Since Christmas is a time to greet friends and family, I thought we should catch up with previous Expat Blogger Extraordinaire, Kate Reutersvärd, and see what life is like now that she and her Swedish husband have moved to the United States.
What’s the biggest thing that surprised you when you moved back?
The biggest thing that surprised me when I moved back was the lack of culture shock. I was prepared for some sort of traumatic cultural adjustment in my transition back to the US, but it really just felt so normal. So normal and so easy.
I think when you live abroad you tend to get used to a certain amount of friction in your everyday life — not knowing what to say when the cashier jokes with you, struggling to read the fine print on the transit system, looking at the root vegetable section in the grocery store and thinking to yourself Now what on earth is THAT? Now that I’m back in the US, everyday interactions with people and with organizations just feel very easy.
One thing that’s sort of funny is that before we moved, I tried to speak Swedish all the time, with everyone, to really solidify my language skills. Now that I’m back and speaking English all the time, sometimes I’ll catch myself translating to Swedish in my head or thinking, “Oh, you’re cheating now by speaking English…” and then realize that actually, I have to speak English because my mom, for example, doesn’t speak Swedish.
What do you miss most about Sweden?
Family and friends, of course. That’s a given. I miss them every day. I wasn’t very good at keeping in touch with my American friends while I was in Sweden, but I’m trying to turn that around now that I’m older and wiser.
Besides that, believe it or not, I miss LAGOM! I used to think that the idea of lagom was something I didn’t like in Sweden–that it represented a tendency to stay within safe, expected norms. Now I think I see it as a deep appreciation for balance, and balance is not something I would consider a strong point in mainstream American culture.
Stupidly enough, I also miss some of the TV shows that I followed in Sweden (why that, of all things? I don’t know), and in case anyone’s feeling particularly generous, I also miss kanelbullar and Swedish candy, so please feel free to mail me some.
What do you do at the House of Sweden? What sort of people visit there?
The House of Sweden is a mixed-use building that comprises the Embassy of Sweden, corporate offices for companies with a connection to Scandinavia, public exhibition spaces, private residences, conference rooms, and more.
I work as a tour guide in the public exhibition spaces, providing information about our two exhibitions, and I also give tours of the building. The House of Sweden is really a stunning building, full of references to Swedish history and the national landscape, and I love working there.
I would say that the visitors are a fairly even mix of local families, local adults, tourists interested in architecture, and visiting Swedes. I greet them, provide some context for what they’re looking at, and answer any questions they might have. Next spring, I’ll be taking on a marketing role for the new exhibits as well and working more with giving in-depth tours to special groups. It’s a pretty awesome “next step” from working as the Expat Blogger here at Sweden.se.
How often do you use your Swedish in DC?
I use my Swedish at the House of Sweden (I even did my interview in Swedish!), at home, and in my work at Kate Reuterswärd Consulting. As a consultant, I teach Business English to international business people (mostly Swedes) and I translate from Swedish to English.
Before we moved to the United States, my husband and I decided to only speak Swedish to each other so that we would get in the habit before being in a predominantly English environment. We were really good during the last four to six months in Sweden, but now that we’ve moved here, it’s more difficult. We still try to speak in Swedish but it can be hard to move from one language to another mid-conversation. I’d say now it’s about 50/50.
I asked Kate to tell us about myriad other topics. Here’s what she had to say:
When I first moved to Sweden and realized that my initial unemployment would last longer than I had originally anticipated, I was very negative and was looking at the move in terms of “what I was sacrificing” — what jobs my friends had in the US that I could have… the financial hardship… the lack of a social or professional network… etc. As people who followed the Expat blog while I was writing know, my pitiful employment situation turned itself around as I got first a part-time job, then a full-time job, then a couple of freelance jobs in addition, and then ended up starting my own company. Not so bad.
Coming back to the States, those work experiences abroad have more than paid off in a very short time frame. Not only have I gotten a job with the Swedish Embassy, but in casual networking, I’ve found that my international work experiences make me very attractive to U.S. employers. My Swedish skills are impressive to Swedes, but to other people, it shows how quickly I learn and the depth of commitment I have to all areas of my life.
Work-wise, I would say that an international transition will probably set you back in your career in the short term, but in the long term, it will set you up for a lot of amazing opportunities.
Something that’s interesting about being in Washington D.C., which is such an international city, is that my experiences abroad and my international relationship with Simon are the rule rather than the exception. There are so many families that come to visit the exhibits at the House of Sweden that are Italian/Spanish, Indonesian/American, Armenian/American, Nigerian/British, and more. I also went to a Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce holiday event this past week, and let me tell you… Swedish-American marriages and cross-cultural work experiences are not in short supply either.
I know that when Simon and I first start dating and then later, when I was considering whether or not to move to Sweden, everything on the Internet made it seem like these multicultural relationships are doomed to crash and burn once the novelty wears off. That doesn’t have to be the case: as in any other relationship, some will succeed beautifully and some will come to an end. The only thing that might be different is how high the stakes seem. My friend Cecile once said something along the lines of “Being in a relationship with someone in your own city is like playing poker at the $25 table. Being in a relationship with someone in another country is like playing poker at the $2500 table. The farther you go, the more you have to lose.” And I think that’s true, with the added caveat that there’s also potential for great gains.
Thanks, Kate, for sharing your life with us! You can follow Kate’s life in DC on her personal blog transatlanticsketches.com. You can find her consulting company at katereutersward.com, where she teaches Business English, translates from Swedish to English, and provides a range of writing services, like proofreading, copywriting, and social media management. She’s also on Twitter: @kwise321.