I can still remember, vividly, the first moment when I got off from Öresundtåg at Lund’s Central Station. The cold winter air was slapping on my face like waking me up from a long dream, and I whispered excitedly to myself: “Okay, this is real.” But then, I stepped out outside the station and that was when my new kid on the block moment began.
My first days in Sweden were a combination of anxiety and excitement. Everything was just so different from my home country or any other places I have visited: the weather app seems to never predict correctly since the weather changes almost all the times, the shops close quite early, and everyone seems too busy to have small talks with stranger. I felt lonely and detached. I felt like everybody was looking at me as if there was something wrong with my face. I also felt completely lost in translation, literally and figuratively. I remember going to the nearest shop worrying about what the shopkeeper might say in Swedish.
Then, I realised that most of the times, those were all just my own uneasiness. I mean nobody said moving to a new place would be easy. But, it is actually a choice, to drown into hassle that I create myself, or to start embrace every moment and get familiar with the Swedish ways of life. I chose the latter and made some changes.
First, I stopped comparing Sweden to other countries. I focus on the silver lining of everyday lives in Sweden. Yes, the winter here can be so cold, but fresh air and beautiful nature are available in any season. Yes, the Swedes are mostly reserved, but it’s just how they are, so don’t take it too personally. Yes, the beat of the city is slow, but it gives you time to contemplate things.
Second, I tried to think and to act like a Swede. Even for simple things such as how to sort out the rubbish, how to deal with the communal laundry system, or how to understand the Swedish idea of personal space. I also increase my coffee intake and join the queue for fika in local café. I eat meatball with lingonberry sauce instead of soup. I shop with card and less cash. I eat a lot of Swedish kanelbulle and pepparkakor. And I tried to pick up some words in Swedish, even if I can’t pronounce them correctly. After all, when moving to a new place, it is actually our part to understand the place and the people, not the other way around.
Third, I gave myself sometimes. I think it is important for us, not to be too hard to ourselves in the time of transition. People deal with adjustment differently. So don’t get stressful when you see another newcomer adjust quicker than you. Also, don’t be obsessed with targets, like for example mastering Swedish in six months, or having as many friends as possible in the first year. This kind of target only gives you unnecessary pressure.
Just like so many things in this world, life in Sweden doesn’t come with a manual. And sometimes, reading articles in the Internet doesn’t give you instant solution either. But at least, knowing that you are not the only one who experiences it, that you are not alone, somehow makes the “new kid on the block moment” becomes a little bit bearable.
As for me, after regular strolls through Lund’s cobblestoned lanes, cups of coffee with a little milk and no sugar, and countless of broken Swedish followed by: “förlåt, min Svenska är inte bra”, I don’t feel like a new kid on the block anymore.
*) This story was originally published for The Newbie Guide to Sweden on November 20, 2017.