As we continue our preparations for our upcoming move to Norway, I've been doing some reading about the country. It's never easy to predict what life in a country will be like and for me this is part of the fun. As Picasso once said, "If you know exactly what you're going to do, what's the good in doing it?" Funnily enough, John's mother has a co-worker whose son lives and works in Norway. She never knew where until John accepted the job and she asked for some details. Turns out he also lives in Stavanger, working right across the street from where John's new employer is building new offices. It is indeed a small world.
So what juicy tidbits of information has my reading uncovered about Norway? It is supposed to be beautiful, with plenty of untouched natural areas (most of them national parks). It is also rich, the world's second wealthiest country in terms of monetary value and ranks number four in the world for gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. It is often first in the UN Human Development Index, with 2011 being no exception (which means we're moving from the number two country, Australia, to the number one country.) Sounds like a nice place to live, doesn't it?
Of course, all that wealth makes it an expensive place to live and Norway has a very generous social welfare system, providing universal health care, free schooling and an all-inclusive social security system. So cost of living will be high but luckily the salaries make up for it. I've been saying I'd love to live in Switzerland and I imagine life in Norway will come with similar sticker shock. Where does all this money come from? Norway is the largest producer of oil and natural gas after the Middle East, making up roughly a quarter of its GDP. Good thing the country isn't part of the European Union (it rejected membership twice) - we won't have to worry about the troubled Euro.
It's not going to be as cold as we thought, either. When we first discussed moving to Norway we were most hesitant about the winters, imagining cold on par with what one finds in other parts of Europe (like -35C). The Gulf Stream and prevailing westerly winds result in higher average temperatures (but also more rain). This is especially true for the coastal areas where we'll be living. Of course Arctic climates can still be found in the northern parts of the country and it's much colder and drier inland, but we'll be enjoying more rain and wind than snow.
I'm really interested to see what Norway's light will be like. It's been called the "Land of the Midnight Sun" with the sun never completely setting between late May and late July north of the Arctic Circle while the rest of the country can have up to 20 hours of sunlight each day. From late November to late January, the Arctic Circle experiences no sunrise while everyone else receives a very small amount of light each day.
The scenery and variety of outdoor activities sound amazing: from the fjords and mountains in the west to the rough wilderness in the centre, there will be so much to see and do. Norway has many incredible waterfalls and skiing opportunities. Neither of us ski but we're both keen to give cross-country a try since we've heard it's pretty much the national sport. Next winter I want to view the aurora borealis, which is supposed to be at its most powerful in 2013. I'm picturing a cross between New Zealand and Alaska, though I've only seen pictures of the latter. We certainly enjoyed New Zealand's Fjordland when we were there last year - I expect Norway's fjords to be on an even grander scale.
We'll be joining almost 700,000 other foreigners of the 4.9 million people living in the country. I understand that the culture is liberal and family-oriented, though it sounds like people keep to themselves and take a little while to get to know. I never want to stereotype a group of people so I'll reserve any preconceptions and just see for myself. Moving to a new country is always challenging and fascinating and involves as much self-discovery as it does discovery of a new place and culture. This is, of course, the reason I love being an expat and I'm so looking forward to this next adventure.
How do you prepare for a new place, whether visiting or moving there?