Living abroad will shock you at times, stress you out, leave you in tears and will also be one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling experiences of your life. Maybe you’re thinking of living abroad, maybe you already do or maybe you just like hearing about what others are up to.
The series is called Expat Chitchat, where each month I’ll interview an expat blogger who will share what life abroad has been like in their corner of the world. For the second edition of my new series, I’d like to introduce you to Jay of the blog From There To Here. She’s a Canadian living in Norway.
Some places around the world are rife with expats who blog, but Norway doesn’t seem to be one of them. What attracted me to Jay’s blog was her unique story (not her first time living abroad, she lived in Gabon before Norway) and the fact that I knew little to nothing about life in Norway. I’d love to visit one day being the winter lover I am…
So here’s what Jay had to say!
Jay: I grew up in a tiny prairie town in Saskatchewan, Canada before heading off to our Western provincial neighbour of Alberta upon graduation. I completed my education degree, taught a few years and then moved to Gabon on the West Coast of Africa with my husband after he was offered an international position with his company. After 2 years on the equator, we started a second expatriation in Norway this past July, where we are now currently located.
As with many expat blogs, mine started as a way to keep in touch with our friends and family while living overseas but has since evolved into dedicated hobby of mine. From There To Here now documents our expat life abroad, travels and insight into Norwegian life.
Q: What’s your favorite part of where you’re living and why?
J: I love my terrace. It looks right out over a fjord – I’ve got mountains and sea and it’s all glassed in so even if it’s windy or cold, I can enjoy the view. When the sun is shining, it warms right up and helps me to forget the lack of heat we have in this Nordic city and if it gets really nice, we fold all of the glass back leaving it open to the world. It is the perfect place to enjoy a latte or a glass of wine and while the entire apartment is quite nice, the selling point was certainly the terrace.
Q: What do you miss most about home?
J: I miss the ease of accomplishing simple tasks at home. I know where to find what I need and who to turn to if I need assistance. It all comes together rather quickly because I don’t have to spend so much time trying to figure it out and I don’t feel any anxiety about doing it.
Q: How do the people act toward you in Norway?
J: Generally, I find people respond quite well to Canadians abroad. Usually, it’s assumed we’re American which can get a bit annoying but once that is clarified, there are the usual comments about cold weather, hockey and saying ‘a boot’ instead of ‘about’ (which I, nor anyone I know, actually does) but it’s all in good fun.
As a white young woman, I stuck out quite easily in Gabon. It garnered some attention generally in the forms of stares or kissing noises from men driving by and I’m certain I paid inflated prices for everything, but there was nothing that was particularly uncomfortable. In Norway, aside from being shorter and more brunette than much of the population, no one would know that I’m not from here – that is until I have to explain that I cannot speak Norwegian. Even so, I’m treated quite well.
Q: What has the adjustment to your new culture been like?
J: The adjustment to Norway has been pretty smooth with minimal bumps but as I noted above, I don’t necessarily stick out as a foreigner here. Despite practically everyone speaking English, Norsk is the first language spoken. I conduct my grocery checkout in Norwegian but aside from hello, good-bye and thank you, my conversational knowledge is regrettably, non-existent. Usually when someone speaks to me in Norsk and I don’t understand, I apologize and we switch over; however, sometimes I simply smile and nod and go on my way, which is precisely what I did with a neighbour in the elevator months ago. Since then, we continually seem to share the elevator and he’s such a friendly man who will often chat away to me while we make our way to our respective floors. It’s been months now and I just can’t bring myself to tell him that I have no idea what he’s saying and I haven’t understood a word of our numerous encounters. He probably thinks I’m a bizarre character who only responds to his questions with smiles, nods and nervous giggles.
Q: How has living in Norway/Gabon changed you? Do you find yourself living a more fulfilling life than before?
J: I think moving abroad has taught my husband and me to seize the moment. Our time in any given country (or continent for that matter) is limited so we try to take advantage of it while we can. Scheduling trips on long weekends and jumping in the car on a Sunday just to explore are things we might have done sporadically while living in Canada but are consistent here.
Q: Have your perceptions changed about your own country and how?
J: Before moving abroad, I didn’t really identify with being ‘Canadian.’ Obviously, I knew it was my nationality but because everyone around me was also Canadian, I didn’t realize or note the characteristics that make us, us. Now I feel an immense pride in Canada and my heart swells anytime I see a Canadian flag or a product from home and I feel a bond with my fellow countrymen and women when we meet abroad.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from living abroad so far?
J: Gabon was really quite difficult on us for a variety of reasons and because of that, we learned a lot about life and about ourselves. The challenging conditions we faced over those 2 years taught me to appreciate the little things and be grateful for all of the little luxuries that I was fortunate enough to grow up with. Even after having departed Equatorial Africa 10 months ago, I still have little moments of joy when I open the tap and clean, clear water flows every single time.
Q: For others looking to move abroad (and possibly to your country), what would you say to them or caution them about?
Prepare for everything to be different and then be pleasantly surprised when you encounter similarities.
Allow yourself time to vent your frustrations but don’t dwell in those negative thoughts because it will severely impact your ability to enjoy your time abroad. Conversely, revel in your little accomplishments and give yourself credit for stepping outside your comfort zone.