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.


  1. Oh Emily, I hear you (but you already knew that). Despite some very major differences in why you're not "thriving" and why I didn't "thrive", or really, still am not "thriving", I think our first years in Norway were quite similar. A real lack of warm and humid MN-like summers have been rough on me too. And as far as the winter goes, just be thankful that you're a skier and have a good reason to get outdoors in the middle of all that darkness. As for communication with people back in the US, we've always taken advantage of the early mornings in the Midwest, when it's post-lunch time here. You should know that if you ever do need someone to talk to after Greta's in bed (when everyone else is at work), you can always give me a call! *Fingers crossed for a nice fall!*

  2. This post Made me cry Emily. You have just described the last ten months of my life.... Im wishing for an indian summer for you in lillehammer. Xx

  3. My first year in Norway sucked. I was sitting in our basement apartment, broke ass, and whining to myself about how hard it was. I was also quick to crumble to depression and apathy, I think it was the lack of sun, lack of social life, lack of familiarity. I admire you gals who come here and bust your butts from day one to get on making a life in this place! It may take a while to get your licenses in place, but it will happen! Keep at it. :)

  4. It will be better, I think.

    but yeah, the first year always sucks the most. Good luck

  5. Aw jeez, Emily, I'd like to say I could have written this exact post a year after my arrival here but mine would have been (was, actually) much less articulate and much more whiney. Equal in the frustration and lonely parts, though. It's HARD to transplant yourself to a new place and a new life, and often, the unrelenting frustrations can add up to feeling a little bit crap. Or totally crap, depending on the day.

    For me, it didn't get a whole lot better in the second year. By the third year, I was waist deep in a debilitating depression and planning to divorce my husband and get my ass back home where I belonged! Fourth year, much better. And now, year five, WAY better. Nå trives jeg i Norge! So, uh, I guess I'm saying it does get better but you might have to wait a while. :-)

    Having your own house will help a lot, as will having your husband back. (By the way, when my husband was super busy building the house and I was left flailing around trying to figure out where I belonged in all of this, that really sucked. I hated him a little bit for being happy in his busy-ness. I admit that.) Getting Greta back in barnehage with her friends will be good for both of you. So there are three things to look forward to... Oh, and plus, being here in Norway, you get to avoid all of the election year BS coming up in America. That's awesome, right?

    In the meantime, you have my sympathy and all the good vibes I can send out to you. Hugs, girl.

  6. Uff. You expressed my first year exactly -- did you want to hear that? I mean, that all of this is normal? And when I read Michele's comment above I thought, yep -- third year depression, fourth year starting to get better, fifth year loving Norway (or almost). Funny that it takes so long. And, of course, not funny at all!!! It is not just a process of settling in (although that is a significant part!) but of shedding an old identity and taking on a new one, sometimes unwillingly.

    Keep blogging though. If nothing else it has helped to me to know I am not alone in my despair!

  7. Was thinking about you today and that hard first year and the feeling of NOT thriving. But congratulate yourself every day for actually living -- and managing to live a whole year! -- in a foreign country where to do anything you must first confront a different language and different culture and do it without your normal support system of friends and family. FOR THAT REASON ALONE you are thriving more than you realize! Hugs from Bergen!

  8. Thanks to you all for all your supportive messages! Hearing how sucky everyone's first year was really did cheer me up!