When I first went to Sweden it was with high hopes and excitement for all the good things to come. I was little prepared for what did come – on and off unemployment, loneliness, boredom, frustration, forced frugality, and all the other bad vibes you get when you apply for well in excess of 100 jobs and can’t even get hired to walk dogs (seriously? FFS!) and most of the time don’t even get the courtesy of a reply. Did my PhD count for nothing?
However even life gets sick of being a bitch after a while, and eventually a break through came. Friends entered my life, and somehow, Sweden worked its way under my skin. I learned to love the smell of autumn in the air, the crisp, cold, clear mornings. I looked forward to the snow arriving in winter to lighten things up and so I could cross country ski. The novelty of being outdoors cross country skiing or ice skating in -10 or -20 degrees C never quite left me. The anticipation of the first spring flowers and tightly rolled leafs on trees announcing winter was leaving and summer hadn’t forgotten us, the endless hours of day light in summer. I also learned to loathe the long hours of darkness in winter, and light candles to make it easier, and the constantly, never ending, thaw-freeze of the snow that left a slick of ice every morning. I learned to live with tunnelbana rides with strangers who thought you were a weirdo for accidentally making eye contact, the joggers who would stare straight past you rather than acknowledge you, black clothing, pretentious Östermalm people and rudeness from strangers. And somehow, even the bits I didn’t like, I actually in some weird way, learned to like as part of the quirkiness of Stockholm. But mostly, more than anything, it was the people I shared these moments with, my friends (and M), who made me fall in love with all the different facets of Sweden.
We knew when we arrived in Sweden that it wasn’t going to be a permanent thing. We knew a few months in advance that we were going to be leaving, we just didn’t know where to. And then, eventually, we did know where to, and we even had a date.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying “the precious present”, referring to the fact that the only reality is right now, so live in the moment. Well that’s a darn hard ask when you know you are leaving a place, and are torn by the fact. Your head is trying to adjust to the fact that you must face new challenges in another new place all over again, while your heart is firmly stomping it’s feet and telling you to enjoy as much as you can while you are still there. I managed somehow to find a balance between these two states – when I was with my friends, there was no where else I would rather be, enjoying easy laughs and conversation, but when we had to start dealing with the reality – moving boxes, packing, phone contracts, telling work – my head stepped in and helped me cope by once again telling me to look forward to the new challenges and opportunities ahead of me. Coping mechanisms. It’s a bizarre state. You start to feel partly gone already, while still being there. You go through your clothes and shoes and all your belongings, and ask yourself do you really need it. You give away a lot of stuff. You realise you had a lot of “stuff” – exactly that, just stuff – that you can live without. You slowly break down your world around you and pack it into boxes. The only thing you can’t pack and take with you are your friends (but oh you guys so know I would have packed you all if I could!).
For me, saying goodbye felt that it went on for a long time, too long in fact. I started to get emotionally tired. I was going on holiday with my parents and my workmates would take vacation and not return before I left, so saying goodbye started almost 2 months before we left. It is strange to say goodbye to people you see every day when you are returning to the same place for weeks more to come. It doesn’t feel real. It’s hard to imagine that your life as you know it won’t exist anymore.
But some of my hardest goodbyes came on our last full weekend in Stockholm. Some of my closest friends decided to have a little Hej då Sverige party, combined with a kräftkiva (crayfish party) because M and I would be missing out on this August tradition.
I’m not a big crier, but needless to say, the girls got me crying. It was the absolutely unexpected presentation of gifts that got me started. It made it real. It was possibly one of the most fun and saddest evenings combined into one. Impromptu karaoke concerts belted out at full volume of my drunken voice (compliments Amy Ma!) – showed me how comfortable I felt and how accepted I was. Having so much fun with people you are so comfortable with and know you can just be yourself because they accept you, and knowing it is probably going to be the last time you have them all in one place is damn hard!
So to you girls who made my life in Sweden so special (and you know who you are, even if you’re not in the picture below), I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made every day easier and became my family away from home. You touched me with your openness and acceptance, and I know I have built friendships that will last a life time. I will miss you all and endeavour to constantly, ruthlessly, encourage you to move to Vancouver with me!
Så hej då och så lange Sverige, jag ska saknar dig. Och tacksåmycket för alla. A little piece of me has turned Swedish.