I have some thoughts on being an immigrant and integrating, that have been stuck in my head for a while now and I’d like to share them. It’s often I hear expats in Oslo being negative about Norwegians and about the Norwegian way of life. I understand why one might get frustrated after moving here, but I think that sometimes this frustration, which has more to do with the challenges of this new life, is unfairly directed towards Norwegians.
Immigrating to a country to work is certainly a great endeavor, as it means practically starting from scratch. It means you have to learn in a very short time, the things you spent years learning in your own country and which enabled you to live and work in that environment, under familiar conditions, with social contracts that you were raised to accept and abide by. It means, that you no longer have so readily available the things that you grew up to love and enjoy.
Add to that, that you might have to learn a new language in a level, satisfactory enough to be able to work. Now add to that, that your qualifications might need some tuning into a different market’s demand… Don’t forget the bureaucracy… There’s a process in getting you started in a new place and public services have different rules among different countries…
Now consider, that all of the above needs to be achieved very quickly in order to make you attractive and competitive in that new job market and you begin to have a picture of how difficult, it is to make it abroad.
That was a little intro on immigration. Now, put your finger on the map and draw it all the way up to Norway. You might have heard that Norway’s climate isn’t exactly welcoming. Forget about comfortable temperatures and buckle up, because the mode of living through January and February can be more precisely described as surviving.
As if that wasn’t enough, socializing in Norway and making new friends is quite challenging too. Norwegians are known for their kind but reserved nature and they tend to stick with their friends from childhood, with who they are friends for life.
Welcome to Norway! If you, who are reading this aren’t very frustrated yet, you amaze me, because I spent a decent amount of time after moving here, being at a total loss as to what my life here what look like. As expected as that might be, it wasn’t very helpful or productive, so I tried a different approach. I tried to be more understanding and curious about Norwegians, in the same way I have been curious as to why Greeks have the traits they do.
This is obviously oversimplified, but when I try to understand the circumstances that allowed ancient Greeks to achieve their accomplishments, I imagine them under the sun, enjoying the fruits that their land so generously gave and that slaves harvested for them, thinking what to do with themselves… “Hmmm let’s talk politics. No I’m more into theater, or maybe I’ll study the stars tonight”.
Likewise, when I try to understand the circumstances under which, the reserved Norwegians were shaped, I take into consideration the harsh climate and the poverty of the previous generations. I then stop wondering, why they are not used to socializing with people randomly. I honestly can’t imagine that I would be very open to chit chat with strangers after a long day, in minus 20 degrees in the snow.
The moment we manage to understand which circumstances and conditions have shaped a people and set a nation’s social and cultural foundations, we start discovering the tools which will also help us exist happily in this country and we initiate the integration process.
With the word integration, I don’t mean that you should wake up one morning looking and behaving exactly like a Norwegian does and that’s where the other side, should extend their understanding as well. Any conversation about successfully integrating immigrants, should begin, in empathizing with what it means for someone to start over and with making space for diversity.
The western world has – very justifiably- understanding towards refugees, but sometimes I get the impression that immigrants are left to figure things out on their own and that the weight of them making it without problems, falls mostly upon their shoulders. I would never compare refugees to immigrants, as there is no comparison to be made, but that doesn’t make the second case less of a reality.
People have and exercise their right to a life, where they can live decently and provide for their family and since residence permits are granted, there should be understanding granted as well, on that for most, a residence permit is only step one of many.
Imagine you have many rooms in your house and you decide you want to sublet one of them. A person from a far away place asks to rent the room and you agree to it. You could of course set your rules and go about your business, but there’s more chances for a successful coexistence if you also show some interest into the one who will be sharing your house with you and their situation.
On the other hand, it is very important for the ones renting the room, to not only respect the rules, but to also be open to understand, how these rules came into existence and why things at their new home, work like they do. I mean, how would you feel if you suspected, that the one renting a room at your place dislikes you, but they are there, only because they couldn’t find any other place to stay?
And finally, a message to all expats/immigrants out there. We are lucky to have the opportunity to, not only learn about another culture superficially, but get to know it in depth. No one expects you to like everything about it, but did you really like everything in your country of origin?
Ι for once, feel fortunate to have experienced the Norwegian work environment, with managers, who lead by example and who respect their employees. I love the gender equality, which is not just on paper, the lack of sexism, the freedom to be whoever you want to be and conduct your life in the way you wish and the lack of obsessive hang up on appearances and formalities.
My experience in Norway so far, has given me many gifts. It has broadened my spectrum of traits and values and it has revealed to me that there’s many different ways to be, but the greatest gift of all, has been the following realization: No matter where we’re from, we all cherish our home and we are all wired to prefer what is “homey”, so if you’re new here, be patient and remember that you can make this new house of yours, your new home.