Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Numb in Paradise

This past week Norway burst its way into summer. Our apple trees are in full bloom, the lawn demanding attention and the lilacs are timing their arrival perfectly with my parents arrival on Friday. We hung a swing from the apple tree for Greta, who has been soaking in lots of Vitamin D. 

I posted this picture on Facebook, and a friend commented "you live in a fairy land". Looking out from our kitchen window, seeing my daughter scamper about in our generous-by-Norwegian-standards-yard with our neighbor's kids, enjoying our first dinner of the season outdoor under the apple tree, I'd have to agree. I responded, "I know. I see this and think, "I have to do everything in my power to make this work out here. How can I leave this???"

The answer to our appeal on my nursing and midwife license application came in the mail today, and it was not the answer to our prayers. Their final judgment--one we cannot appeal--is that I should enroll myself in nursing school, and try to get credit for some of the classes I took 15 years ago. 

We are stunned. Dumbfounded. I was numb. Erik was devastated and perhaps the angriest I've ever seen him before. I was worried he might punch a hole in a wall that he had framed, sheet-rocked, mudded, primed and painted with his own two hands. And then we crumpled in the middle of our living room floor together, and wept. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Appeals board tomorrow

Tomorrow Erik and I will travel to Oslo to meet with the Helsepersonnelnemda (the Health Personnel independent appeals board) who will review both my nursing and midwife license applications for the last time.

It is a long awaited day. This process began in October 2010, when I sent in pages and pages of documentation of my transcripts from my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, along with long letters from my advisors and department chairs, explaining what topics were covered in each course, and how many hours and weeks were spent in each course and in every area of clinical practice.

This process was repeated again in February 2011, after SAFH (the folk who review these applications) concluded (after 4 months of contemplating their belly button) that I had a two year degree in nursing and not a four year degree. More papers, more letters, more documents.

And we repeated this process a third time in August 2011, when they decided a second time that my nursing degree was not thorough enough, and I needed more training in psychiatry and medical/surgical nursing. (Yes folks. . . I want to work as a midwife. This does not matter to them).

It was only after an article appeared in the local paper in November 2011, featuring my case and the long process, that SAFH quickly responded—with two decisions this time—the first time they even bothered to consider my midwife application. They denied both applications, stating again that I needed more training for a nursing license, and claiming that I since I didn’t document any of the patients I had seen as a midwife student, I could not be licensed as a midwife.

In January 2011 I sent in 45 pages documenting the over 800 patients I saw as a student midwife, clearly labeling how each patient fell into each category—prenatal, postpartum, high risk, birth, newborn. SAFH’s response, in February 2011, was essentially “there’s no way to prove these are real, as they don’t look official”. No letter from them stating “this looks like a lot of patients—could you somehow verify them.” No contacting my advisor or the chair of the midwifery department, despite offers from them both in the numerous documents they prepared on my behalf. It was almost as if they said “Shit. This is a lot of paperwork that we don’t want to deal with. Let’s just send it on to the appeals board. That’s what they are there for.”

So, on to the appeals board we go.  An independent appeals board, or so they say, and so we hope. More documents, more paperwork, more verification, more last minute panicky emails to my advisors, and several sob sessions on our living room couch, wondering what the fuck I was thinking getting myself into in this kind of situation.

I am not going to be so arrogant or so naive as to think that everything I learned in American nursing/medical training translates directly and smoothly to nursing and midwifery care in Norway. I acknowledge that some training time would be both valuable and justifiably required. But to go back and enroll myself in a university again for both degrees, and ask for credit on classes I’ve taken? I just might be so arrogant as to say “I’m not going there.”

Tomorrow is a big day. The appeals board decision will likely make those final hurdles clear—just how high they are, how many more, and how far away the finish line is. And then the toughest decision of them all: is it all worth it at the finish line? Do I even bother finishing this race? Or will I decide, “you know. . . I was prepared for a 100m hurdle race, I could suffer through a 400m hurdle race, but I will never do the steeplechase. I’ve got better things to do in life than run around this track a dozen times, jump over barriers and land in water on the other side, and end up soaking wet and exhausted at the end”.

One Year Ago

One year ago this past Sunday, we got the keys to our "new house". Mere hours later we had already begun tearing down the walls between the downstairs bedroom and dining room, which today are now our dining room and, well, space between dining room and kitchen. The floor plan is completely rearranged, a 4x6 meter two-story addition nearly completed, all new plumbing, electrical, heating (except the furnace), insulation, walls, floors, ceilings, windows. There is essentially nothing left in the house that resembles what it was before. 

View from the future kitchen,
towards the future dining room
To say that this was a big undertaking is a huge understatement. 

What the hell were we thinking? That about sums it up. 

Was it worth it? Would we do it again? We're not done yet.
Ask us in a year. 

View from the future dining room,
towards the future kitchen
Current dining room,
looking towards a work-in-progress kitchen

Kind of obvious: old stairs
New stairs
Greta's future room

Greta's current room

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Syttende Mai

Greta in her American version of a bunad,
(made by her Dutch grandmother)

Norwegians gather in Lillehammer 
for the Syttende Mai parade
Well, I very well can't let two Syttende Mai-s pass by without writing a bit about Norway's most beloved national holiday! 

