Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jackie Kennedy in Birkenstocks

Following the NRK TV news report on Tuesday, May 26th, announcing that I had been approved to work as a midwife, and that SAK will now start using the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) to evaluate educations outside of the EU/EØS, our local newspaper in Lillehammer ran a very short article stating the same. We had been hoping it would get a little coverage, as I am repeatedly asked by strangers and acquaintances alike if anything has changed with my work situation. We thought that a little article in the paper would allow me to avoid explaining what has happened over and over again. The little article was short and succinct and we thought that was it. 

Then a journalist called me a few days later. She had written the very first news story about my situation, about 3.5 years ago. She wanted to do a more in-depth interview for the "portrait" portion of Saturday's paper (there is no Sunday paper) when they do a profile on a local resident who is doing something different. I quickly looked up the previous Saturday's profile: a 42 year old nationally renowned female artist, who has bought an old hotel and is using it as an artist's colony, has lived and trained in Iceland and Berlin, and has just opened a new art exhibit in a new gallery in town. 

And so it came to pass that I was interviewed for the local paper, and the following Saturday the following article, awkwardly translated with the help of Google Translate, was published: 

On the front page, with picture: "Approved and Ready. American Emily Stange has lived in Lillehammer for five years and has had to contend with bureaucracy. Read about the midwife who didn't give up in GD's Saturday's portrait/profile."*

Headline: "Midwife Emily: Emily Stange is experiencing a bit unfamiliar feeling. She is optimistic and looking forward to the future. This has not been so for the last five years.

The day is five years ago. In the delivery room at at hospital in New Hampshire a happy set of parents looks at their little daughter for the first time. The mother, a yoga teacher and former Olympic athlete for the USA in kayak, still has contact with the midwife on duty that day (they are friends on Facebook). Now sitting later in a red house in Søre Ål, she tells about the birth with stars in her eyes.

- “It was such a positive and inspiring experience of a natural birth without medication. The mother was a strong woman, who knew her body well. It is a great honor that this was the last birth I attended”, says Emily Stange. Unknown to the midwife at the time, there would be an involuntary break of many years until the next time she could assist at a birth.

It is not Jacqueline Kennedy that welcomes us in the door along with a wagging four legged American blend that answers to the the name Tika. But Emily’s classic good looks mean that she must endure the comparison, though jeans, striped cotton sweater and Birkenstock shoes certainly does not match the first lady's outfit.

None of this is why many people, both in Lillehammer and elsewhere in the country, recognize 40-year-old from Søre Ål.

Her status as a (minor) national celebrity is because she has fronted the fight against authorization authorities (SAK) for healthcare professionals with education done outside the EU / EEA can work in Norway. There have been many rounds of applications and rejections, with overwhelming support by professionals, politicians and, not least, Kari and Ola Nordmann**. Words such as abuse of power, uncultured and arrogance are used.

Last week came a "turning point", as it is called in main character's native language (a phrase I did not use in my interview, neither in my native or second language). The practice should and will be changed. Education will increasingly be assessed from the total number of credits and total study time rather than the number of teaching hours.
Thus can Emily Stange, who has a nursing degree and masters in midwifery and 12 years of practice, finally use her education to work in Norway.

Thus, one would think it is an exuberant and completely happy lady who has fired up the soapstone stove this rainy day and welcomes GD for an interview.
But it is not quite so. Emily Stange thinking about, sighs tiny bit when she answers this question about how she is now:
- “It's hard to explain. I am very relieved that we (husband Erik has also been involved) can put what happened behind us. It's good to think that all the energy and effort we have put down will open the doors for many other nurses and health care workers. Meanwhile, we had the feeling of being in a fight over the last four and a half years. Thus, it is difficult to feel completely satisfied and happy”, says Emily, who is quick to add how heartwarming it has been with all the support she has received from known and unknown.
On social media, people are overwhelmingly supportive, and people from  Lillehammer congratulated the woman behind the counter at Atelier Kakao*** and told that they supported and rejoice in the authorization, which Emily says is tremendously appreciated.

