Definition of expatriate in English: “A person who lives outside their native country”
Definition of immigrant in English: “A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”
To define the meaning of “expat” or “immigrant” it comes down to a period of time. Is it a pit-stop for a few years, or a permanent transition? It seems like the emphasis on these two adjectives is given more meaning than it should. I often find that the term “expat” is seen as a more socially acceptable life status. As opposed to the term “immigrant” which, for some reason, is laced with societies pre-formed notions of migration. Shoeless, dusty, trains of people marching through countries to a better life. An image probably supported by most forms of media, consciously or not.
The point at which these two terms become meaningless is when you settle in a foreign country with your family. It doesn’t matter how “permanent” your overseas stay will be, you need to treat it like a permanent move. It is my honest-to-god belief, your “expat spouse” adventure will be more successful if you stop treating it like a temporary posting and start creating a life. So, how do you cope with being an “expat spouse” in Stockholm?
Stop calling yourself an “trailing spouse”
Right now, stop it! And, slap anyone in the face that refers to you as that. I can’t begin to tell you how offensive this term is to men, and women especially. It reeks of colonialist misogyny and instantly infers a sense of dependency or wanting of the said “spouse”. Regardless of your responsibilities; raising the kids, SAHM/D or setting up house, you’re an individual with separate needs from your “expat” worker-partner. And, anyway, what happens when you get a job? Who becomes the expat spouse then?!
Get to know your City
It’s one of my favourite pieces of advice to give newbies arriving in Stockholm. Get to know the City. The best way to feel at home is to know where you are going and how to get there. Littlebearabroad’s “My Stockholm” interactive map features where to eat, where to shop and where to hang with kids. From science centres to play groups; coffee shops to culture houses, it covers the lot. Before you know it, you’ll be more savvy about the best place to find your favourite fika than most Stockholmers.
Find a network
In Sweden there are a dozen fantastic networks to connect with to support you in your transition as an “expat”. Whether it’s work, family or friend related you can pretty much find anything you are looking for via Facebook. But, if the thought of the dreaded Facebook forum fills you with fear, there are some brilliant Meetup groups that you can join, too. We can also recommend a couple of Swedish organisations that provide “friendship invitations”.
Create a “village”
Kids complicate things, every thing in fact. But, I can safely say that, with the right guidance, kids can be really useful in finding your “village” in a foreign country. This is one of the reasons we set up Littlebearabroad. Its purpose: to create a straight-up “village” for parents, kids and siblings to find support, like-minded friends and families in a foreign country. We are the one-stop shop for reaching out to other families in the same position as you in Stockholm. A boat without a harbour? A bird without a flock. Not only does Littlebearabroad provide advice and information for newbie parents arriving in Sweden, we organise events, meets, networks and play-date groups for English-speaking, international families in Stockholm. So, you can meet real people!! We run The International Playgroup and the Stockholm for Kids Facebook Group. All of which support real-life meets of international parents in Stockholm on a regular basis.
In the next year, Littlebearabroad has made a commitment to bring even more events and activities to international parents through our events calendar. And, we’ll continue to work towards our long term goal of creating a physical space for international parents to feel at home in.
Learning the language
Whether you are here for 6 months or 6 years, it doesn’t do any harm to pick up a bit of the lingo. Even for the sake of being able to tell the difference between yoghurt and milk at the supermarket. In fact, that is a great place to start. Getting to know your basics is really easy, too. You don’t have to go to class, you don’t have to buy expensive language courses. Have a read of Littlebearabroad’s “10 free things that helped me learn Swedish” blog and start putting into place some really easy learning tricks. There are also great resources such as Svenska Med Baby.
If you do want to invest a bit in your language training I would highly recommend Bee Swedish. They are an alternative to Svenska För Invandrare or Folkuniversitet, both of which are good choices for a starting point. But, Bee Swedish takes a more tailored approach to learning Swedish. Not only do they offer language courses but they provide cultural training, too. Working mostly with international corporates and larger businesses with international teams, Bee Swedish is about goal orientated learning i.e. do you want to learn Swedish to conduct business or do you want to learn Swedish to be able to take your kid to play-dates and förskola.
Get help looking for work.
Looking for work in a new country can seem totally daunting, scary as hell and impossible. But, if you change the way you think about it and see it as a chance to do something you have always wanted to do, you’ve got nothing to loose. If you had a dream job or an industry that you’ve always wanted to work in, why not give it a go? Start at the bottom and work your way up. Aside from pride, internal dialogues and fear (ha!) Which is why there are so many fantastic resources out there to help international talent, like you, into work, and not just the national job centre. Grow Internationals is a offers CV and Interview skills training.
In Stockholm, the job market is about who you know, not what you know. It’s important to put fears aside and network your tush off. You never know who you might be talking to? Littlebearabroad established MamaMötet, a small intimate professional networking group for foreign born mothers in Stockholm. Since 2016 we’ve been hosting events and networking meetings to promote the retention of international talent in Stockholm. It offers a starting point for international women to create their own network, autonomously.
In the end, how you cope with being an “trailing spouse” (shudder) is entirely about mind-set and mental health, although that is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation. But, most importantly, start by talking to people. Find your network or your village and your international adventure will become a much happier experience.