Friday, July 30, 2010

Three Swedish Years and Lessons Learned

I struggled to write this post. Usually when I can’t think of anything to write, I just don’t. It’s easier that way. But I feel like this one needed to be written. It should be reflective and thoughtful. Maybe it should bring a tear to your eye. Or to mine. But mostly it was hastily written and became more of a stream of consciousness post. Which is funny, because I hate that style of writing, once mocking it in an essay in high school after having read As I Lay Dying. But so it goes.

I’m back in the US now. And I’m scared shitless. There isn’t a part of me that isn’t scared. I’m horribly nervous. All of me. And those two feelings are pretty overpowering right about now.

I was in Sweden for over three years. My first year was pretty miserable mixed with a whole lot of good. But hardly a day went by that I didn’t want to leave. Couldn’t figure out why I was there. Couldn’t figure out why I was putting so many relationships into that situation. Then it got worse. For a lot of reasons. Many of them my own doing. Many of them still my own doing.

I ran home to my mamma and pappa. That’s what they are there for I think. And I moped around Greeley for six weeks. Miserably moped. And they put up with me because somewhere in my birth certificate it says that they have to. And when it came time to leave, I damn near lost it when my ticket said I had to fly back to an empty apartment in a crappy part of the Stockholm suburbs with no job and few friends. It wouldn’t have been the first time I lost it in that first year. Life was not good. In my own privileged world. Which is unfortunate, because despite bitching and moaning quite a bit, despite being a grass is always greener kind of person, it is very seldom that life isn’t good for me.

But then I managed to scrape together a life in Stockholm. It took a while, but it happened. I made friends. Suddenly, I didn’t spend entire weekends at home watching Friday Night Lights. I found a job I enjoyed. And that paid me when I was supposed to be paid. I found that I was more than capable of being an adult. Except for trying to cook for myself. It was a strange revelation. But one that I suppose was necessary. I have moments when I still struggle being an adult. It’s an exhausting process.

Stranger still was that once I made the realization that I had a life in Sweden. That I had friends. That I had a responsible, good paying job. That I was half an adult. Well, I decided to run away and move back to the US. I decided that the job I liked wasn’t something that I was going to like years from now. I decided that despite having a life in Sweden, I didn’t want to spend my life in Sweden. I decided I had people I cared about more than I sometimes admit here in the US.

All those questions I had that first year, were answered really by the third. I moved to test myself. To be horribly selfish and do things on my own. But I couldn’t quite let go of home, in more ways than one. And that’s what I learned by year three. That I didn’t need to. That I didn’t want to. That I shouldn’t have to. I learned what I might want to do for the rest of my life, and I learned what I definitely don’t want to do for the rest of my life. I learned enough to know that it was time to leave. And some things are worth moving for. And so I did.

And now I’m struggling again with trying to acclimate. Trying to realize that this isn’t just a run home to mamma and pappa. That this is more permanent. That I have chosen a new career path that has so very little to do with what I have done in the past. That I may end up being in my 30s with experience and education that no one cares about and find myself horribly unemployed. This has resulted in me walking around with a knot in my stomach and eating and drinking enough yogurt to have cultivated a burgeoning civilization in my gut.

So in just a few weeks, I’ll be migrating east. East of Greeley, Colorado to the great Midwest. And by great I mean expansive, not necessarily better than good. And so I will find myself in what can best be described as Scandinavian America. But that doesn’t have much of a ring to it, so instead in an ethnocentric sort of way I will be a Swedish American in Swedish-America.

Welcome to the US. And a Swedish American moving to Swedish-America.

Subscribe to a Swedish American in Sweden


  1. Lycka till!

    Though honestly, you should be careful. I just finished reading American Gods. There's some strange shit going on in the US...


