On the election

I wanted to write a post around the upcoming Swedish election. One of the central topics of this election has been immigration. Despite there being many groups of people who this affects much more dramatically than me, I am going to focus on how changes in policy and rhetoric that have affected me personally.

In December of 2014, when I was 22, I applied for Swedish residency on a relationship visa. Ten months and ten days later I got the official decision that I was granted a residency permit. Three months later I moved to Sweden.

Shortly after changes to the law made were made that increased the restrictions for relationship visas. These changes were particularly hard for international couples living outside of Sweden. The Swedish partner would have to move back to Sweden, find an apartment and then find a job before even being able to apply for residency. With the current application processing time ranging from ten to fifteen months this has forced couples to put their lives on hold for years.  

The right wing populist party the Sweden Democrats (SD), has looked to Denmark for even harder policy inspiration. Copying Denmark, they would like to impose a law stopping relationship visas only to those who are under 24 years old. In Denmark this law is just one part of a larger package of laws that discourages people living in Denmark from marrying citizens from non-EU countries. Other parts include putting a deposit of 100,000 DKK (141,480 SEK, $15,000) in case your spouse goes on welfare and  an “attachment check” to see that your combined attachment to Denmark is higher than any other country, meaning if you lived together abroad you would be denied, because your “combined attachment” would be higher in the country where you met. If Sweden had a similar package of laws in 2014, there is no way I would have been able to move here.

But the Sweden Democrats’ policies don’t stop at restricting immigration to the country. Last year at SD’s party conference there was a proposal to strip citizenship of the unemployed Swedes who have more than one citizenship. This cruel proposal shows the deeply rooted view of the party that Swedes with dual citizenships should be punished differently than others. That being a Swedish citizen does not make you Swedish. This proposal wasn’t taken up by the party. Although SD and other parties have proposed stripping citizenship for other reasons. These proposals aren’t likely to become law as the Swedish constitution does not allow the removal of citizenship.

But in SD’s principle programme their ideal is a ban on dual citizenships. Paula Bieler, the migration spokesman for the SD explained the position saying “As a basic principle, we want that you have citizenship in a state where you have loyalty and your national identity. One’s homeland simply.” The implication that you cannot be “loyal” to more than one nation and national identity is restricted to a single nation. This is reflected by Björn Söder, party secretary of the Sweden Democrats, who famously said that Jewish and Sami Swedes belong to the Jewish and Sami nation but are not Swedes. He further explained that “most Jewish people who have become Swedes have left their Jewish identity”. Jimmie Åkesson, the party leader of the Sweden Democrats, has insisted that Swedes will also need to be assimilated into a new national identity, as the old one has been under assault from a “unhealthy alliance between Marxists and Liberals”. Their ideology makes a distinct separation between citizenship and nationality, with them deciding the criteria of what it is to be Swedish.  

In another interview Paula Bieler said “One in five, perhaps one in four voters will cast their ballot for us, today in Sweden, everyone knows someone, maybe loves someone, who supports the Sweden Democrats”. This is true. But it is also true that 31% of people living in Sweden, are immigrants themselves or have at least one parent born in another country than Sweden. For many of them, me included, national identity is more complicated than “one’s homeland simply”. Identity is intensely personal, complex, and can’t be driven from the top down. The idea of a “trade off” between national identities isn’t based in any reality. People can hold more than one identity, and in some cases these identities can even strengthen each other.

I have navigated Sweden through an international milieu. When I studied here made friends with other international students and Swedes were attracted to an international environment. I knew about ten other international couples who stayed together after the end of the school year.  I learned that the stereotype I had of a Sweden where all Swedes were blonde and had names like Per, Joakim and Maja wasn’t really really accurate. People had parents, grandparents from all over the world. I have experienced Sweden through this lens. Like in the US, my social grouping has insulated me from the bubbling undercurrent of populist nationalism around me.

The current political climate worries me. The policy proposals and rhetorical tone has hardened dramatically. It creates an uncertainty. Five days after I moved to Sweden the Conservative Party proposed removing health insurance from those on a temporary residency permit. Six months later when the Social Democratic-Green government tightened the requirements for sambo (cohabitant relationship) visas I didn’t know how that would affect my residency permit extension. When I moved to Sweden, Emelie and I had general plans for how we would build our lives for the next years that we developed around the current requirements and rules for immigration. If the changes in government policy were more drastic it could have forced us to change the path of our life. As an immigrant you are more exposed to changes in government policy. The weight of state power pushes much harder against you as an immigrant than as a citizen.

I am in a secure position now. I have permanent residency, and as the sambo to a Swedish citizen, I can apply for Swedish citizenship earlier than others. But if the race for harder policy proposals continues at this breakneck speed, I am not sure even having Swedish citizenship will allow me to feel completely secure from changes in government policy.  

Reflecting back on the developments of the last three year, I can’t help but feel like slipped through as the doors were closing. I look back at my own experiences throughout the process. I remember the pain of waiting for the decision, being thousands of miles away from Emelie, only chatting once a week. I remember the difficulty I had when I first moved here, trying to learn to live in Sweden as a non-student, trying to get myself registered in the bureaucracy, struggling with learning Swedish, not knowing if I’d be able to “make it” in Sweden, worrying about running out of money.  And today, still struggling with Swedish, being reminded of my perpetual low level foreignness, worrying if I will thrive here, what my future holds here. Moving to a new country is hard. It is hard even when you chose to move and have connections in the country.

I can’t vote in the upcoming election but maybe this post can add a new perspective to someone who can.

 

Home

Lately, I have been missing my friends and family in the states more and more. It has been nine months since I have been in California. I am not sure when I’ll be able to visit and nobody is very keen on visiting Sweden in winter. It’s hard seeing your family go on trips together or have family dinners together while you are on the other side of the world. And it is even more stressful not to even have a date when you know you’ll see them again.  

I’ve been wondering if this is homesickness or if I am just missing people I am close with. I don’t fantasize about how my life would be now in California. But I do get nostalgic for how my life was in California. I reminisce about hiking with my friends in the hills around my hometown, driving around on boring weekend nights, the taste of the coffee from my favorite cafe, going to warehouse shows with my brothers, having the time just to kill time with friends.  These are aspects of my concept of home. But those things don’t exist anymore.

I first moved to Uppsala in August of 2012 as an exchange student. All exchange and international students are in the same boat when they first come to Uppsala, they are looking for somewhere or something to do to feel like they are a part of the community, to find that safety net they can lean on. For me that was a student organization called Kalmar nation. Working at Kalmar gave me a place to be. A place to meet people, a place to challenge myself, a place where I could walk in and see someone I knew. A place where I fell in love.  I felt at home in Uppsala. I missed friends, I missed family, I missed food. I missed the individual aspects that make up home but I didn’t miss home. Because I had built a new home in Sweden.

