Tag archives for immigrant

A Christmas Treat: Interview with “Repat” Kate

Kate works in Washington D.C. at the Swedish Embassy… a chance to continue her relationship with Sweden. Photo: Kate Reuterswärd

 

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:

Work:
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.

Relationships:
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.

Kate Reutersvärd

Kate Reutersvärd

Let There Be Light (in Uppsala)

"River Sirens" at the Festival of Lights in Uppsala

“River Sirens” at the Festival of Lights in Uppsala. Photo by K. Lund.

 

Most people I know here in Sweden think November is the darkest month of the year. Daylight Savings is over, the days are noticeably shorter every week, and it seems extra dark, cold, and rainy. There is no snow on the ground (at least in Uppsala or Sweden yet–snow makes everything brighter) and the lights of Advent are a month away.

So Uppsala’s “Festival of Lights” is a welcome sight in November. The festival has been held in Uppsala in November biennially since 2008. This year is its third time. The art installations in the festival are designed to encourage outdoor exercise (walking) and to show off new energy efficient technologies and innovative ways of working with light. This year the city of Uppsala worked with a bunch of companies and institutions to create the 15 light installations scattered on a four-kilometer loop around central Uppsala. The loop starts at the Market Square. Then passes by the Concert Hall, the travel center, and over the “Iceland Falls” to the Gustavianum dome.

My favorites installations on the loop included:

  • above the “Iceland Falls” where ghost-like river sirens dance across the river the five opal glass sculptures where the water flows by Rosen park next to the Uppland Museum
  • the blue lighting of Gustavianum roof dome
Festival of Lights

Gustavianum at the Festival of Lights in Uppsala. Photo by K. Lund.

 

  • the large pillars standing around the middle of the main square that slowly change color
  • Town Hall is where a synthesizer is projected onto the building and visitors can play with both sound and light
  • the projection of the keys on the water at St. Olaf Bridge

Many of the light sculptures have added audio and in several places the public can take part themselves. Other installations only activate if someone is there.

It’s a neat idea and a great way to ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness.’

Outside Upplands Museum at the Festival of Lights in Uppsala

Outside Upplands Museum at the Festival of Lights in Uppsala. Photo by K. Lund.

 

Cultural Training on Both Sides of the Pond

Dalahäst

Dalahäst. Photo by: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se

 

I recently enjoyed a gig as a consulting “American/Swedish Experience” expert.

I know, right? I’m all that. Plus a bag of chips.

An independent cultural trainer in Boston, Massachusetts contacted me. She was working for a relocation company who helps corporate clients who have relocated abroad. She had a new client–a Swedish family consisting of two teenage sons, a mother, and the father who had taken a job in Boston. The family moved from Southern Sweden to Boston in August. The large pharmaceutical company he worked for invested in cultural training for the family. Companies understand that they need to support the whole family of expats because if the family isn’t happy in the new situation, then the new employee is going to have a harder time of it.

For the record, even though I came to Sweden with a job offer in hand, I did not have any of this cultural training. Everyone’s arrangement is different and I suppose it also depends on the size of the company. Read more » >>

Swedes and Bodies

Swedes have a reputation for being more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality. I find that to be true. Here are three of my experiences:

The Locker Room
There’s a gym on the first floor of the office building I work in and so consequently I see a good percentage of my female co-workers in the locker room. Sometimes we have just attended the same yoga class. The locker room is quite small and everyone changes out in the open. The two showers have no curtains and offer no discretion. The door to the locker room is worrisome because if anyone opens it very wide, not only will the whole gym see see naked women but there is a straight line of sight to the street through the  glass front wall of the gym. Read more » >>

15 Impressions After Living Nearly One Year in Sweden

Here’s some thoughts and impressions after 11 months doing “Swedish time.”

Society

• It feels odd that there is no contact when you sit next to someone on a bus or buys something from a cashier. Of course there is the exception but typically there isn’t much “Hi, how are you?” or “It sure is cold out.”

• If someone bumps into you on the sidewalk or suddenly swerves into your path, they’re not going to say, “Whoops, didn’t mean to do that.” They’re most likely not going to say anything at all.

