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Land of Opportunity & Northern Lights

Tromsø has been called the Gateway to the Arctic and the Paris of the North – two vastly different yet fitting descriptions of the city. Clustered on the compact island of Tromsøya, this unique municipality of 65,000 is poised on the edge of the Arctic, and yet has an urbane, international feel. It’s a place where lively city life blends seamlessly with spectacular natural surroundings, and where progressive social programmes and excellent international schooling options make it particularly welcoming to newcomers.

With the world’s northernmost university, the University of Tromsø, as its educational centrepiece, Tromsø is alive with the energy of nearly 10,000 students. Their presence is just one reason for the city’s wealth of cultural offerings – from a symphony orchestra and music festivals to art exhibitions and theatre activities. The city’s close proximity and easy access to wild and spectacular natural areas, such as the Lyngen Alps, also make it an outdoors person’s dream.

“Tromsø is one of the communities in Norway that has had the most growth in recent years,” observes Morgan Lillegård, communications director for the municipality of Tromsø. “We have a young population, and we have a very international population, with people from 139 nations. Everyone is heartily welcomed here.”

Tromsø’s city centre is a pleasing blend of traditional Norwegian buildings and stunning modern architecture, located in a spectacular setting. © City of Tromsø, Mark Ledingha

Timeless Traditions, Modern Occupations

Tromsø’s traditional roots in fisheries and trade are reflected in the region’s economy, along with its more modern role as the largest city in northern Norway. The Norwegian government has recognized the importance of the region in its High North Strategy. This, coupled with the natural resources in the Barents Sea, whether marine organisms or oil and gas, fuels a strong business community related to petroleum, marine biotechnology and bioprospecting, and fisheries and aquaculture.

“The seafood business is a global business, and Tromsø is a very international small town,” notes Are Kvistad, of the Norwegian Seafood Federation. “That makes it a very good place to work from if you are in this industry.”

At the heart of all this commerce is the need for knowledge and innovation. Those needs are amply met by the University of Tromsø and a range of independent research organizations located in the Tromsø region, including Nofima Marine, the Norwegian Polar Institute, Akvaplanniva and the Institute of Marine Research, among others.

Tromsø’s location above the Arctic Circle has also positioned it to play a unique role in the expanding industry of remote sensing and satellite monitoring. Kongsberg Satellite Services offers commercial satellite and remote monitoring services, while the Northern Research Institute in Tromsø, known as Norut Tromsø, has a wide ranging earth observation research programme, including detection of winds and waves at sea and snow and ice mapping.

The University Hospital of North Norway is also important in the local economy, and hosts innovative research programmes to address the hospital’s unique circumstances in serving a population that is widely scattered over a large geographic area. The Norwegian Centre for Telemedicine and the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory, a Centre for Research-Based Innovation funded by the Research Council of Norway, are both part of this effort and provide knowledge-based jobs and services to the region.

Tromsø’s harbour frames the city at night. © City of Tromsø; Gaute Bruvik

Good Schooling, Welcoming Community

Tromsø’s workforce is truly international, and the region as a whole welcomes the cross-fertilization that comes from different cultures, says Heidi Johansen, international manager for the Troms Chamber of Commerce.

INN Tromsø, offered through the Chamber, helps newcomers with all the logistics involved in moving to a new country and culture – from language courses to help finding a place to live.

While many people come to the area to stay, it’s also not unusual for researchers to come for shorter periods. “This is a region with a lot of research, with highly qualified people,” Johansen says. “We want parents who come here for shorter stays to feel like they can bring their children and move them into the international school.”

Both visiting researchers and international residents will be well served by the new Tromsø International School, which will offer places to 55 primary and middle school children beginning in the autumn of 2011, with an eventual expansion to 150 students. The school is part of the widely respected International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) system, which is based in the United Kingdom but whose diploma programmes are recognized the world around.

Alive with Activities
Tromsø also offers a comprehensive Kulturskole, literally a Culture School, where children can take courses in music, dance, drama and the arts. There’s even a Barents Youth Symphony Orchestra. This, coupled with ample space in the city’s preschools and kindergartens, makes Tromsø an extremely family friendly community.

Helle Goldman, an American who works as a senior adviser and editor at the Norwegian Polar Institute, has found Tromsø to be a great place to raise children. She’s lived in Tromsø for 13 years now. “It’s a small city, but there is a lot going on,” she says. “There are festivals, the theatre, movie houses, all kind of events. But I love the fact that I live within walking distance of the middle of town, yet the view out my window is of forest, water and mountains.”

She’s able to ride her bicycle with her daughter to kindergarten and “in the winter, we can strap our skis in our front yard and head off,” she says. A groomed and lighted ski trail extends the length of Tromsøya, making it easy to enjoy the beauty of a wintertime outing.

Lately, Goldman has become even more expert in what’s going on in Tromsø, at least from a child’s perspective, when she joined up with colleague Elin Vinje Jenssen to publish a weekly newsletter with happenings for kids in Tromsø. The email newsletter reaches more than 100 people a week. “I feel very settled here,” Goldman says. “This is my home base.”

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