A community of ‘love refugees’

There are a lot of ‘love refugees’ in Norway.

When I meet other expat couples, particularly trailing spouses like myself, we usually ask eachother how we ended up in Norway. It always comes down to one thing: our partners. They are either Norwegian (who are great at falling in love overseas) or our partners aren’t natives but followed their careers here, bringing their families in tow.

There is an immediate camaraderie among expats. In leaving our comfort zones to see the world, we’ve all done something very brave.

Moving to Norway was a big decision for my husband and I. The opportunity popped up out of nowhere and it took a lot of research before we could make an informed decision to move to a place that we hadn’t even considered as a vacation spot.

Once you’ve landed overseas, the strength of your relationship is put to the test and you find that you have to rely on eachother in ways that other couples don’t.

Autumn of 2011 was a tumultuous time for us. With each step that brought us closer to a life in Norway – putting our London flat on the rental market or giving notice at work – we wondered if we were making the right choice. If one of us became overwhelmed about what was ahead, the other would toughen up for the leap of faith that was taking us to Oslo.

One could say that it was faith in Norway that brought us here. Before we moved, we had a five-day reconnaissance trip during which we had to learn everything we could about the local lifestyle before the decision was official. We realized that there was no way to know whether it was going to work out unless we gave it a try, so that’s what we did.

That leap of faith was one that my husband and I also took in eachother. Although we factored quality of life and cost of living into our decision to leave a comfortable home in Britain, a big part of that decision was whether we, as a couple, could make this expat adventure a success.

When you move abroad with your partner, both of you are stripped of your network of family and friends and the safety of familiar surroundings. Once you’ve landed overseas, the strength of your relationship is put to the test and you find that you have to rely on eachother in ways that other couples don’t. Since moving to Norway, my husband is all I’ve got. When I had sinusitis last fall, we couldn’t count on my mom to come by with a big pot of food to help us get through the week. And when my husband was working 80-hour weeks last spring, I couldn’t pass the time by dropping by my brothers’ place to hang out with my nephews and gossip with my sister-in-law. All of those people are 4,109 miles away.

So while I’m in Oslo, my husband fills all of those roles for me. He plays Super Mario Brothers with me when I miss my nephews, and I in turn indulge him by watching the Batman movies for the third time around because he can’t watch them with his brother.

But if we’re all of the sudden getting on eachother’s nerves (like all healthy couples should, every so often), there’s really no escape. If one of us tried to get some space, the other would be left in the lurch, so we don’t do this often.

Norway flag heartIt’s this precise aspect of expathood that people who are still in their comfort zones, surrounded by their usual support network, can’t understand. It’s the reason my husband and I don’t answer the phone when we’re watching a movie or exploring the rest of Europe, or when one of us is just having a bad day.

Only our fellow expats truly understand what it’s like to live in Norway, far from everything familiar (and warm). From this camaraderie a wonderful little community of has emerged. Newcomers seek the wisdom of those who came before them. Those of us who have lived here awhile are finally able to ‘pay it forward’ and help those that are fresh off the boat. And then there are expats who have been here for 10, 15 or even 20 years. These are our north stars.

I’ve been in Oslo 16 months and I feel that I’m at a turning point. Without realizing it I’ve become a part of a community and have even been able to offer guidance to a few new arrivals. The most important advice isn’t anything I tell them, it’s simply that I’m still here and enjoying every day of it.

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85 thoughts on “A community of ‘love refugees’

  1. Lovely post!
    I’m Norwegian, I fell in love abroad more than once. 🙂 I ended up in Germany because of Love and now Love has placed me in Norfolk, UK!

    Enjoy your weekend in Oslo!