The reader must not understand us to mean that there is a sullen, moping American we have before us sitting in the unique rocking chair in the bright living room, where there is no doubt that toddlers also live.
Emily Stange laughs often and happily. She doesn’t give up and serves us coffee with great serenity, in large cups on the coffee table, neither of which are A4****. It's the fact that she at a college in Minnesota a handy guy, who crafted fine furniture to the couple's home in various states. They moved over the pond in 2010 and the furniture allows the family of four (plus Tika) to feel extra homey in the house they have spent years renovating in the south of Lillehammer.
- “Some day, I want to move back to Norway”, said Erik Stange to his girlfriend. The active skier was in the country for two years the mid-90s, partly as a student at Voss folk high school.
Emily thought it sounded exciting, but put Trondheim limit to how far north they could move. When a job as a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) was in the bo for Erik, they moved on, satisfied with living in a city with ski trails and of Lillehammer size. For a nurse with many years of work experience to find a job would be the least of their problems. Or so they thought. . .

They could have moved back, something they have considered quite often as an alternative when everything around Emily's job situation was so difficult.
At the same time they felt that the time had not come to give up.
- “We have invested so much here. My husband has great job satisfaction. We thrive in Lillehammer. Kids have it well in daycare and school. We have friends, good neighbors, have renovated our home. . .”
Says Emily, and boy she completely voluntarily used the verb she hates. “Trives” (thrive)*****. Taking the short version is not easy when people ask if you thrive in Lillehammer.
- “The “Yes-we-thrive-here” version is not quite true. Mostly because of the job situation, which has been a huge financial and mental strain. But we could not stay here as long as we have if we did not enjoy it”, says Emily, and repeat the list from earlier with pluses for a good everyday life.
-“I can stand in my kitchen window***** and see my kids playing out in the garden and think about how lucky I am. Life is so good!”

Whoever is looking for a humorous and aptly satirical look at the life and realities here in the north, you can click onto Where describes Emily "The Lille-Stange’s" new life in Lillehammer, Norway. Here you can read, in detail (!), everything from Norwegian culture and daily life to Bergens language test and how to raise a Viking (series of pictures where her son Henrik is packed in layers into a "burrito-baby" to sleep outside). This is not easy to understand “over there”.
My poor blog, sighs Emily. It has not received much attention in recent years, largely because the writer thought the message became so negative about everything that happened on the job front.
- What has puzzled you most here in Norway?
Pause. Emily is among those who think about before answering.
“Russ” celebration is something she thinks is strange and not particularly positive.
- “I've also thought about Norwegians' relationship to summer vacation. Three weeks in the month of July which everyone has free and even entire departments of hospitals close. For me it's unbelievable. Meanwhile, it is also very positive that Norwegians are so protective of their free time.”

Where is home? There is uncertainty surrounding the response from the mother with two small children when we ask her to describe the feeling of having two countries.
- “We talk about “if” or “when” we will move back. But it is also a question of where home is in the USA, because we’ve lived so many different places. When we are in Minnesota, we miss Norway”, says Emily, telling that her daughter Greta on holiday in Italy missed Norwegian milk and wanted to go “home” to Lillehammer.
- “Although she was born in the United States, knows that she is American, has an American flag and cheers for the Americans in the Olympics, she is also very Norwegian. Henrik (two years), also has a US passport, but he is more Norwegian than all of us and will not recognize the United States as home. I think it is a little difficult. But it's also kind of cool. . . “

“I never liked children and babies ... “ The midwife has started to answer to why she chose this profession itself. GD journalist proposes an “always” rather “never”*******, to hearty laughter. “I always have liked children and babies, I mean!”
Actually, it's unfair to mention this little blunder, for Emily is good at speaking Norwegian. But it fosters interesting reflections on the experience of not being able to use one’s mother tongue.
- “The hardest part is that I know that I do not portray my real self. When you have to think so much to find the right words and still not be able to be precise, it is easy to feel a little silly. Besides humor difficult in another language. But it's getting better and better. Speaking Norwegian becomes easier and more natural”, says the one who is proud to have attended a parent meeting alone, almost without need for help in understanding what was happening.

