Friday, January 28, 2011

Breaking news from: Statens autorisasjonskontor for helsepersonell

Huh? you ask. What does that mean?

It means: "Norway thinks Emily's 4 year nursing degree from a private liberal arts college with Norwegian ties and 14 years of work experience isn't good enough to work in Norway as a nurse". That's what it means.

Ok, deep breath. It is actually the "Norwegian Registration Authority for Health Personnel" (known as SAFH), and I have been waiting to hear from them for the last 3 months. I spent several months this fall preparing two very fat, thorough applications for both a nursing license and a midwife license. For any American nurse who might be attempting this in the future, I will provide for you a list of what I included in my nursing application, and note: every copy must be a certified copy:

  • copy of US Passport
  • Professional resume
  • copy of college diploma
  • 3 page detailed course curriculum description of undergraduate nursing classes, prepared by my college, not by me (as requested by SAFH)
  • college academic transcript
  • letter documenting NCLEX-RN results
  • RN license verification
  • copy of UT RN license
  • copy of NH RN license
  • copy of VT RN license
  • work testimonial from Utah 
  • job description from first RN job as a nurse in a highly specialized and respected Newborn Intensive Care Unit at a Children's hospital, where I worked for 5 years (oooh, bitterness coming out)
  • 33 pages of certificates documenting Continuing Education seminars for the last 8 years (yikes!)
 So, this is what SAFH responded with, and thankfully, there is an appeal process:
1) my degree is shorter than a Norwegian nurses education. They are educated for 3 years, and they claim I was educated for 2. Obviously, they did not understand that my nursing education was in fact 4 years. I also did not include any of my graduate school nursing education in my nursing application, as I included that in the midwife application, but that is an additional two years. 
2) They claim that my work experience does not make up for my lack of education, especially since my work experience was with babies. They failed to recognize that I also worked as an RN with women for 3 years in Labor and Delivery. 
3) That I must complete the following practical student experiences: 6 weeks in psychiatry, 8 weeks in med/surg, and 8 weeks in adult nursing. 
4) A 3 week foreign-nurses course (knew about that one, so I wasn't surprised)
5) Must take the nursing exam!

I am not ashamed to say that I cried for hours after receiving this letter and painstakingly translating the 4 pages of information. There are so many reasons why it just plain old sucks so much. It sucks to be told we don't think you're good enough. I feel like I had a top-notch education, and had even more impressive work experience, so that is really hard to swallow. I am also rather embarrassed (but will admit to you, dear readers, because that it what I am here for) that I had this arrogant Pro-America attitude swell up inside of me, and I felt like screaming, "Who do you think you are?? I'm from the f*@%ing United States of America! You can't do this to me!" But, you know what? They are doing it to me. And this American feels like I was punched in the gut.

It also just sucks because now I feel like we were really naive coming here, just assuming because I'm a midwife, they use midwives. We have similar educations and responsibilities that everything would be easy, smooth-sailing, and I'd have a job in no time. All I have to do is learn Norwegian. It's as easy as that! And I feel like, all I'm asking for is permission to work! Don't you see, Norway? I'm trying to lend you my skills and experience! Stop making it so difficult to contribute to your society!  And honestly, now I feel like we're stuck! We're here. We uprooted our entire family, home, possessions under this false assumption that I, too, could work and continue to further my career. I think that's what hurts the most. 

A friend asked: What's your Plan B?  Well, I'll submit an appeal, after consulting with a number of people, and include more information about my years of education and work experience, and I'll dig a little deeper and try to find information about student summer work experiences I did with adults and med/surg patients. . .  

In the meantime, I'm in a language class. I don't know enough Norwegian to do any of those clinical assignments anyway, so I might as well keep crawling forward. Maybe something will work out in the meantime, maybe not. Will I do a half years worth of nursing clinicals, to prove my worth, only to then take a nursing exam, and then and only then be able to submit my midwife application, when who knows what will be denied or questioned or refused with my midwife education and 6 years of experience? 

I don't know. I just don't know. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just another day overlooking Lillehammer. . .