    Greetings from Cley next the Sea
    Dina

  2. Thanks for your blog I can very well relate to. I am a German expat living for 30 odd years in North Norfolk and my love is a Norwegian living in Germany now for many years as well. I have lived and worked in Scandinavia before. We can see each other quite often at my place. If you live for such a while abroad you have got few old friends visiting you regularly but most of your friends are from your new country. Dina`s connection to Norway is reflected in her blog as she is blogging about Norwegian literature, films and the north in general. My connection to Germany is only loose as I am blogging quite a lot about the north as well (as I have studied nordic literature).
    If Dina goes back to Norway and if I visit Germany we both feel as strangers in our native countries but nevertheless we both feel strongly connected with the culture of our native countries reading all the new Norwegian and German novels, see Norwegian and German films etc.
    Greetings from the sunny coast of North Norfok
    Dina and me
    Klausbernd

  3. As always ,enjoyed reading how your life is shaping up ,both of you living so far from your families,we all miss all of you so much and wish we could see you more often.At the same time so glad that you and Faisal are making the most of the opportunities that you both have and dealing with all the ups and down so sensibly.

    • Thanks! I’m sure it’s something you can relate to as well, from your early days in England. Although this phase is something that is probably easy to forget, once you’re surrounded by loads of family.

  4. Absolutely beautiful, spot-on post 🙂 I will be sharing this with my Trailing Spouses group in Germany. You’ve put into words a lot of the things that outsiders don’t always understand about being a ‘love refugee’ 🙂

    • Thanks! Being overseas really changes the dynamics of all of your relationships I think. People back home have to understand the different priorities we have now – whether it’s having to miss out on birthday parties or weddings because we can’t travel at the drop of a hat – and us as a couple, being ‘in it together,’ we have to look out for eachother in such a different way.

  5. I really love this entry & the fact that I can connect with it, Husband & I are planning on moving out of the country (sometime within the next decade, after his service has ended), & your post just proves & reaffirms that my doubts & worries are all just parts of a relationship that can be unavoidable when you move & travel overseas. Beautiful.

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  7. we hear of people travelling for love but to travel to lands (without the ease of having your loved ones in commutable distance) only on faith and then finding those relations and love in your partner is so pure and rare.
    wish you two and all people who seek love a lovelier life…
    thanks for sharing something so precious…

  8. I love this! I met my boyfriend in Greece, and we spent my remaining couple months there together, then he came to visit me in America for a little bit. We are constantly trying how to figure out a location to be together for a substantial amount of time. I think It’s a totally different relationship in every place you are together! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Having different or unusual surroundings certainly changes the dynamics of your relationship but not the relationship itself. You’ve done something that’s perhaps even more difficult, mastered a long-distance relationship.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. “It’s this precise aspect of expathood that people who are still in their comfort zones, surrounded by their usual support network, can’t understand”

    My wife and I spent a year abroad in a country where we didn’t speak the language for our honeymoon. We’re both pretty hot-tempered people. I remember one time the stress got to us, and she stormed out of the apartment with a door-slam. Half an hour later, she came back bewildered…there was no one else to talk to. No one else at all. 🙂

    • I know the feeling! And you must have felt it ten-fold being if those around you weren’t so fluent in English. What was it like for you when you returned to your homeland after a year of this? Did you have trouble readjusting to having so many people around you? Did you feel that you and your partner all of the sudden didn’t see eachother enough? When we head to the US for a few weeks I come back to Oslo thinking, “I barely saw my husband when we were there” only because I’m not used to having so much family in the picture. There are up- and down-sides to that:)

  10. Interesting perspective. I’m not an expat, but I’ve been dragging my feet about moving to a different part of the U.S. for years because of this very issue. On one hand, I might well find more love and support in another community. On the other hand, I don’t know that for sure, and some is better than none in the meantime.

  11. Would be interesting to learn of the connections you are making to Norwegians, more so, than the connection you make to other ex-pats. Presuming that you moved to have a new life rather than find the old one in the new country?

    • You’ve given me a great idea for a post! And yes, I moved here for new experiences but trust me, it’s impossible to completely re-create what it’s like to live back home in Oslo. If I could then these little moments with my expat community wouldn’t be as sweet! And not only have I had the privilege to become friends with Norwegians, but also my expat community includes more than just fellow Americans – there are people from Hungary, Brazil, England, Australia, Spain, Italy, China, Philippines, Croatia…. you name it! These are the folks that make up my expat circle, people I’d never find back home in the Midwest.

