After my rant on why I'm leaving Tromso last week, I thought I'd go back to where it all began and give you the rundown of almost 3 years of living in the Norwegian Arctic. I've been tagged by Sarah from Endless Distances to answer 10 questions that sum up my expat life a while ago, and I think the questions are just too thoughtful and interesting, not to answer them!
If there's anything else you'd like to know about life in Norway, check out my FAQ page or leave a comment below!
1. Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
I was born and grew up in a small town in rural Western Germany, situated a good 3 hour drive to any major airport serving more than just holiday destinations on the Mediterranean. I never felt like I belonged there and for as long as I can think, I've always dreamt of leaving and exploring the world.
Basically, I was one of those weird kids who would look at maps and pictures of foreign places all day, to imagine what it must be like to live there. I've also gone through a phase where I wanted to become an Egyptologist but I guess I realized at one point that warm temperatures aren't for me and so I went to study Arctic issues in Tromso instead, which is where I've been living for the past 3 years now.
2. What made you leave your home country?
I moved to Tromso in Northern Norway in 2014 to finish my BA in Northern Studies and do my Masters in Indigenous Studies. At that point, I'd already gone through a BA in English and Social Science in Germany and taken a gap year to travel around Scandinavia. I knew I wanted to move to the Nordics but my plan for several years had been to move to Sweden, so I took Swedish classes at uni.
More or less by accident, I discovered the Indigenous Studies program at the university of Tromso and was hooked immediately. I think it was because the courses covered everything from history to politics to arts and culture, meaning that I didn't have to narrow down my interests but could just combine them with my love for the North.
So I applied, got accepted and moved north. Now 3 years later, my Swedish has turned into Norwegian, I've graduated uni and I also fell in love with a Norwegian-Swedish Sami reindeer herder and historian, or as you might know him: Simon.
3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?
As I've been living in Norway for 3 years, my answer to the question "where are you from?" depends on the situation. Whenever someone asks me this abroad, so neither in Germany nor Norway, I always answer Norway cause that's where I've literally just came from and where I live.
People in this case are usually very concerned about how cold it must be in the Arctic and how far away Tromso really is.
When I tell people in Germany that I live in the Arctic, it's basically the same, though they all also wonder what made me move that far north and whether or not it's true that all Norwegians are rich. Spoiler alert: No, of course not! But there are fewer people living in poverty as living standards and wages are higher than in Germany - but you also need to pay more taxes.
It doesn't happen that often that Norwegians ask me where I'm from which basically has to do with Norwegians just not doing much small talk in general - and especially not with strangers, which I definitely don't mind. But if I get asked, they also wonder what made me come to Tromso - and which part of Germany I'm from.
Basically, I think the majority of people who ask this question just can't believe that someone would move to the Arctic voluntarily :D
4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to life in Norway?
Since I prepared for ages before moving to Norway and could already understand the language when I arrived, I didn't encounter too many obstacles and found the initial expatriation process and paperworks really easy. Of course, it helps to be a EU citizen.
The hardest part about adjusting to life in Norway for me, was to learn about all those subtle, unspoken rules of society that no guidebook prepares you for. For example finding out that you basically insulted your employer by making plans for the time when your contract ends, as people in Norway usually get hired for life in full-time jobs, no matter whether your contract says otherwise. Spoiler alert: I didn't know that when I bragged about my moving plans for the time my contract ended at work...
I also still find it difficult that Norwegians don't practice direct communication or argue. I appreciate the German way of handling conflict a lot - yes, it can get loud but at least you get it out of your system and talk about it, rather than just sweeping it under the table and acting awkward.
It's not common for Norwegians/Sami to argue or to talk about difficult subjects, in some cases not even between family members themselves, which is something that is the complete opposite of my upbringing where we always talked about everything.
5. Images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far.
Images have got to include mountain and fjord vistas. My hometown couldn't be further away from any mountains or the ocean, so I appreciate it a lot to now live in a place where I can see the mountains and the ocean every single day.
The word that sums up my life in Tromso most, has got to be: Heia!
Norwegians usually say "hei" to greet someone but here in Northern Norway, people are extra cheerful and say "heia" instead, which sounds just incredibly friendly and welcoming and admittedly, can be a weird way to greet a stranger at first but you get used to it quite quickly and adapt the word.
The sound that I connect to Northern Norway most, is the sound of yoik - the Sami version of throat singing. It accompanied me throughout my studies and having a Sami boyfriend, it still is something that I get to hear every now and then and I love it dearly.
6. Your favorite food or drink item in Norway?
I'm going to act as an adult now and refuse the urge to list all my favourite soda and candy items. Norwegian cuisine in general is quite dull - I think so anyway - so I've had issues adapting to it at first, especially when I was still vegetarian because Norwegians just love meat.
Over time, I have found my way around Norwegian supermarkets though and there are actually a few things I absolutely love. Fiskekaker (fish cakes) are one thing - they're basically fish burgers only that you can eat them without bread and they don't really taste fishy - and fiskegrateng (fish gratin) is another thing I totally like.
I've also learnt to like reindeer meat - at least when Simon's mum makes a lasagne with it so that it doesn't look or taste much like reindeer anymore, haha. Oh, and the traditional Norwegian Friday night taco is awesome as well.
When it comes to drinks, I'm addicted to Julebrus - the Norwegian Christmas soda which leads us back to my sugar addiction. I however also picked up on coffee since moving here as Norwegians are crazy for coffee! And the Sami way of drinking it is with coffee cheese which is actually quite tasteful and not disgusting at all, really!
7. What’s the one thing you said “yes” to in your new city that you wouldn’t say “yes” to, back home?
Winter sports! Norwegians are crazy for the outdoors which, with the landscapes we have here, is so understandable! I've however never been drawn to any sport, let alone a sport which involves steep mountains!
In my 3 years of living in Norway, I've tried everything from skiing to snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice-fishing and ice-skating, and even though I'll never become a fan of skiing, I would love to get good at snowboarding one day!
8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in Norway which you cannot stand?
Well there's one phrase which I just find really weird and that's when Norwegians describe unfortunate things as "boring". The word "kjedelig" in Norwegian means boring but is also used to say something like "Oh that's a shame" or "That sucks".
So the first time I heard Norwegians describe something bad as "boring", I was slightly confused... I guess this however also reflects the Norwegian way of indirect communication and their fear of conflict which, as I stated earlier, is something that really irritates me in certain situations for example when people don't say sorry when bumping into others.
It's not meant to be rude and it's just the way people are, but it's something I'm still not used to.
9. What do you enjoy most doing in Norway?
Exploring the outdoors! I guess I've become really Norwegian in the way that I have to go outside when the weather is good, to soak up as much sunshine as possible - even if it's -10 degrees. With long and dark winters, you really learn to appreciate the short summers and sunny days much more and use them much better!
And now that the snow starts to melt, I really can't wait to get back into hiking!
10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?
Well here's the thing: I don't think I'll be living in Norway forever and certainly not in Tromso as I'll be leaving this summer. However I can't imagine living in Germany for the rest of my life either. Sure, Hamburg and Berlin are places I can see myself living in for a while but eventually, I would just get bored and want to explore somewhere new.
That's just the way I am.
And instead of travelling all the time and get a glimpse of 1000 places, I'd rather live in a few places for a couple of years to really experience what it means to live there - and of course, to also explore more of the country in question.
The North has a very special place in my heart though, so I can't see myself not wanting to live somewhere that has plenty of snow in the winter, and I certainly won't stop exploring the North just yet!