But…why Sweden?

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adventure / life / moving / personal / struggle / travel

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.
xxLena

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!

Moving Overseas

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advice / moving / tips / travel


Moving to a new country is no small feat. I admit, after living in 10+ different countries throughout my life, I am quite used to it at this point, but even so, the idea of leaving Colorado after seven years freaked me out.

After I announced our move, I had a lot of questions about moving to a new country, so I thought that it would be fun to put together a few tips and pointers on how to move internationally, from someone who’s done it both on her own and with her family.

Before I begin, however, I need to give a HUGE shout-out to my parents, and, in particular, my mom, without whom I would not have had such a unique experience growing up. My mom also grew up internationally, and I am so grateful that she decided to do the same with her family. And kudos to my dad for following her around the world and taking care of us (and working full-time) while my mom traveled for work. They’re pretty amazing, my parents. Bat-shit CRAZY some of the time (I’m certain they’d agree), but amazing nonetheless 🙂 They gave me and my siblings the courage to literally go wherever our lives take us. So, without further ado, here are my top tips for anyone thinking about making the decision to live in a new country!


Decide the Where, the Why, and the How (before you go)
It’s tempting to pack up a suitcase and go somewhere on impulse – and that does sometimes work out – but I highly suggest sitting down and outlining why you want to go somewhere else and where you want to go. Ask yourself why you are looking to live in a new country: Do you want to learn a new language? Move with your spouse to their home? Continue your education? Experience something totally different from your norm? Answering these questions will help you narrow down where you want to go, and it will help you figure out how to get there. For example, if you’ve always wanted to learn French, that will significantly narrow down your choices of where to move!

You might already know exactly where you want to go; now the question is how you are going to get there. Depending on the country, it’s not always so easy to move just like that. You need a visa, a work permit, a student permit, residency, etc., etc. If you have your heart set on Istanbul, for example, research ways that you can get there, such as through a university course, a job, an internship, etc. It’s virtually impossible to move to a new country and job search from there unless you are already a citizen or resident of the country, so rule that out right away. Instead, browse for jobs in your desired location and find out what you need to qualify for them. Which brings me to my next point…


Research, Research, Research
Sometimes, among all the McDonald’s and KFC’s around the globe, it’s easy to forget how differently things work in different countries. That may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised! However, you have a good brain in your head (my mom said this to us growing up and now I say it all the time…yikes), and you have a plethora of tools at your fingertips. Get online and see what other expats from your country have to say about moving to said country. Everywhere I’ve lived has had an expat community, and whether you choose to be a part of it or not once there (because some people move to get away from people from their own country!), these communities are always more than happy to answer questions or give advice to others trying to move there. Of course, you’ll be getting an expat’s view, not a local’s, but at this stage that can be incredibly useful. Look for forums where you can ask your own questions and maybe even make a few contacts before the move.

Similarly, if you know someone from that country or someone who has lived there or currently lives there, reach out! I can’t count the number of times I’ve been graciously hosted by friends of my mom or dad when I first arrived. These friends welcomed me with open arms, even ones I didn’t know personally! They helped me get around and figure out things like transportation, housing, and other necessities that you’d prefer not to learn through trial and error.


Give It A Year
In my experience, the first year of living abroad (or anywhere new) is kind of like the first year of marriage: hard. Even if you get the perfect job in the perfect place and everything works out, moving is not easy. Learning a new culture, a new language, a new job, etc., is always challenging, and it’s even harder to do when you’re away from your usual support group. It takes time to make real connections and even more time to feel ‘home’ in your new home. In that first year, there will be a moment where things are not terrible, but they’re also not great, and you start to wonder why the heck you left your home, friends, and family for this weird new place where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language. I’ve had that literally everywhere I’ve lived, even the places I truly loved. Just remind yourself that everyone goes through this and that it does pass. Reach out to people back home for support, remind yourself of why you went on this adventure in the first place, and ask yourself which you’ll regret more: staying, or leaving?