      • That sounds more interesting. I had the fortune to fly about 250K miles/year for over a decade, mostly Europe and Asia, but never lived anywhere else (but the aircraft it seemed at times) besides Mn, Ca, Fl and Va. in the U.S.

  12. Thanks for sharing your (continuing) story, and congrats on being FP! I love to travel overseas from the U.S., but have not had the nerve to become an ex-pat (yet). I’m single, so I think it might be even harder. Still, being “new” in a place can make you reach out and explore more than you might otherwise do, so it’s a healthy shake-up. Good luck with it – I hope you meet many wonderful folks on your adventure!

    • It’s definitely a great feeling that my husband and I have between us that we’ve made even the tough moments of living overseas part of a wonderful experience. I think we’ll always look back at these years abroad with great fondness, and know that if we can get through this we can handle anything together. It takes a lot of maturity, communication and trust to make it through anything, and if you can manage that you can have a lot of fun along the way!

      • You are very right in those things. It is sad that many people cannot get to that place in a marriage. I was not one of the lucky ones with my now ex. Maturity is a huge part in making these decisions and realizing that life happens. And choosing to make the most of it.

  13. Interesting post. I have lived in Norway for more than 25 years. I am from the US, but home is here now. I suppose home is where you live one day at a time, no matter which country. When you learn the language and start to dream in Norwegian, then you are home.

    • It’s been great so far, almost too good to be true. I try to keep my posts regular so do sign up for emails or check back for updates. And I look forward to hearing more from you in the comments!

  14. My parents were immigrants to America. Both arrived when they were teenagers. They found each other in Chicago. My mom returned to visit her homeland when she turned seventy-eight. All her life here, she pined for her homeland. When she finally returned from her home town, I asked her if she was ready to return to her home for good. She replied, “this is my home.” She never complained about not being at her homeland again.

    • What a touching story! That’s so beautiful. My parents are also immigrants in America and feel that it’s their home now, it’s given them a wonderful life and a future for their kids and grandkids. I think I sometimes idealize what the US is, how wonderful things are there. I almost wonder if when we do finally move back there, I might not have to adjust as I “repatriate.” I’m not used to having family members just pop by, and I get claustrophobic if I haven’t explored a new culture/country/history/cuisine, like you can in Europe by traveling just an hour here or there. In the US I’d have to travel much further to get to a completely new country!

      • You are right about the cultural diversity and the proximity. America was that way at one time, but it is evolving into a Polarized civilization.

  15. Great post. Our first year abroad was a challenge. We came to Germany with 5 suitcases and a feeling like this was the right thing to do. It does put a strain on a relationship when you are used to having separate day lives, separate hobbies, so that you can come together and share your experiences. No parents to pick up the slack when you need a date night away from the child. No friends who get you. And when you are having a crisis moment…who do you talk to? We survived and are going strong. Best wishes on this journey together.

    • Thank you for your lovely comments. You are one of the “north stars” that I mentioned. Just knowing that there are others out there who understand this side of life makes it easier to face. The strain can be tough but if you can make it work then it’s an amazing journey that you’re on, seeing the world. When times feel especially tough I imagine that I’m in a little boat and that my husband is there with me. Knowing that we are, quite literally, ‘in the same boat’ makes this whole experience that much more wonderful.

      Best of luck to you and thanks for reading!

    • My husband and I have been taking classes to learn the language and try to speak it as much as we can. In day to day interactions you can get by with English but it’s easier to integrate if you make an effort to speak Norwegian. Plus all of our bills and such are in Norwegian! There is, however, a huge division between the expat and local communities. I think it’s a natural division but we’ve managed to make a small handful of Norwegian friends. We also enjoy some local customs as well, particularly celebrating Norwegian National Day – I’ll be writing about that in May for sure.

  16. Having moved from one end of the United States to the other, including stretches in-between, I can understand the stresses of landing somewhere you know nobody and having to rely on your partner. But I also had my coworkers and a new, welcoming Quaker meeting who eased into some of that, much as you suggest your husband has.
    But to leap into a locale where you don’t know the language or customs as well is eye-opening.
    I hadn’t thought of the courage and personal strength of the spouses before. Your articulation of this side of the equation is appreciated.

