Finding (You In) Neverland
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Oslo, etc.
I am an American who grew up in various parts of the parts of the US, although much of my time was spent in the southern states. My heart led me to Norway in 2009 and, after 3 years, I am still here, building a beautiful life with my amazing son.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I began blogging once we arrived in Norway, partly because I have always been a writer, partly because I knew that the new experiences would be many and overwhelming and, if not written, would thus be much forgotten. The official blog began in 2009, although I have older entries that I have now transported from other sites. I wanted to share this journey, both the easy and difficult, as a way to allow myself to process marriage and motherhood and expat life, while hopefully giving others a forum to do the same.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My views change on this yearly. Each entry is important and relevant to me, a piece of time in my life that I have preserved in memory and heart. The fact that some entries are significantly more popular than others often surprises me. I tend to remain quite taken with:
Tell us about the ways your new life in Oslo differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I won't sugar-coat it, Norway was extraordinarily difficult for me in the first (eh-hem, two) year(s). It wasn't so much culture shock as it was everything-shock. Each expat has a dramatically different story and adjustment period, I've found, and it seems that our story was punctuated with an abnormally high amount of hardships. Every bureaucratic, employment, or educational barrier one can hit, we found. Tack on a brand new marriage, a brand new baby, a brand new (to me) family, and you can see what I mean. It was a physical and emotional roller coaster. Through all that, I succeeded. I survived the tough parts, found an incredible support system, and learned to appreciate the small things that make life so much better.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Oslo? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Knowing what I know now, I would have begun the residency process while living in the US. I would have familiarized myself with the culture and language as much as I could beforehand. Prior to moving, I would have tried to make contacts here, to gain a better understanding of life and culture and procedures. Hindsight is always forgiving in that way and, truth be told, if I’d been fully aware of what awaited me personally, I might not have jumped in and wouldn’t now have the honor of succeeding in this beautiful country. I hope my blog offers some insight for expats-in-waiting, as well as a contact for questions, if needed. I have been contacted by some who are in preparation to take the leap and that feels good. If the lessons I learned in the beginning can be of use to those coming in the future, it was all worth it.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Can I just simplify this by saying that I am American? Abroad we (meaning, I) are perpetually prone to “sticking our foot in our mouths.” (Although the first time I made the remark that I’d done just this, my husband looked at me with utter disgust and said “Why would you do that?” Things simply just don’t always translate.)
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Oslo?
- Try not to judge life too harshly in the first year. Over the first two years, if your judgement of Norway teeters on dislike or hatred, you probably haven't given yourself enough time. Norway may not be for everyone, but between myself and those I've met, we tend to agree that in order to find your feet, to learn how to brave the winters and the dark, to gather a strong social network, to learn the language, to get through the standard bureaucratic checklist, to ease into the job market, to build a home, and to understand the cultural details that are not immediately evident, you need a good amount of time.
- The best assets you can offer yourself are patience, strength, and a positive attitude. On your expat journey, you will meet many other expats who either possess or don't possess these qualities. If you pay attention, you will notice how different you feel after encountering each. We tend to be agreeable and amenable with those we first meet, but it is important to form your own opinions and keep a positive attitude. Each person's experience of Norway and expat life altogether can vary immensely. The experience you have will be entirely up to your attitude and interpretation of challenges.
- Learn the language.
How is the expat community in Oslo? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
My friends in Norway come from all over the world. In fact, I just celebrated my 30th birthday and, during the party, I realized that our group of friends was comprised of 10 different nationalities. This is one of the things I appreciate the most about Norway and expat life. Each of my friends is incredibly different, different backgrounds, ideals, mindsets. What brings us together initially is often that we are expats. What keeps us together as friends is our discovery of a mutual love for our differences, a way to learn something new from each other each time we meet. Some of my friends have joined organizations like AWC (American Women’s Club), NIN, etc. I have not. I was fortunate in that, early on, I met a great group of women and was adopted into their social circle. After three years here, I have naturally developed good friendships through language classes, work, and various other settings throughout Oslo. There are great groups and resources in Norway, depending on your background and interests, so if you are someone who likes to get involved, you will have many outlets from which to choose.
How would you summarize your expat life in Oslo in a single, catchy sentence?
The most beautiful and rewarding things in life are the ones that challenge you the most.