Sculpture in Kungsholmen

Sculpture in Kungsholmen. Photo by K. Lund

 

• It’s impossible for me to understand Swedish when it’s loud and there are lots of different conversations (for example, in a restaurant). Interesting how the brain computes languages differently. I wonder at what point I will be able to follow a two conversations in a restaurant? (What I actually mean is to understand one conversation while there’s a distracting one nearby.)

• Sweden has a really marked group mentality. I’ve written before how nearly 95% of Swedes seem to prefer a black winter coat. So now that it is Fall, I am seeing this black sea on the sidewalks again. Thursday is the day to eat pea soup and pancakes. In August, you eat crayfish…Is there a rebel who secretly eats crayfish in, say…January? (not the season they’re caught, I suppose…OK then, is there someone who eats pea soup on Saturdays?)

• Every apartment door that I’ve seen in Sweden says “Ingen Reklam” in some fashion. This means the inhabitants don’t want any advertisements pushed through their mail slots. It always makes me laugh because to me, it looks like someone named “Ingen” lives there.

apartment mailslot

“No snailmail spam, please.” (Name obscured to protect the innocent.) Photo by K. Lund

 

Dogs

• Dog owners seem to rarely let their dogs off leash in the parks. I think it’s generally not allowed but I admit to be a little hazy on the subject. Perhaps because I sometimes let my dog off the leash and because I want to have plausible deniability about my ignorance of the laws. Bad. Very bad.

Dog in the park

“Rabbit” enjoys a rest in a park near Sundbyberg (Stockholm). This picture looks like a painting to me. Something about the light…Photo by K. Lund

 

• There is a mandatory dog register in Sweden, and every dog is micro-chipped so there is clear responsibility if the dog is lost or the dog hurts someone. It cost around $10.00. Yup, Rabbit is registered. Don’t worry.

Food, Restaurants, and Medicine

• Soda in Sweden seems to have less carbonation. I miss the extra bubbles.

• There’s much less high fructose corn syrup in Swedish food. Hurrah!

• There’s less preservatives in the food so milk and meat spoils sooner. It’s worth the effort of going back to the store.

• This Fall I have noticed that most of the restaurants put blankets on the chairs of their outdoor seating. These chairs (and tables) are often right out on the sidewalk and I am amazed that the blankets don’t “walk away.” The blankets are designed to cope with the fact that it’s really too cold to sit outside on the sidewalk, even with your coat on.

blankets on outdoor tables

If you choose to dine outside, you can take advantage of the blankets the restaurant sets out. Photo by K. Lund

 

• There are lots of everyday medicines and supplements that come in a tablet form designed to drop in water and dissolve in a fizzy burst. Here in Sweden I’ve casually seen vitamin C like this, headache pain medicine, and charcoal tablets for upset stomachs.

• There were 30 kinds of orange juice back in California. Here in Sweden? There are 30 different kinds of dairy products. It’s hard to understand what the differences are.

dairy products

There are lots of dairy products to choose from… Photo by K. Lund

 

Household Stuff

• Why hasn’t that little loop (for hanging up) on towels in Sweden not caught on in other countries? It’s such a small thing and such a great thing! And it works so much better than trying to make the tag do the work (if there even is a tag that forms a circle.)

Autumn leaves

Autumn color in Stockholm. Photo by K. Lund

 

• Boy howdy, but it’s hot inside buildings and houses! Even after surviving last winter, I find that it is difficult to handle, the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures. It’s pretty cold outside now (mid October) and as soon as I go inside, I need to immediately strip down to a thin shirt, preferably one with short sleeves. Sweaters or even turtlenecks don’t work for indoor work because it’s too hot for them. Guess I shouldn’t have brought those. This still feels unexpected, seeing as how it’s Scandinavia which the whole world thinks of as the Cold Dark North. I never expected it to be too hot!

Special bonus: I love signs in other countries. Check out the one below which I saw in a restaurant in Stockholm. Really, it needs no introduction…

sign in Stockholm

This is disappointing because I thought thieves would look obviously different from me…black hat…twirling a devious mustache…at least SOMETHING different! Photo by K. Lund