The later setting sun has been providing us with some gorgeous sunsets lately. Sunsets are hard to capture, but I think this shot actually did the colors justice. 

And the full moon last week also provided us with a spectacular moon-set around 8am, illuminating the whole valley. We've each had fantastic moonlit skis this past week.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Confusion and Flusteration

I'm weighing gym membership options here in Lillehammer, and recently was given a tour of Elixia. This week I've I taken advantage of a week pass to try out a few of the classes. I was running late for a yoga class, a bit unsure where the class was held, and as always thinking of what I might say in Norwegian if someone were to ask. I was also noticing things in the gym that I hadn't noticed on my tour, like where the bathrooms were, and the line across the hall where one must remove their boots. 

As I left the women's locker room, I noticed a counter just outside the locker room where members can alphabetically file their workout cards. I remember thinking, "that's a handy spot! I don't remember that from the tour" as I mindlessly headed towards the door to the gym. But alas, the door to the gym was actually not the door to the gym: it was the door into the men's locker room. I think I turned around in mid-air, the door already closing behind me, and I'm reasonably convinced no one even saw me. The "door" to the gym was in fact a wide doorless doorway, and I have no idea how I failed to navigate that turn. 

But, on to the task at hand: find the yoga class. A bit flustered from my near-encounter with male flesh, I hurry through the gym to the room where I believed the class to be. But alas again, no class in the yoga room. I stumble through a jibbery Norwegian/English sentence with a staff member in the classroom, and increasingly flustered, turn around to hurry back through the gym to the other room for large classes. But--boom! A woman is blocking my way, sweaty in workout clothes, hair in a pony-tail, and she asks me, in Norwegian, "What sports did you do in the US?" 

What sports did I do???  What kind of greeting is that?

The following thoughts simultaneously race through my head:

  • Who the heck is this woman? Do I know her? Is she a mother at the barnehage? Is she in my norskkurs? Does she work with Erik? 
  • T o r t u o u s l y   t r a n s l a t e   w h a t   s h e   i s   a s k i n g   m e .  .  .  .  
  • How does she know I'm from the US? She's asking about sports in the US? Does she remember me from track in the US? That's impossible. . . 
  • How do I say "track" in Norwegian. . . I know this one. . . running. . . løpe. . .  hurdles. . . 
  • And where the heck is my yoga class?  I'm really going to be late!
It hit me about 2 minutes later that she was, in fact,  Elizabeth, a Lithuanian woman from my Norwegian class. At least I had the weekend ahead of me to compose my apology to her, and look up a few words in my dictionary, like confused, (didn't) recognize, and men's locker room. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas Letter, blog-style

As promised, here is a blog-style Christmas letter. I was a little too late, and a little too cheap to send out the usual Christmas cards. But after both my mother and my brother referred their Christmas-letter recipients to my blog, I figured I better get some sort of summary letter posted. My dear friends and regular blog readers may find this rather boring. Any newcomers just might learn a thing or two.

So. . . . 

"It is hard to believe 2010 has already come to an end. What an exciting and eventful year it has been for the Stange Family!"

Only kidding. . . Well, it was actually pretty eventful, just a little more on the stressful side than the cheesy side. 

In January, once we had an official job offer for Erik with the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA) in Lillehammer, Norway, the planning got into full swing. We felt that we were very fortunate in that so much of the moving process, as stressful as it was, went exactly according to plan: we successfully sold our home in Vermont three days after listing it with a realtor (let’s not talk about the months we tried to FSBO), sold two cars—one just a week before we left Vermont, and the second just a day before I left the country, shipped all our treasured life possessions into a large shipping container, and crossed our fingers as we wished it Bon Voyage to Oslo. It was estimated it would take 4-6 weeks for the container to arrive in Lillehammer. Seeing that we didn’t have an apartment or house rented until the day after our belongings were loaded up, the estimate was in the 6-week range.

