If I were to label my relationship with Sweden on Facebook it would most definitely be, ‘It’s Complicated‘!
As we now know, my background story is all over the place. I actually pity my closest friends, because they have undoubtedly heard me explain my story hundreds of times to any poor, innocent fool who’s asked that loaded (for me, anyway) question: Where are you from?
These are the friends that can practically recite my little spiel word for word; that I was born in Colorado, but my dad is French, and my mom worked for the United Nations so I lived in Africa for ten years, Asia for six, and Sweden for seven, yada yada yada.
One thing I have noticed, however, is that ever since I moved to Sweden in 2004, I’ve gotten the same follow-up question again and again: But, why Sweden?
And it’s a good question! Having a parent work for the UN generally indicates that you either live in a city that has a UN agency headquarters (Geneva, New York), or that you live in developing countries. So, those early years in Africa and Asia kind of add up. But Sweden does not have any major UN agencies, nor are they a developing country. So why did we move there?
If you’d asked me that about ten years ago, I would have said because life is unfair. And it can be. We left Vietnam very abruptly due to a (unknown to me at the time) work-related problem my mom experienced that basically escalated from, ‘We will not be renewing your position’, – despite having a five-year contract – to ‘If you don’t leave, you and you family will be sorry’. It was scary. I still don’t know every detail of what happened, but I know it was hugely unfair and illegal, and my mom actually sued the UN and won. In any case, that is not my story to tell.
All I know is that two weeks before winter break, my parents announced that we were moving to Sweden in January, and, three weeks later, our entire house was packed up and I was saying a final goodbye to my friends, the same friends I thought I’d be graduating high school with in five years. The next thing I knew, we were in snowy Sweden in a rented house, starting completely from scratch.
As for the answer to why we chose Sweden?
We chose Sweden because my mom’s best friend and colleague in Vietnam was a Swedish woman (we love you, Seija!), and during that time of turmoil, she and my mom, during a late-night internet search of potential jobs, randomly stumbled upon a job opportunity for my dad at the international school in Gothenburg, her home town. My dad got the job, and our lives changed forever.
Looking back, I can honestly say that I’m glad things happened the way they did. It was NOT an easy move, and it was probably one of the most traumatic things to happen to us as a family. My mom, being the primary breadwinner in our family, accepted a short term UN contract in Africa (I can’t remember where), so as my dad and my three siblings – at the time, we had a foster brother, but again, that’s another story – moved into our new, temporary home, she went to start her new job where she’d be away for eight months.
As a teen, I was furious with my parents. I didn’t really realize it then, but as I got older, my internal feelings manifested in other, more harmful ways, and with the help of therapy I started to see that the trauma of that enormous change WAS a big deal, and I was mad at my parents for putting us through it.
Think about it: we went from being a ‘fancy’ expat family in these wild locations with a lot of perks – amazing international schools, great local communities, exotic food, cool vacations, having household help, etc. – to Sweden, where everyone is equal and, in my mind at the time, no one gave two shits about you. I always had identified myself as an expat, but suddenly being around so many white people in such a functioning, developed country made me realize just how different I really was. Yet, I looked just like everyone else, so no one could tell that I was different, and thus no one paid attention or cared that I was feeling so out of place. Add on top of that the normal hormonal and physical changes that come with being a teenage girl, and it’s easy to see why I struggled.
It was hard. My mom lived in horrible countries, alone, with temporary contracts to support us, and my dad played both parental roles in a place he’d never been and knew little about, with four kids to feed and care for, and a full-time job. Us kids were thrust into a completely new society with completely different rules and we struggled to find our place. If you ever wonder why I’m weirdly close to my family, it’s because of this. We were all each other had, and our family was the only thing were certain of in those times of uncertainty.
But I digress. I now know the whole story, and all I have is tremendous respect and love for my parents and how they handled such a tricky situation. I can’t even imagine what I’d do in their shoes! They are my heroes, forever and always.
The truth is that leaving Vietnam to go to Sweden was one of the best things to happen to us. After five years as residents, we were eligible to apply for Swedish citizenship, which we now all have. And, thanks to that, I was able to move back no questions asked.
Sweden is not perfect. It’s far from it. But it saved us at a time when we needed it most. Some of the systems work, some don’t, and some things drive me totally crazy, but I love Sweden with all my heart, and I am so proud to be a citizen of this great country*.
So…THAT’S why we moved to Sweden!
Love to you all.
P.S. If you need any more proof on why I love Sweden, take a look at this awesome article about what it’s like to be a parent in Sweden. Make sure to read the comments, too, for some other perspectives.
*Which is something I’ve never said of being an American citizen. My French citizenship, however, is a different matter, because as weird as France can be, they do have some pretty spectacular food and wine that is hard not to be proud of!