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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Stavanger, Norway

Feb 05, 2015

Stavanger, Norway

Get some great insight into what it's like to settle into expat life in Stavanger, Norway. Learning the language, what native Norwegians are like, and getting by with English are all covered in this expat culture shock report.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No, I just did some reading on the internet and talked to a couple of Norwegian friends of mine on what to expect.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I started to learn Norwegian before I moved using the free English exercises on NTNU's website. I am currently enrolled in an after-school intensive Norwegian course and am slowly but surely learning the language. It is very difficult to sound like a native though, because the dialect we are taught in class and the dialect spoken in Stavanger are almost like 2 different languages. But not speaking the language is usually okay; almost all Norwegians speak English enough to be able to get by if you are at a store or restaurant or on the bus.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

I was a bit worried, I had heard that it is very difficult to get new friends and "fit in."

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

It was quite a change compared to my life back home, and I was very lonely in the beginning. It seems like most people here have known each other their whole lives. It was also strange that stores here close very early and are often not open during the weekend.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I felt like the rejection of the culture stage came very early, as it is easy to blame everyone else when you feel as if you have no friends and are completely alone in a new place. I knew it wouldn't be easy though, and have come to terms with my situation and am happily adjusting to life in Stavanger.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I was frustrated and a bit angry in the beginning, I felt it was very difficult to get practical information about everything, bus schedules, store opening times, etc. in English. I also felt very lonely outside of school. It isn't "normal" for Norwegians to randomly strike up conversations with a stranger, and I felt rather out of place.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

It is of course, a very beautiful country, despite the constant rain. Once you get to know them, Norwegians are very nice, and way less superficial than Americans. I love that public transportation and sidewalks are everywhere, it is a joy to not be dependent on a car. I also feel much safer, especially with health care being (mostly) free. Knowing that you won't be turned away from the hospital if you don't have insurance when you are a poor college student is a relief.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Norwegian people in general can seem to be very rude, and you can often feel as if everyone is looking down their nose at you. They also tend to dress very well, so wearing jeans and a t-shirt when going out is usually frowned upon. Some restaurants or bars/nightclubs even have a dress code and won't let you in if you aren't "acceptable", which can be embarrassing. Almost everything is closed on Sundays, and opening hours on Saturdays are limited. And of course, everything here is ridiculously expensive! It has also been rather difficult for me to get a job outside of school because I do not speak the language well enough yet.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

The first couple of weeks I smiled at strangers and tried to talk to people on the bus (and got some really strange looks in return). I also realized that female independence is a big thing over here, and that women will gladly pay for their own drinks and do not expect men to pay for them on dates. So bringing my own money when going out is something I had to learn to do. I also had to learn that at parties, the host does not provide the alcohol, everyone brings their own.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

I think that adjusting to life in Norway has a lot to do with your own mindset. If you think that people are rude and that they don't like you, you will have trouble making friends and adjusting to the Norwegian lifestyle. Usually the people are not the problem, you are your own problem. Get over yourself and don't expect people to do things for you. You have to be willing to think positive and try to make friends by yourself, but at the same time not come on too strong and creep people out. Learning Norwegian will definitely help. You also should not expect everyone to speak English, why should they? This is Norway after all. It can also seem as if everyone here is the same and that you stick out like a sore thumb, but it's not true. Life here in Norway can be pretty great, it just takes time and an attitude adjustment to get to feeling as happy as you were back home.

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