US Expat In Norway - Expat Interview With Saleha

Published: 9 Nov at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Norway
Saleha Mohsin is a reporter and blogger who first moved from Ohio to London in 2008 and then on to Oslo, Norway, last year. After nearly five years outside of the US she’s found out that despite her ambivalence toward American football, she's a Yankee to the core. In September she launched an expat blog called "Edge of the Arctic" (see listing here) to write about her life as an American expat Norway. When she's not dealing with the trials of being an immigrant parent in Oslo, she contributes to The Wall Street Journal and is a guest blogger for The Christian Science Monitor.

Edge of the Arctic

Here's the interview with Saleha...

Where are you originally from?
I’m from Ohio in the US but lived in London for over three years before I moved to Norway.

In which country and city are you living now?
I’m in Norway’s capital, Oslo.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I moved to Oslo in November 2011 so it’s almost been a year. There’s no expiry date for my time in Norway but I hope to be back in the US in five or six years.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I’m a freelance reporter but I came to Norway because of my husband’s work.

Did you bring family with you?
I’m here with my husband and our two-year-old son.

Edge of the ArcticHow did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It was tough in the beginning. It takes some time to know where to buy what and get used to using Google Translate for everything from utility bills to cooking directions for frozen pizza. Besides my husband and kid, I didn't know even one person here! Handling everything yourself can be tough but we made it and it was well worth it.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It was surprisingly easy to make friends in Oslo. The international community is fabulous here. There are professional networking groups, book clubs, mother and baby groups... expats of all varieties are bonding under the midnight sun. We're a little segregated from the locals - the camaraderie between foreigners keeps us together and Norwegians have their own childhood pals and families to socialise with, although they are very nice and welcoming. I would love to have more local friends.

Edge of the ArcticWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
There's a fabulous street called Bogstadveien filled with high street fashion and cafes. There's also House of Oslo if you appreciate Scandinavian design and an area galled Grünerløkka with vintage and off-beat stores. If shopping isn't your forte then winter sports are all the rage in Oslo. Norwegians flock to the Nordmarka Forest on weekends for cross country skiing. Besides that there are some amazing museums and loads of various cultural events going on - outdoor markets, concerts, plays, opera, ballet... you name it!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The pace of life here is terrific if you have kids. The average work day ends around 4 or 5pm, leaving plenty of family time. Oslo is the most child-friendly place I’ve ever been to. The overground tram system and underground trains make the whole city accessible with kids, and everyone from café baristas to tram drivers are helpful and welcoming to families.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The quality of life here is high but the cost of living is even higher. A gallon of milk? Ten American dollars. A latte from Kaffebrenriet? Six dollars.
When I first moved from the US to London I used to balk at the price tags, which included 17% sales tax. But when I moved to Oslo I was shocked to see that it was even more expensive than London.
It’s important to realize that while sales tax is 25%, there’s no health insurance to pay. With the average annual income among the highest in the world and school and tuition fees relavitely low thanks to government subsidizing, life in Norway ends up being affordable. But break the habit of converting prices to your “home currency” or you’ll never want to buy anything here!

Edge of the ArcticWhat negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The opening hours of shops are horrendous! A majority of stores close by 6pm and few places are open on Sundays.
And the winters are long, typically from November through March.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
I would recommend living in the city rather than the suburbs for the first year. Suburbs in a foreign country that is dark during its long winter can be depressing but if you’re in the city there’s always a café or bookshop a stone’s throw away.
Definitely link up with international networks - they can be a lifeline during those first few months. Everyone you meet has been through the transition and is happy to help.
And don't set foot in the city between November and March unless you are equipped with the right winter gear!

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I find it really hard to be so far away from family. Neither myself nor my husband are Norwegian so we don't have any family for miles around... it can be tough sometimes.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I don’t think anything will surprise me when I move back to the US. However I left when I was 24 before I was married or had a kid. I’m sure going from Norway, where parents have loads of benefits and decent work hours, to the US will be an adjustment.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
- Keep an open mind.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.
- Try your best to assimilate: Participate in local traditions, customs and try celebrating familiar holidays the way they do in your new country.
- Learn the local language and don’t be afraid of sounding silly while you’re learning!
- Get out there! Make friends with locals and fellow expats, travel to nearby cities and countries - make the most of where you are.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
A lot of people back home ask me what life in Norway is like. My blog is my response to that question: What it’s like to be an American accustomed to shopping on a Sunday trying to settle into a more unmaterialistic lifestyle in Norway. Less shopping, more nature. More taxes, no insurance bills. Fewer choices in the cookie aisle at the grocery store, but more time with my family.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Check out my blog and leave a comment or hit the “contact” button to get in touch.

Saleha has an expat blog called Edge of the Arctic which is very worthy of a visit. Edge of the Arctic has an listing here which would love a nice review if you can spare a quick moment! If you liked this interview with Saleha, please also drop her a quick note below.
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