Facebook is still good for something. This popped up on my memories today. On this day, four years ago, I was here.
What have I learnt in four years? Lots about Norway and Norwegians but more about myself and what I am capable of.
A big deal
Moving is a big deal. Especially when so much of your identity is wrapped up in where you live. London for me was about being where I always wanted to be, right in the middle of everything that is happening. I could manoeuvre the streets like a pro. I could plan my tube travel from memory. I was native, and proud of it. It was an achievement that gratified me. I was living in London! Leaving all that was huge, but it didn’t really hit me until a few months after I moved how huge it was. I moved wrapped in a love shroud, without analysing or over-thinking.
I can safely say I knew nothing about Norway prior to June 2013 when I met my future husband. A year and some months later I was living there. I am still living here. Talk about going all-in. It still amazes me that I have a proper grown-up life here. A job, a home, friends, colleagues, former colleagues, and not one but TWO sets of skis. I mean come on, skis?! I don’t think I could get further away from my British/Cypriot childhood even if that was what I was setting out to do.
Four by four
Four years on, is it still hard living in a country that I have no natural bond with? The answer is yes. I have a dream support network, but even with all the support in the world there are some things that you are, and always will be, alone in. Support can only take you so far. The rest of the way is on you, and you alone. No amount of coaching, supporting or loving can get you there. You need to do the hard work – the befriending, the networking, the interviewing and the learning. It is a you thing.
What have I learnt in four years? A lot that I knew I wanted to learn, like skiing and about being on boats and generally about being in nature. A lot that I had no choice but to learn, like how to navigate the Norwegian working environment, the health system and the currency (all those zeros do my head in. Still!). Then there is the good stuff, the surprise stuff. The things that I discovered and rediscovered about myself.
Grow my pretties
I love to grow things. Who knew that? Even more surprising, I am pretty good at it. I revel in the the feeling of being a creator. Producing something where there was nothing. I discovered this when, unemployed, I had lots of time on my hands. I became fascinated with seasons. Fascinated over how dead and brown things became in the autumn, how they froze solid with seemingly no hope of return in the winter; and then how luscious green and colourful it became in the spring and summer. This fascination highlights how disconnected to nature my childhood was.
I learnt that I could make this wonderful thing happen. I planted things and they grew. Watching something turn from a seed into a tomato and then eating it gives me pure joy. I am hooked on growing things. Who knew that was even possible?!
This was perhaps less of a surprise and more of a deeper understanding of my love of words, in multiple languages. Learning Norwegian was difficult when I was in it, but four years later and I am not eating it for breakfast, I am devouring it with room for seconds.
I read, I write, I work professionally, converse socially, understand the million and one dialects and don’t need subtitles on the TV any more. Loving language has pushed me to learn Norwegian in a relatively short time and to a high level. I sometimes forget how far I have come so four years on I am tooting my own horn obnoxiously loud, because I bloody deserve it.
The downwards spiral
The least enjoyable lesson and the one that keeps coming back to tear me down regardless of what heights I reach is the downward spiral of job hunting. The lesson I learned is that this spiral is universal. It is international, multi-lingual, ambidextrous and an expert contortionist. It knows no boundaries and it comes in full force, and it never, ever, misses the mark. The mark is my confidence, which hits rock bottom whenever I am looking for a job.
This year when I found out my contract was not going to be renewed the downward spiral struck again. Fourteen years of work experience, qualifications, recommendations and references did little to ease the decline. It was steep and all-consuming.
I am not quite sure if there is any one out there that manages job transitions better than me. People that never experience the downward spiral. If there is, I am nothing like them. It doesn’t take a long time for me to get a job that I like, but it is always long enough to deal some mighty blows.
I have no advice for surviving the spiral, seriously no advice. I barely make it through every time. The only thing I have learned is that it doesn’t leave scars. It comes, knocks you down, ruthlessly, then lies in remission until next time. Maybe one day I will make a workplace transition without spiralling, but the lesson was, it happens in Norway too.
So if you are out there struggling to adapt to a new place, to get a job, to make some friends, to feel like you belong – I feel you. I have no solutions or recipes for success. Struggles will keep coming because life is like that. The struggles don’t get easier either. They are usually about bigger, life changing stuff, especially as you get older. But knowing you have made it through once before makes you have a bit more faith that you can do it again. Resilience, you have it. Own it.