In August of 2013, I moved back to California. It was a jarring experience. The reverse culture shock reduced me to a malleable ball of anxiety. The home that I built in Uppsala was stripped from me. I was back to where I grew up but I felt alienated from everyone and everything. I could only relate with other students at my home university who also lived abroad. I’d have vivid dreams where I would be back in Uppsala, walking around the old streets, gazing at the river. Only to wake up and realize I was still in the suburban sprawl of Rohnert Park. The first few months back I noticed things that I never noticed before. That grinding of my former perceptions of where I grew up and my new perceptions shook me to my core.  My singular goal was to do everything I could to get back to Uppsala.

After I finished university I did what most graduates in California do now, I moved in with my parents. During that year I worked and waited for my residency permit in Sweden to be approved. The reverse culture shock had disappeared by the time I moved back in with my parents, but living in the house you grew up in really makes you reflect on what home is. Seeing the town I grew up in changing, seeing my childhood pets grow old and pass away, friend groups slowly drifting apart as the bond that connected us fades in everyone’s memory, seeing good friends move away and pursue their dreams. I would often go by places that would trigger feelings of nostalgia. Driving by friend’s old house I would remember the time that we spent an afternoon swimming in his apartment’s pool and eating chinese food. That chinese restaurant doesn’t exist anymore. It has been replaced by new restaurants three times over. When this nostalgia was triggered while living at home it usually manifested itself in sadness. It made me realize the transient quality of my concept of home. This place I grew up wasn’t home for me anymore. The shell was still there, but most of the things that made it home were gone.  

When I moved back to Uppsala,  knew it wouldn’t be the same as the first time. I knew I wouldn’t have feel the same excitement as I did as an exchange student. I knew that I was facing an uphill battle trying to learn Swedish and find work. I knew the darkness and the weather couldn’t be laughed off as a fun and exciting adventure. But when I came back to Uppsala, I finally felt like I was home again.

 

Finishing SFI

Thoughts on learning Swedish

This week I tested out of SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) after a little over four months of class. SFI is just the first step in the long road to Swedish language proficiency. It gives you enough Swedish so you can have simple conversations, read newspapers, understand the basic concepts of grammar and the basics of writing. It is by no means an exhaustive education of Swedish. After SFI comes Svenska som andraspråk (Swedish as a second language or SAS). There are two parts of SAS, ground level and high school level. Essentially you go through the same material Swedish students go through when they are  10 to 19. Unlike SFI these course are much more structured. Whereas with SFI you could stay in the same course for years without ever being able to advance, SAS has clear starting and ending dates with clear expectations of what is due and what you need to do. From what I have read the courses are taught much more like a literature course than a language learning course. You read a book and write a book report and discuss the book. While grammar and language rules will be undoubtedly brought up, there isn’t the same level of focus on them during lectures.  

So far learning Swedish has been one of the most fulfilling learning experiences of my life.  When you learn a language it is much easier to see yourself advance than with other subjects. There are things that I can read now that I couldn’t understand two months ago. I notice myself understanding more and more of what people see around me.  When strangers have asked me questions on the street I can respond in more ways than “sorry what?”. I can have conversations, understand news stories, and write messages to people.

A good barometer for my language progression is how much I have improved communicating with Emelie’s family. She has two younger brothers who haven’t learned English yet so the majority of family conversations are in Swedish.  We meet up with them once or twice a month so probably about five times since I started SFI. The first time I couldn’t understand anything. I’d sit quietly for long stretches of time, not bothering to try and concentrate on what they were saying. Although I could try and follow along I sometimes felt bored and isolated. Contrast that to last weekend, when the family came up to Uppsala to fika. I was able to understand 50%+ of the conversation and have small conversations with everyone. I understood jokes and the silly things Emelie’s four year old brother said. I was talking to Emelie’s 10 year old brother who was surprised I had learned so fast. He asked me if I could speak Swedish now and I said “Yeah but not so good” he replied “I think you’re good at Swedish”. Score.

When I am listening to Swedish I have to focus intensely while at the same time feeling like everything is on a one second delay.  Anything with new information is more difficult to process. You have to first understand what they are saying while at the same time piecing together the meaning of those words strung together. If someone is talking and you don’t understand a single sentence it can be incredibly difficult or impossible to pick up what they are saying after that sentence.  You get lost. It is easy to give up on understanding and just wait for the conversation tides to shift to something you can actually understand until you get lost again.

This process has also made more comfortable with not understanding what’s happening and having awkward interactions with people. I have gotten plenty these experiences since I started volunteering at a cat shelter and a second hand store. When people give me instructions and I am never 100% sure if I understood correctly. I am always nervous with asking for clarification because I don’t want to show my lack of Swedish but also I have noticed that if I take to long to understand the person I am speaking with will inevitably switch to English. When I first started volunteering I had near panic attacks because of my lack of understanding, “I can’t understand which order to feed the cats, how am I going to ever work in this language”. It’s incredibly discouraging to realize you can’t understand even simple instructions or communicate simple tasks.

In my mind there are different spheres where I speak Swedish and where I don’t. When I volunteer I speak Swedish, when I got to class I speak Swedish, if I order a coffee I speak Swedish but when I am at home I speak English, when I hang out one on one with a friend I speak English, when I hang out with a groups of people and they speak Swedish I invetiably listen to the Swedish and then contribute comments in English. I want to keep expanding the places where I only speak Swedish. It hit me the other day that in my Swedish class I have known people for months without ever speaking English with them. I have no idea if they can speak English or how comfortable they are with English. Our communication is solely broken Swedish.

Since my class was four hours every day, the way that I have been learning Swedish outside of of the class largely involves consuming media. I watch Swedish movies or tv-shows, I listen to Swedish music, I listen to the news,  I read the newspaper, and I read books. The library in Uppsala has great resources for Swedish learners. There are a number of simple Swedish books, where they either write a novel in simple Swedish or take an existing novel and make it an easy read. It is a great way to boost vocab while reading something that isn’t meant for children.  When I read through these books the scenes of the books are fuzzy. I struggle to understand where things are, who is doing what, what is happening exactly. I might read one sentence and think that a  cat is outside the house only to look up the definition and realize that the cat is on top of the house. The image in my head shifts the cat is on top of the house now.  It’s glitchy. Meaning and understanding isn’t static.

