Norway is often mentioned as a main destination for Latvian nurses that have decided to move abroad. When we begin to look for one in Bergen, local Latvians recommend we contact Agnese, who has worked there for more than three years. She is described as a friendly and active person who would be interested in participating in the project. And that’s what happens. Agnese agrees to pick us up in central Bergen and invites us to her home on the city outskirts. She lives together with her boyfriend Mārtiņš and, as they are expecting their first baby in September, they have just moved into a new, slightly bigger flat.
Soon after completing her nursing studies at the Red Cross College, Agnese begun to consider the possibilities of working in Norway. “Norway has attracted me for a long time. Of course, having to work at three jobs simultaneously to live well in Latvia was kind of a push, but that wasn’t the main reason. Mainly, I wanted to do something new, prove to myself that I could leave and achieve as much as I could in Latvia” says Agnese.
In Latvia, nurses had the opportunity to attend three-month long Norwegian language classes. After successfully passing the language test, a position was offered to them, by a Lithuanian company acting for a bigger Norwegian healthcare network, with traveling and living expenses covered. Agnese spent a year and a half living between Latvia and Norway. Working intensively for a whole month in Bergen, up to 54 hours a week, sharing a house with around twenty nurses mainly from Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and also Latvia. Always being on the move, it was impossible to establish a new life in Norway. She had already given up the flat she had been renting in Riga, and after considering her options, Agnese made the decision to move to Norway completely.
Agnese still works for the same company that provides medical homecare services. Her duties have changed over the years – rather than providing assistance to individuals, her duties are now related to organisational functions within the company, to improving work efficiency. Work colleagues often mock Agnese friendlily for being overly diligent, and the sticky notes with instructions pasted all over the office attest to that.
As for many migrants, the beginning was hardest for Agnese. Although work gave her a degree of stability, she had to face variety of practical and self-esteem difficulties on an everyday basis. The neighbours at the first house she moved into frequently became involved in fights, ending up with police involvement. Also, communication was limited by Agnese’s Norwegian language skills. Agnese shares stories she has heard of several occurrences when older people refused help, not wanting to receive it from an utlanding (foreigner in Norwegian).
Neither was the beginning easy for Agnese’s boyfriend Mārtiņš. Not having received his monthly wage at his first job in Norway, he borrowed some money to return to Latvia. A year later, with only his backpack, he came to stay with a friend and tried again. For a while, he did various casual jobs, in between returning to Latvia once more, but recently has gained regular employment as a postman. Agnese and Mārtiņš met when he was visiting a friend in Norway and Agnese teases him that he returned to Norway because of her. The couple soon moved in together.
The everyday life of the couple is very active, filled with nature trips and other activities, including participation in events organised by the Latvian community in Bergen. Occasionally they go fishing with friends to a hytte (cabin in Norwegian) that belongs to a Norwegian friend. Agnese admits that their lives have become less active recently, as Agnese is expecting their first child. It has made them substitute outdoor activities with board-game nights at home. Nevertheless, Agnese optimistically asserts that as soon as the baby is three months old, she will get a child-carrier backpack and they will start to travel actively and climb mountains again, as she is already unable to sit still for any length of time.
Looking into the future, there is no definite outcome for them. When she first found out she was pregnant, the question of staying in Norway arose. Insecurity arose through frequent discussions about children being removed from families by the custody court. After gaining more understanding of the system, that fear has faded. Agnese admits that she would like her child’s upbringing to include Latvian values and wouldn’t want her child to speak Latvian with a foreign accent. Nevertheless, life for both of them seems satisfactory in Norway and for now they find it hard to envisage a prospect-filled future in Latvia. Agnese occasionally mentions the potential of establishing a healthcare centre, based on the knowledge she has acquired while working in Norway. She is aware of how slow and complicated the processes are to bring changes to the health system, and therefore doesn’t hold any illusions. The couple are also considering renovating Agnese’s childhood flat in Zosna, to have a place of their own to stay in Latvia. Thinking about moving back to Latvia, Agnese says: “Not yet. The question is always there. You want to again and again, but still not yet. (..) I haven’t yet ever caught myself being 100% sure that I could stay in Norway.” Agnese says that for now she considers Bergen her home, and adds with a smile that for her, home is wherever her suitcase is.