I have come to learn that a Norwegian friend is a hard one to make, but a friend for life

I am lucky in my job, too, as personal assistant to HRH The Crown Princess of Norway

Rachel Brennan with Baldur, her eight-month-old Alaskan Malamute dog

Rachel Brennan with Baldur, her eight-month-old Alaskan Malamute dog

 

I have lived abroad since 2013, and in Norway for just over three years. I love Ireland, like most Irish people do, and pride myself on being Irish. You get a sense of passion about Ireland when representing the country aboard, even if that representing is only done on March 17th, in the pub.

People love the Irish. I have always felt welcomed wherever I go, although I have come to understand over time that Norway is a very different place culturally. Its vast open spaces, beautiful fjords and blue waters make it very inviting, but the people are often a little like the climate: cold.

But I have come to learn that a Norwegian friend is a hard one to make but is then a friend for life. I often think of those cultural differences – an Irish friend may seem like a friend for right now, because of their welcoming nature. I miss that about home, as in the current conditions we can’t make friends. I like the Irish spirit and the belief that if someone is alone in the pub and seems to want to make friends, they will definitely be invited over.

Living abroad has never challenged me, and to fly home was always so easy. I lived in England before moving to Norway. I have had many blessed years of surprising family members: my father for his 50th, my sister while she was pregnant, my mom for her 50th. Mom is probably making some kind of face now, because everyone reading will know she is over 50. Since the pandemic, things have been quite different. It has been a roller coaster of emotions here, from “we got this” to utter denial that the pandemic is still part of the situation.

I consider myself lucky, as I still have a job and for the most part can safely go to work, meaning I still meet people. I have a unique and special job, too, as personal assistant to HRH The Crown Princess. It is a privileged position to support a family in the public eye, as Norway’s royal family is. I stand on the sidelines as history is written, and I feel grateful for the part I play. I am lucky that my family have always supported me in chasing my dreams.

Thanks to my work and my time here in Norway I have created a family of my own, full of friends. This last year especially, I have relied on my Norwegian family and treasured friends in England more while finding new ways to connect with my family in Ireland from afar. Calls, letters and FaceTime cooking sessions with my mom, and showing my dad videos of my adventures learning to cross-country ski. I have been inspired by those around me, who have found new passions and employment when things have fallen apart for them. It has been a time when we all came together – not just my family but everyone who found a way to support someone from afar.

I try to reflect on the last year in a positive way. I get the sense of memories missed; all the birthdays I wasn’t at home for, my grandparents turning 93, my sister turning 30. Simple moments such as Sunday dinner, watching a movie with the family, my nephew learning to kick a football, laughing with my sister about something silly. I don’t think we ever thought any of this would go on this long, but I can still rejoice as I know it will end and we will all hug and laugh again.

The past year has brought struggles, in particular missing my nephew Theodore’s first birthday. I have one sister, someone hugely important to me, so to miss her first baby’s birthday was hard – I love you, Leanne, Theodore, Graham and Bourbon the family cat, who I can’t forget. Although I speak to you all day every day, I wanted to mark publicly that your support and love mean the world to me.

To my parents, I love you all and can’t wait to come home for some family cooking and walks on Portmarnock beach. Your support these past seven years, and especially this last year, has been unwavering. To the family members I lost in the last year, Uncle Frank and Uncle Bernard, I hope you are at peace.

To everyone reading, we will get the balance back, we will go to work again, we will go abroad, we will eat in our favourite restaurants and we will hug our loved ones.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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