So, in mid-June, the four of us—Erik, myself, Greta and Tika (the dog)—headed to Minnesota for 6 weeks. We had a lovely summer with attentive grandparents all around and reconnected with many Minnesota-based friends—things that short Christmas visits just don’t allow us to do. I even squeezed in a trip to San Antonio to visit a bosom buddy (yes, it was July, and I was nuts), and to DC to visit my brother and his girlfriend (again, July, nuts). At that same time, Erik flew to Norway to get our bank accounts, transportation, and housing in order, and hopefully oversee the arrival of our container before Greta, Tika and I were due to arrive 2 weeks later. Everything again worked according to plan. The container arrived just a day behind schedule, not a wine glass was broken, and not a single gun was confiscated at the border (oh my. . . I am so so kidding). 

Getting myself onto an overnight, overseas flight with a toddler and high-strung, anxious and not entirely well-sedated dog was not what I would call a highlight of my summer, nor something I ever wish to repeat. However, the three of us arrived safely, although not entirely well-rested, in Oslo, where Erik was anxiously awaiting our arrival. Tika was unexpectedly detained in customs/quarantine for the weekend, as the customs veterinarian was unable to find or read her microchip, but the issue was resolved within a few days. We were happy just to have her on our side of the ocean: temperatures in Minnesota the week we left were forecasted to be too hot for animals to fly (above 85 degrees), but our 7pm flight coincided with the coolest day in Minneapolis that week (exactly 85 degrees).

We are renting a lovely, spacious home that sits on a hillside overlooking the town of Lillehammer. We are about 3km from the center of town, but it’s a steep 1000ft climb in those 3km. On the drive up the hillside we pass a hotel, the Olympic ski jumps, Norway’s “top athletic high school”, 1 home and a small sheep farm, so we are quite isolated in the sense that we really have no neighbors. Our house is a 5 minute walk to groomed, lit ski trails that connect with the Olympic cross-country and biathlon ski trails. We feel very fortunate to have found such housing for our first year here (our lease expires in June). Living in comfortable, cozy quarters has made the transition very easy.

And how are we doing?

Greta has made the transition easily and beautifully. She is now 2.5 years old, and now a seasoned traveler. Her favorite game this summer was playing “airplane”, packing up one bag after another with play food and blankets. Hmmm. Where did she get that idea? The past year we delighted in her rapid language development—in two languages. Once we arrived in Norway, we enrolled her in a local barnehage, essentially a government funded nursery school/daycare, where she has thrived. Within 3 weeks she spoke her first full Norwegian sentence (“I want to play a little more”), and 4 months later she chatters to her dollies and animals in Norwegian, talks in her sleep in Norwegian, and has told me, when I struggled with reading her a Norwegian children's story, "Det er vanskelig, Mamma. Jeg skal hjelpe deg." (It is difficult, Mamma. I will help you). It has been a fascinating process to watch. She is a cheery, happy little girl who is definitely developing her own personality. Right now she is quite insistent upon wearing “tights and a dress”, or the same filmy pink dance skirt day and night, day after day after day. Pink is a sure-fire hit. Pants are a sure-fire temper tantrum. We tried our darndest to keep the word “princess” (and the color pink) out of the house, but somehow they both snuck in. One evening she was wrapped up in a cow bath towel following her bath, and she spotted herself in the mirror and announced, “I’m a cow princess!” We have learned to pick our battles. 

As for me, the language classes I had planned on starting immediately upon arriving in the country were full, much to my disappointment. But, having my days relatively free, I tried to settle into a pattern of studying Norwegian for several hours a day. My efforts seem to have paid off. I just started a level-3 (whatever that means) Norwegian class on January 3rd. All of my classmates--from Lithuania, Latvia, Chechnya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan--have been in Norway for over 2 years, and their language skills are quite good. It is very challenging, which I'm afraid is exactly what I was hoping for. 

I’ve also had promising contact with the midwives at the local hospital. Unlike in the US, where midwives only attend approximately 10% of all births, it is nearly the opposite in Norway. The head midwife at the hospital has encouraged me to keep her updated on my language classes, because in her words: “we need midwives!” In preparation for that I have three very thick, thorough applications submitted with Norway’s licensing organizations and their education accreditation.