  2. You're insane to move to the Midwest on purpose, but best of luck to you! Seriously. Not being trite.

    Lots of people in these parts. Easy to make friends. Though most of those "friendly" people make me feel like I'm being stalked, I guess it's the way people are in the Midwest? I suspect that will be triply weird for you after life in Sweden. Just look for the transplants from the west. It's a great bonding experience to sit around and bash the locals. ;)

    Also, people here are truly fat and I'll be super impressed if you don't gain about 20 pounds over the next 12 months. All of those stereotypes about fat Americans...well, you can't live here and say it isn't so. I know I'm fatter for having lived here. I should take some responsibility for it, but I have no qualms with shifting all blame to the Midwest.

  3. Good Stuff! We miss you here in Sverige!

  4. Good luck!

    I will be moving back to the US in 3 weeks. 3 short little weeks. I don't know how I am going to do it. I completely understand all of your pros and cons for staying/going back to the US. I did them all too, and ended up with the same conclusion.

    I hope all goes well for you in the Mid-West. I'm sure it'll be a major adjustment, but you'll be fine. You seem like the type who can make it through just about anything you put yourself through.

  5. Marcus,you have left a big empty space here in the ol' country.

    I moved here from England 40 years ago and still haven't decided whether to stay or not. Just testing the place. So, no moves are permanent and many are just virtual. Good luck with the Swedes over there - I am sure you can handle them. The beard will probably help.

  6. Interesting reading, having lived for 21 years in Texas myself as a Swede before moving back to Malmö at 40 years of age. Adjusting sucks but it builds character. No matter what though, I will always have those "I wonder what would happen if..." thoughts for the rest of my life, even if I move back to Texas again. Good luck in the Midwest; one place I personally would never settle in

  7. Hej Hairy,

    Just relax and have an interesting journey.



  8. You will do great wherever you go, whatever you do, because that is how you are. Don't care if midwest doesn't sound exciting to some people. You make the experience what it will be for you, and get everything you can out of it. Life is an adventure, and how boring if one just got "stuck" somewhere and never tested themselves out of their comfort zone. You only become a better, more interesting person, from the experiences you have. You will be great and if not...move on to the next adventure.
    Life is out there to be tasted and tested and experienced and enjoyed and you are doing it! I am so proud of you!

  9. Now that you got all mixed comments,I hope this doesn't add more butterflies to your stomach.

    And I agree with Patrik on the part of " what ifs ". Ans I do hope you will finally find what you are looking for and what you want.

    Best of luck.

  10. I felt like I could really identify with your post. I moved to a new city so I could be on my own and go to school for something I was passionate about and learn to be more independent. I keep trying to compare my hometown to here and I just don't like it. Sometimes I regret moving here but I know I can't. When I visit home part of me doesn't want to leave and part of me feels like I need to be on my own. It's hard but I've learned a lot, discovered a lot about myself and feel like overall it's a really good experience.

    By the way I live in the Midwest (Wisconsin). I hope you enjoy it here and find your next adventure. :)

  11. All of Midwest isnt that bad. I have relatives in Minneapolis that I sometimes visist and it´s a great city. So wich city will you move to? St.Louis, Detroit maybe Cleveland lol?

  12. Don't listen to any of these downers regarding the Midwest. I come from Cleveland - what many would argue is the armpit of the entire nation - and it's wonderful there. Good luck!

  13. I guess that you're experiencing a so-called "reverse cultureshock" (yes, there is such a thing) I experienced it myself, I'm swedish and when I was 20 i moved to the US for one year, where I met my fiancé who is french. After the year in the US I moved to France without even having visited France. I struggled with learning french and finding a job and I dreamt of going back to Sweden where everything was going be wonderful...
    And so one day I had it and I said to my fiancé that I needed to go back to Sweden. Well when we went back I found a job right away and an apartment! But the people were not at all what I imagined anymore, I didn't see my mom as much because I didn't have time because of my job, I had no use of my languages anymore and so on... Life wasn't as wonderful as I thought it would be... Now, we moved back to France and I couldn't be happier! I see France in a different perspective than I used to. So I think that it will be great fo you to have a little bit of scandinavia and US at the same time! Good luck with everything! =)

