How I Really Ended Up in Sweden

How does one end up living abroad? Not just going on an exchange to study, but really establishing a life in another country, becoming a true foreigner? How did I end up moving from California to Sweden over two years ago?

                                         (my plane touching down in Sweden, August 2010)


I meet a lot of new people in my Stockholm life, but even more the past several weeks, and with most new people I chat with here I get asked how I ended up here. It's a story I've told again and again, and I never imagined when I moved here that I would tell it so often and that it would interest people as much as it does. The way I tell it, the story always pivots on these points; that I:

1) met Swedes in 2008 and discovered that they are awesome and loved everything I learned about the country
2) found out that exactly the masters program I was wanting to get (that would be so expensive in California) would be free for me in Sweden, in English, and just one year long
3) moved here and had #1 from above confirmed over and over again and decided to stay awhile, falling ever more in love with the country.

I often color this story with a sense that there was a bit of magic, some indescribable magnetism that has drawn me in to Sweden all along, with the discovery of the program in Lund being this life-changing "aha" moment. Which it certainly was. But there is so much more to it than that.
Moving to a faraway country and leaving a place like Santa Barbara after 10 years, as well as my amazing friends and family, didn't center around a moment of discovery and the chemistry I've always had with Sweden. That was just the tipping point.

It was my whole life that brought me here. 

When we were very little my mom or my dad would, every once in a rare while, wake my sister and me up in the middle of the night. They would take us on an adventure or just do something out of the ordinary. I remember one time our dad sneaking us through the house to go climb out of a window (though the front door worked perfectly well), where we then crept through the backyard and climbed over our fence and went to a park several blocks away. He pushed us on the swings under the stars and the black sky and told us where the night train was headed to that rushed past nearby. Then we would go home, he'd get us back to bed, and the next day the adventure from the middle of the night was rarely spoken about with anything more than a wink.

Most of our growing up years my siblings and I usually centered our "pretend games" around a common theme. Faraway adventure. Sure, I remember some games of playing house, or shoe store, or spy agency. But more often than not, it would be more like this: make a ship out of leftover 2x4 boards on the front lawn and sail away, looking to find our way through a new land since for whatever reason (we were secret princesses and evil was out to get our family, etc) we had to leave our homeland. We usually never had pretend parents with us, we were always on our own. Scarves that our real life aunt had sent us from France were used as our "getaway bag", tied in a bundle to a stick to put over our shoulders, carrying all that we needed to survive.

I started learning Spanish when I went on a trip down to Mexico with a youth group when I was 13, and soon after started studying it in high school, continuing into college and beyond that to language school in Costa Rica. I loved learning and speaking foreign languages, mostly for the way that it helped you connect to people and understand them. My idea from early on was that someday I would live abroad, for either a short or long time, likely in a Spanish-speaking country. I could dig into that foreign culture and build exciting new relationships, but be prepared ahead of time with the language. When I realized that I didn't really want to live in Latin America, I was on the lookout for a new target.

My senior year of college I traveled through Europe on a study semester. We went to around 22 cities in 12 countries. It was the trip of a lifetime, I did and saw the most amazing things. And I never forgot that my favorite person I met along the way was a Dutch girl. And that the city I in which I felt the most at home, not that was the most stimulating or the most gorgeous but where I wanted to stay and nestle in, was in the Netherlands, a little ways outside of Amsterdam. The reasons for why I liked that girl and that city came to mind often when Swedes and Sweden came around years later, it's something with these more northern (but "western") European countries.

There was that long term relationship I had later in college and way beyond. We both loved travel and had done quite a bit of it. But I really loved it. I really wanted to have extensive travel, and as I said before, some living abroad, in my future, even with a family someday. That sort of scared him. He wanted to be more stable, more secure than that, to not have the kind of travel I wanted be a priority at all. That scared me. When we eventually parted ways, it was so clear to me that okay, what is meant to be for me, from here on out, is definitely more adventure in faraway places.

A childhood instilled with a sense of adventure and out-of-the-box thinking. Teenage and college years nurtured with travel and language opportunities. A growing personal desire for more. 

