‘Defeated by Norway:’ One woman’s tale

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GUEST COMMENTARY: She came to Norway to find work in her field, in a country often in need of workers. Instead she found herself left out in the cold despite initial signs of warmth and welcome. Immigrants face challenges in all countries and not least in Norway, which has gone from being a country that produced record numbers of emigrants years ago when times were tough, to attracting record numbers of hopeful immigrants during recent years of unprecedented prosperity. The following was written by one of them, who says she felt a need to share her frustrating experience as a foreign job seeker in what she thought was a land of opportunity.

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This winter's lengthy period of cold weather may be over for this season. Here, the view towards the mountains from Ringkollen, west of Oslo. PHOTO: Views and News

Norway turned out to be a cold place for one educated and experienced job immigrant, who since has returned to her native Portugal. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

I’m from Portugal, the country once considered a world power during Europe’s “Age of Discovery” in the 15th and 16th centuries. The nation gradually lost its power, but within every Portuguese remains the “conqueror spirit,” the one that makes us search for more in this life instead of settling down. Almost half of the 20th century was lived under a repressive dictatorship. My parents were born and raised during it and they witnessed many difficulties, such as poverty and exploitation. They never had a childhood, and everything they have today was earned through hard work, sacrifice and humbleness. Even though I was born after the end of the dictatorship, I was raised under these values.

In 2008 I finished my degree in Communication Sciences – Multimedia, at the University of Porto, ranked number one in Portugal. It was the same year the finance crisis hit hard in Portugal. Despite all odds, I managed to find work. I believe my dreams about Norway started around that year, but I thought I was too young and immature, that I needed to build a career first, or at least get some work experience.

Last year I was laid off by the company I was working for, with no warning. My career stopped evolving, the outlook wasn’t good. That’s when I decided it was time to go to Norway. I had five years of professional experience as a designer, a degree, some awards and side projects in my pocket, my savings, and the same “conqueror spirit” my ancestors had in the 15th and 16th centuries. My goal was to find a job and eventually enroll in a master’s degree program at the College of Gjøvik (Høgskolen i Gjøvik).

I started sending my CV to some companies that someone recommended to me. One of them replied to my e-mail and seemed impressed. They said I was talented and they were always in need of talented people. “Maybe I have a shot,” I thought. So I booked a flight and as soon as I landed, I called them. The interview went very well. They asked me if I knew norsk, which I had just started to study online. “Not yet, but I’m learning,” I said, to which they replied: “That’s OK, you only have to learn skål.” Later that week I got an e-mail back from them, with something like “we don’t have any open positions at the moment, try again next time.” That hurt, not the rejection itself but the shattered high hopes they’d fed me regarding the job.

Norway can be a beautiful place, but for many, the job market can be cold and unwelcoming. PHOTO: Lillehammer.com/Jørgen Skaug

Norway can be a beautiful place, but for many, the job market can be cold and unwelcoming. PHOTO: Lillehammer.com/Jørgen Skaug

But I didn’t stop. I continued sending out my CV and filing job applications in my field of expertise. The few answers I received were the typical standard rejection e-mail: “Du var ikke blant de aktuelle kandidatene denne gang. Lykke til videre.” (“You weren’t among the candidates this time. Good luck.”)

The more time I spent in Norway, though, the more I liked it. I saw the snow in real life for the first time, I met people – warm and welcoming people, contrary to the widespread idea that Scandinavians are cold. They took me to their cabins in the mountains, made me eat pølse i lompe (wieners in a dry potato pancake), taught me new words in norsk, how to walk on the ice and how to ski.

I never asked for any help from the government or from any institution. I’m not even entitled to ask for student loan from Norway’s Lånekasse since I’m not Norwegian, not a refugee and Portugal is not part of the so-called “quota scheme.” My only option was to find a job.

I went to a Global Talent Career Fair, talked to people there and gave them my professionally produced CV. “That’s the most awesome CV I’ve ever seen,” one of them told me. “I’ll definitely get in touch with you.” I heard that many times. It didn’t happen.

Norsk is beautiful and intricate, not easy to learn, at least not in a couple of months. I speak five languages and believe I learn quickly, but without a job there’s no way I can finance a norsk course. I learn the way I can: Via YouTube, TV with subtitles and talking with people, and I even bought a book with audio called “Complete Norwegian.” I realize that one of the reasons I received no replies to the job applications I sent or my requests for interviews was because of the language barrier. But learning requires time and an investment that I can’t do, not without a job.

I finally got an opportunity. I had made a contact with a company that needed a new website design. They liked my portfolio and said that if they liked my work, they would hire me. It was a light at the end of a tunnel after months trying, so in all humbleness, I accepted. I spent two months on the project, I even made them a logo, unrequested. Their feedback was always very positive, they liked my work and I was convinced I would be hired. They said the final work was “very good,” paid me NOK 1,000, and didn’t offer me a contract. I don’t know why.

I came back to Portugal to spend Christmas with my family, and during the holidays I got another job tip: A company was seeking a graphic designer with minimum three years of experience in web design. I applied and they interviewed me by Skype. It went well. They later invited me to their premises in Oslo as soon as I got back to Norway after the holidays. It sounded promising, so I booked a flight and landed again in Norway, with hopes and dreams. I could count on people’s generosity and I have a place to stay in Oppland, even though that means I had to take a train to Oslo and a bus. Their premises were great, they were all very nice to me . I could tell they liked me. They asked if I could work on a sample, in accordance with a brief from them, and I said “sure, I can work on that.” So I went back to Oppland, worked for a week on their brief and came back again to Oslo, to show them my sample. Their feedback was very positive, which was encouraging for someone who had just spent her last few kroner. After one Skype interview, two trips to Oslo, a week of work and such positive feedback, I was confident I would get the job. My Norwegian friends were all rooting for me, so were my family and friends in Portugal.

The next day I got the call, the call I was waiting for such a long time. But unfortunately they said they were going to look for another candidate, with more experience. I still don’t know what I did wrong. Why such positive feedback, and then tell me something that they could have just said since the beginning when they saw my CV?

So that’s it. I never felt so humiliated, so exploited and so defeated in my life. What did I do wrong? I came to a country known for acceptance, a land of opportunities, a place for hard-working people to be successful, a country of equality and non-discrimination. I spent all of my savings. My parents paid for my ticket back home.

I never asked for things to come easily, I never asked for charity and neither have I refused to work. I searched hard for a job, I learned and embraced the Norwegian culture. I still want to work in Norway. But I’m defeated. I love Norway, but Norway doesn’t like me.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The author asked that her name be withheld to avoid jeopardizing any further attempts at breaking into the  Norwegian job market. She’s now living back in Portugal.