Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Accepting Norway

It's funny that come July I will have lived in Norway for 12 years and yet I have devoted little time to writing about my life here.

Maybe because Norway and I have had a rather rocky relationship at times or rather, when I look at it now with eyes wide open, because I have struggled through some trying and difficult human relationships here and wrongly held Norway the country to blame for personal attitudes I found restrictive and narrow.

This wasn't always so.  When I first came to Norway, I threw myself into being there.  I was enthusiastic about the people I met and the country itself.  I was 18 years old.  My hair was streaked blond and I was wearing an old grey and red school sweater and jeans.  I stepped into the cool autumn air and smiled at my friend Alyssa, my partner in crime, my fellow adventurer.  Oslo.  It felt so grand. So far away.  Feeling edgy and grown up, I slung my back pack over my shoulders and stepped on to the busy street, cupping my hands around my mouth and shouted to anyone listening "Can anyone point us in the direction of a church?"

We planned to take shelter in a church, we thought we could sleep there for the night.  Because we had very little money we thought this was quite a clever plan.

A beautiful black haired woman stopped in front of me.  "A church?"  Her eyes curious, her mouth forming a surprised "o".  I explained we needed somewhere to sleep and she smiled and motioned with her lovely, manicured hand to follow her.  She had somewhere we could stay,  

We were jet-lagged and optimistic.  We followed her down some winding unfamiliar streets.  She spoke to man outside a building, he led us to a room upstairs.  It was expensive but by this point we were too tired to care.

We slept there one night and moved on, not thinking about it again until I told a Norwegian man where we had stayed our first night in Norway and he snorted with laughter.  "You stayed there? That place is known for prostitution and drug dealers!"

To this day I still haven't slept in a church in Norway but at least I have this great achievement to brag about.

I digress but I came to Norway at 18 prepared to love it.  I visited again several times before moving here "for good" at the age of 24.  Every time I visited I told my Norwegian friends to find me a job and I would stay.

And that is funny in itself, because I often feel it would have made more sense given my personality and way of thinking to be drawn somewhere else.  Somewhere vibrant and colorful and diverse. Instead at that time in my life, I was drawn here.  

I was drawn here by love eventually and the thing is that after 12 years somewhere, you come to know yourself to be at home in a place, whether you like it or not really.  Whether you intend to feel at home or not.  The thing is the lines get blurred.  Home, family, missing, loneliness.  You come to see it's all a journey.  You are home here. You are home there.  It is not clear cut or easy to define anymore because you give up one home to create another and yet home is inside yourself.  Home is anywhere now.  

Living in a country is nothing like traveling, even extended traveling.  Living somewhere is a whole other story. 

I see now, finally, that Norway has borne the brunt of so many of my emotions that were really directed toward other people.  People who rather than welcome me or helping my transition here, made it more difficult.  People from whom I expected far too much.  Now for me, the lovely thing is, this is all done in my head and heart.  

I simply accept what is at this moment in time and I don't worry about the rest. 

Some days I feel that this beautiful country lacks something essential for holding the soul together.  I will never be fully Norwegian but nor am I really fully Canadian.  I have trouble identifying a place I really identify with,  But perhaps this is a great blessing.  I am not afraid.  I am not attached to just one place.  I can move through the world with great ease.  

I can be here.  I can be there.  My home is not a tangible place.  


  1. I had the exact same experience in Iceland Colleen. People, and the culture made it very difficult for me. I started blaming the country for these issues, and eventually started hating living there. So much so that just two weeks out of high school I hopped on an airplane never to return as a resident. It took about 3-5 years of living in Greece for me to be able to say, I love Iceland. Like you, in June, it will be 12 years since I moved to Greece! ���� Where does time fly?

    I do believe that we are at home everywhere. For me though, home is not in me, but the people that I love and care about. I can honestly say that I am at home in Iceland, in France, in Greece, and now South Africa. To me now it's no longer a country, or the cultur of a place I seek after but it's people.

    Thank you so much for writing this!

    Ps. I know I've said this before but for the sake of your kids please read up about TCK's. More than being Norwegian or Canadian they are TCK's and that gets really confusing as you grow up. I really wish I would have known about it growing up, it would have helped tremendously!

    Love you!

    1. Janet thank you so much for your comment Girl! I know if anyone understands what I am trying to say, it is you. I really appreciate that!