And then there is the foundation that you build for such a big decision like moving abroad over years of conversations with friends and family. Ideas and possibilities become fleshed out, explored, canceled out and finally pursued, until the foundation for what you eventually will do is strong and defined.  After a couple years of living a fun life and working in jobs that I liked well enough in Santa Barbara, not able to travel much but quite happy with frequent long weekends in LA, Orange County and San Francisco, it was around late 2007 I think that more conversations started happening with friends about seeking out more adventure and travel. Often with friends who were thinking about the same. I'm so happy that conversations can be preserved in several ways these days. I found a record of many of those conversations the other day, had in gchat with a good guy friend of mine. We talked about such possibilities all the time, I remember. I had no idea then how different my life would look a couple years after that, but looking back at many of the lines, it is actually not such a surprise.


September 2007

Corinne: "The degree of seriousness with which I consider these types of things varies...but sometimes, I think I need to just do one of these ideas [working on a cruise ship for 3 months, working on a farm in New Zealand for a summer, working and living somewhere in Europe], and scratch that restless adventurer itch I so often get. 

October 2007

Corinne: "My mind is totally spinning right now...I feel guilty sometimes that I'm not being more defined or productive in my life, I'm so centered on ideas and possibilities. I'm getting antsy...I need to travel. Or move."


March 2008 (long term relationship has ended and so has the lease on the amazing house I lived in with friends)

N: Seems like a lot in your life has potential to change, if you want it to.

Corinne: I could leave to travel, get a studio by myself, I'm looking at various kinds of jobs...
 






I want change. Just not sure if I'm ready for so much all at once. I'm not ready to give up Santa Barbara yet, I think. I'm actually doing research now on consulting firms here to maybe apply to later on.

N: I think it is time for you to leave SB. I think you need to take the opportunity of this "up in the air" time and land somewhere new. Maybe one last SB summer. Where do you think you might go?

Corinne: I'd like to go somewhere I've never been and where I can possibly work. New Zealand, or somewhere random in Europe. 

December 2008 (have met several Swedes the month before)

N: How's your sleep lately? Your social life is kicking your ass.

Corinne: Sleep's not too good. Would help if I went to bed before 4, as I have been lately. Currently downloading some Swedish music. 

March 2011 (fast forward to when I was starting my thesis for the end of my masters program in Sweden)

N: So you'll stay out there to write your thesis?

Corinne: Yeah definitely. I am not done with Sweden yet. I'm actually hoping, although it's a risky move, to live and work in Stockholm for awhile. I want to live somewhere where companies that I'm interested in are. And people and location are my other priorities of course. So, Stockholm and if not, San Francisco, are my top two for that reason.

******************************************************************************

I didn't know in 2007 and 2008 that it wouldn't be until 2010 that I left SB. Looking back that was by far the best thing, since the last couple years were in some ways the most fun, and if I had left earlier, would I have ever met Swedes? It blows my mind now that so many things that I once pondered have come to fruition, and all in Sweden... a masters degree and work in consulting and more foreign language and culture. I'm stunned sometimes.

I wrote this so that it would be there to tell the longer version of the story to anyone who'd want to know, but also to remind myself about it. The reason I've come here and now live here is not truly because of magic, chemistry, studies or because I was tired of the beach. It's that I was pretty much headed here all along. 

Comments

  1. I have to ask- aren't there times when you feel homesick, though? When I say home, I guess I'm referring to friends, American traditions, etc. As it is getting colder (and darker, grr), I have been starting to question my impulsive move a little bit and would love your input in regards to how long it took for you to truly adjust to "Swedish time."

    Sarah

    PS Love your well-written blog! I actually went to boarding school in Ojai (used to go to SB a lot during weekends/sports games) and genuinely enjoy your commentary in reference to the Swedish culture :)

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  2. Hi Sarah! Thanks for the comment. Hope you see this one in return...

    I do feel homesick at times! I never really knew what homesickness was until maybe my first birthday in Sweden, about 3 months into living here, despite all my previous travel. Then I realized what it felt like to long for something, for people, for what I used to be, so strongly that it felt a little bit like a sad break up, in a way. Real loss. And I agree that it feels stronger when the cold weather comes on occasionally. I love snow but all other cold weather conditions (ice rain! wind! November!) can sometimes make me feel a little bitter and long for California. And unrelated to the weather, I do long for friends and family sometimes and the 2nd year of living here as opposed to the 1st is when that really hit me, since that's when the reality of how separate my life seemed from theirs really became evident.

