The American Dream, Norwegian style

Americans of Norwegian descent return to the old country in search of a better life

Photo: Heidi Widerøe / Innovation Norway Norway’s oil industry offers a lot of jobs for those intrepid enough to take them, and perhaps a shot at the so-called American Dream.

Photo: Heidi Widerøe / Innovation Norway
Norway’s oil industry offers a lot of jobs for those intrepid enough to take them, and perhaps a shot at the so-called American Dream.

Marit Tronier Halvorsen
Dagens Næringsliv

“Jeg kan litt norsk,” said Erik Marius Karlsen (23) with a distinct accent.

The American has a Norwegian father, from where he gets his name, but grew up in New Jersey. Dagens Næringsliv met him at the large oil and gas conference in Stavanger at the end of August.

“I came here to start new a new life. Literally. I am looking for a job.” The suited-up 23-year-old said, now in English.

Karlsen finished his Bachelor degree in mechanical engineering at the beginning of August. A few weeks later he sat on a plane to Norway, with a one-way ticket in hand.

Going to an interview
Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) stretches over five days and gathers everything within the offshore industry under one roof. Here an untold number of business cards will exchange hands. Contacts will be made, and contracts almost certainly be signed.

At the trade show are around 1,400 exhibitors from over 30 countries. Karlsen quickly realised he wouldn’t be able to see it all. Fortunately he had done a good deal of research beforehand.

The last few days he has gone from stand to stand, presented himself and spoken with people. In a word—Networked.

“I start by asking a bit about the company. If I think it sounds interesting I will tell them my story. That I first and foremost want to learn more about the industry. After that, that I plan to move here and am looking for a job,” he said.

The conversations are followed up via email, sometimes over the phone. So far it has exceeded his expectations.

“I have had good responses, and a company has already invited me to an interview. I have taken a chance here, but at the moment I am sure that it will work out,” said Karlsen.

More opportunities
“The American Dream”—that one can climb the social and economic ladder with the help of hard work, has always drawn adventurous Norwegians over the Atlantic. Karlsen has chosen instead to head in the opposite direction for three reasons: the Norwegian economy, the natural environment, and the fact that he has Norwegian roots and family here.

“There is still a need for mechanical engineers in the U.S., but I believe that there are even more opportunities in Norway. The economy here is growing exceptionally well,” he said.

Throughout his childhood he has holidayed in Norway.

Five-year perspective
The 23-year-old is staying for free with a host family while he is in Stavanger. The program ONS Young has arranged for that. When the trade show is over he will travel back to Oslo and his Norwegian family there.

“At the moment I have a five-year perspective. I can see myself living here my entire life, but my mother probably can’t,” he said with a laugh.

“I am willing to move wherever in Norway. The quicker I can find a job, the better. My savings won’t last forever and after a period I need to begin paying down my student loan,” he said, and added: “If it doesn’t work out I am sure Norway will ship me back to the U.S.”

This article was originally published in Dagens Næringsliv on August 29, 2014. It was translated for NAW by Ryan Kristiansen, with permission from the author.

This article also appeared in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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