The realities of living abroad in Norway
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
“I remember going on a roadtrip with my boyfriend, driving along the fjords with the steep snow-capped mountains along it. Being able to live in a place like this is just amazing, but does come with its challenges!”
I was born and raised in Rijmenam, a small village in Belgium. Yet I’ve always wandered to several European cities and explored magical countries, most of them being short holidays. But it wasn’t until I was in college that I had the chance to go abroad for longer. In 2016, during my final Master’s year, I enrolled in the Erasmus Exchange Program. This program allowed me to study in Bergen, Norway, for about 4 months. In search of a new adventure and a more rounded global education experience, I was more than happy to seize this opportunity. This exchange was an eye-opening and truly enriching experience. Above all, it made me fall in love with Norway. I knew I would be back someday.
In July, 6 months after having returned to Belgium, I graduated and was offered a job there. Nonetheless, at that time of my life, the idea of living abroad in Norway was my most tangible dream. I kept in touch with my former Norwegian thesis supervisor, exploring opportunities to do a Ph.D. at the University of Bergen. After 5 months of working in Belgium, I finally got an offer as a PhD-candidate at the Centre of Nutrition. As this research project was set as a 4-year contract, this was a huge step and complete change. However, I jumped in head first and moved to Norway.
I have been living in Norway for more than two years now. I am researching the general intake and the effect on cardiovascular disease of a nutrient called "choline". My job involves a lot of working on a computer, but fortunately, I also get to teach and supervise Bachelor and Master students. Most of my work is in English, but teaching and supervision are in Norwegian. This meant that I had to learn the Norwegian Language. Thankfully, the University offers free language courses for employees, which allowed me to pick up Norwegian quickly! I also have amazing colleagues who have helped me a lot.
What living in Norway taught me
Living abroad taught me how to be strong. No matter what happens in your life, you have enough energy and determination to fight the hardest of times. Because, yes, living abroad will get tough at some point. You might feel lonely and miss your friends and home. This is what makes it sometimes tough for me too. I have a very close group of friends in Belgium. Most of them I've known for over 15 years! Not being able to share some of the incredible moments here is sometimes hard. Also, the random evenings talking with a glass (or maybe closer to a bottle) of wine, nights out, and the giggles, is something I really miss. This type of bond is irreplaceable. However, I adapted to my new life here and made some great friends. I’ve learned to embrace and make the most of it!
Another life lesson I learned from living in Norway was to broaden my horizons. Living in Norway challenged and transformed my perspective. You might think you know a culture from TV, blogs, books, etc.. However, only when you finally step into the unknown and immerse yourself in the local culture, will you truly know. The Norwegian culture is very different from my own even though it doesn’t seem like it from the outside. The Norwegian culture is deeply rooted in nature, its language, and its mindset. The hands-on experience I have gained by living here and talking with Norwegians gave me a better understanding of the culture. A few examples are:
Norwegians may seem closed at first, but they make very good friends after a while.
17. Mai, the national day, is a big holiday where everyone dresses in their traditional “bunad”. A very unique experience!
Even though Norway is thought to be very open to immigration, in reality, it is quite hard for foreigners to find a job here or receive government support.
Norwegians love AND respect their nature. Can’t blame them!
Despite these cultural differences, I learned to fully embrace the Norwegian culture. Living in a place filled with beautiful fjords, steep snow-capped mountains and serene lakes made me realize that moving here was all worth it. I love nature and the outdoors, and there is no better place to enjoy it than Norway! Shortly after moving, I also met my boyfriend. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
Advice for people considering living abroad
Moving to another country might seem daunting and I believe that not everyone was made to live abroad, but if you feel like you want to leave your country and experience a new culture, then do it! Fight your irrational fear, open your mind, and go. Especially, when you don't have any kids yet, moving for work is a lot easier! I found my Erasmus exchange extremely valuable and it opened doors for me that I didn't even know were there.
Finally, I recommend starting off with something that is project-based and for a limited amount of time. Afterwards, you can still decide whether you want to move back or not.
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