–Rebecca, tell us about your family! – We are a family of five which includes Martin, my husband, who is Norwegian and works as a diplomat at the United Nations. Me, Rebecca, I'm American and I work as a photographer. We have three kids, Jonas (10), Selma (7) and Felix (3). – It turns out they're more Norwegian than I realised, despite that fact that only the youngest was actually born there. They miss life in Oslo terribly and bring it up every single.day. It´s an attempt to make us feel awful for inflicting the Big Apple on them, and it works.
I find it really interesting and inspiring to read about other families thoughts and experiences on the topic of moving abroad. My family and I did the same thing almost a year ago and I hope writing about this might inspire others who are contemplating taking the leap. This time I asked friend and photographer, Rebecca Zeller, to share her story. Her family of five moved from Oslo to New York 1,5 years ago.
– Where do you live and where did you move from? Is this the first time you have made such a big move? – We live in Brooklyn and moved here almost two years ago from Oslo, Norway. We have lived abroad more than we have lived at "home" (provided you define home as Oslo). My eldest son was born in Seoul, South Korea. My daughter was born outside of Washington, D.C. and my youngest son was born in Oslo. There will be no children born in NYC, ha ha.
– How did you prepare for the move as a family? – Moving to New York was much easier to prepare for than other moves. We were familiar with the place we were moving to, knew where we wanted to live and were able to anticipate what life would be like here. We, as parents, were so excited about it and that kind of wore off on the kids. I think that because I am not Norwegian, in addition to the fact that we have moved a lot, they weren't particularly rooted in Norway in the same way that other Norwegians are. It's not a matter of 'if' we move, rather 'when' we move. They know this and for now they are happy with it. We have been coming to the US for summer (and sometimes Christmas) vacation every year, and so the US had become, for my kids, a place of swimming pools, big family parties, beaches, best friends, fireworks and endless fun. Moving here was not a hard sell. Convincing them of its continued merit once school had begun and routines had set in was another story. We'll get to that in a minute...
– Was the language a challenge? – The language wasn't really a challenge. My son hadn't learned to read in English (only Norwegian) but he picked it up really quickly. The bigger challenge was going from a system in which there is no academic curriculum until first grade, to a system in which many kids start first grade light years ahead of where we were. Again, it wasn't a major problem, but a cause for some frustration in the beginning. Now it is their favourite excuse to tune out anytime they don't understand something. It has been interesting to see the development of the language between my kids, though. When we came here they spoke Norwegian exclusively among each other. I assumed they would switch to english quickly and completely, but it's only around 50/50 now. They fight in Norwegian. Always. Surely that means something...
– How did you go about finding a good school? – Finding a good school in NYC, especially on relatively short notice, was another story. When I first started calling around (in March of 2015) to ask schools about availability and admission procedures, they assumed I was talking about the 2016 school year, not the one coming up. New Yorkers plan a lot around where their kids go to school. Here is a something that I wish I'd known – if you're moving from Scandinavia to NYC and applying for schools, be sure that the teachers in charge of filling out your recommendation forms are fully aware of the American propensity for hyperbole. When it comes to speaking about the children's merits and accomplishments, no praise is too high for the highly competitive environment they are trying to get into. Anyway, we stumbled upon a total gem of a school rather last minute and I can't imagine a better place for my kids, we feel so lucky. It's an international school full of cool, diverse parents and very capable, hard-working teachers. Leaving the school will probably be the hardest part of moving away from NYC.
– What do you feel is your biggest challenge in New York City? – Our biggest challenge is probably logistics. Getting where you need to go with three kids in tow, involving a gross subway, a stroller, a tantrum or two, hordes of people, and knowing that you are going to have to make the same return trip is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. When I asked my 4 year old what he wanted to do a few weekends ago, he said he wanted to take a cab to the playground. All considering, it's a totally reasonable request.
– How did you settle in? – Settling in is a process and it's so easy to forget this. I feel like it takes around 9 months to feel settled. Part of me naively assumed that because we were going to a place that wasn't foreign to us and moreover, because we had so recently moved from the US (in 2011), the settling in process would basically be seamless. In many ways, being American, being "home", being familiar with the system, the culture, etc., is a total bonus, obviously. However, being "home" only temporarily poses it's own set of unique challenges. I don't feel content to exist somewhere on the periphery of life in the same way that you do when you are a foreigner, living somewhere temporarily. I am not interested in making friends with people with whom I would not necessarily be friends otherwise, just because we are all in it together. I'm home. I crave that level of connectedness that one feels about one's home country. Except we are only here for a few more years and making friends as an adult is SO TEDIOUS under ideal circumstances, much less under these circumstances. We aren't as invested in our lives here in the same way that other people are and we don't necessarily live like most American families do (6 weeks of vacation, job security, etc). It's a strange no-mans-land place to be and honestly, it can be kind of lonely.
– Has the move affected your relationship as couple? – I think we have fallen into a much more traditional pattern of me doing more of the daily household work and childcare. It just works out that way because Martin works a lot more. The kids lives over here are more tightly scheduled and there is just a higher degree of parental involvement that is necessary/expected here than in Norway where the system is built to allow for two working parents. there are so many more convenience type services to avail yourself of here in the US (amazon prime is my lifeline), but someone still has to manage of them. That person is me. Part of me loves it, part of me resents it. But it is the tradeoff for living in New York right now, so the good definitely outweighs the bad.
– How long are you planning to stay in New York? – We will stay here until the summer of 2018. That's unless I win the lottery, in which case I need to start playing now.
– Tell us one thing you love about New York and the one thing you dislike. – I can't tell you one thing I love about NYC because I love it all. I love the people, the sense of possibility, the variety, the energy. It's all so inspiring. I don't, however, like the F-train at rush hour with three kids.
– Do you ever get homesick? – I don't really get homesick, per say. I'm home, or am I? Hmm, existential questions. There are things that I miss about Oslo, but I miss them on behalf of my kids. They miss Oslo terribly. They miss being outdoors a lot. They miss the pace of life there and the ease with which things were done. They miss their family and friends. Life in Oslo is a paradise for kids.
Make sure you visit Rebecca Zellers universe here.