Q&A Norwegians Abroad - Ingrid Margrete Hillestad

Ingrid loves to live in the US.

When did you move out of Norway the first time, and how do you remember it?

My first move was in 2009, when I was an exchange student at University of California in Santa Barbara. I remember it as super exciting, but also a little scary. I had never been to the US before, and now I was going to live there! I remember it took a while to get used to the constant good weather, as I felt bad every time I was inside when it was sunny outside. I guess that is typical Norwegian. 

What is the best thing about living where you live now?

Right now I live in Boston, MA, and I love everything about it! We have warm summers and cold and snowy winters, it’s not too far from home, and the city is full of history, as well as filled with world class universities and bright minds. The entire New England is very accessible, and I have visited all the surrounding states, and New York is just four hours away by bus. I work in a startup and the startup culture here is very exciting. I hope to bring all my experience from working here back to Norway some day, as I believe we have a lot to learn. At the same time I bring new ideas and a different way of thinking with me from Norway and the working culture I am used to, so it is a win-win. 

Do you think Norwegians are perceived in a certain way?

Whenever people ask me where I’m from, they are mostly a little surprised and very interested, in a positive way. I think the world has a really good impression of Norway s a country and of our people. Much of that I believe is because of the impression that us Norwegians living abroad give, and I believe we are some of Norway’s best ambassadors (not to discredit our foreign service employees, of course). People are generally very interested in Norway, asking about anything from northern lights and skiing, to tax rates, polar bears and gender equality.

What do you consider the most important factors to succeed, thrive, and be happy in a new country?

Never stop exploring! The best thing you can do is to blend in with the locals and discover new places in the city you have moved to and the surrounding areas. Start off with the basics, do guided tours and all, but then go on to explore on your own. You will meet so many people and see so many cool things if you just dare go out. And don’t be afraid of going on an adventure alone. I find that it is a lot easier to meet new people when you don’t have friends to lean on, it kind of forces you out of your comfort zone. I have joined several interest groups like running clubs and gone to plenty of industry specific meet ups and made connections that will be valuable even if I go back to Norway. When I first moved here, it was supposed to be just for one year. But as time flew by, I got so many friends here, and I have gotten so attached to the daily life in Boston and everything that the entire New England region has to offer that I don’t want to leave just yet, so my strategy has worked out pretty well. 

Do you think Norway has changed since you moved?

-I haven’t been gone for too long, but my sister told me Oslo finally has a lot more Mexican restaurants now!

Do you miss Norway?

-Absolutely! Before going home for Christmas I was really homesick. It’s something about the holidays and our traditions that make me long for Norway, but I guess that is the same for any culture. I love sharing articles and photos from Norway with my friends, which helps cure a lot of the homesickness. Living on the east coast, Norway is luckily not far away. And frequent contact with friends and family make it a lot easier. I know I will return to Norway some day, but for now I am very happy to be where I am, and I am very happy that Norway is my safety net. 

What in the society you live in would you like to see more of in Norway?

One difference I have noticed, especially in the industry where I work, is the fact that failure is much more acceptable. Here, people are more open to speak about their weaknesses and failure; that is what brought them where they are today. If you haven’t experienced some failure, you haven’t tried hard enough. In Norway things are more polished and rigid. We share our successes, but we are not as good in sharing our failures. It is easy to blame someone else, and society is very centered around the public sector. While here, the private sector is dominating. The entrepreneurial spirit here shines through in every aspect of society, something I would like to see more of in Norway some day. 

I also enjoy how friendly and open-minded people are here. When I first moved here it was hard getting used to, as us Norwegians prefer not talking to anyone while riding the bus or going for a hike, unless we know each other really well. Here it is the complete opposite, something I, who consider myself as a very outgoing person, really enjoy.

Where did you first learn about Norwegians Worldwide?

-When I started working there after returning to Norway from California.

Is there any particular issue/issues you think Norwegians Worldwide should raise awareness and focus on?

-I really like what you are doing with dual citizenship, and I want you to continue to be an organization who act as a common voice for Norwegians living abroad, while at the same time sharing Norwegian culture and history through the magazine, the website and Norgesskolen. I believe your audience of non-Norwegians are just as important as your Norwegian audience. There are not many English-language publications that show Norway in this way. 

You should be the place where Norwegians looking to move abroad or return to Norway seek information as an independent organization. An issue that continues to become more relevant is immigration for families where one is Norwegian and the other from a different nationality. Norway is a good country to move to, but moving home with a mixed family is very hard, much because the rules are old and not adapted to the globalized word we live in. I would love to see Norwegians Worldwide becoming the organization that raises this issue and more, on behalf of Norwegians living abroad.