Once upon a time, the man and I packed up all our stuff in Melbourne, downed our last decent skinny latte, waved goodbye to the lane ways and moved to Norway. Drastic, I know. However at the time, I had spent the last seven years down under and the family at home was feeling terribly neglected. So, with Matt knowing absolutely no Norwegian what so ever, except for a few cheesy lines I had taught him once we were drunk, we set sail for Norway. The plan was to find employment and kinda set up our lives there, which seemed like a pretty straight forward task at the time……but gee were we mistaken.
We started out in Oslo, renting a short-term studio from a friend. We had two months to get sorted with our own accommodation, and started straight away to peruse the rental sites and real estate agencies. We went to inspection after inspection after inspection, but there was never any good news for us. Even the places we didn’t really want, was unobtainable for us. I’m still not 100% sure what the issue was, because no one ever said it to my face. However I now realise that it might have had something to do with the fact that we didn’t have a rental history in Norway (I hadn’t lived there for almost a decade), and because we didn’t have any past income information (in Norway, everyone’s income is published online for everyone to see), and possibly also because we may have come across as “randoms” (me with my Bergen’s dialect, appears it is super RANDOM to come from another place in the country, and Matt with his English only scenario….crazy). As for the job market, the experience was similar, if not worse. I never heard back from most of the positions I applied for, so I went to a couple of recruitment agencies. The treatment I received was nothing but appalling, with one recruiter looking at my CV, then shouting at me “what is that you’ve done her…I don’t understand anything of it, what have you done?’ At the time I had worked for one of the world’s biggest international humanitarian organisations, and had a degree from a highly recognised university in Melbourne, a world-class city with a population the size of Norway. What exactly was it that she couldn’t get?
After two months, we moved to Bergen as our short-term lease in Oslo ended. Luckily we quickly found a half decent apartment to rent (I guess the dialect was a plus in this instance), and we both needed work A.S.A.P. Matt is qualified architect with years of experience working in a sought after Melbourne office on a wide range of projects, however by now he had sent his resume to literally all the architect agencies operating in Oslo and Bergen. After two months in Bergen he finally heard back from a Canadian architect operating in the area, and started shortly after. As for me, jees louise, moving to Bergen really stirred up my plans. One of our main reasons for moving to Oslo was that I wanted to work for one of the international humanitarian agencies located there, either in programs or communications. In Bergen, there is just no such thing as humanitarian agencies. So I took up a job via recruitment agency, working in a market division of a bank. It was definitely the furthest away from my dream job I had ever been, but at least it paid the bills.
Over the next 8 or 9 months, I worked at the bank whilst applying for a range of jobs in Bergen relevant to my education and experience. I got a couple of interviews here & there, but mostly I got ‘we apologise, you have not been short listed for this position’. You might think that I applied for roles that required a whole lot of experience etc. but I didn’t. I read the position descriptions thoroughly and always knew I could match it to my degree and work experience.
Someone told me later that ‘you can’t get a decent job in this town (Bergen) without knowing someone who knows someone.’ In other words: contacts, network. People getting their degree from the local university and schools, and recruiting similar souls when they ended up in leadership roles. People sticking to what they know, instead of opening up to something new. Out of fear, out of inferiority, out of habit. Suddenly it was like I was head to head with the local students out of the sheer difference that we had studied in different countries. Team local students versus team international students, and the bell went off. A recruitment agent in Bergen commented ‘how was your Bachelor of surf & sun?’ Envy, a need to ridicule, implying that somehow I wasn’t competent, not like they were.
Meanwhile, statistics from the World University Rankings 2011-2012 saw Australian universities ranked as high as 37, while the highest ranking Norwegian University was the University of Oslo, at 181, followed by the University of Bergen, ranked 191. Food for thought perhaps?
Norway sees thousands of students travelling overseas to study each year, and with a population of just under 5 million, you could only imagine what a great opportunity this is for the country. The country’s youth are now living in all corners of the world, snapping up different ideas and techniques, and ways of living, all of which should be flowing in to the country upon their return. International students are the modern society’s explorers and adventures. They become anthropologists, studying their visiting country and the local people’s customs and culture. There is so much to learn as an international student, and it can be challenging in so many ways. There are languages to be learned, culture shocks to be overcome, and emotions to be controlled when the loving memories of family become too strong. Also equally important, there are survival skills to be developed and financial management to be practiced.
The Norwegian student loan institution Laanekassen, gave loans to just under 24,000 international students in 2012, and reported that the amount of students choosing to study overseas was only increasing.
After 12 months in Norway, the man and I both felt this ridiculous situation had been going on for long enough. The winter had been long and dark, and the positive outlook had been lost along the way. So we packed our bags and returned to the city of great food & coffee, mild winters and Australian Open. We knew that we’d always be welcome here, in Melbourne, a city which has become a great example of the amazing things that can happen when diversity is embraced and change is happening all around, every single day.
I hope I will begin to see something similar take place in Norway as time goes by, and for the sake of every international student out there returning home with a backpack and a half full of important learnings, life wisdom and booming enthusiasm, I really hope it does.