The downside of these easy read books is that they lack subtlety or nuance. Which I also lack in Swedish. The characters motivations are obvious. There are no subtle insinuations of what the character is feeling. It is essential told to you: “then harry went upstairs and cried because she didn’t like him”. Phrases are repeated in different ways to ensure understanding. The upside is that a fully understand almost everything I read. The downside is that this writing style is so odd and unnatural that the characters come out as unlikeable flat cutouts of the original characters they are based on. That sort of lack of nuance or subtlety is also reflected in my Swedish ability.  With English I can chose my words with precision accuracy. I can phrase things in certain ways to convey or emphasize certain meanings. I can bend the sentences in words in different ways. In Swedish I can only sometimes  convey the most basic of meaning in the bluntest way possible. I feel accomplished at just making myself understood.

Again when trying to search out Swedish media the prevalence of the English language here really sticks out. Most songs on the radio are in English, most TV shows are in English, every bookstore and library has a huge English section. Just the other day I was searching for something to watch on TV to try and practice my Swedish with and almost every channel, including the public broadcast channel was showing English language TV-shows.  It is normal here but for me the idea of all media not being in your native language is foreign. I remember when I was little I used to think that bands performed their songs live in the language of the country they were in. Smash Mouth would perform “All Star” in German in Berlin and Japanese in Tokyo. I couldn’t fathom that people would listen to music without understanding the lyrics.

Future Plans

I feel like I have two ways to go about making a life here, I either focus on learning Swedish as my main priority while searching for work on the side, only applying to jobs I am really interested in or I try to find English speaking work and take whatever I can get even if it is just a low paying internship in order just to work. I am constantly weighing these two options. I know that since I want to stay in Sweden I need to learn Swedish. It’ll open up hundreds of doors here for obvious reasons. But on the other hand learning a language takes years and if for some reason I have to move back to America I’ll have nothing to show for those years except learning a language whose native speakers all speak fluent English.  It’s stressful.

This is difficult because I don’t think there is a “right” is a right way to this. I am used to following a rigid path when I have planned my life. I am going to go to university. I am going to get a job so I can save money and get experience before I move to Sweden. I am going to move to Sweden. Now I am here I don’t know exactly the best next step is. It is less prescribed than the life I would have lived in the US.  I can’t ask my brothers are my parents how they tackled the issues of moving to a new country or the best way to tackle to the Swedish job market.

I was forced to think about this question of focusing on a career or focusing on Swedish education I got a call back for a job interview.  I wasn’t terribly interested in the work but it made me think about what I wanted the next year to look like. Did I want to put my Swedish studies on the back burner and work an office job with something I wasn’t really passionate about? Or did I want to sacrifice financial security so I could continue focusing on Swedish? The weekend before my interview I went to a friend’s birthday party. She is American but studied Swedish and her partner and all of their friends primarily speak Swedish. When I was sitting there at the party trying to to understand the conversation I knew that my heart said I wanted to focus on learning Swedish. I didn’t want to keep living removed from the society I live in. I don’t want to be an expat who lives somewhere for ten years and can barely order a cup of coffee. I don’t want to force everyone to switch to English just because of my existence. I want to learn about the place that I live.  I want to engage in the society that I live in. I want to feel at home here. In the end I wasn’t forced to make an active choice. I didn’t get the job. I most likely would have taken it if I was offered the position. The financial stability would have been too appealing.  But I was conflicted.

My plan going forward is to continue with high intensity Swedish lessons. My goal is to be able to speak, write and understand Swedish at a university level by 2017. That is very ambitious. I don’t know if I’ll be able to that within the timeframe or every. I am nervous putting all of my eggs in the “learn Swedish” basket. I am worried if I am making the right choices. I see my friends advancing their careers or their educations. I feel jealous. I wish I had a comfortable job. I wish I was enrolled in Master’s program. I wish I knew I was making the right choices. But I know that isn’t what I want. I want to be here. I am happier now than I have been since the last time I was living in Uppsala. Despite the enormous stress of learning Swedish before my money runs out I feel calmer here I feel more satisfied. I feel happier here. I know that this is what I want.  

 

 

Svenska för invandrare

Emelie and I spent the first week of March visiting my childhood friend Jason who is studying at Trinity in Dublin. We had a great time on the trip. Ireland is a beautiful country. It felt great to be able to explore Dublin with someone who lives there, we never had to look up where the good restaurants, pubs or cafes were. We went on a nice little tour of Ireland, going from Dublin to the west coast and then down to Killarney. I viewed the trip as the end of my month and half vacation of lounging around Uppsala. I knew when I got back I would start my Swedish classes and get serious about learning the language and creating a home in Sweden.

During the tail end of the trip I began to get both more excited and more anxious about learning Swedish. Being in Ireland made me  remember what it was like to be in a place where you could read all the signs, where strangers would assume you spoke a language that you actually spoke, where you didn’t need to worry about accidentally buying some weird type of dairy at the store. In Sweden all of those things beat down on me, a constant reminder that I am from a different place and don’t speak the language of the place that I am living. My anxiety was only further intensified by the fact that I have seemed to have self-diagnosed myself as someone who is “bad at learning languages”. My reasoning is because it doesn’t come naturally to me that it is therefore an impossibility for me to ever get good at learning a new language. That I am somehow genetically predisposed to forever speak English. I think this feeling is only magnified by the fact that both Jason and Emelie are incredibly good with languages. Jason is fluent in three languages and is confident in two or three more. Emelie speaks English to such a degree that most people in Ireland assumed she was American. But the reality is that I have never really tried to learn another language. I never put in any serious effort into the process. The people who I have assumed are “naturally good at learning languages” are also people who have spent years studying those languages. One of the side effect being around two people who love languages is that I started to shift my mindset to thinking that learning a language is a fun and fulfilling experience is reinforced, rather than my go to mindset that it is a second language is a hugely insurmountable obstacle.

We got back from Ireland on a Monday, which was the same day I would have taken my placement exam for SFI (Svenska för invandrare/Swedish for Immigrants). I emailed them earlier about this and they happily arranged for me to take the placement test on the day after we got back.  I was excited for the placement test. Over the last few years I have constantly tried to learn Swedish without putting in too much effort. I did some Babbel, I have done some Duolingo, I constantly tried and hack my way through together Swedish news articles, I listened to Swedish music and watched Swedish TV and movies. So I have gleamed some knowledge of the language, particularly reading.  Things like word order and actually putting verbs in the right tense and in the right way were some of the finer details I chose to skim over. The placement test consisted of steadily more difficult questions. Initially when I saw the ten sentences of Swedish, with all the å, ä, ö, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The reality that this will be a long and difficult learning period before I ever feel comfortable with Swedish, really set it when I was staring at that page of Swedish.  But once I calmed down the test wasn’t that bad. It started with answering a series of both multiple choice questions and short answers about the aforementioned text. I think I did fine on that, I actually surprised myself by how much of the text I understood. Where it got difficult was the free writing section. I think the questions were something like “Describe what you usually do during the week?” and “Describe what you did last week?”. I wrote down a few sentences for each of these questions but I knew that I everything I wrote had no sense of order. “Last weekend girlfriend my and I travel to Ireland for week. We fly back from Dublin to Copenhagen to Stockholm. On flight I had angst. But it become good.”  After about thirty minutes I turned in my diagnostic test and just a few hours later I got my placement, 3C2, which meant I skipped the very beginners course.  My first class would be the next day.