    • I’m glad my expat experiences resonate with those who have simply crossed state lines because that, too, is an adjustment. The challenges that we couples face overseas is something that we all do without thinking or talking about it much, this post really came out of my subconscious almost. Thanks so much for reading and writing, I appreciate it!

  17. This is such a great post! I’m an expat of 25 years, (Canadian, in the U.S.), married to an American who has never lived beyond his borders. I have a few ex-pat friends here — one French, one Canadian — and it helps to be around others who know what it feels like to want to make cultural reference but NO one will get it. Or to have most of your life’s history set somewhere else.

    Here’s a recent post that might resonate for you…about how deceptively easy the move is from Canada to the U.S. (really, from any English-speaking country to another.) The biggest challenges are not necessarily language, but social/cultural values.

    http://broadsideblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/why-changing-countries-can-be-such-a-challenge/

    • It’s funny you mention this. Before moving to Norway I went from the US to the UK and although there are a lot of similarities – language, some cultural aspects, a bit of overlapping history – there is more of an adjustment in the day-to-day life than people think. I imagine it’s the same with Canada.

      I enjoyed reading your blog post, thanks for sending it to me!

  18. As a former (and possibly a future!) expat I can relate to part of what you’re saying. It really is hard to get grounded in a new place. I just recently lived in the Middle East for a year, a place where I had family, but getting used to the social norms in Lebanon were still a little difficult for someone who had spent most of his life in the US.

    I don’t think I’ll ever find myself crossing the globe, or even moving to the next state, for love. I never have been moved by romantic love for some reason.

    Norway sounds great, though. I’ve always wanted to visit. Is it hard to get used to their social culture as an American?

    • Norway is truly a wonderful place to live or visit. Socially it takes some time to become friends with the locals. They are incredibly polite but a little reserved and seem to take time to warm up. Until then, you can find solace in the very diverse expat community. There are people here from every corner of the world and you can learn so much from them.

  19. I love your post. It resonates with me because I moved to Edinburgh for a short while and the culture shock was tremendous! However, I loved every bit of the discoveries I made in that lovely city and the surprising friendships that came with it.

  20. After reading that you have been there for 16 months, I couldn’t help but wonder how long you will be there … hopefully, you won’t leave right as you feel at home!

    • You’re not the only one who wonders how long I will be in Oslo! My whole family and my husband’s family are all back in the US and they ask us all of the time. While we do have plans to settle in the US eventually, at the moment we are enjoying our European adventure and are happy to fly by the seat of our pants for atleast a few more years.

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  22. Love took me to Finland from the UK almost thirty years ago, and kept me there ever since. This is my home now, and really always was. Indeed, I already have my last resting place marked out, happy in the knowledge I can stay here with my beloved family for all eternity.

  23. This is the first time ever, I continued reading the 2nd line of a post that is related to love and relationships. Beautiful article and yeah a lot of positives to take away from it 🙂 I have never been to Europe.. 😦 My parents want me to settle in India itself. Let me see… I am still a college student (Junior)…If at all I want to settle outside, I understood to a little extent that there are many things to be taken care of….PS: My comment may be wierd….new to blogging and commenting….It’ll take sometime… 😀

  24. Your post made me want to go to Norway even more. I am a Filipino-American who had the opportunity to study Norwegian for 2 years and the Scandinavian culture as a whole for 3 years. I’ve never been to Europe, let alone Norway, but this makes me want to go even more. I’d love to brush up on my Norwegian, however rusty it might be.

    Håper du liker somrene og nordlys, hører jeg er begge bare fantastisk i Norge.

    • How interesting that you’ve studied Norway so extensively, I’m ashamed to say how little I knew about Scandinavia before I moved here.

      Vi har ikke hatt en sjanse til å se nordlyset ennå, men håper å reise rundt i Norge snart – du bør også!

  25. Strange, I have just published a blog detailing my recent relocation from the UK to Norway. So I am now officially an ex pat. I made the move ‘bare meg’ mostly due to my career. As Norway is one of the few burgeoning economies in Europe, I think many other people will be doing the same.
    Here for 4 months now, and I can sincerely say…this is the best move that I have ever made in my life.

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