Erik is thrilled with the 18+ inches of snow we recently received, as the 100+km of Olympic ski trails out our back door have finally been groomed. He's also pretty pleased that he survived the 6 month "trial period" at work, during which time he could have been let go without questions. (That would have been an interesting predicament, to say the least). He's enjoying his work as a professional ecologist, and works with friendly, supportive colleagues. His job is nearly entirely in Norwegian, which is a challenge he is enjoying, in part because his colleagues still shake their heads upon hearing an American speak Norwegian so well. Or forget he's actually American. 

So how are we really doing? 

All in all, I’d say quite well. I think we had very realistic expectations about this move. We knew that friendships take time to develop and wouldn’t happen immediately. We also knew the language barrier and learning process would be challenging and frustrating for me, and it certainly has been, but not unbearably so or really any worse than I expected. 

Having a child in Norway has really paved the way to several friendships (there are reasons why Norway has been named the #1 place to be a mother). For one, the barnehage is much more than simply a daycare. The parents council really works to promote a sense of community among the children and parents. There have been several family social events outside of normal “daycare” hours, and even a parents-only social, complete with games, delicious food and BYO wine! We have met several families there who have welcomed us with warmth and friendliness (and they even speak English when I stare blankly at them). One of the other mothers has in a sense taken me under her wing, and invited me to her 40th birthday party and later to join her in a weekly woman's workout group. These events are terrifying and exciting, frustrating and encouraging. Life is a rollercoaster.  

My mantra this year: "One day at a time". Although, in the middle of a 2 year-old's temper tantrum, it's more like "This too shall pass." 

And with that, God Jul and Godt Nytt År. We hope to hear from many of you soon. 

And please, take us seriously when we say "We'd love to have visitors!"

Love, Emily, Erik, Greta, and Tika

PS: Skype is free, and cool. Get an account, and call us up.

Christmas Eve

Christmas morning
(with skirt over the jammies)

New poufy skirt, new tights,
and a new doll house. What more
could a 2 year old ask for?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Godt Nytt År!

We were invited to spend New Year's Eve with our Norwegian friends, Roger and Merete, and their two boys who are in Greta's barnehage. Erik's parents are visiting us for a week or so over New Years, so they joined us as well. Apparently their 5-year-old, while very excited that Greta was coming to visit, was not so excited that she was bringing her English speaking grandparents, and disappointedly asked his mother before we arrived, "Do we have to speak English tonight?" Not that he was doing much speaking, but having his mother speak it limits his own understanding of our conversation. I know how you feel, kid!

Since I didn't see a TV in their living room, and I have no idea if there is a Norwegian equivalent of Dick Clark or the Times Square ball, I asked, "How will we know it's officially the New Year?" They responded that there would be fireworks set off around the neighborhood.

This was an understatement. About 10-15 minutes before the New Year, individual homes began setting off their fireworks. Roger and Merete live on in a hillside that looks over much of southern Lillehammer and Lake Mjøsa: the view is quite spectacular. We all gathered out on their deck, in jackets and blankets, and a little champagne and watched probably no fewer than 50 homes set off thousands of kroner-worth of fireworks. It was amazing!
Photo by Stian Furuseth, from

Incidentally, their 5 year-old, who was so excited to watch the raketter (rockets) at midnight, fell asleep around 11:15pm. He was an absolute noodle at midnight, and impossible to rouse for the fireworks display. Greta, on the other hand, was too wound up from playing with her friends and sleeping in a strange new environment was out of the question. She rang in the New Year in her jammies, wrapped up in several blankets in our arms, out on the porch with the rest of us.

I hope you all had a festive New Years, and have caught up on sleep in the meantime. I am looking forward to the new adventures this new year will bring: first of all, my language classes starting on January 3rd!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Coming Soon: A Christmas Letter blog-style

One of these days, when I have a few spare moments, I will post a "Christmas letter". The kind that is usually sent out, mass mailing style, to 86 of my closest friends and family. Can't afford that this year. But, will update you all this way. . .

Check back soon. I promise.