Ten years ago, or, perhaps, five or, maybe, two, you defied your fear of change and did what was thought to be unthinkable: you moved abroad. To a foreign country. Thousands of miles away, leaving behind your family, friends, and career. To navigate through the nuanced culture codes, to interpret the norms of the professional world, to get acclimatized to the weather conditions, and to build a new community: everything and almost every day in a new country seem to be daunting. As days pass by to usher in months and months relegate to years, your sense of identity becomes mired in a series of endlessquestions. “Do I belong here” and “Where is my home” are undoubtedly two of the most central questions of your life in a new country. Besides, if you must contend with a language barrier, your life seems to be, to borrow the title of Sofia Coppola’s movie, Lost in Translation.
Moving abroad: both a risk and an adventure
Six years ago, when I decided to move to Norway, I took a big leap of faith. It takes immense courage to leave life behind, to leave loved ones behind, to say good-bye to a soaring career back home and set out on a new journey. However, as much as it is a risk in the profound sense of the term, it is an adventure too! I am certainly not the first one to embark on an adventure of this kind and certainly not the last one. Every day, thousands of people take this leap of faith. For many, it is because of love, to be together with the one she/he loves; for some, it is to give a better life to their children or explore an international career; and for some, to break away from a failing system and build a better future in a new country. To allow the indomitable human spirit to dream…of freedom, life, love, companionship, and progress.
Integration is not a one-way street
Over the last few years, I have met several experts, career counsellors, peers, and researchers who have delved deep into the subject of alienation and disillusionment faced by foreigners in Norway, especially the highly educated trailing spouses. “How do I fit in Norway?” seems to be the moot concern.Alternatively, “How do I integrate myself into the society I have decided to call my home now”?
Integration or inclusion is not a one-way street. Unless authorities and decision-makers comprehend the necessity of multiculturalism in our societies and restructure policies to include diverse nationalities in communities and workplaces, the question of integration will only be a far cry. However, while we as foreigners, immigrants, or outsiders patiently wait for inclusive policies, we are required to make all the genuine efforts to adapt to Norwegian culture, respect their laws, and stay positive in the process.
How do I fit in Norway: top recommendations
From my own experience and through my interactions with experts and counselors, I have gathered a list of suggestions to help you navigate through culture clash and identity crisis in Norway. As Oprah Winfrey rightly pointed out, “We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” So, here are some of my practical tips (along with useful links) to build a network, community, and career in Norway.
1. Learn Norwegian and learn about Norway
It might sound like a cliché, but there could be nothing more significant than this! Whether you aspire to relaunch your career, become an active member of a community, feel welcome at gatherings, or get closer to the Norwegian society, learning Norwegian is the first step of integration. Most of the courses offered at Folkeuniversitet, Voksenopplæring (adult education) or other private schools are high-priced for foreigners. If this is a constraint, go for free courses at NGOs like Caritas, Red Cross, Oslo Sanitetsforening, and Language Cafes in government libraries across Oslo and Akershus. There are ample sources online too: Babble and DuoLingo are two of the popular ones. NTNU has arguably the best sources available online. There are Facebook pages like Learn Norwegian Naturally, Learn Norwegian – Lær norsk! :-), and Learn Norwegian, among many others. You could also apply for part-time positions as a teacher or an assistant during after-school (SFO) hours at any of the government schools to improve your spoken skills. Immerse yourself in the language, listen to Norwegian CDs or NRK Super to allow your brain to get acquainted with the sounds in Norwegian. It takes much time before you can have a decent conversation with the retailer at local stores. Don’t jump on the bandwagon right away, so as not to feel disappointed and disinterested when you cannot strike a decent conversation in Norwegian. Give yourself time.
2. Visit libraries
For someone coming from South Asia, the Norwegian libraries are a source of constant joy for me. Not only can you borrow your books for free, but you can also spend ample time reading, learning, interacting with the librarian, browsing the internet, or even practicing music with the help of audio CDs. I think libraries are egalitarian. They do not differentiate between rich or poor; black, yellow, brown or white; educated or illiterate; and natives or outsiders. It’s a curiosity to learn, dream, and hope that binds everyone in a library. Besides, language cafes are unique platforms to make friends and practice Norwegian in an informal way.
3. Join an NGO
“Frivillig” (volunteer) is a term of immense respect in Norway. Many argue that it is integral for Norwegians to devote a couple of hours in a week/month to a cause that is dear to them. I cannot begin to emphasize the importance of joining an NGO to integrate yourself into the Norwegian society. Not only does it give you immense joy, but it also introduces you to a new community, opens doors to make contacts, build a network, gather experience, and earn reference letters from experienced Norwegian professionals. It can also lead to full-time positions after gaining enough experience as a volunteer. Frivilling’s website enlists many openings in various NGOs across Norway. From art to music to sports to culture to social work to gardening: there are ample opportunities to become a volunteer in any organization of your choice. Norwegian Red Cross and Norges Frivilligsentraler are two of the most popular options.
