Friday, August 19, 2011

So, why don't I just get a job?

Perhaps you've been wondering this. . . "why not just get a job, Emily? Any job? Work in a coffee house, a knitting shop, etc. You'd get out of the house, earn some money, practice your Norwegian."

It's not that easy, and it again has to do with that damn European Union thing again.

If I were a resident of the EU, I would have the right to move anywhere within the EU and get a job. (Side note: Norway is not a member of the EU, but they participate essentially in all but the name). As an American, I need to be a skilled laborer and have a job offer before I can get a work permit. I am living in Norway on a resident visa, and since Erik is also an American (and not a native Norwegian), he is here with a work visa. He could only get his work visa after he had the job offer from his employer. As Americans, we were not allowed to move to Norway to look for work; we could only come here after the work visa (and subsequent family resident visa) had been approved. 

Since it doesn't take particularly great skills to work in a coffee or knitting shop, my interpretation of the laws has me believe that it would be difficult for me to get a work permit to work in a non-skilled area, such as retail. That is the main reason that I have been holding out for a nursing--or more specifically--a midwife job. There is both the demand for midwives here, and I have the skills--the two things required to get a work visa. 

If anyone out there has had experience in how to get around this rule, or little nuances in the law that I am unaware of, I'd be very interested in your experiences! 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One Year Reflections (the bad)

Congratulations to Us!

It is very strange indeed to think that today on August 8th we celebrated our First Anniversary of living in Norway. I'm actually kind of speechless. I'm feeling this mixture of relief, exhaustion, loneliness, success, anxiety, and some hopeful anticipation. Hmmm. . . . lots of negatives in that list. Yup. I think it's fair to say that I am feeling a little negative right now, and actually am not surprised to be in this state of mind at this point.

Over and over again I have said--and written--"I knew the first year wouldn't be easy" and other ex-pats have warned me of the same. I felt quite prepared that I knew what the challenges would be: the language barrier, new surroundings, new culture and cultural norms, the lack of friends, the switch from full-time working mother to whatever-it-is I am now. So, when the lows hit, they did not surprise me. I knew they were normal, I knew why they were happening, I knew things would get better. But knowing all that still did not make it any fun! I still had to suffer through those lows, and somehow dig myself out of them.

Norwegians like to ask us, "Trives du i Norge?" which literally translates to "Are you thriving in Norway?" THRIVING? No, I am definitely not thriving. I am getting by. I have days where I like living in Norway. I have days when I dislike living in Norway. I have very few days when I love or hate living in Norway. But, like other Norwegian phrases, I don't know think the literal translation entirely captures its meaning. I think it can encompass feelings more along the lines of "are you happy? Are you enjoying yourself?" So, instead of a stark: Nei. Jeg trives ikke! (hell no!) I instead answer, "Noen ganger!"  or "Sometimes!" I'm not even sure if that's an acceptable answer to the question, but it's the most honest one I can think of.

Perhaps this isn't healthy to dwell on, but I feel the need to express what has surprised me most about our first year. And by surprise, I think I mean, surprising me in a negative way. . .

My Job Situation
When I left my job as a midwife in New Hampshire, I optimistically told everyone that I hoped I would be working within a year. I figured that would be enough time to adequately learn the language. Never did I expect that one year later I would still be waiting for permission to work as a nurse--and that my midwife license application would not even have been considered yet.

I had no idea that a non-European Union education would be making this situation so so difficult, and because of that I feel incredibly naive. We don't need to get into how discouraging this whole situation has been.

This summer has been rather difficult for me, in part because it has rained all summer long, and in part due to the nearly constant change of home base. We have had record-breaking rain for June and July: the rainiest June and July in history! I do like me some heat and humidity in my summers, which I knew I wouldn't get  here, but there have been perhaps a dozen days when I could stand wearing shorts. And knowing how quickly the weather turned fallish on us after our arrival last August 8th, I am dreading the return of even cooler weather.

Long-distance Friendships
I considered titling this one: Long-Distance Friendships and Time Zones, or Long-Distance Friendships and Technology, both equal players in this surprise.

I thought technology would be a big help when it came to keeping in contact with far-flung friends, and it has in many ways. Facebook--for all its flaws and time-suckiness qualities--has been a lifeline of sorts. I get little glimpses into the lives of my friends, and for those who I didn't see/chat/email with regularly, Facebook has been really nice.

