So, I had to finish a final report to Fulbright as part of my grant, and I would like to share it with you here, because it does show a glimpse of how amazing the year was for our family!
Living and Working in Paradise
Santa Barbara, California. It is a long way to this gorgeous piece of American Riviera from the rainy and dreary and cold city we live in in the middle of Norway, Trondheim. Don’t get me wrong – we love living in Norway and we quite enjoy our town as well, despite the weather. Enter Santa Barbara on the California coast, with sunny skies over 300 days a year, an average yearly rainfall of 15 inches/38 cm and an average high temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit/23 degrees Celsius. Compare this to Trondheim’s average high temperature of 48 degrees Fahrenheit/9 degrees Celsius, 35/892 cm of rainfall and on average 34 days each summer that are warmer than 20 °C (68 °F).
Life is hectic as the parents of three children in Norway though, with obligations from friends and family and schools and daycare and extra-curricular activities, and it passes you in a blur at times. The chance to escape to a different part of the world, which additionally boasted with the world’s best imaginable weather, was therefore dreams come true. Just a year to draw our breath, lower our shoulders, and reflect on our lives and our family while taking a step back and observing it from a distance. For me personally, the Fulbright Grantee, the chance of combining this experience with a professional leap forward was the added bonus that made the trip all the more alluring.
Moving to Santa Barbara was a breeze. Our three children were enveloped in their school and daycare rapidly, and extra-curricular activities like soccer, tae kwon do and ballet, as well as a great number of friendships were the norm in the US as well as in Trondheim, we realized fast. As was the hectic life of a family with three children, and places to go and things to do and people to meet, all the while taking care of ourselves and our family, and making sure that the children learned English and became assimilated as soon as possible. But I did mention the weather, right? Because, even though we soon realized that life was hectic in the US as well, because we are a social family with social needs, we had the added bonus of being able to sit back and relax while watching the sun set into the Pacific ocean – from our kitchen window and our deck. We could go
into the yard and pick limes for the salsa we made from scratch – from organic vegetables bought at the local coop right down the street, always fresh and always local. We could have fresh vegetable juice delivered to our gym daily, and drink amazing local Santa Ynez Valley wine whenever we felt like it, and take a dip in our Jacuzzi after a run on the beach. We ran half marathons, 4 milers, 5ks, and 1 milers, we played poker on Christmas Eve, and went to Santa Clause Beach on Christmas day to go surfing after opening presents to the sounds of waves and palm trees blowing in the wind.
The best thing, however, was my mother moving to live with us in California from New Orleans, Louisiana. My parents moved to the US almost 20 years ago, without me, and I have missed them and my three brothers dearly. I have always wanted to live near them, and to have our children get to know them in a longer period than 3 weeks’ vacation every now and then. Fortunately for me, my mother is a registered nurse and was able to get her California license and move in with us for the entire stay, with my father and brothers visiting regularly. Given that my husband did not make it to the US until December, this was a critical event for me. I would have been hard pressed for time to do anything at all had it not been for my mother joining us and being part of our family, and this will loom as one of the best experiences in my life in part because of that
fact. Watching my children get to know my mother as I do, and see her as a part of their close knit family – that is priceless. Having wine with her, walking on the beach and going shopping and having a blast – added bonus!
And work, of course – wow – did I ever make a huge leap professionally. I met so many great researchers at Bren School of Environmental Sciences and Management; researchers who were willing to share their work, and their experiences, as well as their time – with me. Researchers who joined me at the workshops, helped me create models, and traveled with me to meetings and included me in research proposals. The contacts made at Bren and UCSB are of such a nature that I could not have dreamed of them coming true. They were inclusive and interested and made me feel like I was one of them! Perhaps this is different at other schools, perhaps not. I do know, however, that I was fortunate to be surrounded by world class researchers who were showing a personal and professional interest in my life and my research.
Granted, there was some luck involved. I did, after all, go to Santa Barbara on premises that changed almost as soon as I arrived. Additionally, the researchers were not immediately drawn to my project – which was natural given the false
premises I had started out with. My luck was that I was working on aquaculture, and that nobody else at Bren was doing this. Hence, when the Dean`s personal PhD candidate expressed an interest in focusing on this topic, she was asked to come talk to me, and thus started a very rewarding relationship for the both of us. Additionally, there was an ongoing group master project on aquaculture in Chile when I arrived. The Dean brought me to a faculty bar-b-que to introduce me to the Chilean economist who was the advisor on site, and affiliated with Bren. This has resulted in a very good and professional relationship where our institute in Norway, while I was in California, signed a Letter of Intent to cooperate with interdisciplinary studies at the University de Conception in Chile as well. The advisor I met was also included as an integral part of an NRC (Norwegian Research Council) project we were granted while I was in California, and one of the Master students in the group project has since applied for a PhD position at my University in Norway, NTNU, asking for me as his advisor.
The research I did in California was expanded as well, from looking only at Santa Barbara specific stakeholder conflicts in relation to offshore aquaculture. The expansion came about due to the inclusion of my work in a SEAGRANT application the Bren School chose to prepare, and later was granted as well. This application wanted institutions to look at offshore aquaculture and potential stakeholder conflicts this new industry could bring to the surface and how user groups could use coastal areas in common and avoid said conflicts. Given these premises, I was asked if I could expand my Fulbright project to include even more cities in Southern California besides Santa Barbara. I chose to include Morro Bay, Ventura and San Diego in this mix, and with the help of the PhD student and the Master Student, I was able to finish six workshops that each lasted 4-5 intense hours. These workshops have provided me with enough data for a minimum of seven academic articles, two of which have been sent out for review already.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that moving to the US or any other country outside your native one for a year is something I wish for everyone to experience. It does make you more close knit as a family. You spend more time together than you ever do in your home town. You experience things that no one else experiences – and you are sharing it together with those you love the most, your family. It will forever bind you and you will always have those memories and those moments of pure joy. Seriously, just do it. Have you ever heard anyone say the regretted it? I didn’t think so.