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Packing your bags is hard to do

| Text: Gwladys Fouché

Two nights a week, over twenty foreigners like me gather in a classroom at an Oslo language school, determined to improve our faltering Norwegian.

It’s a microcosm of the world. There's Yitzhak from Israel, who works in a graphic design company and is married to a Norwegian journalist;Teresa from Poland who works in a kindergarten; Nathalie from Mauritius Island who does shifts in a care home for the elderly.

I am a French journalist, but lived nine years in London before moving to Oslo last March.

We are just the tip of the iceberg. My school alone runs dozens of classes, day and evening, every weekday. It is one of the many language institutions across Norway.

Walking the corridors of my school, it would seem that an ever-increasing number of us are jumping from one country to the next, easily swapping one job for another or moving abroad to live with one's partner.

There is some truth in this. With the general decrease in air fares these past few years, an increasing number of us fly more often and to more places. Among other things, it makes it more common to maintain, say, a long-distance relationship.

I myself moved to Oslo to live with my partner after close to four years of constant commuting between Britain and Norway It would never have been possible if Scandinavian Airlines and Norwegian hadn't offered reasonable fares. 1000 kroner is a lot of money when you fork it out every other week.

Or take my classmate Jessica from Peru: she met her Norwegian husband at a wedding in Lima. He was so smitten with her that he flew regularly from Oslo to woo her; while she would take the bus from her hometown of Arequipa to the Peruvian capital to meet him.

They are now happily married and she works in a bank. It is an extreme example, but reflects a situation that would probably have never happened thirty years ago.

However, this does not mean that you can pack up your bags and move in a heartbeat. To a great extent, only a privileged few are able to "cross-country" in comfort.

Working in a trade that is in demand in your new country is essential; having gone to university definitely helps; but most important of all, is the support from closed ones in your new nation. When the going gets tough, they are the ones who really help you through it.

Of course, some people who do not have any of the above do move to Norway. But it comes at a great personal cost. One Ukrainian classmate, who is in her early twenties, last saw her parents more than a year ago. She works as an au-pair; so she cannot afford to visit her family, a working-class family living in a rural part of the Ukraine. Similarly, another classmate, a cancer researcher from Nepal, has not seen his wife and toddler son for over a year.

And countries are not exactly falling over themselves to open their borders. Just take Norway – even though EU citizens have the right to live and work here, we must explain why we come here and prove that we can support ourselves – having 100,000 kroner in the bank is recommended. And that process is repeated every year. By comparison, Britain does not ask of any paperwork from EU nationals.

And the situation of EU citizens in Norway is a piece of cake compared to what non-EU nationals have to go through. At least, we hold on to the reassuring thought that it is more than probable that we will get that all-important residency permit.

And there's one last determining factor: as long as new immigrants do not become fluent in their new language, it is next to impossible to find a good, well-paid job. There are a few exceptions, such as oil workers in Stavanger, IT employees whose working language is English, or journalists who write for foreign media.

But as long as they cannot speak fluently, immigrants will be attending language classes two nights a week, determined to improve their faltering Norwegian.




Gwladys Fouché in phoneboth Gwladys Fouché

lived for nine years in London before moving to Oslo in 2005. This phone booth is not standing in the UK, though, but in Harstad in the North of Norway, where Gwladys found it on one of her press trips.


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