"What took you to Sweden?" This has been a common question lately whenever I mention my frequent trips to Stockholm in the last year and a half. My response is always, "Love."
In 2015 I went on a coffee date that turned into an evening of appetizers, happy hour drinks, and dinner. Our conversation flowed from one topic to another as we bounced down a happening street. We were together for seven hours. I was instantly smitten.
And it was all so unexpected. He's Swedish and was on vacation visiting the states. When we connected I thought, "Oh it'll be fun to just link for coffee. Who knows what'll happen." Fast forward nearly two years later we are together and I am officially a permanent resident of Sweden. An expat. An immigrant. Eventually taking steps towards citizenship.
But for now I am adjusting to life abroad, which means navigating a new country and systems while learning a new language and culture. In addition to running my creative studio AND nurturing a newish romantic relationship.
Although my empathy for the immigrant experience existed long before this, because of my life with an immigrant mother, this new chapter has already given me a deeper level of appreciation and understanding for what it means to leave everything you know and start over. Like getting lost in a city and not knowing how to say the street names, buying produce (weighed in grams instead of pounds), and sometimes feeling left out of conversations because I don't yet speak Swedish. The transition does come with it's challenges but for the most part, I have it pretty easy.
I can't even begin to imagine what's it's like for a newcomer who doesn't know anything about the language, culture, or systems they are about to be thrown into.
Sweden is probably one of the most easiest non-English speaking European countries for an American to move to. Most folks here speak English! Although there are many cultural differences, there are tons of similarities and familiarities. I can find most products I use at home here, all the magazine shops have publications in English, and because of its diversity you can find food from everywhere—which reminds me of home.
Whenever I feel frustrated or confused, like a brief moment today when I ventured out into sub zero weather taking the bus alone for the first time to find the building where I needed to register for a personal identification number, I remind myself that 1. it's not that hard (it's ok to be a little lost), 2. people do this every day, 3. I'm smart, I can figure it out, 4. I can always ask for help, 5. I live somewhere new, which is super amazing!
But in those moments what I think about the most are those courageous people who leave home (and everything they know) to come here or any other place in the world and just figure it out. They raise families, work hard, start their own businesses, learn a new language, take care of family back at home, and most of the time do it without having the support of family and friends nearby. And until recently doing so with little communication. Let's not forget, Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype are all new! Before, folks depended on super expensive calling cards or long distance phone calls, both of which limited how long you could chat. Technology has made it easier for us living far away to stay close. Which I will definitely need.
So here I am. On a new adventure. I'm excited to see how this all unfolds, but most importantly taking it in day by day. And remembering that I'm in love! And I get to live abroad! Something I've always wanted to do.