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WENT ON AN "EXCHANGE" TO AUSTRALIA - CAME HOME AS A NEWLYWED

TEXT: BJØRNHILD FJELD - PHOTO: TORE FJELD

As an orthopedic engineer, I have a profession I can do anywhere in the world, says Sondre Rike, who recently returned to Norway and AND Orthopedics after a 14-month stay in Sydney. Thanks to the lack of orthopedic engineers in Australia, he got the chance to live there and marry his dream woman.

When orthopaedic engineer Sondre met physiotherapist Eleanor at a conference in Cape Town, sweet music was born. The "problem" was that she lived in Australia and he lived in Norway. And on top of that, there was a pandemic that made it very difficult to travel between the countries.
The definition of a long-distance relationship
It's safe to say that Eleanor and Sondre have gone through more practical challenges than most newly in love couples.

- After we had met in Cape Town, we continued to keep in touch digitally, and then we met again when Eleanor came to Norway for a conference. The first time I also visited Australia twice a year, for 2-3 weeks, Sondre says.

But in March 2020, the world shut down - what were they to do then? Australia has had even stricter restrictions than Norway, and was for a period completely closed to entry.

Sondre and Eleanor then began to think about how to get them to live in the same country. The most relevant thing then was that Sondre moved to Australia so they could live together there. But to be allowed an entry visa, he had to meet the criterion of "critical personnel", it was not enough that he was dating an Australian woman.

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Attractive in Australia

As an orthopedic engineer, however, Sondre is attractive in the labor market in Australia, where they have a great shortage of professionals in orthopedic companies. And the language was not a problem either, since he speaks good English.

- I am a very routine person, so I had not managed to live in a foreign country for a long time without having a job to go to. It is also crucial to get into a new culture, Sondre believes.

Through OCH's owner Össur, he came into contact with the company APC Prostetics, where he could get a job as an orthopedic engineer.

- After much deliberation, I was granted a visa as a "critical health professional", and was finally able to book airline tickets. On December 5, 2020, I boarded the plane for Sydney. There were only 15 people on the plane, it felt pretty absurd. At the airport I was met by police who were to escort me to the hotel where I had to sit for 2 weeks in isolation. I was not allowed to go out at all, but Eleanor came every day and waved at me at the window, where I lived on the 16th floor, he says.

Fortunately, he "let out" for Christmas, got to join the Christmas celebration with his girlfriend's family.

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Worked in prosthesis company

- I started working on January 10 in a company that makes prostheses. We were a total of 9 orthopedic engineers and 8 orthopedic technicians, with backgrounds from many countries. I felt that I quickly got into the job and the environment in the workplace, and patients are all over the world, says Sondre.

In Sydney, shorts are worn almost all year round, and instead of going skiing, people go to the beach to swim. The famous beach Bondi Beach became his new favorite place.

- The climate is very pleasant from a Norwegian perspective. For example, I could cycle to and from work with some colleagues all year round, it's not as tempting in Oslo.

For quite some time there was very little corona infection in Australia, and the population could live more or less normally.

A special wedding

The plan was always for Sondre and Eleanor to get married, and they planned a wedding with 90 guests at the end of August 2021. In June, Australia entered a new lockdown, and weddings were banned.

- It was of course a disappointment, but in early September it was allowed to get married, with two witnesses, five guests and a pastor present. We did not know how long the lockdown would last, so we just had to take the chance, and rather hold the party later, Sondre says.

September, they said yes to each other at Petersham Baptist Church in Lewisham, Sydney. And in December, they were finally able to gather family and friends for a party.
Back in Norway
After 14 months on "exchange" in Australia, it was also time for Sondre to return to Norway and his workplace at OCH Ortopedi - this time with his wife.

- Eleanor is currently working on a doctorate, in addition to having a job at a hospital in Australia that she can do online. It is also a bit bureaucratic to stay in Norway, but it is now okay, and the plan is for her to find a job eventually, he says.