Midwest. The exposure to Norwegian immigrants and his studies at the University of Minnesota made him want to see the rest of the world.
“Homogeneity is stifling,” says Osland. “I developed the sense of wanderlust that my father had.”
Osland met his wife Joyce as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota before they both went on to earn master’s degrees in social work and started their careers with the Peace Corps. While serving as a volunteer in Cartagena, Colombia, Osland accepted a job with Plan International, a nonprofit that supports economically disadvantaged children, their families and communities in developing countries.
The Oslands’ work took them to Colombia, Burkina Faso, Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Senegal. Eventually they both pursued PhDs in organizational management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, work which prepared them for consulting, research and university teaching. In 1989, they returned to Central America to work, Joyce as a professor at a business school called the Instituto Centroamericano de Administracion de Empresas (INCAE), and Asbjorn with Chiquita Brands in 1990. Later, they moved to Portland, Oregon, where they taught at private colleges. They accepted professorships at San Jose State in 2002.
Every semester Osland teaches several sections of required upper division course Global Dimensions of Business. He offers students an extra credit opportunity to write a paper focusing on an issue of international interest. For students whose families have immigrated, he encourages them to reflect on their personal journey to the U.S.
“Since so many of our students have international backgrounds, I offer them the opportunity to write about personal experiences,” says Osland. “I enjoy reading such papers because they reflect San Jose State’s mission. We are to help students improve their lot in life by rising socioeconomically.”