      It's funny I read a book by C.S Lewis, I think it was Surprised By Joy where he wrote of his initial feelings toward England. He said because he moved there as a boy, directly after his mother died, he harbored a deep "hatred" toward the country that took many years to heal.

      I feel although I don't "hate" Norway, in fact, I love it in my way, I have a view of it sometimes that is in need of healing and oddly enough, this healing comes now. I am making my peace with it although it doesn't mean I will be here forever, I accept that my issues have not really been with the country itself.

      And I do agree with what you say about "home". You are right, I feel as well that home is with those we love, our families, our dear friends, our faith communities. Thank you for pointing that out. Maybe a better way to explain it on my part would have been to say home an internal concept.

      There are places I feel more "at home", some places immediately make us feel at home and some places take years of work. I feel "at home" in Manitoba as well but now it has been so long since I have lived there.:)

      Life is curious...

      Love you too Janet!

  2. Colleen, you are the voice I needed!

    Surprisingly after more than 2 years here I finally felt the loneliness everyone talked about when moving abroad. I was not prepared for the feeling, but fortunately after 2 long blue weeks I'm back on my feet ready to continue facing my expat life.

    Thank you again for this wonderful post!! It could not arrive in any better time for me =)

    1. I am so glad that it helped you Daniela. I am sorry to hear you have been struggling the past couple of weeks but happy to hear you feel ready to face what comes again. One thing about you I admire is that you have such a strong and positive outlook on life. I think that will take you far even if you experience all the natural emotions involved in building a life in a foreign country as well. Thank you for an encouraging comment!!

  3. Hi Colleen, thank you for this honest perspective. I have lived in Norway on and off about 10 years ago, when I had a Norwegian boyfriend. He tried living in my home country, I tried his, but it never really worked. On the surface it looked as if we had the same culture and background, and to be honest, it's reading your post today that actually really shifted that perspective for me. It must have been at the root of what made it impossible for us to ground ourselves in the other person's country. I still miss it, and sometimes I still daydream about moving to Norway. And I still might. Wishing you all the best.

    1. That is so interesting Murielle! I like what you say about on the surface the culture appears the same but there are many differences, some good and some not! That would be wonderful if you did move here, it is a beautiful place (as you know) :), and really in many ways, an excellent place to live. Thank you and I wish you all the best as well!

  4. I believe you show humility, maturity, growth and honesty in sharing your journey in this post I have traveled outside my country of origin but never resided outside the U.S However, I HAVE lived numerous places within the U.S., moving frequently as a child & in my adult life. Some of my struggles and perspectives about others and myself in relationship to them are not all that different from those you express here! Could it be we are not "at home" where we are because we have our minds set on "another country" - and it is not an earthly one? On the one hand, I think I could adjust to life in any of the countries I've visited. On the other, I don't feel that "rooted" in my specific community right now though I've lived here for the past 12 years... Hmmmmmmmmmm.

    1. Thank you for your comment Rebecca, I agree with what you say. The USA is a huge, diverse country and a move there could easily be like changing countries I think. The challenges are similar and it is interesting and good to know you relate to what I am saying! Like you I feel I could adjust almost anywhere. It would be interesting to talk more about the places where you have felt "rooted" and what was different. :)

  5. This is a great post. It's hard to feel fully accepted somewhere when you move from one location to another. I've moved 300 miles before and felt out of place so I can imagine how it would be for you moving out of the country. However, for me, I came back to my original location and feel out of sorts now. It doesn't feel like how it did when I was younger. Hopefully both of us can learn to feel more at home where we are now.

    1. I hear you and understand what you are saying about feeling out of sorts in your original location. Isn't that funny? It takes a sort of courage to readjust to a life you once knew as well. I have read that if you have spent years away from your birthplace or home country or town and move back, the readjustment can be just as trying as the original move. I hope the same as you and wish you good luck.:) Thanks for commenting.

  6. What a great post. It can be difficult to take that step outside of the unknown, particularly when it involves moving to a new country, but amid the turmoil there is always going to be some beautiful, memorable moments. I love how you ended the piece, that you can move through the world with great ease. What a great philosophy to hold to.

  7. Great post! I always liked the idea of living somewhere else.

  8. Lived in Finland for 5 years, its so different from my home which is Scotland, I miss home, the food and my friends and family, but the acceptance of my stepchildren is worth it all.

  9. Such a lovely read, Colleen. As someone who has lived in so many cities and countries, I think each one enriched me and made me a better person. But, at heart, I am a rootless person. I belong to people, not places.


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