My section has about a dozen student, although we share the building with two other classes both of which have slightly larger class sizes. The course that I got placed into assumes I know the basics things like  how to tell someone what time it is, how to count, the alphabet and how indefinite and definite articles work. The class is taught entirely in Swedish however the instructor will answer questions in English if needed.  I could tell that I was placed in the right class immediately. I understood probably 50% of what the teacher was saying and we were going over material that I have read about before but I didn’t fully understand.

My coursemates in that first class came from all over the word. Syria, Gambia, Mexico, Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan, UK, Poland, and a few from America. For many of them this isn’t the first time they have emigrated to another country. Most of them have education levels higher than me and tend to be older than me. There are doctors, computer engineers, lawyers, and scientists. Many of them have kids. Many of them are refugees. Everyone speaks English at a higher level than any of us speak Swedish.  Which makes class less awkward because I feel like I can actually get to know my classmates. However, since everyone can speak English it gets rid of the push factor of having to speak Swedish with one another. We always tend to default back to English.

The first section of the course is loosely structured using the theme of fritid (free time) to teach us the basics of Swedish.  Here we learn useful words like “vattengympa” (water gymnastics) and elljusspår (electrically lighted trails). Then we write and talk about different things relating to free time, what you usually do during the week, when do you have free time, what do you in your free time etc. The question of what I usually do during the week would make sense for people who have established a daily routine, a group of people who probably share very little overlap with newly arrived immigrants.  The question also is useful to make me question the banality of my daily routine. “On Mondays usually I go to the gym after I go to the gym then  I…..” Hmm how do I say “get riled up about comments on my hometowns online social forum” på svenska?  

Sometimes we talk about what we did “i ditt land”, I write and talk about how drinking fancy coffee in the Bay Area, eating at restaurants and hiking around the hills. It is a fairly normal exercise. But when someone from Syria talks about what they used to do and how life used to be and asks how to say “I hope it will be like that again someday”  or when we have to write a letter to Anna about things to do when she visits your country and the teacher specifies “just pretend it is before the war” the seemingly routine exercise gets dark.

These little snippets remind me that some of my classmates didn’t have much choice in moving to Sweden whereas I made a very deliberate decision to move here after years of planning. I had a conversation with one of my classmates from Syria where she asked me if I liked Sweden. I said I preferred living in Sweden than living in California. I said the Bay Area is crowded and hectic, that it is hard to establish yourself as a young person and that rent is too high. From that conversation she took away that “I didn’t think life was too good in the United States”. A few days later she mentioned that she told her husband that I thought that and he said “well then what does that make life in Syria?”, which made me realize that I was complaining that where I grew up is expensive and has bad traffic to a Syrian war refugee. Our reasons for leaving our countries could not be more different. 

After the first month we took a test on the “fritid” section. The test was easy. Mostly multiple choice questions to test reading and hearing comprehension and a short writing section. The writing section was about what we did in our free time, but it snuck in that it had be written in the past tense. I passed the test with flying colors and got moved up to the next course level. Now I am in a course with much more students and less individual time with the teacher. It is easier to lose attention and not really pay as much attention as I would like to. I feel like I am advancing slower than I did my first month but I guess that is to be expected.

I have enjoyed learning Swedish so far. I am glad I have the ability to spend time focusing solely on learning Swedish. I have class every weekday, four hours a day, so I have been able to get a ton of exposure to the language very quickly. But it has been a challenging process. Half the time I wake up I don’t feel like going to class. I know that I am going to go in make a ton of mistakes and not really fully understand what is happening. It is a daily beatdown of my perceived intellect. I feel stripped of my ability to communicate. I want to say things but I can’t. Even on good days, where I feel like I have understood everything, where I chatted away with my classmates, the moment I step outside I get transported back to a place where I understand less than 5% of what the people around me are saying. It is demoralizing. I have to keep reminding myself that I have only been really studying Swedish for slightly over a month and I have improved dramatically and that it is a slow process.

The high level of English fluency is a double edged sword: I don’t have to struggle to explain what I want on my sandwich, I don’t have to bring an interpreter with me to the tax office, I can make Swedish friends without studying the language for years it makes day to day life easier. But it makes learning Swedish harder because I don’t need Swedish to navigate my day to day life. There is no push factor to speak the language. I was having a conversation with my brother who recently traveled to Mexico to improve his Spanish. He was sharing experiences of going out with people trying to speak Spanish, talking to cab drivers or striking up random conversations with people on the street. I couldn’t relate to any of those experiences. And that isn’t just because I am a boring recluse. Swedes don’t do small talk with strangers. I remember after coming back to California after studying in Sweden for a year, more strangers talked to me in two days than the entirety of my time in Sweden. Secondly, when you meet the oddball that does they will speak in English with you. I can count the number of times I have interacted with strangers in Sweden who didn’t speak English on one hand. Usually these people are also immigrants, who speak Swedish but not English.

I have my second test coming up this week. It is hard to believe that I have been studying Swedish for close to two months. I know I have vastly improved and that everyday I get better, but the fact that I am still incredibly far away from being close to having a good grasp scares me. I like talking, I like writing, but I know I’ll never have the same ability to community in Swedish as I do in English. I am worried the feeling of my communication ability being handicapped in Swedish will never go away.  That’ll I’ll forever be someone who waiters switch to English to when they take my order. That’ll I do the opposite of what I am supposed to because I misunderstood instructions.

Despite these fears my drive to learn Swedish hasn’t waned. If anything it has increased.  It is still my primary focus right now. In just these two months I can already understand more than I ever could before and even though it can be incredibly demoralizing, the feeling when you read or hear something and understand it completely is incredibly satisfying.  

 

Språk

As I mention in an earlier post one of the next steps for establishing myself in Sweden was enrolling in Svenska för invandrare (Swedish for immigrants or SFI for short). SFI is a free program that the Swedish government offers in order to help immigrants learn Swedish and integrate into Swedish society.  I think SFI will be a good way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone and to meet and engage with other new recent immigrants. Also in a more practical sense, learning Swedish is an absolute must for most areas of the Swedish labor market. Despite most everyone speaking English to a near perfect level, Swedish is still the language for most businesses in a day to day setting, and although most Swedes speak excellent English most would still feel more comfortable expressing themselves in Swedish. I think it speaks somewhat to anglo-entitlement that so many people online have expressed dismay that it is difficult to find a job in Sweden without speaking Swedish.  On top of difficulties in the labor sector most social activities, non-master level courses, signage, forms, applications, and media about Sweden are naturally in Swedish.

