Anna Lyn Bjørnstad, 44, has been living in Oslo, Norway for the past 13 years. She lives with her husband, two daughters and a dog named Max. She works at Scandinavian Airline and hosts a weekly radio show called Ugnayan at Pinoy Radio Nordic.
Why did you move to Norway?
Thirteen years ago, together with my Norwegian partner, my daughter and I flew to Norway intending to have a one-month vacation. We planned to go back to Manila before the school year started. Our plans changed because my partner and I got married that summer. We decided to stay and technically, I am still on holiday.
What are your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?
My first year in Norway was the most challenging. My husband is very sociable. We get visitors almost all the time. And when two or three Norwegians come together, you don´t expect them to
speak English. So there was me, sitting with them and understanding nothing. My husband tried to translate a few conversations but it was impossible to keep up.
I had to find things out on my own: How to enroll a child in school, how to get listed in a Norwegian class, how the public transportation works and believe it or not, as simple as finding out where to buy rice. My husband and his family helped me, of course. But they know very little about how to help immigrants adjust to life in Europe. Good thing, I am the type who is not afraid to ask for help. I asked his friends and even strangers.
Along the way, I gained friends. There was also my lack of skills in homemaking. I could not cook, clean the house properly, and wash clothes. You can just imagine how many kilos of meat and fish were thrown into the trash bin just because they were not cooked the way they should. We invited ourselves for dinner at my parents-in-law´s place a lot. I remember calling my mother after a few weeks of craving for rice. She walked me through the process of cooking rice and I can now proudly say that I can do it without a rice cooker. I am still probably the worse homemaker there is but I am getting better.
Apart from personal or family challenges, frustration with the system is one of the things I had to struggle with in Norway. While I am thankful that we do not pay anything when we get hospitalized, the waiting time and process to get the treatment you need is extremely long. It is not easy to get sick in this country. You might want to have a person who can support you. The money from the social system does not come automatically. You should know that you have filled out all the necessary papers. I am hoping that with the new government, there would be a little improvement on the effectiveness of the system.
What do you like most about living in Norway?
You would probably find it strange that the best things I like about living in Norway are simple things. I can drink water from the tap, you can walk in the forest even in big cities and not to mention, it is a safe country to raise a family. Plus, it is generally a clean country. The waste management here, especially in my area, is fascinating.
There are just a few things I dislike about living here and one of them includes the long winters. It may almost be immaculate when the snow comes but the work that comes with it is heavy -literally. There´s not much light during the day. It can be slippery at times. We have to put on layers of clothes. I guess, I am not the only person who has a long list of why I prefer spring.
What are the three important things Filipinos should remember when moving to Norway?
Learn the language as soon as you can. The faster you learn the language, the better your chances of being satisfied wherever you are. Learn the culture. The more you understand Norwegians, the sooner you would be able to integrate yourself in the society. Remember that people will not adjust to your culture.
Listen to the locals. They are your greatest allies on your first year. They’ll let you know what to do and what not to do. Norwegians may seem overbearing but they will try to help you in any way they can.
Expat Interviews is a regular feature in The Filipino Expat Magazine where we ask tips from Filipino expats on living in Europe. This interview was first published in the 5th edition of The Filipino Expat Magazine. CLICK to read the online edition.