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.