    The difference between my situation and yours is that I knew a lot about Sweden and had many Swedish friends/culture exposure before I moved here, and that I planned to move here about a year before I did so. So it was very thought out and not impulsive and I had a lot of time to say goodbye to my previous life and prepare for my new one, which was important because I had an amazing life in Santa Barbara before :)

    I would say that living abroad will never be an easy choice, and homesickness will always pop up from time to time. But adjustment will be easier if you invest in good friendships in your new place, and learn ways of coping that are relevant to your new environment. I used to go running on the beach when I felt stressed or lonely or in need of inspiration. Now in Sweden, I have had to find a good alternative. So far that has been really amazing walks in the forest and by the sea or around amazing buildings in the city, where I soak up the old Europeanness of it all. I have amazing friends and really identify with the Swedish culture which makes it all a lot easier. A LOT.

    Let me know how to contact you if you want to talk about it further!

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  3. My dad is actually "Swedish," but I put that in quotations because he has lived in the States since the early-80s, and I never got real exposure to the Swedish culture aside from his love for smelly herring and glogg (lol). I actually came across your blog from literally searching "Stockholm blog" in an effort to learn more about what I would be getting myself into when I first decided to buy my ticket here and in all honesty, it became quite a nice tutorial for adjusting :)

    Let me know if you're ever free for fika or for a run (Hagaparken is my go-to :))- it would be nice to finally put a face to the blog! I don't know how to email you without using this thread, so I guess the best option would be to email me at sarahsyun(at)gmail.com (hope there are no creepers lingering). Now off to read your next post!

    PS Your insight in reference to Swedish men is SO accurate!

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  4. Hi CorinneI have enjoyed reading your blog. My daughter, age 25,studied in Sweden-lived there for about 3 years. During that time she took intensive Swedish courses for 4 summers in Uppsala and is quite flent. Right now she is in Edinburgh, Scotland finishing her master's degree in international marketing. She also worked for a year in Shanghai and has lived in Australia. So, like you, she loves living abroad. She really wants to move back to Sweden after she finishes her degree. However, we have heard so much about how hard it is to get a job and a residence permit. We are both constantly searching the internet to gather information and tips. How did you as an American get a work permit and a job? Any tips for Anna? We would appreciate any helpful information. Thanks. Christine

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  6. Hi Christine! Hope you see this comment.
    It is not easy to get a job as a foreigner in Sweden, but it is much easier if you know Swedish. If your daughter can communicate in the workplace in Swedish, that helps a lot. I had an edge on searching for my first job in Sweden since I had studied at Lund University here for my masters. Many employers come to Lund to recruit, and I got an interview at a career fair and went through more interviews and got the job offer. Might have been harder to get their attention just from sending my CV on my own.
    As a student with a study permit, it's a bit more streamlined to get a work permit but you still have to apply and pay a fee, and it takes a couple months or more to process. You can be in the country as an American for 3 months on a tourist visa, so she could come do that and search for a job during that time. She'd need to find an employer who is supportive of filling out the paperwork for her work visa as well. The job searching is best helped with connections in Sweden (that's how I got connected to my next job, and then interviewed to actually earn the job), and if she lived here for 3 years, she might have some good contacts. Then she should look through international recruiting companies in Stockholm, on LinkedIn, and on indeed.com. Jobs in marketing are pretty competitive here right now so I've heard, but she may have an edge with her international background and native English skills. She needs to market herself that way, I would say, whether or not she knows Swedish. And if she can speak Swedish in the workplace, emphasize that. Leave me your email if you want more info!

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  7. Hi Corinne,

    I have been wanting to move to Sweden for quite some time now. I live in Canada but have spent most of my summers traveling. Once I had visited Sweden, I instantly fell in love with the country and could see myself living there. I have a Bachelors of Commerce in Finance and about three years of experience in the field. I can get a visa no problem through their youth program between the two countries, however I do need a job. Do you have any other tips or insights?

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