an immigrant’s embarrassing thought

When the day is starting to grow in the far north where i live, things look up immediately. Things that appeared dark, industrial and depressing now are not so bad. At the end of the day Scandinavian living spares you of all the little( and not so little) annoying things that invade your life and disrupt your peace back home. The lack of bugs and insects, general anarchy and loud annoying people in your face all the time: there is a lot to be thankful for when living in a perfectly organised, peaceful community.

At the same time there are things you desperately miss like urban vibe and some healthy chaos, spontaneity, variety, thrill, excitement.

Today while I was on the bus on my way home I had this strange thought that I would like to share with you: This is a great place for someone else. I can imagine that person sitting in my seat by the window,basking in the dim winter light of the growing day, perfectly content to have enjoyed a quiet day,undisturbed thoughts and feelings of security. She looks exactly like me, only she is taller and has a straighter, nicer nose.

For a moment I want to be that content person, more beautiful and less educated. In fact I have the sinful thought that I could swap my two largely useless in Sweden Master degrees for something more superficial. The first Masters in Culture I would swap for a perfectly shaped nose. The second one-the hot one-in International Relations I would swap for more centimeters of height, let’s say 10 centimeters taller.

So I would be left with my Bachelor degree in Communications, a straight nose and a hot bod. Not bad at all. I would be a happy immigrant.

I would be content to show off my skills on a daily basis.

(You might think: “What the hell are you thinking about on the freaking bus?”

…I hear you)

Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know

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I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

Expat communities: How it can get awkward

Last weekend I was invited by my friend Maria to an event of a well known international expat community, whose goal is to bring expats from around the world together. Before moving to Stockholm I would probably not consider joining an expat community. Nothing wrong with joining, you actually meet people in your shoes. In fact I met one of my best friends in Stockholm at an expat event. But in other places where I have lived, like London for example, I never had to join such community to meet expats. For one thing in a place like London it is hard to meet locals, not expats. People come and go all the time. There was always something to do and someone to hang out with, even if most times you never became friends with people. (Very often, the closest you would get was to become Facebook friends).

But Stockholm is another story. Much smaller and homogeneous, Stockholm can be challenging and you have to work on building a social network. Random or spontaneous hanging out is not common. In fact you need to plan your social life days ahead and preferably coordinate it with Systembolagets opening hours.  In this sense membership in expat communities in Stockholm makes more sense.

However in last week’s event something was off. It could be that there was the general blah feeling of a fabricated social event. The day and hour to start: Sunday afternoon. Sunday is the day God intended for rest. Giving the introduction speech of who you are and how you ended up in Stockholm times the people you interact is the equivalent of unpaid WORK. I am Greek, yawn. I am here with my husband double yawn. Then comes some comment about the Swedes, how expensive Sweden is, and how do we like it here, yawn, yawn, yawn. Why don’t we just skip introductions and talk about MH370 disappearance scenarios. Or about what we ate for lunch.

The nature of the event also (fika, which means short break for coffee, quick drink), which had everyone sitting in one spot and ultimately you ended up spending two hours talking to whoever was sitting next to you. Of course there were some people who attempted to mingle by changing seats but then again who mingles while sitting at a table.  What thirty- something will actually leave their seat with the naïve conviction that there is something more to be gained than if, for example, they changed seats in the metro or the bus?

Because after ninety-five minutes, (exactly the time when in silent coordination people who were not there to mate decided to leave asap), the impression was just that: you simply had a long anonymous chat with a stranger on the bus and once you reached your stop you simply got off. Only that in our case the stranger  can track you down from your online profile at the community’s site.

Why do I find that slightly weird? Some people had left their partners at home to spend their Sunday afternoon chatting with people they will probably never see again, sitting among strangers at what looks like a wedding party social arrangement .  In other events other people who took a “Me” evening away from their partner.  Scary as it may sound, they had no ulterior motives. They were not there to meet friends, hookups or professional contacts. They were simply there to have a drink and a friendly chat and disappear as soon as the clock strikes 12.

Or perhaps they were there for the same reason I was:  they thought they needed a break.

“The guy sitting next to you was very hot” my friend Maria told me on our way out. “Then why did you spend the last two hours talking to the bald one with the glasses? “

I didn’t mind really” she said.

That’s what I am talking about.