But the Time Zone differences are killer when it comes to trying to communicate in actual spoken conversations, be it via Skype or telephone. Post-Greta-bedtime for me is middle-of-the-workday for US friends; after-work for US friends is sleeping for me. And because of the difficulties and expense in calling my Norwegian cell phone, or lack of Skype on ones home computer, or what have you, it is a rare situation when a US friend contacts us

I actually think this blog, in some ways, has hindered communication with some far-flung friends. Friends who are curious about what and how we are doing can read and feel updated on our lives, but I don't get anything back! I don't get their updates, I don't get the rewards and warm-fuzzies of an actual conversation, I don't hear their voice on the other end of the line telling me their funny or sad stories, or even have the knowledge that they are thinking of us. It can be very isolating.

On the other hand, the blog has brought me in contact with other American-in-Norway bloggers, who have become a strange new type of friends, and big cheerleaders in this whole experience. For that I am very grateful!

My situation. . . 
Am I a student? Am I a stay-at-home-mom (with a kid in full time preschool)? Will I ever be a midwife again? Who am I?

I'm not working (for pay) for the first time since 1997, and I really thought I'd be enjoying it more! It's not the identity crisis that bothers me as much as it is this pressure that I feel to learn the language, get a job, and help make this ex-pat experience financially do-able (this is generally self-imposed pressure, in defense of my very hard-working and uber-supportive husband). Since so much of that is out of my control, one would think I could just sit back and enjoy the leisurely life of language class 4 hours a day. But, instead I feel like my whole life is on hold. I'm waiting for this letter to arrive. . . I'm waiting for this application to process. . . I'm waiting for this class to begin. . . I'm waiting for this other letter to arrive to send in the next application. . .

I think I know--deep down inside--that 10-20 years from now these months will be just a blip on the screen of my life. In the meantime, I wish I could relax and more fully appreciate this unique experience of living in a foreign country. It's not the job or the work in itself that would make the situation better. It's simply the process of moving forward, of settling in, of progress. It's all been soooo slow--the license approval--the subpar language classes--the architect. It's the "life on hold" that's giving me gray hairs.

And one year into it, that's what I didn't expect.

How was YOUR summer vacation?

And now for some family-relocating-to-Norway updates. . . (written 2 weeks ago, so somewhat dated). 

We are coming to the end of Norway’s 3-week “felles ferie” which literally translates to “communal vacation”. Most Norwegians took off from work* and headed either to Sweden or Denmark or their hytter (cabins). We, being workaholic Americans who are unaccustomed to someone insisting “You. Must. Take. Vacation. It. Is. Good. For. Your. Soul,” have instead “moved” 3 times in the past month and kicked the home gutting/renovation into High Gear.

Perhaps “moving” is a bit of a stretch, but not by much. We have certainly inhabited three different homes in the past 31 days, since leaving our rental home at the end of June. Knowing we really wouldn’t be able to move into our “new” home, we secured a short-term lease on a house in Biri, 30+ minutes outside of Lillehammer. The prospect of Greta spending an hour in the car every day to and from barnehage, along with staying in a home without internet or TV for two months (TV I could do without, internet. . . not so much), had me a tad apprehensive. I picked up a flier for vacation rentals at a nearby ski resort, and the morning that we were moving out of our last “borrowed” house, we opted instead to rent an honest-to-gosh vacation house in Hafjell for the next two three months. Hafjell is about 10-15 minutes north of Lillehammer, and was the location for the downhill Olympic ski events. Just across the river is Norway’s biggest tourist attraction: Hunderfossen, an amusement park with trolls as their main theme. There’s also a smaller pint-sized amusement park, and a few summer-ski-town attractions, namely downhill mountain biking and gondola rides. Aspen or Park City it is not, but that's not why we're here.

We are living in a 5-bedroom, 2-bath + sauna, “chalet” of sorts, the kind of place that you can ski out the back door down the slopes, sleeps 14 and can get 42 drunk (there are 21 shot glasses and 21 wine glasses in the cupboard). A true alpine ski getaway. You may think we are paying out the nose for these kind of digs, but since we guaranteed the owners two months of occupation and rent, and this is the tail end of the high-season, we got a very good rate. And we’ve got cable TV and internet to boot. Such a deal.