Navigating the world becomes an ordeal when you can’t read signage, labels or accurately pronounce place names. More than once I have bought slightly different types of groceries than the ones I wanted. I’ve had to ask store clerks simple questions I know this sign says something about cash but does it mean cash only or no cash?  There is a construction to a walking path on my way to the gym, there are signs there but I don’t know if they say no vehicles or no people. I just walk on through knowing my lack of Swedish somewhat excuses me from any faux pas I might make navigating the world. It helps that there are a ton of words that are cognates in Swedish.  I am sure that you might have noticed Svenska för invandrare and Swedish for immigrants look quite similar.  So even with a basic knowledge of Swedish you can sort of hack together what signs mean based on context.  

When I am socializing with a majority of Swedish speakers there is a tendency to slip in and out of Swedish and English. It is actually fascinating the degree of fluidity in which Swedes can go from speaking in English to speaking in Swedish. When people slip into Swedish it is usually at a part of the conversation where I have no involvement. But once it slips into Swedish there is a tendency for it to stay there, cutting me out of a conversation that might develop into something that I might have been interested in. I usually take the time when the Swedes are Swedin’ out to try and pick out words that I recognize, to try to stitch together the topic of the conversation. Usually I can figure out the topic. Oh they are talking about skirts. But what they are saying about skirts, their opinions on skirts, what the skirt has to do with the story is completely lost on me. Honestly it is sort of liberating to not have to pretend to have any interest in the conversation at hand. I can completely zone out knowing that nobody will ask me anything about the conversation. Often times people will speak for Swedish for awhile then offer to speak in English. Then I have to chose between forcing people to speak English or not understanding anything. I usually say “nah it is fine whatever” but then I’ll eventually ask Emelie or someone else to explain to me what everyone is talking about often times the explanation is sprinkled with cultural references I wouldn’t get even if they were speaking in English. They are talking about this silly celebrity cook from Skåne. These cultural reference points are something I will have to learn in addition to learning the Swedish language. It helps that in our globalized world I share a ton of cultural references with Swedes. Most Swedish people I have met consume a large amount of English language media. So while I might not remember Melodifestivalen 2009, I can still bond with people about listening to Linkin Park as pre-teens.

My skill level in Swedish is quite low. I can read simple subtitles and simple texts and understand maybe 50% of what is happening. Subtitles seem to be the easiest, as they tend to be written in the most simplistic way possible. When it comes to understanding verbal Swedish or speaking or writing I really have no ability.  I tried Babbel and Duolingo over the last few years and had bursts of periods where I was committed to learning Swedish. But learning a language takes dedication and time and focus, I couldn’t really give Swedish the attention it required when I would come home so so tired that all I could really focus on was watching TV and falling asleep. But now I have nothing but time and motivation to learn Swedish.  I can already tell I am learning more Swedish words, just by virtue of being in Sweden. I am surrounded by the language. I am constantly asking what words mean, although more often than not I hear the definition then immediately forget it.

I was able to sign up for SFI starting in March. Signing up was a really simple process I went to the adult education office. The building is right in central Uppsala, next to the tax office, the social welfare office and the employment office. Which is incredibly convenient for making bureaucratic day trips and probably for when the bureaucrats want to have cross office coffee breaks.  I arrived at the office right at nine in the morning right when they opened. I was able to immediately talk to a kind older Swedish bureaucrat who explained to me about the process of studying through SFI. Within SFI there are different routes to take, I got placed in the most advanced route, not because I know Swedish but because I have spent the majority of my life in classrooms.  To figure out my educational attainment he asked me how many years I was in school to which I said “I don’t know like twenty? Does preschool count?”. We settled on seventeen. K-12 plus college. At twenty three have spent a grand total of six years outside of the classroom, when put this way I feel incredibly fortunate to be born into an era and a place where I was able to spend almost two decades learning. The idea of breaking up the course routes by educational level is that people who are more familiar with the actual act of studying and classroom setting in general have different needs than those who have limited education. My needs as a college educated American is different than say a refugee from rural Afghanistan who has had limited if any access to education.

After Hans (I don’t think that is his name but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was) asked a few more questions about my background, I got to choose my SFI school. There are like eight in Uppsala, they are all run independently with some guidelines. In theory they are all supposed to be more or less equal but that isn’t always the case. Hans then told me it wasn’t his job to recommend a school so he went on to describe the different schools in the most basic terms. Mostly telling me the school’s stats regarding size and the educational level. I chose one based simply on the fact that I thought that I heard the name mentioned by a friend of mine. I have since googled it and now I have ads for the school following me around the internet, which makes me slightly worried. Any organization that dumps a ton of money into marketing makes me worried of their actual quality, especially when they are educational organizations. They also have variations in the frequency of courses and the time of courses. I opted for the most intensive program, three hours a week five days a week.

I start the week of March 7th. I am excited for this new chapter of establishing myself here. I am excited to have a set routine, where I actually have to be somewhere and do something as opposed to now where going to the gym is the height of my daily routine. Starting in March I will have somewhere to be and something to do during the day. I won’t have any distractions, my focus will be all on learning Swedish. It’ll be challenging. I haven’t been in a classroom for over a year and half, let alone a classroom where I am trying to learn a language, a skill that I have always struggled with. I am looking forward to the challenge.

Weather update: snow has come back and remained for the last few weeks, although it is starting to melt again. I much prefer the temperature to be around -2ºC (28ºF) rather than shifting between freezing and not freezing. The slushy melted snow and cold rain is much less pleasant than actual snow. A week from today Emelie and I are heading off to Ireland to visit our friend who is studying at Trinity in Dublin. We will spend a few nights in Dublin then head off the the west coast and then down to Killarney for a few nights. I think it’ll be nice to get away for a bit before starting SFI the week I get back.

 

 

Äventyr

One common refrain I heard after I told people I was moving to Sweden was something along the lines of “Oh what an exciting adventure!”. After hearing this a couple of times my brother Tom snarkily said something to the effect of “No it isn’t, Joe is just going to sit around the apartment playing Civilization all day while Emelie works”.  Although I have been slightly more productive than crushing the Mayan Empire in a six year old turn based strategy game, my day to to day life isn’t exactly much more exciting than Tom’s vision of my life in Sweden.  It isn’t like when my Dad biked across the country, or when my brother Patrick toured South America, or when Tom gallivanted around the world for a few years, or when my Mom went to India with her teacher colleagues. I am not going out meeting new people and exploring new places. What I am doing could easily be seen as the opposite of adventure, I am moving in with my long term girlfriend to a city I have lived in before. My nights aren’t filled with late night train rides, going to new destinations and meeting new people, they usually consist of Emelie and I trying to figure out what to eat while watching reruns of British crime shows.

