It started the minute I stepped onto Swedish soil. 7 (almost 8 months) pregnant, starting a new life in a foreign country. When you’re living it your brain has an enormous capacity to just get on with it. Challenges that would normally seem insurmountable just wash off your back and you carry on. We bought our first flat, packed up our previous life, moved country and had a baby in the space of 6 months. It was nothing.
Gladly, my pregnancy was healthy, uncomplicated. Buying our flat was a breeze compared thanks to the Swedish property market and moving country…well, we just did it. But, the minute I stepped foot on Swedish soil as a permanent resident I changed. I was unfamiliar with day to day life decisions, the food shop had become alien, I didn’t even know what I needed to get on a bus. At one point I was being handed a daily allowance from my partner because I couldn’t get a bank account. Of course, with time these absurdities are resolved and you adapt. But, your sense of self is left a little bit chipped. You start to loose confidence in your purpose and self-worth, like a leaky teapot. Mattias would leave for work in the morning and I would have my list of “life admin” to get on with. Stealing myself to call up yet another faceless organisation to deal with some other bureaucratic bit of paper. Not really able to make any decisions without the help of my partner or his permission. Or, stumbling through some sort of medical exam with broken English and not really understanding what was said or why it was happening. A total loss of being able to control the situation or grasp onto the full nuances of everyday life.
Of course, during this whole experience, the strain of having no friends or family nearby began to show. I became a bit reclusive becoming sucked into social media and “life back home”. Despite searching for nearby “expat” groups and meet ups I struggled to find anything and it felt like I was the only person in Stockholm trapped in this situation. This was compounded by a disastrous coffee morning meet up with a corporate expat agency. It ended with the door slamming me on the backside on the way out because my HUSBAND didn’t work for the right firm. It was that EXACT MOMENT that I knew something had to change. Surely, I wasn’t the only person in this situation. New to Sweden, with kids or with kid, totally unfamiliar with the bureaucracy and/or the sheer volume, not even able to do the weekly shop because I couldn’t tell the difference between milk and yoghurt, and no social network to seek comfort, fun or anyone to relate to. And, from that LBA was born. It started out as a really tatty blog of cathartic hyperbole and flourished into a full blown service. It has had many, MANY forms and offerings but the consistent and underlying thread that has stitched so much of what LBA is together has been “starting out”.
In the last 3 years I’ve garnered my expertise in the experience of international families “starting out” in Sweden. “Where do I get my shopping and how do I get a job?” are the book-end questions of the “starting out” process. It’s not just about keeping the kids entertained or knowing what’s on at the weekend. There is so so much more to what LBA can offer. As I’ve said in previous blogs, Sweden really needs international immigrants and it really needs someone to make their families feel welcome. In particular, someone needs to support the relocation manager of the family, the “trailing spouse”. Starting out doesn’t begin and end with learning the language and getting a job, especially when you’re running a family. In the next 6 months, (and I’m using you to make me accountable) LBA is working on curating our “starting out” expertise into one big project. Not to give too much away (et tu, trade secrets). And, I hope that this leads to my ultimate and number 1 dream… having a meeting place where people like you and me can go to. A safe space to meet people and make friends, get the right information with out feeling ashamed of our language skills, confident in our local knowledge and become mentors to new international families.