Here and there: Change in the weather

Photo: David Burke Joe LaCasce doesn’t let the weather get him down.

Photo: David Burke
Joe LaCasce doesn’t let the weather get him down.

David Burke
Skoppum, Norway

Many of you may know a Norwegian who has moved to America, but how many know an American who has settled in Norway?

According to Statistics Norway, just 7,450 Americans reside in Norway, which has a total population of about 5,225,000. Considering some 550,000 foreign nationals live in the country, we’re a small slice of Norway’s demographic pie.

The Norwegian American would like to introduce you to some of these ordinary Americans living in Norway and shed some light on how and why they ended up here.

Change in the weather
You could say that Joe LaCasce moved to Norway because of the weather.

He and Norwegian wife Cecilie are both oceanographers and met at MIT while doing their PhDs. They then worked in France and at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“Cecilie had lived abroad for 15 years and missed home. It was also getting more difficult to find research funding in the U.S. So when two jobs became available at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, we moved,” he says.

Joe, now 52, eventually took a professorship at the University of Oslo. Cecilie is research director at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research and is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Life behind (handle) bars
Joe and Cecilie live in a single-family house in the sleepy west Oslo borough of Røa. Joe commutes to work by bicycle year round, mounting studded tires to avoid crashing on Oslo’s frequently frozen streets in winter.

The current Oslo city government, led by a coalition of green, labor, and socialist parties, has declared the ambitious goal to make Oslo a car-free metropolis by 2020.

That suits Joe just fine.

Mother nature’s son
Growing up along Maine’s coastline cultivated a close relationship with nature. Oslo allows Joe to sustain the indulgence.

“The woods here are a gem and are close by. I recently rode to an idyllic lake, not far from the city, and was completely alone. The downside is that I got a flat tire and it took me two hours to walk home,” he says in characteristic good humor.

“The forests are all public land, or at least public access. In the States, you usually have to go to a campground. Here there’s a feeling that nature is for everyone.”

Peace of mind
Joe also appreciates the financial security Norway provides.

“At the University of Oslo I am paid a salary to teach and do research. In the U.S., we had to support our salaries with external funding.”

The relentless quest to secure grants distracts from doing actual research. “Many researcher friends in the U.S. balance eight projects simultaneously. They spend their time reporting on existing projects or applying for new ones.”

Norway’s approach has its “good and bad sides.” Joe says “If someone loses their job, they don’t lose their healthcare or their home. However it can breed complacency.”

High society
In his free time, Joe plays sax in a jazz ensemble. “It’s very low key, but fun,” he says.

Joe also co-founded a group called BASTURDs (Beer Appreciation Society with Totally UnRestricted Discussion) that consists mostly of native English-speaking expats, ranging from a chess master to former ballerina. The BASTURDs gather now and then to, well, drink beer and converse in English.

Looking ahead
Joe and Cecilie may retire abroad someday, but probably not until they’ve earned their full pension potential.

Norway’s official retirement age is 67 but many opt—and can still afford—to leave the workforce at 62. That scenario changes rapidly in the wake of lower oil prices. Norway’s wealth and generous entitlements are largely derived from oil and gas revenues. Policy makers are now scrambling to downgrade benefit programs to reflect the new economic realities.

Meanwhile, it’s late fall and time to put on the winter tires again. Life is comparatively easy in Norway and Joe likes it just fine.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 4, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.