My day to day routine usually amounts to me sitting around mainlining coffee while trying to figure out what I should do next to get settle. I wanted to hit the ground running so the Monday after I arrived in Sweden, I went to the Migration Board (Migrationsverket) to get my photo taken for my Swedish residency card. I also wanted to make sure that the card was corrected from “Jospeh”, as it was spelled last time I was in Sweden to Joseph. I really didn’t want to get Ellis Islanded.  After hearing ad nauseam about how Europe is in the worst migration crises since the second world war and that Sweden was at the forefront, I was worried that the Migration Board would ignore my 9:05AM photo appointment time and that we would be stuck in a tense waiting room for hours. In actuality we were out by 9:20AM, which was considerably quicker than in 2013 when it wasn’t possible to get appointments to take photos, instead there was a mad dash for the queuing machine (the machine spits out number to determine your place in line), which lead to some raised tempers. The 2016 Migration Board seemed much more streamlined.

The Migration Board said it would take a week or two for my residency permit card to come. Without the residency permit card I couldn’t really get any of the bureaucratic chores done. All I had to prove that I was legally allowed to live  in Sweden was a printed out note saying that my application had been accepted. So I waited. All my life I have been hearing that  “patience is a virtue”, but like most advice I have been given I ignore it, then I come to the same conclusion as what I have been told then I repeat the same advice to other people like I am some sort of wizened sage. So yes, patience is a virtue and it is something that is an absolute must if you are living in another country. This doesn’t just apply to navigating the halls of the bureaucratic state. It applies to the most mundane of things.  For instance, I had to print some papers as part of an application to Uppsala University’s Political Science program.  Every step was something new. First I had to figure out how to print it, then I had to navigate the Swedish printing instructions to try and make sure it printed double sided, then I had to go to Office Depot, yes there is Office Depot in Sweden, to try and get packaging for it. All of the packaging and folders here are slightly different which is infuriating. I know damn well how to package a packet of papers for delivery back in the states but here I felt like a child again. Once I bought the proper packing I went to drop off the application. I thought that the reception area to drop off my application opened at ten because I saw a sign that said something in Swedish followed by hours. Turns out I was looking at the wrong sign so I had to walk around downtown Uppsala looking for shelter from the rain snow slush horizontally smashing my face.. I went and grabbed a coffee at a cafe to wait for 40 minutes.

After about a week of waiting I received my residency card and I had to tackle another bureaucratic hurdle, getting my person number. The Swedish person number (p-number) is very similar to the American social security number. It is the number that you put down as your identification when you apply for employment or when paying taxes. It also acts as your healthcare number and to show that you are eligible for tuition free university admission.  To apply for my person number I had to go to the Swedish tax office (Skatteverket), which to some presidential candidates it might be their idea of the seventh circle of hell. Like Migrationsverket, Skatteverket is a clean and modern with forms lining the walls and helpful Swedes with tablets ready to greet you and steer to funnel you down the right tube of the bureaucratic meat grinder. The paperwork was simple. About four sheets of basic information. All the forms were available in English. I waited for about thirty minutes until my number came up in the queue, we did a quick look over of the forms, they told me I’d get my p-number in the mail in two to eight weeks. Score! More time for me to have an excuse to lag on my job hunting and Swedish learning!

To our surprise we got the p-number not in two weeks but in two days. I think it helps that I still had my temporary tax number from when I studied in 2012, they can simply merge the old records with the new. My excuse for a longer procrastination vacation was no longer valid. So now I have a few more bureaucratic things I need to take care of, like getting my ID from the tax office, getting a bank account set up and signing up for Swedish for Immigrants (SFI). I am particularly excited and nervous for SFI. It’ll be great to improve my very limited Swedish but it will definitely add some stress to my life, which in all honesty isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The last few weeks have been incredibly pleasant and relaxing but I think getting some things on the calendar and ramping up the stress and use my time more efficiently. Right now I am purely self motivated. I have projects I am working on.  I write things for this blog, I write for the blog my friend and I started about political science, I am taking a course on Coursea, I got to the gym and I work on chiseling away the bureaucracy of getting settled. Which is great but I have always found I am the most efficient with my time when my time is scarce. I also think the structure of having a course will help me feel more connected with my goal of making Sweden my home. Right now I am drifting on the surface of Swedish society. I take the Swedish buses, shop at Swedish stores, eat Swedish pastries, drink ungodly amounts of coffee like a Swede and I am completely surrounded by Swedes but the language barrier will always make me feel like I am disconnected with the society I am living in. Not being involved in any outside activities contributes even more to this feeling. I spend most of my time alone, with my girlfriend or catching up with old friends. I haven’t been able to meet new friends or engage with people outside of my comfort zone. I am hoping that SFI will force me to do just that.

In weather news, all of the idyllic snow melted and now everything is wet and mushy, at night it still gets below freezing making it nice and icy still. The sun is rising at 8 AM now and setting at 4 PM, each day adds about 5 minutes. By the end of February the sun should set around 5PM and rise at 7AM, daylight I consider “normal”. Some pics below.

 

Apparently this market is 614 years old and is held every February. I don't think they sold iPhone cases with scantily clad women on them then. Or multiple vendors selling varieties of plastic bags for some reason. Donuts were amazing though.

Apparently this market is 614 years old and is held every February. I don’t think they sold iPhone cases with scantily clad women on them then. Or multiple vendors selling varieties of plastic bags for some reason. Donuts were amazing though.

The view from Emelie's old apartment.

The view from Emelie’s old apartment.

"American Sauce"

“American Sauce”

 

In case I get homesick.

In case I get homesick.

The Swedish forest, before the snow melted.

The Swedish forest, before the snow melted.

Making Sushi!

Making Sushi!

Sweden is a bit less idyllic with the snow melted.

Sweden is a bit less idyllic with the snow melted.

 

Bostad

 

Uppsala is a city that is split down its river, with the students mostly on the west side of town and the civilized people on the east.  Apparently this division has existed since Uppsala existed, with the clergy and university on one side and the merchants on the other. When I was studying abroad I lived in the west in Flogsta, a neighborhood centered around fifteen seven story concrete apartment blocks. Flogsta was constructed as a part of the Miljonprogrammet (The Million Programme) a public housing program put forth by the Social Democrats between 1965 and 1974 to try and relieve an acute housing crisis. The project included about one hundred thousands housing units for students in order to provide affordable housing for those studying, which included Flogsta. If for some reason you have an interest in the public housing program in Sweden I’d recommend The Swedish Suburb as Myth and Reality. If you want to nerd out about various public housing programs like I like to do,  I’d also recommend The Pruitt Igoe Myth about public housing in St. Louis and this documentary about Divis Flats in Belfast, a housing project in Northern Ireland that became a hotbed of IRA activity during the Troubles.