The 17th of May is Norway's constitution day, but not independence day. Norway signed their constitution in 1814 when they were under the rule of Denmark, only to then find themselves transferred to Sweden when Denmark was on the losing end of the Napoleonic War. Norway finally became independent a good 91 years later in 1905.

Many have heard about Norway's "Syttende Mai" parades, and they are not exactly what I was expecting. Syttende Mai is often described as a day for the children, and the parade is not a parade for children as much as it is a parade of the children. When Americans think of parades--especially a national day parade--we think of big marching bands, floats, clowns, politicians, princesses. A Syttende Mai parade (or tog, which also means train) consists of the children in town marching down the main street behind a rather simple banner announcing their respective schools. And waving flags. LOTS of flag. Perhaps about half of the schools had a small band--every one complete with baton twirlers. One might expect a bit of school competitiveness--who's got the best banner, or who can shout the loudest, but the cheers didn't seem to get more elaborate than "Hipp-hipp-hurray!" Seriously. 

However. . . Norwegians do not attend these parade, nor participate in these parades, dressed in their everyday jeans and handknit sweaters. Quite the contrary. They dress up in elaborate, traditional, national costumes and jewelry that cost them thousands of dollars, and are worn on Syttende Mai and perhaps Christmas and the occasional wedding. The costumes--or bunad--are regional, and one chooses a bunad based on where in Norway one's family originated. This makes for a very colorful, festive day, and the sight of hundreds or thousands of people walking around in these elaborate dresses and suits makes you feel like you were sent back 200 years. (We won't mention the fact that 200 years ago Norway was dirt poor, and it was probably very unlikely that people owned such fine clothing and jewelry!) It is really a very incredible sight, and very touching, actually, to see such a commitment to tradition and such pride in one's roots and culture. And it is not just the 50 year old women dressed in their finest. Everyone from the 4-year olds at the barnehages, to the 16 year old girls wearing their bunader for the very first time (they often are a confirmation gift), to the 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 year olds. . .  And if the men don't have a bunad, they are most likely dressed in a suit and tie. 
Erik to the far left (in the red tie) and
Greta third from the left in the barnehage tog (parade)

This year's parade started at 10:30am in the pouring rain. The rain cleared by 11am or so, soon enough for us to rid ourselves of our rain gear and display our finery (with a layer of wool underneath). We watched the main children's parade, after which Greta immediately asked: "Pappa, on the 17th of May, can we eat as much ice cream as one wants? I haven't gotten any ice cream yet!" And thus we joined in Norwegian Syttende Mai tradition #2: eat as much ice cream and hotdogs (pølse) as you want. So, there you have it: not all of their traditions are quaint. 

By 2pm, we made our way up to Maihaugen, the open-air museum, for the barnehage (preschool) parade for the 5 and under crowd. There are probably about 20+ barnehages in town, and this parade is even more amusing (or simply odd?) than the regular parade, because you just can't send several hundred 2, 3, 4 and 5 year old marching down a path by themselves, waving to their beaming parents on the side. Someone has to go with them. Someone has to accompany nearly every single one of them, because take them out of the familiar barnehage context, they now look at their best friend in this funny hat or dress and act like total strangers and don't want to be left alone. (And the teachers aren't there to organize, because they are off with their own families, with their own kids, as they should be). So, the barnehage parade is basically a parade of the barnehages, consisting of a parent holding the banner, more parents, strollers, kids and a very sparse publicum (mostly grandparents or hangers-on) to wave and toot horns from the sidelines. But, it is an event not to be missed, if you ask my child. She's been talking about it for months. 

Despite the rain and chill in the air, and the fact that I had to work at 3pm and leave the festivities early, it was a lovely day. All day long we kept running into people we knew: Erik's work colleagues, teachers, fellow language students, the man who cleans at the barnehage, women from the ski group, the guy who laid our bathroom tile, a guy from Erik's ski group, neighbors, casual acquaintances, my work colleagues, the guy from the coffee shop, fellow American ex-pats. . .  On a day that seems so foreign--both because it is not my history and not my culture, nor is it a tradition that I have lifelong memories of-- it was very lovely to feel attached to this place and to people and to be warmly greeted and "congratulated on the day!" down every street. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Oh. I take it back.

Ikke bestått.

There it stood. Black and white. Two weeks earlier than I expected.

I had just logged on to the Bergenstest's website to check on the exact date I could get the test results for the two language tests, but it was there. Already.

I didn't pass.

Somewhat ironic, considering just hours before I had posted May 14th's blog post "Hoping it's the last one. . . ", an almost cocky report of how easy the test was. I had specifically written it for any student out there, nervously awaiting November's oral Bergenstest, feeling they were unprepared, not knowing what to expect. "Don't worry! It was easy!"

That's a big part of my shock, quite frankly. How could I be so off-base? How could I have misjudged my performance so wrong? Am I really that bad when I speak Norwegian? I was stunned.