  14. Hi, I've been following your blog for almost a year now (i det tysta) and I love reading about all your escapades in Sweden, being a Swedish American in Sweden, your stories are both strange and funny and I love the way you write. I will miss reading about your adventures in Sweden but am now looking forward to reading about your new adventures. I myself am a Swede living in Australia, or I guess I am officially a Swedish Australian living in Australia and soon a Swedish Australian Swede living in Sweden. It is scary to think about the culture clash I will encounter after a decade down under, but just like you, I came to the decision that home is where the heart is. I wish you all the best!

  15. The Midwest isn't THAT bad. I live in Chicago, and yes, depending on where you're migrating to, you may gain weight. BUT the people are friendly at least. Chicago is also a super fun city!

    Best of luck on your adventure! :)


  16. When I was little I used to read stories from American Girl about a Swedish girl in the 1850s that settled in the Midwest. Now that I am older, I am reading blog posts about a Swedish man settling in the Midwest.

  17. Hi There!

    I came across your blog by chance and stayed because I'm interested in Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries.

    I'm a hypenated American too (Thai-American), and I've been dying to get out of the states (originally from California). Getting tired of everything and I want to see something new.

    I'm going to be leaving this year (to Thailand or other countries), and I always wondered if I stayed too long abroad if I could ever move back. I hear it's easier to move away and than it is to move back.

    Your post gave me a lot to think about.

    Keep on blogging! :)

    - Ben

  18. Twenty years ago, I almost stayed on in Sweden with family, permanently. Part of me really, really, really, really wishes I had. I would have missed out on a bad US marriage and divorce. But I would have also missed out on the financial stability I was working so hard at, in the USA. Now, I can't say that's a draw - the financial stability. We always want what we don't have, I think. And part of me really thinks I should have stayed in Sweden. Well, except for the part where I'm now much, much, much more emotive than my Swedish family members. And I really like that part of myself. Gah...why isn't this easier to figure out?!

  19. Little more than a year and a half ago now my group of close friends and I ended up planning to move to Sweden after college. It more of started off as a joke where we would all buy an island somewhere, but it eventually became more serious. Eventually I came upon your site and it truly helped me and my friends. I have really enjoyed many of your posts with more than a few laughs to boot. I wish you luck in your move back to the U.S.

  20. I'm touched that you admitted you cared enough to move back.....I can only assume you were referring to you old hockey mates!

    The good news is you have chosen to move to the only place in the US more liberal that Sweden...should be cake! If you need a home cooked meal or directions, I have family in your new town!

  21. I really enjoyed reading this post, H. I liked how you summed up your three years in Sweden and worked that into your current life and future plans. Good luck with your move! I'm sure it'll be educational, interesting (in the very best sense), challenging and rewarding (don't forget to keep blogging).

    While I have visited the Midwest, I've never lived there, so it'll be great following your adventures there. Happy moving!!

    -S :)

  22. I don't know you from Adam (or Hairy, for that matter), but I guessed from your past two posts that you were having some difficulty adjusting to being back home in the US. The bit about "you can't go home again" really is true--life will never be as you remembered it because you have changed along with everyone else.

    What you can be assured of is that, for better or worse, you will definitely have an adventure and you will get used to the new "normal." I'm getting ready to move Midwest in a few weeks myself (I'm a lifelong West Coast girl) and I just keep telling myself that it will be an adventure and that I should enjoy this moment in life where I'm still young and free to go out and try something new.

    Likewise, you too will be fine (I guess. Again, I don't actually know you).

    I've been enjoying your blog immensely, and look forward to your updates.

