“It was such a coincidence”

Hands holding a Opportunities word Sphere sign on white background.

Elżbieta M. Goździak writes about the role serendipity played in Polish nurses’ search for employment in Norway.

Serendipity (en.wikipedia.org) or chance is a prominent characteristic of the processes by which migrants become aware of employment opportunities. Yet, in migration literature, which emphasizes the instrumental job search activities of migrant workers, there is no framework for understanding the dynamics of serendipitous job offers. 

“I never imagined I would be working abroad”

Wanda never imagined she would want to work in Norway or anywhere else outside Poland. She was quite happy with her job on a surgical ward in a large hospital in Cracow. It wasn’t the best paid job, but the work was interesting and rewarding. Wanda invested much in her education; a nurse working with an anesthesiology team requires clinical, humanistic, and technical knowledge (everethnews.pl)

Wanda contemplated adding another level of specialization to her already extensive credentials. Applying for a job in Norway was certainly not on her agenda. And yet when I met her, she was working in Oslo.

Wanda described her job abroad as a result of pure coincidence. One morning she and Jola, Wanda’s best friend, also a nurse, were having coffee and pączki in a local café when they spotted a flayer advertising nursing jobs (ppuz.edu.pl) in Norway. Jola who had been itching to leave Poland and embark on an adventure talked Wanda into applying for the advertised job. Before she knew it, Wanda was meeting a recruiter and enrolling in a Norwegian language course.

Scandinavian philology graduates teaching Norwegian to nurses

I have met a couple more Polish nurses who also applied for a job in Norway on a lark. But nurses were not the only Polish women who found employment in Norway or in Poland by chance. I also interviewed several Polish graduates of Scandinavian philology (rekrutacja.amu.edu.pl).

They planned to work as translators for publishing houses, pursue academic careers, and get jobs as lectors teaching university students Norwegian. Instead, they chanced upon a totally unexpected opportunity to work in transnational cyberspace teaching Norwegian to Polish nurses seeking jobs in Norway.

While some of the interviewed women studied Norwegian formally, others learned the language on their own. Karolina fell in love with the Norwegian language when she first started going to Norway as a student to earn money during summer vacation.  However, once she and her boyfriend settled in northern Norway, she decided to turn her linguistic skills into business and set up an online Norwegian language program for nurses. 

Why nurses? Having worked as an assistant for home-bound people, Karolina noticed an increased number of Polish nurses being hired by healthcare establishments. She quickly put two and two together and a very successful language program was born.

At the moment, Karolina and her boyfriend, live in Norway, but Karolina remarked: “It’s a very portable enterprise and if I ever return to Poland, I can continue teaching Norwegian.”  Karolina’s emphasis on medical vocabulary makes her a sought-after tutor by firms recruiting Polish nurses to work in Norway.

At the intersection of serendipity and agency

Karolina is an example of a woman who combined serendipity (being in the right place at the right time) with agency (determination to turn a chance into an opportunity). In fact, most of the women in our study operated at the intersection of serendipity and agency.

Bożena, a nurse with a few years of working in Norway under her belt, came home to Gdańsk for vacation one day and chanced upon a clinic advertising its services to Scandinavian patients. This chance encounter led to a job where she can utilize both her nursing and linguistic skills. Bożena is a coveted employee not only because of her nursing credentials and fluency in Norwegian, but also for her cross-cultural skills in dealing with patients from Norway.

These examples suggest that migration scholars ought to perhaps pay more attention to the role serendipity (and agency) play in migrants’ job searches. We are often focused so much on predictability and control that we forget that migration journeys and integration processes are hardly ever straightforward.

By Elżbieta M. Goździak