Flogsta is a lot like an American style dorm, with a ton of young students living in close corridors, but unlike American dorms there are no RAs and the university itself doesn’t run or manage them. In addition to native Swedish students there is a high number of international students in their master’s programs or studying abroad. The result is about what you’d expect if you get thousands of students together, many of them studying abroad, living on their own in close quarters. Also since there is roof access be sure to watch out for falling alcohol  bottles, TVs, or couches when walking around at night.

Flogsta was a great place to live when I was studying abroad, I had a number of close friends in walking distance. The novelty of living in giant cement towers inside a student ghetto in Sweden was appealing. But now that I am an adultish living in Flogsta sounds miserable. Been there done that. I have no interest in going to cramped corridor parties with drunk international students. I go to bed at ten and get up at seven now, a far cry from international student Joe, who in 2013 who made one of his new year’s resolutions “try to get up before 11”. But even if we wanted to move to Flogsta I don’t think we would be able to. Right now, like the early 1960s, Sweden is currently in an an acute housing crisis.  There has been a sharp increase in the number of tenant owned housing units while rental units have remained stagnant, this coupled with a lack of new buildings in general has only increased the crisis for renters. If you want to go more in depth the Riksbank has a great report in English.

In Sweden when you purchase an apartment you are actually purchasing bostadsrätt which means the right to live in the apartment. You are essentially buying a share in the building like you would buy membership a co-op. As a result even if you have bostadsrätt you still have to pay homeowner association fees for the upkeep of the building and you are required to go through the home owner association if you want to sublet your apartment. You are typically allowed to sublet your apartment for about a year depending on the housing association.

We were lucky with finding our second hand contract. Emelie’s boss was planning to move in with her boyfriend but didn’t want to give up her apartment quite yet and she offered to rent out the apartment to us, we happily accepted, partly because the apartment is quite nice and partly because we didn’t have any other options. The rental market here is insane. Not quite Bay Area insane but close.

The actual apartment is quite nice. It is fairly modern. The layout is quite standard in Sweden, there is one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room, a balcony, and a kitchen. It is more than enough room for the both of us. Since I don’t yet have a desk I spend most of my time working on my laptop in the kitchen, looking out at the view of the snowy courtyard.

The apartment is in the Gränby neighborhood of Uppsala. The location is similarly far from the centrum (downtown) as my old Flogsta dorm, but in the east. Since most of the student activities are centered on the west side of town, I really haven’t explored the east. Walking around I keep seeing new things, I feel like I am in a different city. I prefer it this way, I always wanted to make sure that I wasn’t expecting moving back to Sweden to be anything like my exchange year, not because I didn’t love my exchange year but I didn’t want to go chasing the past. Being in separate geography really helps in feeling like this is a totally new phase of my life, separate from the year I studied here.

From our apartment to the centrum it is one and half miles or about a twenty five minute walk. There are winding walking/bike paths that cut through the city, making it possible to walk or to bike anywhere within the city. One thing I have always loved about Uppsala was the ease of getting around without a car. I love driving but I don’t like not being able to get to places without driving. I think it is pretty incredible that it was farther to get to a single commercial establishment from my house in Moraga than it is for me now to get to the center of the city. Within a ten minute walk of our apartment in Gränby there are three grocery stores. There is also a mall within in ten minutes of our house. I detest malls, I usually end up thinking about how mass consumption is going to kill the earth if I spend more than an hour in one, but I’ll admit it is  convenient to have one so close to home. 

Overall I am satisfied with where we live. There is enough space for Emelie and I to both have our own areas, we are a quick walk to town and the neighborhood is really pleasant. I am relieved we were able to find a place, although the temporariness of the lease does cause some stress, but we will deal with that when it is time to deal with that.

 

The höghus of Flogsta reaching towards the sky, trying to kiss angels.

The höghus of Flogsta reaching towards the sky, trying to kiss angels. Taken in August of 2012.

The main drag of Flogsta. I took this picture in August of 2012, just after moving to Uppsala.

The main drag of Flogsta. I took this picture in August of 2012, just after moving to Uppsala.

 

Comparing the two places I have lived in Uppsala. Flogsta to the West and Gränby to the East.

Comparing the two places I have lived in Uppsala. Flogsta to the West and Gränby to the East.

 

P1000389

Leaving our apartment.

Our apartment complex's communal courtyard. Not too popular during this season...

Our apartments communal courtyard. Not too popular during this season…

Entering the walking/bike path. About a hundred feet from our doorstep.

Entering the walking/bike path. About a hundred feet from our doorstep.

The road to the mall!

The road to the mall!

Still heading towards the mall.

Still heading towards the mall.

The mall!

The mall!

"High" noon.

“High” noon.

Shrived berry things.

Shriveled berry things.

P1000424 P1000425 P1000427

Sunny playground.

Sunny playground.

Not that I support it but one thing I missed about Uppsala was the prevalence of political graffiti. There seems to be a constant battle between the left and the right, to try and take wall space for their message. This message translates to "The fleeing have no choice. No human beings are illegal".

One thing I missed about Uppsala was the prevalence of political graffiti. There seems to be a constant battle between the left and the right. This message translates to “The fleeing have no choice. No human beings are illegal”.

"Refugees Welcome" and "No Humans are Illegal" are both very common phrases used by those supporting refugees.

“Refugees Welcome” and “No Humans are Illegal” are both very common phrases used by those supporting refugees.

The road back home, with the Cathedral poking up in the horizion.

The road back home, with the cathedral poking up in the horizon.

 

Background

I wanted to start off the blog with some background about what I have been doing ever since I left Uppsala in 2013 after studying there for a year.  This doesn’t cover anything about me actually living in Sweden, which I have for almost a week now. It is more just background and it is a good way for me to sort of digest the last few years. I will tell you that I am still jet lagged, the sun sets at 330PM, and it is cold but not to unbearable levels as I feared.

2013 to 2015 is a quick summary about what I have been doing the last two years, the road I took while I was preparing for my move to Sweden.  Bridging the Gap briefly discusses our experience with the Sambo visa, the mechanism which we used to get me over to Sweden. It is quite brief, if you stumbled on here looking for more details about the process I’d recommend the blog Heja Herrljunga, as she writes extensively about the process and writes very frequent updates where she digs into the statistics that the migration board releases. She is still waiting for her decision.  Preparation and Departure outlines my thoughts and feelings after I had received the decision and was preparing to leave.

2013 to 2015

Emelie and I met when I was studying abroad in Uppsala during the 2012 to 2013 school year. We both were members of the same nation, a sort of Swedish student social club, where we both were volunteer workers in the pub. We met in January and by February we were dating.  In August of 2013 I moved back to California. Ever since August of 2013 we have been in a long distance relationship (LDR).