4. Join networking groups and participate in workshops/discussion forums
The last few years have seen the emergence of quite a few professional networking groups in Oslo like Oslo International Hub, ODA, the network for women in tech, Professional Women’s Network, to name a few. These groups often organize discussions, meetings, and courses in entrepreneurship, networking, job-hunting, and others. Apart from that, Innovation Norway and Chambers of Commerce are two of the key names for professional networking. Your participation in such meetings and discussions will allow you to understand the unspoken professional codes of Norway. Often, participation in such programmes can earn you internships, engagements, and projects, which in turn can pave the way for both professional and social circles.
5. Practical tips to find your way into the Norwegian job market
To find a suitable job is indeed one of the most complex and challenging problems faced by foreigners and immigrants in Norway. The situation is particularly alarming for highly qualified and skilled trailing spouses. During the last few years, I have met hundreds of competent women of various nationalities who suffer from an acute sense of identity crisis as a result of their long-term joblessness. However, I have also had the pleasure to meet a few fortunate ones who have managed to get full-time employment after a lot of trial and error methods. Experienced career advisors and HR professionals have shared valuable insights with me in this regard. So, how do we bell the cat when it comes to finding a job in Norway. Let me share a few tried and tested tips:
A. Create a professional network by meeting people, attending discussions, and workshops. Reach out to some of them through LinkedIn and explore opportunities at their workplaces. Getting a job could be far-fetched, but how about an internship or a part-time project?
B. Join as an intern or a volunteer in a professional networking group like Oslo International Hub, learn skills, and gather experience for your CV before applying for jobs.
C. Try for smaller companies before you vie for the big names. Large international companies have the liberty to choose from a talent pool of umpteen number of candidates.
D. Learn the tactic of writing an effective CV and a cover letter before applying for jobs. Take substantial tips from the Facebook pages of NAV, Manpower, and Adecco. Unless you have an out-of-the-ordinary cover letter and CV, there are grim chances of you receiving an interview call.
E. If possible, try to find an insider in the company (where you are applying for a job), to refer you for the position. Sieve through your or your spouse’s or a close friend’s network to find someone who can recommend you for that position. An employee referral almost always increases your chances of being called in for the interview. Reference letters from your previous employers, colleagues, or teachers in Norway also increase your chances.
G. Reach out to recruitment firms for temporary/substitute positions like Academic Work, Adecco, Experis, Jobzone, People4you, Temp-team.no, Verto, Capus, among many others. It is comparatively easier to get temporary or substitute positions than full-time roles.
H. Upgrade your skills. There are umpteen online platforms which offer short-term courses in social media marketing, coding, photography, project management, or any other area of your interest. Make sure you keep your CV relevant. You could also take up courses at the Oslo University or any other public university in Norway. If paying steep course fee is not a matter of concern for you, courses from BI Norwegian Business School always gives you an edge in the Norwegian job market.
I. Meet people for coffee or lunch, even when you have secured a job. Stay in touch withyour contacts. Don’t just reach out to them during your lean time alone.
J. Be an entrepreneur. If you have the vision, will or interest, start on your own. Innovation Norway has a dedicated service for start-up companies.
6. Stay positive and pursue your hobbies
To stay positive is indeed the most challenging task. It is easier said than done. Most of the women I come across during workshops, and one-to-one meetings narrate their personal stories of anxiety, depression, and despair. In the absence of a professional network, it becomes a herculean task to find jobs in Norway, and, without a job, it becomes even more exhausting to be members of a thriving community. However, while we are navigating through the intricate layers of identity, culture clashes, loneliness, rejection, anddejection, don’t just confine your identity to work or the failure to find a suitable one! Take this opportunity to pursue your hobbies. Go for walks, trekking, meditation, and yoga, take music lessons on YouTube, read books, take up courses, go for badminton; whatever could be your long-cherished dream or a hobby you could never find time for, while you were caught up in the daily grind of a job. A quick search on Facebook will throw a list of free groups like New to Oslo, OsloSkriveklubb, Fotbal I Oslo, and other groups of your interest where there is no membership fee.
While you are on this endless pursuit of finding your career in a foreign country, take care of yourself and celebrate the emotions, the feelings, the strengths, the weaknesses, the passions, and the dreams that make you as a person! Celebrate the real you! Remember, you are never too old to start again. As the saying goes,
“Where the fog is thickest, begin.”
All the very best!