Hello long lost website! It’s been way too long since I last posted here. January has come and gone, marking my three year anniversary in Sweden. For a place I was only going to be for six months, it’s certainly been an interesting journey to get to this point.
I’ve started to think a little about how life has changed for me since I first arrived that freezing winter evening in Uppsala on the 9th of January 2011. A time when my eyelashes froze as I rode my bike to university and -20 was the norm, compared to this winter when confused bears emerged early from hibernation, and flowers were seen blooming in December.
First of all, I can now walk on icy roads without falling over – something I did twice on my first night in Uppsala as I walked to the supermarket to buy food. The shame, as polite Swedish people discreetly looked away while I scrambled about. I used to look in awe at Swedes power walking on icy streets and wonder if they had some magical ability to remain upright, and whether this could be learned, or if I’d forever be disgracing myself – luckily 3 years later I seem to have learnt this skill. The fact that there has been no snow this year in Stockholm has helped too.
Secondly, my Swedish is better, but not yet fluent. I like to do 200383283 things simultaneously, so at the end of 2013 I was taking evening classes in Dutch (taught in Swedish, for added confusion), while reading Swedish novels during the day and learning German verbs on the side. Apparently my brain didn’t appreciate this, and I became fluent in exactly 0 of my desired languages, but I did improve in all of them. So I decided to cut out the Dutch for now, and focus of Swedish (particularly if I want to apply for citizenship in the future) with a bit of German on the side to keep me from forgetting it.
I still have a long way to go with Swedish, my pronunciation in particular, but it is definitely vastly improved from this time 3 years ago (I had studied it at University in Australia for a year before I arrived). My motivation has been a bit reduced because I can get away with my Swedish, but I wouldn’t be able to work in it, which would be useful. I’m not sure what my next step is here – whether I should take another class or just keep reading novels. I also need to speak more – but I’ve started to try this out with some of my other foreign friends.
Next, I own an apartment here now, which makes Stockholm feel more like home. I never thought the first property I would own would be in Sweden, it’s funny how life works out!
I’m considering a change of careers – at least in terms of my day job. More on this later when it is confirmed.
As for my other job – giving speeches and seminars on growing up globally, this has been going very well! I was just in Berlin giving a seminar to the parents at the JFK School in Berlin, a really interesting bicultural German/American school. I’ll be going back in May to present to the teachers and then the parents of some international kindergartens in Berlin too. I’m really enjoying this work, and I can’t wait to meet more parents and teachers, as there were so many interesting discussions after my last presentation.
The free time I’ve had in Sweden has definitely allowed me to take some interesting opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to if I was back in Australia working full time. Being located in Europe means I can take the opportunity to give a speech in Germany without having to fly 26 hours to do so. I’m also working on another Master’s thesis on global childhoods – because, why not!
I have a great group of friends here now, for some reason a large number of them are Finnish, and these friendships are making me feel much happier here than I was at the end of 2011.
I love the Swedish summer – it’s perfect for a red haired person like me – not ridiculously hot like in Australia. I love the berry stands that pop up around town, everyone sitting the the parks looking happy, and Stockholm is a beautiful city to walk around when the sun is out.
I still think Dalarna is the cutest place in Sweden, in particular, Tällberg – seriously, if you come to Sweden you should visit there. My mother wanted to buy a little red wooden house there when I took her for a visit. It’s just so picturesque and so very Swedish.
So does Sweden feel like home now? Yes, in part. Having a home, friends, being able to understand the language better, and having work has helped me to feel much happier in Sweden than two years ago, but it has still never felt as much like home to me as Melbourne, Vienna, or even Berlin. But it is home for now, and I want to make the most of it.
It will be interesting to see where in the world I am in three years from now.
The last 4 or 5 weeks have been some of my least favourite in Sweden, and as a result, I’ve felt completely uninspired to write here.
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been back to Australia and it’s been well over a year since I’ve been to an English speaking country (Ireland) – these two factors combined with the fact that my family have been off in the outback out of phone reach for almost 2 months, my husband was away for work for a few weeks, and almost every friend I have in Sweden has been away for the past 6 weeks has meant I’ve been suffering from homesickness, loneliness, or a bit of both. I’m actually feeling much better now, or I’d probably still be on blog strike.
Signs I’ve been homesick:
1. I feel like a friendly labrador that wants to go up and greet strangers. Last week I was walking down the street in central Stockholm and overheard an old Australian couple walking in front of me – I really slowed down for a good 20 seconds or so trying to think of a reason to chat to them, if only to hear an Australian accent for a few minutes. Yesterday I was in a department store and overheard an Australian woman buying a huge number of things for a/her house – this would suggest to me that she had probably just moved here and I thought about saying hello – the fact that I didn’t might suggest I’ve been in Sweden too long as I am sure she would have been very friendly. Last time I went back to Australia I only went as far as the airport bathrooms before a total stranger started chatting to me. 5 minutes later, and the same thing happened again. This is something I’ve been missing.
