Ieva takes us to see a newly built high school in Oslo, for which she designed the invisible but critically important underground utilities – the water and sewerage system. Ieva is an environmental and water management engineer. Having acquired this profession at the Latvia University of Agriculture, since 2010 she has been working in Norway.
Until she arrived in Norway, the Scandinavian countries had never been of much interest to her – they seemed boring and cold. But that’s how it worked out – the Danish engineering firm she was working for in Riga let a lot of employees go during the economic crisis, including Ieva. A short time later she received an offer from the same company – to spend three months working at their office in Oslo. She arrived in the middle of winter – it was cold and dark, Ieva didn’t know anyone and didn’t understand the language. Her colleagues seemed very reserved and in no hurry to make friends. An offer to work for an additional three months followed, and in time – a permanent contract. Now, five years have passed, and Ieva says she feels more Norwegian than Latvian. She enjoys and identifies with the Norwegian healthy lifestyle and closeness to nature – running daily, visiting the mountains often and cross-country skiing in winter. Wine and beer are now saved for weekends only. The lack of a need to stand out is also something she appreciates in Norway – equality is rated highly, and it’s seen as important to bring up children without a sense of entitlement or feeling that they are better than others. If you’ve managed to earn a lot of money, it doesn’t mean you have to show it off.
Together with her Norwegian husband Tron – also an engineer – Ieva has purchased a flat in a quiet, leafy suburb of Oslo. Their home is decorated in modern Scandinavian minimalist style, and as guests we are offered a traditional local dish – Norwegian salmon grilled on their own terrace. They own two cars, one of them electric – this is becoming increasingly popular in Oslo, not only due to environmental concerns, but because city legislation lets electric-car drivers use public transport lanes. Near Ieva and Tron’s house is a spacious, forest-like park with panoramic views of Oslo, where Ieva runs in the evenings after work – alone or with a friend. Ieva met her husband as well as many of her friends through her job. Her closest friends include other newcomers to Norway – from Russia, Croatia, Bosnia, the USA. Their wedding in the small Norwegian town where Tron’s parents live was also international, attended by friends and relatives not just from Norway and Latvia, but also Russia and the USA.
Ieva speaks Norwegian at work and at home. During her first year here, she got by with English, but then summoned up the courage to tell her boss she would like to learn Norwegian. He asked why she had waited so long to mention it, and offered to pay for the lessons. She took an intensive 9-month course, and started using the language daily as soon as after a couple of months. People were very responsive, and the ability to do everyday things like talk to a shopkeeper or read a newspaper in Norwegian immediately led to a sense of pride and belonging.
Ieva’s daily life is still connected to Latvia – she is an active member of the Latvian Association in Norway, helping to organise events and provide practical information and advice on life in Norway to recent immigrants. She feels it is important to use her own experience to help and encourage other Latvians to pursue their professions and develop careers in Norway, not just work in low-paid jobs. Of course, she also has other ties to her homeland – friends and some relatives, although the lack of a large family made it easier for her to leave Latvia. There is also a flat she owns in her hometown of Ventspils, western Latvia. Ieva imagines that the flat might be useful someday – a good base if she wanted to spend a summer in Latvia with her future children. However, Ieva has no plans to return to Latvia permanently: “Whenever I visit Latvia, I’m looking forward to the feeling of being home, but when I get there, two days later I want to go back to Norway. I feel closer now to Norway than Latvia.”
Talking about what she misses from Latvia, Ieva mentions food – the diversity of salads and cakes, typical Latvian curd snacks. In comparison, Norwegian cuisine seems bland, and there is a lack of culinary culture. During her first year here, she was often hungry, being used to the large lunches characteristic of Latvia – a soup, main meal and dessert. Here everyone seemed to get by on a couple of slices of bread and salad.
Ieva had travelled a lot before she came to Norway, visiting Africa several times to visit friends. She and her husband also enjoy travelling to Europe and beyond, but they spent this year’s summer vacation on a road trip around Norway’s mountains and fjords. The wild natural beauty here is a source of energy for her everyday life. Although her current home is undoubtedly Norway, the experience of moving has also reinforced Ieva’s sense that the world is open: “If I had the chance, I would be ready to leave tomorrow, to spend a year or two living somewhere else. I adapt easily, it wouldn’t be a problem for me. But my husband, and now I, have a family here – that changes things.”