WORKSHOP: LIFE IN OSLO
WHY THIS WORKSHOP?
We had 29 international people working (or looking for work) in Oslo in the lab for a workshop yesterday. In attempt to solve this challenge we're facing, we need expert help. And who better to help us than the target group themselves? Two hours of conversations, discussions and taking notes resulted in new insights for the project. Check out the video, and the summary below:
People come to Oslo for a lot of reasons; nature, living well, opportunities, for love, for education or for work, to learn more about Norwegian culture, to experience something different, for a good life/work balance, for networking, and for adventures. Oslo is talked about as a multicultural place, a compact city, international and with space for personal and professional development.
Norway from the outside
Looking at Norway from the outside, internationals had some ideas of what the country would be like before moving here; a country rich on oil money, cold and expensive, small, peaceful, wonderful nature, equality, handsome guys, perfectly organized, high quality of life, clean and spacious, good education, a place where money grows on trees, everyone talks English and where there is a good environment for children. And their thoughts about Norwegians: explorers, honest and diplomatic.
...and the inside
But often with places you travel or move to the images you have seen, or the stories you have heard doesn't match reality. These are some of the words used to describe Norway, after having experienced the country for a while: having a lot of social rules, recycling, money doesn't grow on trees, warmer than expected, expensive, hard to change, lack of leadership, cold and dark, a lot of bureaucracy, friendly, quiet, slow, a lot of unexploited opportunities and potential, compact country and city, the importance of Norwegian language, honesty and trust. Afraid of foreigners, lots of opportunities, shy, sarcastic, progressive, but also a place where you can find friends for life.
Social life in Oslo is described as: lots of outdoors activities (some free, some not), people work out all the time and eat healthy, there's expensive alcohol, food, and activities. Social life is built around parties, concerts, after-work beers, home parties, drinking, hanging out in cafés, sports and sports events. Summer is key - when the city comes to life and the parks are filled with people enjoying life. The rest of the year weekends are when everything happens, and especially Saturdays when people tend to go out. Going out, in smaller groups has also been one of the ways describing social life. Some mention getting to know Norwegians as a challenge, and the fact that our cozy living rooms are killing social life. Social life is built around dugnads and in general a relaxing lifestyle. Words like peaceful and respectful are also used to describe it.
So what could Oslo do to improve social life for Oslopolitans? These are some of the ideas that came up during the workshops: more language classes for people to learn Norwegian, more international events and information about the events in English, 24hr open diners, organized events where people can meet and talk (events where internationals and Norwegians can meet), and a better startup scene. We're getting there, aren't we?
And last, but not least, people are asking for one service center / information center where services like NAV, UDI, the police, SKATT ØST, and advisors are present. A center where you as an international could come for help and advice. This is something we know is already happening, and being planned as we speak. Oslo City Council is working on looking at how we could make a similar house / service center to International House Copenhagen, here in Oslo. Good news!
When in Norway, we asked people with an international background what their social network looks like. A majority of people said that most of their network consists of other nationalities, some said they had a few Norwegian friends (but often shallow relationships), people are friends with people from their home country, a lot hang out with colleagues, and with their Norwegian partners or friends. Some have met new friends at events or through neighbours, flatmates or activities and sports. Summed up, more people said they had international friends or friends from their own country than Norwegian friends.
What characterises work life in Oslo? Let’s start with the positive. Key words are flexibility, equality and respect. Norwegian work life is slow paced, which can be positive, but for some maybe too relaxed. Offices are empty at 3 pm on Fridays, and in July everybody is on vacation. “There’s no hierarchy and no strong leadership. It’s very disturbing.”
Many of the internationals is of the impression that Norwegians are not being challenged enough. People avoid conflict and might not speak up when they should. The lack of individuality and recognition for achievement makes people lazy, unproductive and non-competitive. The Law of Jante was mentioned several times as a strong characteristic both at work and in social settings. It’s ok to be good, but why not try to be great?
“Everyone has rights, but not obligations nor responsibilities”. Some of our workshop participants find many aspects of work life quite frustrating. At the same time, they appreciate a good work-life balance, feel they have fulfilling careers full of opportunities and respect.
There are many advantages of being an international working in Norway and Oslo in particular. With focus on gender equality, an open and inclusive atmosphere and respect for others, it’s easy to do what you love. Being international means you have a lot to offer: different languages, other cultural background and new perspectives. Foreigners are often competitive, and can get far if they want.
However, there are a number of challenges as well. Many are forced to hold positions below their competence because of language, some feel there are discrimination and that the opportunities are not equal for foreigners. Network is more important than a good CV, which naturally is a challenge when being new to the city. One of the participants posed this interesting question: “Norwegians don’t want to include international talent Is it because they’re afraid someone might be better than them?” Well, Norwegians -- are we?
So, what could Norwegian companies do to improve? To be better hosts? First of all, having websites and or information in English to those who hasn't yet learned the language would be helpful. Helping employees moving to Norway from abroad with applying for bank accounts, filling out papers and just general information. Hiring more international talent is also high up on the list, along with offering Norwegian language classes, and getting more international people on boards and in senior positions.
Welcome to Oslo
What would you say to someone thinking about moving to Norway for work? The tips and tricks were quite diverse. Get a job before you move here, research everything and be prepared to learn how to speak Norwegian. Everyone can speak English, but not everybody wants to. Expect the weather to be cold, the cost of living to be high but the country to feel super safe. Norwegians might seem cold at first, but once you’re in, you’re in. People are helpful, trustworthy and love to spend time outside in nature. Buy cross country skies, wear wool and remember to buy alcohol abroad - it’s waaay too expensive in Norway.
When in contact with the public sector for practicalities: “Just tell people you are planning to settle down with a Norwegian partner. It opens doors. Lie and say you’re getting married next year. Trust me, it works”. There will probably be some challenges with finding a job, figuring out everything with bank accounts and apartments. Especially since much of the important information is in Norwegian.
Get to know the Norwegian culture, and don’t just stay in an international group. Be patient with social life -- it takes time to find good friends. And although one workshop participant found it challenging to find good pizza, the city is walkable and easy to navigate. At the end of the day, Oslo is a compact city full of possibilities. Welcome!
PLACES AND SPACES
We asked Norwegians that came by the lab a few weeks ago where they hang out in the city, and we got a lot of answers. From coffee places, libraries, clubs and bars to festivals and places to hang out outside in the summer.
The internationals coming here had a lot of the same answers; Øya festivalen, Sognsvann, Aker Brygge, Astrup fearnley, Vigelandsparken, MESH, 657 and Start-up Lab, The Villa and Karusell for music, Blå for the same reasons, Vulkan area, Strøget, Torggata, a variety of gyms and of course, a huge variety of different coffee bars.
Let's just hope people mingle when they're at the same places... We're talking to you, Norwegians!
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO PARTICIPATED!