There are many great social aspects about living in Tromsø that cannot go unnoticed, particularly after living in Seattle or having grown up in Mexico City. For example, people don’t seem to stress out about anything, their work-life balance is truly admirable and they seem very trustful. Arguably due (at least in part) to being a small city of about 75,000 inhabitants (compare to Seattle ~670,000 (3.5 million when including metropolitan area); Mexico City ~9 million (21 million); and Ensenada, B.C., Mexico ~520,000), the city is not crowded, it is very bike-friendly, there is extremely low levels of crime, and people are generally in good health and physically fit.
But so far the most outstanding, eye-opening, and truly enjoyable aspect that amazes me day by day is the easiness of having a toddler in tow here. Both time and attention to family is fully respected and expected, and no work or other situations ever play against this. This is not about their great maternity and paternity leave benefits (which as we all know, both USA and Mexico are too far from optimal conditions on this matter), it goes well beyond that. Access to affordable, quality care for children are guaranteed here and, to my surprise, very easy to obtain. There are simple rules and deadlines too, and just following these without any additional effort and stress, I still was offered a spot for Evan at my top choice of the 4 options that applicants may select from a long list of barnehagen (daycare) centers available. While preparing for my move and my family’s to Tromsø, I had a place in a barnehagen for Evan guaranteed well before I had even applied for a residence permit and before finding a place to rent – definitely not something I could ever say about Seattle, even as a long-term resident there. Securing a spot in daycare in Tromsø had already lifted a big weight off my shoulders as we prepared for our move. Furthermore, the school system (including daycare) is largely subsidized by the government (tax payers) in Norway, so be it private or public, there is a set limit for its cost that is adjusted annually as per the Norwegian budget. Had this not been the case however (e.g., if daycare cost was similar to that in Seattle), our decision for accepting the award and moving to Tromsø would’ve been much more scrutinized.
Less than two weeks after we arrived in Tromsø, Evan started attending his barnehagen. All three of us loved this place from the start. There is a transition period for all kids as they begin (i.e., attending with parent(s)1 hour the first day; 2-4 hrs the second day; 6 hrs the third day; fulltime onwards), and luckily Evan had no problem fitting in. Thank you to our barnehagen director, he was assigned to a group where, of his three Norwegian teachers, one is a native Spanish speaker and the other two also speak excellent English, and thus a language transition has been available to him as well, if at all needed. Evan is in a group of 10 kids ranging 1-3 years old. Barnehagen provides excellent food. We are carefully instructed about the proper clothing to bring (the kids spend most of the day outside… whether the weather is cold or whether the weather is colder (no “hot” option from the original – anonymous, I think – British poem here), they weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not). Atypical (to me) awesome activities at barnehagen have included vegetable harvesting, fieldtrips to neighboring parks and forests, and fire emergency drills (pictured above).
Parks and playgrounds abound over the city, and over the weekends, the playgrounds of every barnehage are also accessible – we’ve spent quite a long time exploring a few of them.
Transportation with Evan is also easy around the city (at least up to this early fall season). An old friend and colleague of mine at NPI has kindly lent us his and his wife’s old mountain bikes for the length of our stay in the city and that is how we move around now. We hook Evan’s chariot to either of them as needed (picture above). Tromsø is, like most west coast cities, a hilly place. Its hills feel steeper than those in Seattle, but distances are much shorter here (see photo above), and while biking in the street is safe (generally low car traffic), there are many bike (and ski) trails as well where it is both fun and safe to literally ride with toddler in tow.
I know I will definitely miss all of this easiness of “life with a toddler” when we return back home in Seattle, so I will always appreciate and enjoy every single opportunity and make the most of it during our stay here.