    ~American Fastmo

  23. Hej Hairy!
    Your blog finds it way to me as I sit in Sweden having just emigrated a couple of days ago from the UK. Any drastic change, whether a move away or a move back to your home country, is bound to be filled with anxieties. It is natural to question and sometimes doubt your decisions one way or another. I wish you the best for your next move... it sounds like from your life so far you have the experience needed to adapt and make a life for yourself. And you will have the strength and experience to recognise to move on if it is not the place for you to settle in the longer term. Now you have the benefit having learnt the language, Sweden's door remains open to you. If you'd like it to be. One observation I have made recently... it is not always easier to play it safe and stay at "home"... wherever that may be.
    Good luck to you. Lycka till!
    Christina (Bristolian Swede)

  24. @anonymous – thanks, and lets be honest, theres some strange shit going on most everywhere.

    @E – thanks! I think I might need it.

    So far I haven’t been accosted by overly friendly people. Yet. Im expecting to end up in a corner in some restaurant in the fetal position trying to avoid the stimulus that is social contact.

    Im hoping to avoid the weight gain, so far Ive actually lost weight since moving back to the US.

    @Karl – thanks!

    @Erik – thanks, hope everything is going well back there. Hope you guys can make it out here soon.

    @Shawna – thank you!

    Its good to hear that someone else went through that same list and came to a similar decision.

    Hope your move goes well.

    @EGAN – I think that is one of the reasons I left when I did, because otherwise I might end up just testing the place for several years. Luckily, my beard led me here.

    @ patrik – thanks, hopefully the Midwest works for me. Those “I wonder if” moments are always there, I just hope they dont end up haunting me.

    @Ron – Im trying ron, Im trying.

    @mamma – that’s why we keep you around.

    @VS – I hope so too, and the butterflies will always be there. No matter how sure of the decision I am.

    @anonymous – Im in Wisconsin now too, hopefully this all works out. For both of us.

    @Kristal – none of the bustling metropolises you mentioned. Instead, Im heading to the great state of Wisconsin. A bustling state in and of itself.

    @Mara – That’s what I like to hear! Thanks!

    @Anna-Lena – I absolutely am. Its been rough. Sounds like you’ve had quite a few adventures yourself. Im glad to hear things worked out. Im hoping for the same result.

    @Moa – in the end I think youre exactly right, the hard part is just figuring out where that heart might be.

    @Kim – Ive heard Chicago is amazing. Ive got a few friend who live there and love it. I hope to spend a little time there during this adventure.

    @Kristen – for some reason, this is probably my favorite comment.

    @anonymous (Ben) – I hope you do go explore. I don’t know if it matters though, making the decision to move or to move back is very hard. But it is worth it. My fear was always that I would get stuck which is one of the reasons I left when I did.

    @Isle Dance – the grass is always greener isn’t it? Sometimes I think that is a really good thing to have that attitude. Other times, it drives me nuts and I feel like it just leaves me unsatisfied.

    @Steven k. – thanks, I hope you guys do manage to get yourself over to Sweden.

    @Wolf – everything I do, I do for you.

    @anonymous – thanks, I really appreciate it.

    @anonymous – good luck with your move. And you are absolutely right. You cant go home. Things change. We change. Friends change. Its rough, but its worth it I think.

    @Christina – thanks, and I sure hope so. I hope your move goes well too.

  25. Your honesty might pay off in the end, at least you are not pushing your feelings to a dark and murky corner (as a lot of Swedes do ...). But here's a trueism from someone who has moved around a lot. You never come home. Not in the same way. Just build a nest of books and a circle of friends and grown into it. Just like you did in Stockholm :-) And here endeth the lesson from Anke

  26. What makes it to be Scandinavian America? immigrated Swedes? Is there anyway to notice it aside from peeps's look?

  27. @anonymous (anke) - I know. Or Im starting to know. Thats what adds to that knot though. I thought I could come back to all I had left only to find that much of what I had left had now left me. not a fun realization.

    but the nest of books is being built, the friends are being grown into. and we'll start everything over again.

    @Todd - it is historically known for being a landing place for plenty of swedes, norwegians, and danes. there are place names that are incredibly scandinavian and people who still cling to that scandinavian heritage.