I Moved to a New Country Without a Job


Sofia Petkovic met her husband at a “cheesy backpacker bar called ‘Cheeky Monkey’s’” while they were both traveling through Australia. For two months, they kept running into each other in various cities and at different sites. But when they reached the ends of their routes, they went in separate directions—she back to Ottawa, and he to a small mountain village in Norway. For six years, they had a long-distance relationship.

When they married in 2014, Petkovic moved to Norway. She’d just finished her degree in environmental studies, and he already had an apartment in Geilo and ran a restaurant in a nearby town, so it made the most sense. But moving to a different continent wasn’t exactly easy.

“It was hard moving to a foreign country for another person and immersing myself into their world—their friends, their family, their environment,” she says. And it didn’t help that she couldn’t find a job.

Photo of Sofia Petkovic and her mom courtesy of Sofia Petkovic.

While she didn’t have an issue getting into the country—Canadians can travel in Norway for up to 90 days without a visa—she did have to wait for her residency and work permit to be approved. That took a year. Since she wasn’t allowed to work in the meantime, she spent her time attending Norwegian language school and doing activities outdoors, such as cross-country skiing and snowboarding.

Waiting for the permits “really stalled my career development big time,” she says. “I hated having the same conversation with people about what I did (or was not doing).” Even after that wait was over, she had trouble finding employment in her field. She worked a bunch of part-time jobs, including as a server in a ski lodge and a cashier in a grocery store, since they were the only ones she could get.

She reluctantly continued working these part-time gigs while applying to tons of jobs. Another year went by and she’d made no progress. So, she decided to go back to school and pursue a master’s degree in gender in global development at the University of Bergen.

“I never felt I needed the master’s degree,” Petkovic explains. “I wasn’t even sure that it’d really give me that extra edge, but I did know that it’d help in terms of growing my professional network.” And she was more than ready to escape their small town and move to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city. (It also helps that schools in Norway are, uh, free.)

Before diving into more schooling, though, Petkovic did two things.

First, she chose her program very strategically, as she really wanted one that included an internship component. Before she’d even moved across the world, she’d had her eye on the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an organization that helps people who are forced to leave their countries. It was extremely hard to get a job at the NRC, and she knew that the program she chose at the University of Bergen would help place her in an internship there.

Second, she discussed the decision with her husband. He’d already left his job at the restaurant and started a new one as a chef on oil rigs in the North Sea that were easier to get to from Bergen. And though he was doubtful about the financial side of things—school was free but she’d still be sacrificing an income—he was incredibly supportive.

So, off to Bergen they went. After a year of studying, Petkovic’s dreams came true. The university made contact with the NRC and helped her get an internship. She made every effort to be the best intern she could be, as she knew she wanted to work there after she graduated. She arrived early and left late. She socialized with her colleagues whenever she could. And she made a point to greet her co-workers, dress professionally, and enthusiastically accept every task thrown her way.

“I know that none of this was required of me and no one should feel they have to do this to be considered ‘good,’ but the reality is that these things matter,” she explains.

Photo of Sofia Petkovic courtesy of Sofia Petkovic.

All of her small and large efforts were worth it. Today, Petkovic’s a regional program coordinator at the NRC, where she’s assigned to Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. She serves as the main point of contact between the countries’ programs and the NRC’s donors, performs quality checks, reviews reports, and manages all grant-related tasks.

“After years of worry, I finally feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I’m so excited for my career development and future at this organization,” Petkovic says.

As for what advice she has for others trying to find a job, Petkovic urges people to stay positive and patient and to talk to as many people as they can. But of those three things, it’s positivity that she emphasizes the most.

“People pick up on this quickly and it’s super important to be aware of the impression you give,” she says. “You might have many degrees and high grades and be very intelligent, but all of that means nothing if you have a bad attitude. Be good, be positive, be nice, and people will always remember that.”

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