I moved overseas for love. My boyfriend was born in the far northern reaches of Sweden, as far as nearly The Arctic Circle and frequent host to the Aurora Borealis. When I approached the idea of moving there, it felt like such an adventure-the adventure of a lifetime. I was moving to one of the world’s most progressive, innovative, and environmentally aware countries on the planet.
I’ve always embraced new endeavors with intense determination and childlike excitement. It’s just who I am. Moving to another country has tested the limits of these qualities and while I’m still standing, still determined, it has been no walk in the park. It tests who you are at the very core. I’ve read endless articles on life as an expat, have bonded for life with expats and natives alike, and found there is a common path one winds down in the process of integration.
There Truly is a Honeymoon Period
Every possible thing about your new country is perfect. It’s like a scene from Travel Channel and you’re the host.
You’re enthusiastic about learning the language, trying the foods, embracing the customs.
You Wonder Why They Can’t Just Do Things Like They Do Back Home??
As weeks turn into months and you try to settle in to your new life, frustration ensues. You have to take a number and get in line for everything, even at the doctor’s office. The only number you take at home is in line at the deli at Publix. You don’t understand why any decision in Sweden requires a group meeting of intense discussion and counter discussion even if it’s something as simple as what to eat.
Longing for Familiar Makes You Eat and Do the Strangest Things
You find yourself standing in line and paying the equivalent of $20 for a measly pancake breakfast at one of the only breakfast places in town. Said pancakes are delicious and worth every penny as they temporarily fill the void in longing for home. The ethnic section in the grocery store now applies to you. You consider buying that jar of marshmallow creme (that you haven’t eaten since you were seven) in the American section.
You Become an Ambassador for Your Country
You now (reluctantly) represent your country everywhere you go. You are known as “the American” and with it comes all the clichés and assumptions. You hope to leave a positive image of Americans and disprove the cliché that we are all loud, lazy, know it alls.
No One Else Cares That it’s Thanksgiving
That special, warm feeling you get when you wake up on Thanksgiving in anticipation of your mom’s delicious stuffing and the annual Macy’s Day Parade? You’re the only one that feels it. It’s just another Thursday in Sweden.
You Become a Smuggler
You start filling your suitcase with your favorite shampoo, skin care line, even canned pumpkin and turkey bags while home because it either costs twice as much in Sweden or you think you won’t find it there at all. Your closet starts to look like a mini super market.
You eventually Find the Replacements
Your first year you talk your mother into shipping two cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce bearing in mind that it has now cost her at least ten times the amount in shipping. Must have the cranberry sauce! Your second year you opt for lingonberry jam and are pleasantly surprised that it is actually as good if not better.
You Begin to Feel at Home
You start understanding and speaking the language more and more. You find your tribe of people and they become your parallel family. You begin to add Swedish traditions and customs into your own life.
You Wonder Why Can’t They Do Things That Way Back Home???
After about a year you start criticizing your own country. You find chaos when waiting in line and wonder why they don’t have a number system. You notice everyone is in a hurry, stressed and all you want to do is fika. You are the one who now initiates intense group discussions before making any decision.
You Smuggle the Other Way
You start bringing home coffee, bread, cookies, and other Swedish staples. Family and friends demand said items on every future return.
You Learn to Embrace the Best of Both Worlds
You grow with leaps and bounds, often unknowingly and reluctantly. You learn that people are the same wherever you go. You learn to embrace new traditions, foods, ways of thinking and add them to who you are. You crave cured salmon, sandwich cake, and long Sunday drives in the beautiful Swedish country side. Your expat friends anticipate your annual Thanksgiving dinners.
You still long for home every day in your heart
You go home to remember who you are, where you come from. You long for a taco salad at Taco Shack, Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, and Sunday night Walking Dead marathons with your sisters. While you love your adopted country and all that living there has taught you, you know deep down in your heart there’s no place like home.