2. I’ve taken to watching Australian TV shows (of dubious quality) that air in Sweden. Border Security, Master Chef Australia, Australia’s Next Top Model, McLeod’s Daughters, the list goes on and on.
3. I feel happy to do otherwise boring errands that involve calling up my Australian bank, University, etc. Although this might just suggest a need to speak English more as I gained the same (surprising) pleasure from calling a British shop about a dress I ordered that they lost.
4. I was constantly searching for flights to Australia. I haven’t booked anything yet for two reasons:
1. Because I am waiting for my new visa for Sweden and am not allowed out of the country without it. Well I could leave, but I would most likely be unable to return. Everyone has been on holiday in Sweden, which means that the immigration office hasn’t been processing visas and I’ve now been waiting 4 months for a simple visa renewal.
2. Because I’ll have to wait until (Australian) autumn next year to go. I’m not used to 40 degree summers anymore, and my mother lives in the tropical part of Australia which is very red-haired person unfriendly. I actually have a note in my calendar today to book flights back to Australia…
Some of the things I’m missing about Australia: Apart from my wonderful family and friends of course.
Finding creatures like these in the garden:
A friendly green tree frog in my mother’s garden. I’ve found these guys everywhere – once I even found one curled up around an eyeliner in my mother’s makeup bag!
The many varied landscapes of Australia
Skyline of Melbourne, Australia
Ok, time to stop the complaining. I just thought it was good to point out that life overseas, even in the land of delicious summer berries, and cute dalahästar, is not always rosy, and even when you’ve moved a lot, you still sometimes experience homesickness.
(All photos are either mine or used with permission)
It’s now been over a year since Geoff and I were married back in Melbourne, Australia – what better a time than to finally go on our belated honeymoon?! We spent almost three weeks in Switzerland visiting 26 towns, cities and tiny little villages, eating ALL the chocolate and taking a ridiculous number of trains. We also took a drive down the most hair-raising cliff skirting mountain pass (track?) which put to shame the previous winner of that title – that time we decided to take the scenic route rather than the highway between Munich and Innsbruck and ended up along a cliff on a very rainy wintery night, with trucks hurdling towards us and very little evidence of barriers between us and certain death off the side of the cliff.
When we told our friends in Europe that we were going to Switzerland for our honeymoon a look of horror crossed most of their faces. Why aren’t you going to Thailand???!!! My reply usually consisted of pointing out that as a red haired person, I’m not actually supposed to be in the sun for more than 5 minutes, that a beach holiday is actually my worst nightmare, and the fact that Switzerland always seemed like this beautiful wonderland containing two of my favourite things: mountainous landscapes and chocolate! Actually scratch that – three of my favourite things because I soon discovered Switzerland is home to the greatest mayonnaise in the history of humanity – Thomy (try it – you won’t regret it) – something Geoff and I had been desperately missing in Sweden. We are now down to only 2 tubes left, so rationing is in place.
Luckily Geoff also wanted to see Switzerland, so off we went!
We started and ended our trip in Zurich, staying in Luzern, Wilderswil (a little village near Interlaken), Zermatt, Lausanne and Bern in between. The proper photos are Geoff’s, the instagram ones are mine:
Firstly, Lake Zurich. We were in Zurich for about 4 very rainy days, but at last the clouds lifted and we decided to take a boat trip along the lake from Zurich to Rapperswil.
Here is Rapperswil – I felt like we had arrived at a little Italian village along the Mediterranean. Everyone was sitting outside eating pizza and speaking Italian (despite the fact that we were still firmly in German speaking territory). It was love at first sight! Turquoise water!
Onto Luzern! Of all the cities we visited this was my top contender for Swiss Cities I would Like to Live In.I really have to wonder how the Swiss enjoy traveling to other countries when everything is so beautiful there.
Summertime in Zermatt – the city was a ghost town which was very cosy (yes American spell check – this is a word). We decided to try fondu again but came to the realisation that neither of us likes it. Blasphemy! The waitress looked a little heartbroken as she took away our two half eaten pots of fondu.
On the other hand we fell even more deeply in love with the true culinary delight that is rösti. Sadly, despite the fact that it is made from vegetables, we had to conclude that it is not in any way healthy and we can’t eat it every night of the week.
See the tiny little green valley in the distance? That is where Zermatt is. This is the view after a 30 minute climb with 3 gondolas up to almost 4000 meters above sea level. The view was amazing and we could see Italy from the top. I conquered my firm dislike of heights and made my way slowly up to the viewing platform to surprise a shocked looking Geoff who wasn’t sure I would emerge from the safety of indoors.