Moving back to California, I knew it would be a year minimum before we would ever close the distance, although I knew in reality it would take much longer. I had to graduate college and then save enough money to support myself in a country where I don’t speak the language and one that has a very tight job market, especially for non-natives.  The first year back was rough. I had a ton of reverse culture shock that shocked me. It was way worse than any culture shock I ever got during my year abroad. Coming back to a place where you grew up in and seeing it with a completely different set of eyes is incredibly jarring and distressing. Add that on top of trying to reestablish myself at school while dealing with the issues of a newly started long distance relationship and you get an incredibly hectic year. Luckily all of the courses I took abroad transferred without issue and I was able to graduate on time in May 2014 .

After graduated college I was faced with the question that most social science majors face when they graduate… so what do I do now? I knew I loved studying political science, I knew I didn’t actually like politicking of politics, I knew I wanted a job that would challenge me, I knew I probably wouldn’t get a job without an internship first, I knew if I got an internship I’d want it to be paid. I was lucky, I was able to find a paid internship at a local public opinion research firm in Oakland that fit all of those criteria. I was able to split my time working as an intern at the firm and as essentially a cold caller to solicit reviews from local business patrons for another company.

After a number of months working both as a cold caller and an intern I was offered a full time position at the firm I was interning at. I happily accepted. I was excited to learn the ins and outs of survey methodology and opinion research. Starting a new job as a full time employee was incredibly stressful. I had never had a job where I had so much personal responsibility, it is something that I learned to enjoy, but initially it is incredibly stressful. If you fuck something up, or don’t do something that isn’t explicitly told to you but something you should know, you end up feeling like you are doing a bad job. And when you are starting a job you don’t know what you should be doing as much, you have to just do it and figure out the process on the go. On top of that the industry is incredibly fast paced, quick turnaround makes you competitive. So while learning this whole new set of skills with new responsibilities you also have to be sure to do it fast. Despite my cool calm and collected exterior inside I am usually a slowly boiling gooey ball of neurosis and this job really pressed all of my stressors. However challenging and anxiety proving the position was it really helped me gain personal confidence that I could face challenging and stressful situations, while teaching me valuable skills in a subject and industry I am passionate about. On top of that I met a number of amazing people at my firm. We were a very close and supportive group, and it was glad that I had the pleasure of working with them.

Bridging the Gap

Including all of the time Emelie and I have spent together on vacations, we have been lucky to have multiple month long periods where one of us visits, about 75% relationship we have been apart from each other.  When we are apart we have about a nine hour time difference.  It has been incredibly difficult. We have made it work with the myriad of ways we can communicate, messaging on WhatsApp, skyping, snapchatting but that doesn’t replace the feeling of actually being close to your partner. Holding hands, looking each other in the eyes, kissing most of the normal things couples do are impossible in a long distance relationship.  It really sucks a ton of emotional support that partners usually provide.

In order for us to bridge the distance gap I applied for a samboförhållande uppehållstillstånd or as it is more commonly called, a sambo visa. Samboförhållande translates to cohabitation, essentially the visa is granted on the basis that Emelie and I are intending to cohabitate, a word that makes me think of racoons living in their burrow for some reason.  The application process really isn’t difficult especially if you compare it to most other countries draconian immigration processes. Although it isn’t difficult, it takes an incredibly long amount of time. The application consists of a form where they ask you a series of repetitive questions about the nature of your relationship, both parties have to fill out the form. I had to provide some documents showing that I wasn’t married and some photos of us together. Then we waited five months before I got told to schedule an interview at the embassy. The interview was incredibly relaxed. Essentially we went over the application verbally. The interviewer kept saying how our case was so straight forward and gave me advice about what to do when I was accepted.  Then we waited half a year.  

While we were waiting the 2015 European refugee crisis started to explode. Sweden, with its humanitarian history, has the highest level of refugees per capita of any European country. The sharp increase in refugees created capacity issues within the migration board and waiting times for sambo visas started to creep upwards.  I started to worry how much longer it would take for my visa to be processed, how the changing politics in Sweden would affect my application and future life. Although socially anti-immigration attitudes don’t really affect me, when anti-immigration politicians or pundits talk about stemming immigration they don’t paint a picture of a white, blue eyed, college educated American. However any laws passed to change how non-EU residence on a temporary residency permit are dealt with will directly affect me. Despite the longer wait times I always tried to keep it in perspective, that waiting for a decision while living near my family in the town that I grew up, working a job that I enjoyed was infinitely better than the refugees living in old converted schools or whatever accommodations the migration board provides as they suffer through similarly long waiting times but with nothing to return to.

Finally on a Friday morning we got an email saying that our case had been “settled”. Since migrationsverket just loves to keep you waiting they don’t just send the decision over email but rather you have to call the embassy to ask the status of the application. Since it was a Friday the visa decision line was closed, I would have to wait until Monday. I wasn’t very nervous. I knew if something was wrong with my application they would have asked Emelie or I to clarify points, or to provide more materials. Not to mention the attitude of the interviewer at the embassy who acted like it was a shoo-in. Sure enough when I called the embassy they casually told me that I had been accepted. Later that week I bought my one way ticket to Stockholm.

Preparation and Departure

I bought my one way ticket for a date about two months out. I didn’t want to just buy my ticket for the next week, say see you later suckers to my friends and family and expatriate. I wanted some time to prepare, say goodbye, relax, contemplate/navel gaze, and save more money. The preparation period was quite enjoyable. I replenished my wardrobe that mostly consisted of t-shirts from my sophomore year of college, I was able to spend quality time with family and friends, and I was able to put down just shy of a year of work experience on my resume. It was a relaxing period. The stress of waiting for a decision had been lifted. I knew that life would get more stressful after I moved to Sweden. That perhaps going from a long distance relationship to the complete opposite would add a level of turbulence to my relationship with Emelie, that I would get homesick, that I would struggle with the language, that I would find it hard to meet new friends, that I would actually have to put myself in situations which made me nervous. It was sort of like two months of that good feeling you get sometimes before you go to bed, where you plan all the ways you will improve your life and you feel good about yourself for thinking those thoughts but since it is night you don’t actually have to worry about putting in the hard work to do those things. I’ll do it when I wake up, I’ll do it when I get to Sweden.

Finally the day came. My flight left Oakland airport at 7PM on January 15th, direct to Stockholm. My brother dropped me off, I checked my overweight bags containing everything I owned and I was off. I took my aisle seat next to a young stylish Swedish couple and their newborn. To my relief the baby didn’t scream at all during the entire ten hour flight. I settled in and watched San Francisco get destroyed in San Andreas symbolizing my departure from the golden state.