We’re moving to Norway! Matt was awarded a prestigious Fulbright grant to teach for a year in Norway at the University of Bergen. His grant includes a stipend for up to three dependents, so the kids and I will be joining him on this once in a lifetime journey.
Aside from announcing the news on social media, we haven’t really given many details and have gotten a lot of questions, so I thought my first post on this new blog (started just for our Norway adventures!) would be a good starting point to share what the plans are so far.
When are we moving? Matt has to be in Norway in mid-August for orientation in Oslo. Since our lease ends at the end of July (we’re renting right now), we’ll more than likely head over to Bergen at the beginning of August. Schools/universities there don’t begin until late August and end in late June, so we won’t return until the end of June 2019.
Where are we going to live? Are we shipping all our belongings overseas? We’ll be renting a furnished apartment or house in Bergen that is within walking distance of the University of Bergen. Aside from the belongings–mostly clothing–that we’ll be bringing with us in checked and carry-on luggage, all of our belongings will be placed in climate-controlled storage. So far, what seems like the most overwhelming task for me is knowing that my near future holds some major luggage Tetris. To add to the daunting task ahead, we have to pack for multiple seasons plus a very rainy environment. Plus, we have to try to plan ahead and bring clothing for two children that will grow over the time we are there. Yes, we could just buy them clothing over there, BUT Norway is extremely expensive AND shipping to Norway is extremely expensive as well (since they aren’t a part of the EU), so the goal is to try to bring all we can to make it through our time there and minimize our expenses while there (as well as avoid running into the issue of not having room in our luggage to bring back additional items).
Will the kids go to school there? We’ll be enrolling the kids in school there. Juliette will be in 7th grade and John Hayden is supposed to start Kindergarten, but will actually be in 1st grade there since they don’t have Kindergarten. Seventh grade there is still considered primary school (elementary school). They’ll be taught only in Norwegian, but we’re told that classmates and teachers are good about helping out foreign students. English is spoken very fluently there, so they’ll have no problems communicating.
One of the things that drew us to Norway during the process (Matt had to choose which university to apply to for the Fulbright) was their education system. We’ve always heard good things about education in a lot of the Scandinavian countries. An American who experienced the education system there told us that “they are very nurturing to the kids, and they have a strong sense of inclusion and honoring every kid’s unique ways of being.” She also said she thought that the school environment is much healthier than here in America. Schools start around 8:30 am and ends around 1:30 pm, and students get 3 recesses a day. I know both our kids are really going to enjoy only 5 hours of school a day!
What’s the weather like in Bergen? Bergen is located in the southern part of Norway on the Atlantic coast. Because it’s on the coast, the Gulf Stream helps keep its temperatures from being too low in the winter. The average winter temps are in the 30s, and the average summer temps are in the 60s. Although it does snow there, it’s not in large amounts. Rain is much more common. In fact, Bergen’s sister city in the U.S. is Seattle, if that tells you anything about its average rainfall. Bergen is about 450 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Daylight ranges from about 5.5 hours a day to about 7.5 hours a day during the winter and about 17 hours a day to 19 hours a day in the summer.
On rare occasions, the Northern Lights have been seen from Bergen, but from what we’ve read, you really have to be inside the Arctic Circle to be able to see them. We’re hoping that while there we’ll be able to make the trip to Tromsø in northern Norway to see the Northern Lights (and go dog sledding with the Huskies).
What all will we have to do to get to Norway? Norway doesn’t require visas, so that’s one less thing we have to worry about, BUT since we’ll be there for longer than 3 months, we each have to apply for a residence permit. Thankfully, the Fulbright office in Norway has a checklist for us of everything we have to do before arriving in Norway and will help us with the process. Although Matt has signed the paperwork and it’s official, it’s not officially official until he passes a medical exam. We haven’t received that paperwork yet, so for now, we’re just getting our passports renewed and keeping an eye on winter clearance sales for good deals on waterproof snow boots, parkas, and clothing. Once the medical release form is done, we’ll move on to actively looking for a place to rent, then to securing flights. Once we arrive in Norway, we’ll all have to get a “personnummer” (like a social security number here) and will have to open a Norwegian bank account. Matt’s monthly stipends will be paid in NOK (Norwegian Krone). (For those math nerds out there, right now $1 USD equals 7.86 NOK or 1 NOK equals 0.127194 USD.)
How did this come about? Back in Spring 2017, Matt started flirting with the idea of applying for a Fulbright. Fulbrights are super prestigious and super competitive, and we honestly thought it was a major long shot. I was supportive, though, and knew if he did receive it, it would be an incredible honor and a once in lifetime opportunity. We’d cross the road of how to make it work out logistically if we got there. He asked me to look through the website and narrow down what countries I would be comfortable with. I made a small list (I think it was Norway, Denmark and Finland), choosing countries that I felt were safe and that offered the dependent stipend. Matt ultimately had to choose just one to apply to and felt that Norway was the best fit for him. He applied well before the August deadline and so we spent half of last year in a “maybe we’ll be going to Norway, maybe we won’t” state. In November, Matt had a Skype interview with two of the professors at the University of Bergen, which meant he’d made it to the first round. He felt good about the interview and was told it would probably be February before he found out if he got it or not. In early December, he got a letter stating he had made it to the final round and that it might be a couple of months before a final decision was made. Two weeks after receiving that letter, just 5 days before Christmas, he got THE letter that notified him that he had been awarded a Fulbright.
It’s been a month since we found out and honestly, it’s gone by so fast and we’ve done so little to prepare (beyond learning a few Norwegian words) that I’m sure the next 6 months will go by fast as well. (Let’s just hope we’ve done more to prepare by then! lol) We’re incredibly excited, but we’re trying to not live in the future for the next 6 months here in the U.S.
If you have any questions I didn’t answer above, please feel free to leave them in the comments. Thanks for sticking with me through this LONG blog post. I promise to not be so long-winded next time!