Down to lake Geneva and the beautiful Chateau de Chillon – also hello France on the other side of the lake!
Yes it’s time for a token hipster food photo – but this really was one of the loveliest desserts I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. We celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary at the La Table d’Edgard in Lausanne. The view over lake Geneva was spectacular, but the food was even better.
Fields of wildflowers in the Swiss countryside – this is how I imagined summer in Switzerland to be.
Last but not least: A double selfie – we really were there!
A famous 70’s campaign encouraging paternity leave featuring Swedish weightlifter Lennart ”Hoa-Hoa” Dahlgren
About a year ago I was going for a walk with my friend and while waiting for the lights to turn green at the crossing she turned to say hello to a little baby ahead of us. The man with the baby smiled at us, and hearing we were speaking English said ‘I’m not a gay nanny by the way!’ My friend looked a little shocked, but I could only laugh knowing exactly what he was referring to. Apparently a tourist visiting Sweden had publicly pondered why there were so many gay nannies here, resulting in much amusement by the Swedes because these men were not gay nannies but of course the fathers.
Compared with the rest of the world you’ve probably heard that Scandinavia is the holy grail of places in which to have children: Finland has baby boxes packed full of goodies and one of the best school systems in the world, Norway has paid parental leave at 100% pay for 46 weeks, and in Sweden you’re just as likely to come across fathers on parental leave as mothers.
In Sweden parents receive 480 days of parental leave, of which 390 is paid at the maximum daily amount of 946 SEK or US$143 with some employers choosing to top up this amount. Of these 480 day, both the father and mother are given 60 days of parental leavewhich only they can take, the remainder being shared between parents as they so choose.
This parental leave is also valid for parents who adopt a child, and parents with twins get an additional 90 days of paid leave. There is even an equality bonus for parents who share parental leave equally. Another important aspect of Swedish parental leave is that it doesn’t need to be taken all at once, but can be used by either parent up until the child finishes her/her first year of school and is available hourly if needed.
In 1995 Sweden introduced a reform to give each parent one month of paid paternity leave that only they could use. By 2002 this had increased to two months each, and there have been subsequent calls for this to be increased to 3 months as in Iceland. Women do still take more time off for children than men do, but these reforms have had a clear impact on the amount of leave fathers take.
Something must be working because I’ve seen more fathers pushing their children in prams here than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world and it’s only been here in Sweden that I’ve seen groups of fathers out together for coffee with their babies.
This gender equality is a huge selling point for highly skilled migrants choosing to relocate to Sweden where work-life balance is of huge importance. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had people tell me that parental leave played an important role in their decision to work for a company in Sweden, especially when one half of the couple is Swedish. The leave for both parents also means that international and cross-cultural couples are able to return to their home country/countries for a month or two and spend much needed time with their families. I know when we have children we will take part of the leave to return to Australia for a few months.
Part of the reason this works so well here is that there isn’t the same peer pressure as in many other countries to work long hours, companies are generally understanding when parents take time off, and if the father doesn’t take his two months of paid leave before the child is eight, the time and money are lost. But it’s important to note that the fathers I’ve spoken to have all willingly chosen to take the leave. They want time to bond with their children and the system in Sweden allows them to do so.
A beautiful little Swiss village Geoff and I visited in May
Here are some interesting links I’ve come across lately:
Dutch photographer Erik Klein Wolterink has produced a series of photos showing multicultural kitchens in the Netherlands. As one of my favourite things to do in a new country is to explore their supermarkets and see what sorts of new foods I can find, this seems like an even more intimate look at different cultures through the kitchen, arguably the heart of most homes.
An interesting take on the riots in Swedenthis year.
Eurozine is one of my favourite websites, and this article about transnational citizenshipby Claus Leggewie was very interesting. While I don’t agree with all of the conclusions he reaches he does touch on some interesting themes. I do agree with the fact that mobility is not just the realm of elites anymore, but is becoming more and more available to people of all socio-economic backgrounds – something Adrian Favell addresses regarding Europeans and mobility in his book Eurostars and Eurocities. Both the article and Favell’s book also talk about the nature of mobility and how it has shifted from the traditional more permanent migration of the past to a more fluid, temporary migration today, with closer connections to the home country via the internet, phone, not to mention budget flights. I’m very interested in just how temporary in nature migration is today, especially in the EU – I’ve seen some evidence of this shifting back to more permanent in nature, but I’ll explore this idea in a proper post and not the links!
My name is Michelle and I am an Australian living in Stockholm, Sweden. I research, write and speak about identity and the experiences of people who have lived across multiple cultures. Read more here.