Back to the question we started. What is it with the midwife profession and Emily?
 She describes the experience of being present and help when hours of pain and a lot of hard work is replaced by the joy of being able to see your baby in your arms for the first time.
- “Being able to be present at such a process is a rich moment”, she, who, trained as a nurse in Minnesota and had her first job at the neonatal intensive care at a large children's hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, explains. Then she worked on a maternity ward after a growing desire to have more contact with adults, and wanted to spend time talking with women, informing and answering the questions that arise during pregnancy.
- “The profession is an important part of my identity. It was impossible for me to think that I should start a new and higher education in Norway”.
The midwife has regained optimism, and finds it exciting to be on job hunt.
- Has it been worth the struggle for many years?
- “We shall see. I think so, when I think of everything positive that has happened in the past four and a half years. We have bilingual children, I have learned to speak another language and I have learned how strong and resilient I am. Living in another country is incredibly exciting and rich”.

Emily Stange (40)
: Raised and educated as a midwife in the United States, residing in Lillehammer.
: Recently authorized as a midwife in Norway after nearly five years of struggle.

Married with Erik. Children Greta (7) and Henrik (2). Dog Tika.********

(end of article)

 * Greta read this to me and said, "The midwife that didn't give up. When I read that I felt proud of you." To which I thought, "Ok, she's finally starting to get this."

**A Norwegian saying for “Jane and John Doe” or “the average Norwegian”.

*** The café where I’ve been working off and on since August.

**** A4 is the standard size of paper in Europe, so A4 is a Norwegian saying referring to “standard”. An A4 person is a average, standard, from the box person. People have sighed, hearing my situation as asked, “Why must bureaurcracies be so A4?” like everything has to fit neatly onto a standard form and they can’t think outside the box.

***** “Trives du her?” Norwegians ask me. “Do you thrive here?” I hate the question. Do you want the short answer? That depends on the day. On the weather. On how recently I’ve gotten a letter rejecting my education. On how empty my bank account is. On how many poopy diapers I’ve changed that day. On if I’ve been able to find quinoa at the grocery store or not. On how many days it’s rained in the past month. On how smiley my 7 year old is after spending the day outside. Or do you want the long answer?

****** The original article read that “I can stand inside and watch my kids play outside” and I thought it made me sounds like I was afraid to go out in the cold and play with my kids. Or I was this disengaged, distant mother. We specifically moved our kitchen from the front of the house to the back of the house, so that our kitchen sink looks out over our back yard. I can finish up the dishes and watch Greta and Henrik in the sandbox, sled down our little hill, pick berries, dig in the garden.

******* “Never” is aldri  “always” is alltid. So these words with complete opposite meanings can be pretty easily switched when one is not thinking and a little nervous.

******** Greta said this was her favorite line in the article.


  1. So enjoyed reading this. Places you home.

    1. Thanks Kathleen and thanks for all your encouraging words over the last few years. Your support has meant a lot to me!

  2. Great to hear that you finally got your status and working position sorted. Well done!

  3. First of all, congratulations!! I thought the NCLEX was hard. So proud of you for not giving up. As an RN for almost 7 years, I can very much relate to nursing being a part of your identity. The timing of Norway's decision and my recent dabbling thoughts of possibly relocating to Norway and working as a nurse are eerily close together. I read a couple of the articles and was not sure if it said Norway changed the system all together for nurses in the US? Do you feel it will be easier process for future foreign nurses? Any words of advise for those like me? Also...good luck in the job search!
    --Melissa, RN in Wisconsin

    1. hi Melissa, SAK has said that they will now use the European Credit Transfer System to evaluate educations outside of the EU (including the US and Australia, for example). This should lead to a more fair and just evaluation of US educations, and yes, an easier process for foreign nurses. Of course, only time will tell.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.