One of my first instincts was to go back and remove that blog and erase my Facebook link to the blog, mostly to spare myself the embarrassment of being so convinced I was going to pass (remember this: "they didn't even test me with the 4th graph test!!") to now having to announce I didn't pass. But. . . welcome to my roller-coaster life. One more high followed by one more slamming low against the valley floor. Now to wait til May 28th for the next up or down. The written test results.

Monday, May 14, 2012

*Hoping* it's all done: no more Bergenstest

Saturday morning I spent about $85 to take a two and a half hour train (actually bus) ride to Oslo, then another $150 to have a 10-minute conversation with a teacher who would then judge if my Norwegian was good enough, or not good enough, to work in the health care field in Norway.

That about sums it up.

I took the written skriftlig Bergenstest about 3 weeks ago now, the test that allows a non-native Norwegian speaker to gain admittance into a Norwegian university. I need it to take a course that will allow me to work as a nurse in Norway. These are brand-spanking new regulations as of last November, if anyone out there is saying "uh-uh. . . I didn't have to do that. . ." To those of you who are  very nervous about the oral Bergenstest: I write this for you.

The written test was challenging, mostly because it is divided into 5 sections of reading, writing, listening and comprehension and you must pass all five parts. Because the oral muntlig Bergenstest is mostly for foreigners who wish to work in the health care field, there aren't a lot of us out there taking this test (hence the 2.5 hour train ride to Oslo). In fact, when I asked my teacher--my teacher in the Bergenstest preparation class--what she knew about the oral test, she had to look it up on the internet, because it's been several years since she had just one student take it. Our class has been very much in the mode of Teach To The Test, but just the written test--no focus on the oral at all.

To say I felt unprepared is an understatement. But to be perfectly honest, I really didn't give it much thought. In fact, it wasn't until I was walking up the stairs in the building of the test site that I began to feel a little bit nervous. My teacher told me to just relax and remind myself it's just a simple converation. A German friend reminded me to speak slowly, telling me that we-foreign-speakers try to speak Norwegian quickly "inanattempttohideourmistakesandmakeussoundmorenorwegian". Good insight.

I walked into the building, 15 minutes early (having registered a few hours earlier, and then spent 1.5 hours wandering around the neighborhood trying not to get lost), and the test proctor met me at the door: "Emily?"
"Ja?" sa jeg.
"We can test you now, the 12:45 student didn't show up."
"Ok!" sa jeg. "Jeg er klar, hvis jeg kan bare gå på do først!"
"Of course! I think it's better to just get this out of the way, then you're not so nervous."

We sat down at a small table across from one another, and another proctor sat at a table a few meters away from us. They asked me to tell me a bit about myself. I recited the sentences every Norwegian student knows by heart after the first week in class. My name is xxx, I come from xxx, I moved here xxx, I am educated as a xxx, I work as a xxx, I am married, i have xxx children. . .

Then she presented me with 3 lamenated pages. Each page had about 5 pictures on it. She told me I would choose one page, and I would be asked to describe the pictures, then I'd be asked to agree or disagree with a statement, and then we'd have a very short conversation about the topic.

My options consisted of digital communication (with pictures of computers, cell phones and email), sports and, I believe, gambling, and immigrant issues. To tell you the truth, I didn't even reallly look at the last two options. Knowing nothing about gambling and sports, and not really identifying with "immigrant issues in Norway", seeing that I am a white woman from a developed Western land, I choose the topic of digital communication.

First: describe what you see in the pictures. This was not elaborate, deep thoughts here people. "That's a computer, looks like they're talking on skype with each other. I really like skype--it helps me stay in contact with my family and friends. . . here's a cell phone, and they're sending an SMS to someone. Norwegians realy like to send SMS (it's true). . . "

Then the woman asked me to talk about the statement on the flip side: "I think digital technology has made us more lonely/alone". She told me I could take a few minutes to jot down a few notes, which for some reason or another, I declined and just jumped right in. (I think perhaps my confidence was positive???) I disagreed, and gave a few sentences of why I felt the way I did. Three sentences top.

Then she asked me a few questions (this is the "conversation" part of the test, but really was rather one sided): What are the dangers of technology and youth? What problems might there be with the elderly and technology? It is possible that we can get overwhelmed by the information out there? What dangers are there with security?

One thing I think everyone who is learning a foreign language learns to do is dance around what you really want to say until you find a sentence that contains the vocabulary that you actually possess. This "skill" was put to good use in that final section.

"Ok!" she said, after no more than 10 minutes, "We're done!"
"Completely done?" I asked. . . totally shocked.

This was actually a very good sign. In the test information it states that if there is any doubt about your ability to communicate, we could be asked to do a fourth section--looking at a graph or diagram of sorts, and asked to describe what it showed. Seeing that this didn't happen, I was incredibly encouraged.

In the hallway a few other students waited, nervously wringing their hands. Another man bounced down the hall, a big grin on his face. He reassured one of the nervous women: "It's easy! They are very nice!"

Results come in two weeks, along with the written test results.