Aerin Coleman was given an opportunity and took the chance. She always wanted to travel but could never predict the rewarding experiences that came about, nor the hardships she would encounter along the way. This is just one woman's story about courage, love, and fulfillment.
At 21 I interned with a firm that prided itself in its global opportunities. I was offered a fulltime position and spent the next 3 years working days, nights and weekends. One day my manager approached me with an opportunity in Oslo, Norway. The firm there had just won a major contract and needed U.S. resources with a background in US regulations to help with the transition in the project.
None of this was by chance. When I joined the firm, I knew that the opportunity to work abroad was an attainable one. At goal setting discussions, I always made sure to include an international rotation goal and specifically chose a mentor that would champion my desire to work abroad. So when the opportunity presented itself, it took 24 hrs to sign the papers and 3 months later my bags were packed and I was on my way to Norway.
Adopting a new lifestyle
Norway is beautiful. The people are beautiful. The streets are spotless and the public transportation is to die for. I quickly found a beautiful furnished apartment and began my foray into the Norwegian workplace. I quickly learned the in Norway the people “Work to Live”.
When children are sick you get sick leave specified for the children, in addition to your normal sick leave. 5 weeks paid leave is normal. Women also get one year paid maternity leave!
I quickly got used to being the only one in the office past 5pm. All of the Norwegians were out the door with their cross-country skis at 4pm on the dot! The T-bane (pronounced Tay-bahn-ah) left right outside the front door and took you straight to the ski trails in less than 20min.
Although I loved the working-to-live life, this often conflicted with another term Americans are familiar with, deadlines. I realized early on that I had to meet in the middle with the Norwegians. This was not a quick or easy journey. At the end of 2 years I had developed my teams and they had taught me how to work within their world.
Exploring the corners of the world
Now for the good stuff!
For the first two years I spent every other weekend travelling. Flights are very inexpensive when you live and travel within the E.U. and Shenghen. Thanks to my amazing expat coworkers I always had someone to travel with.
The most interesting place I visited was Amman, Jordan and the lost city of Petra. What I didn’t realize before I got there is that the city was an actual small city. We walked for miles and miles. The carvings were beautiful and you were able to walk straight up to the stone buildings. You do not realize the scale of the stone buildings until you walk up to the entrance and realize the entrance is two feet above you. Word to the wise if you ever get to go, beware of the “scenic view” signs. They will take you on long hikes up rough passages that end in gift shops with zero views!
My favorite place? Porto, Portugal. The wine, the food and the people surpassed all of my travel expectations. A river flows through the city and cools it on the warm summer nights. We were able to rent an apartment with a beautiful view of the river and walking distance to some fantastic restaurants. Most restaurants are owned and operated by locals that make you feel like family. If you get a chance to visit Porto, make sure you arrange a wine tour of the Douro Valley. Many of the vineyards are small and family owned. If you schedule a tour group they will make sure that the vineyard is open. Make sure you also pick a tour with a river boat ride. You won’t regret it!
My least favorite place? Dublin, Ireland. It did not help that I visited in the middle of March. It was cold and foggy the entire time. My friend and I were smart enough to sign up for day trips to get outside of the city. By the end of the trip I was ready to leave. It may be worth a second chance, however you should definitely plan to go in the summer.
Following my heart
Why would I leave Norway? Let’s back-up for a second. My time in Norway was originally supposed to be 2 years that quickly turned into 4 and then 5 years. I spent the time exploring the fjords of Norway, Christmas markets in Germany, and shopping in Italy. I also made friends with a vast variety of extraordinary expats from all over the world. 1.5 years in, I fell in love with a Norwegian man.
At the end of 4.5 years I had it all. A loving boyfriend, amazing friends, and travelling almost every weekend. I was living the dream life and I realized it was exactly that. A dream.
You start thinking about what your future has in store. I quickly ran down the list:
Boyfriend: Never moving to the states. Wants to marry me? – Not a priority.
Job: Will they make an American a partner in the firm? – Nope.
Expat friends: When will they start moving home? – Inevitably going to happen.
It was time to grow up. My circumstances were not changing but I could make a decision to move my life forward. I missed my family and realized that I wanted to be closer to them.
Was the choice easy? HECK NO. Did I cry my eyes out in public spaces? On multiple occasions. I took an amazing new opportunity at a new company in a new role. Life will move on if you want it to or not, it is up to you to determine the direction.
P.S. I am loving the new direction.