At home abroad

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-14 18:18:02

Norwegian club members share tips for getting by in Shanghai

It is never easy to move to a foreign country, but Anlaug Vatne and Siri Taugbøl, two women active in the Norwegian expat organization Klubb Norge, believe that as long as people are open-minded, they can make a strange city feel like home.

Both women moved to Shanghai two years ago with their families. Vatne, from Stavanger, Norway, lives in Hongqiao with her husband and their four daughters. She is the president of Klubb Norge. Taugbøl, from Oslo, participates in the club's charity work and lives with her husband, son and new-born daughter in the former French Concession. The Global Times spoke with the pair about life in Shanghai and asked for tips on how to overcome the challenges of living abroad.

GT: Can you talk a bit about Klubb Norge?

V: We're an independent volunteer organization that aims to take care of Norwegians' well-being in Shanghai. For example, we arrange celebrations for our constitutional day and organize Christmas parties and picnics for kids. We also have regular lunches and meet in the afternoons and evenings.

T: Klubb Norge helps out at a Chinese orphanage every Friday. We feed, brush teeth, cuddle and play with disabled kids who are not used to receiving much attention. It is very rewarding when you see how happy the kids are to see you and feel you make a difference for these kids living a less privileged life.

GT: Do you have a specific Shanghai "moment" that makes you think, "That's what I love about this place"?

V: It is when I visited the narrow and bustling streets around Yuyuan Garden, where people hang out their laundry from the windows of their old brick houses, from street signs and from electric wires. And then you raise your head and you see those modern skyscrapers. It is this contrast between old and new that I love most about this city. 

T: What I really love about life in Shanghai is how friendships develop quickly and the impulsiveness and warmth you experience from people you just met. The other aspect I would like to mention is the amazing opportunities to travel. Last summer we took the Trans Mongolian Railway from Beijing to Moscow with our son, who was 2 years old at the time. We would have never traveled like that if it wasn't for the inspiration you pick up within the expat community. 

GT: What are the hardest things about being an expat in Shanghai?

V: When I first arrived here, and went to Carrefour or local markets to buy something, the store assistants just looked at my milky white skin and said "meiyou" without even trying to understand me. That was frustrating. But things got better when I tried to learn a bit of Putonghua and did my best to speak it. I also sometimes miss the nature in Norway. The green parks and the bamboo forests in Sheshan, though, remind me of the Norwegian woods.

T: The hardest aspect of expat life in Shanghai is being so far away from family and friends, especially when you experience the "shang-lows." The "shang-highs" and lows are common for all expats. The language barrier, the air quality and the cultural differences make expat life both interesting and challenging. Our toughest time in Shanghai was when we needed to transfer our newborn to a local Chinese hospital for surgery when she was only 4 days old. Even though it was hard at the time, the hospitalization turned out to be a good experience with caring staff and very experienced doctors. We felt that our daughter got the best treatment and that the expat community functioned as family when we experienced hardship.

GT: What suggestions would you give to expats who have just arrived in Shanghai?

V: It's important to be open-minded, reach out to people and make them your friends. There is this family I know who moved here just before their son's birthday and had no one to invite to his birthday party. So the boy just went onto the school bus and told a full bus of students he barely knew: "Today's my birthday, please come to my party!" The party ended up having all strangers, but some of them later became his best friends.

T: I also recommend that new expats to be open-minded and tolerant. It takes time to truly settle in. If you are not working in Shanghai, participate in activities organized by clubs such as Klubb Norge, and you will meet friends you will have for the rest of your life.

Taugbøl with her family

Photo: Courtesy of Siri Taugbøl


Pedestrians walk through a neighborhood in the former French Concession, where Siri Taugbøl, a member of Klubb Norge, a Norwegian expat organization, lives with her family.

Photo: CFP

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