As for the High Gear of remodeling, I say that based only on what Erik reports to me over dinner, during the 90 minutes that he is home while Greta and I are awake**, not based on any personal effort in that area***. Erik has been putting in 12-14 hour days at the house during his 2-week felles ferie, most recently working alongside our builder/carpenter, Bob the Builder (aka Byggmaster Bob). Upstairs floors are sanded, upstairs ceiling and walls reinsulated, re-vapor-barrier-ized, new lath and stud walls up, downstairs we have new stud walls for bathroom, kitchen, entry, hole expanded for stairs, many walls reinsulated and re-vapor-barrier-ized, and new windows framed in (no new windows).

A relaxing summer vacation is not what I would call it. Between stressing out about our next living accomodation, packing/unpacking/repacking/unpacking/repacking/unpacking, trying to simply function in someone else's living space (Do you own measuring spoons? Could this bread knife cut a cracker?Washing machine: yes, dryer: no, clothes-line: no, confusion and avoidance of laundry: yes), entertain a toddler during the barnehage's ferie while all playmates were on their own ferie and we had a suitcase of toys and Norway's rainiest July on record. . . I have not been the happiest camper. Luckily, Erik hasn't been around to notice****. 

All of this while the architect kicks back on his felles ferie, and we wait, withholding judgment, for our final plans.

* This includes the entire children’s department at the local hospital, which I read in the paper is closed for “summer vacation”. Sick or injured children are shipped off to Oslo, which makes me wonder about how the staff at the Oslo hospitals feel about the rest of the country dumping their work on them during felles ferie.

** Note to readers: this is not a criticism of my husband or the amount of time he spends with his family. This is a jointly agreed upon schedule, with the acknowledgement that life will be hectic for a few months. However, that is not to say it is not difficult.

*** This post was written before the button-and-sawdust shoveling began, then set aside for Erik to proof read, then posted anyway, 'cause he's never going to have time to read it.

**** Joke was run past Erik before publication and received a thumbs up. Ok, actually it wasn't, but I had every intention of doing so. I don't think he'll mind.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gratulerer to Oss: One year in Norway

One year ago today I stepped off an Icelandair flight outside of Oslo, with a 2-year-old who had slept for 2 hours on an overnight 10 hr international flight, a carseat on wheels, two carry-ons, four enormous suitcases, and a drugged nervous dog who had spent those 10+hrs in a crate with our suitcases. . . and we moved to Norway.  

And we all lived to tell the tales!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

House update, in pictures

A picture may say 1,000 words, but only if you know what you're looking at. I'll provide a little background to help you out.

Erik's been working 10-14 hour days at the house the last two weeks, and a few days along side our carpenter, and has made some good progress. I finally was able to get in there myself yesterday and today, for the first time in several months. What with studying for my Norwegian exams, packing and moving 3 times, and being on full-time mommy/house-wife duty for the last 3 weeks (yes, feminist friends, I know I've been a full-time mommy for the past 40 months--you know what I meant), I haven't been able to flex my Handy Woman muscles at all. 

But today I shoveled buttons. 

Read on. . . 

View from the front hall, into the former kitchen,
 immediately inside the front door.
To the right: the former kitchen! Will soon be a bathroom with stand-up shower.
Take note of the shovel and what was under the floor of the former kitchen.
This was the "insulation" between the kitchen floor and basement ceiling:
an interesting mix of sawdust and buttons. I kid you not. 

Today, I shoveled out over 5 enormous trash bags of sawdust--and buttons*.
About 6 weeks ago, Tika, standing in the to-be-dining room.
The windows and wall behind her will be gone, as that is where the addition will go. 
Tika was standing about where the saw is.
The doorway has been widened significantly.
This is the dining room, behind the stairs, to the front of the house,
will be the bathroom. Stairs will be re-configured. 

Remember Greta in her room? Exposed insulation, awful walls,
wood floors covered with 50 year old carpet glue?

Greta's room today: reinsulated, vapor barrier up on walls and ceiling,
knee walls installed, and floors sanded smooth.

More signs of progress, standing in the new kitchen, looking into office:
new vapor barrier and lath, framing for new windows in guest room/office space,
and the 2x4 on the floor (pointing down to the right edge of the picture) is the edge of the kitchen.

Some of you might might be muttering to yourself, "you call this progress?" But it actually is! When we received our first delivery of building materials about two weeks ago, I actually felt encouraged for the first time in a long time. Finally we were having things delivered--not just waste material and refuse taken away! It was a tangible sign that we were actually building and not just destroying. And, even better, we're ready for a second delivery! THAT is progress!

* In my defense, I also did a lot of other Handy Woman things aside from shoveling buttons, but they aren't as funny.