In addition, you should also accept the fact that you may end up not liking where you moved, even after a year…it happens! You live, you learn, and you return home stronger and smarter than before. The crappiest places that I lived in hold some of my fondest memories because, in the end, it was an experience! And, truth be told, that’s where all of your best stories are going to come from 😉


Don’t Compare
Like I said above, everywhere is different. I remember going on a group trip to Switzerland, and another friend on the trip began to drive everyone crazy because she couldn’t stop exclaiming how ‘weird!’ everything was. It’s not weird, it’s just different. Some things might be better, and some might not, but keep your comments to yourself, especially if you are with locals. It’s so tempting to keep a mental score sheet on how this country measures up to your own, but that’s not why you moved! You moved to experience something new. If you meet someone who is from your home country, it’s perfectly fine to ask them if they had the same reaction to or experience with XYZ (squat toilets, caviar in a tube, durian fruit, what have you), but keep judgement out of it. We wouldn’t want people to come to our home country and tell us how weird and stupid we are (no matter how weird or stupid we actually are!). It´s uncomfortable and you’ll only turn people off. Instead, change your perspective to be one of genuine curiosity and not one of judgement and comparison. Besides, if where you’re from is so darn perfect, why did you leave?


Be Prepared for Culture Shock in Both Directions
Obviously, when moving somewhere new, there will be quite a bit of culture shock. When I first moved to the US, I could barely go in a grocery store without having a panic attack because of ALL. THE. CHOICES. It was seriously overwhelming to me! Which one of those 2000 different tomato sauces in the tomato sauce aisle (A WHOLE AISLE DEDICATED TO TOMATO SAUCE) should I choose?! What is more surprising, however, is the culture shock you’ll experience when you go back home, either to visit or if you move back. Your experience abroad will likely have some sort of impact on you, and it can be hard to reconcile that when you get home. A friend of mine who returned to the US after living in Senegal for two years had an incredibly tough time reintegrating into her ‘old’ world. She went from a tiny village with mud huts and a three-mile walk to the nearest clean water source (talk about culture shock!) back to 6-lane super highways, a Walmart on every corner, and her family buying bottled water in bulk from Costco despite having clean drinking water pouring out of every faucet. She didn’t fit in her world anymore, and it was incredibly disconcerting. Also, WELCOME TO MY ENTIRE LIFE 🙂

It’s not easy to see all these different ways of living and try to figure out your place among all of them. My advice is to carry your experiences close to you, but also give your home a break. Your friends and family may not have had the same experiences as you just had, so it’s not entirely their fault that they just don’t know how lucky they are to have drinking water just a second away (or whatever the situation may be). Tell them about your experience, educate them as best as you can (again, without judgement), and forgive them for living the way they always have. Not everyone gets the chance to see how the rest of the world lives, so acknowledge your privilege and use it to shape your future decisions.


Finally, and this is actually the most important tip: YOU CAN DO THIS!
I think the number one reason people don’t attempt an international move, even if they really want to, is fear. Fear of failing, fear of danger, fear of the unknown, you name it. Of course, it’s completely understandable to be afraid (I am!), but whenever I hear this as an excuse for someone not taking a chance, I just want to shake them and say, ‘GET OVER IT!’. I don’t mean this in a condescending way…it’s just that sh*t can – and will – happen no matter where you are. You could get run over by a bus in your home town tomorrow! Although I really hope you don’t….but you get the idea. The world is dangerous, but it’s also safe. Use your head (as in, it’s probably not the best idea to move to Syria right now) and common sense (as in, don’t walk alone at night in neighborhoods you don’t know), and you’ll be just fine.

I hope these tips are helpful for anyone who’s contemplated an international move! Like I said, it’s not going to be easy and it’s not always going to be comfortable, but getting the chance to experience life from a completely different perspective is such an amazing opportunity and one I hope you know you can totally do. And like I tell everyone, if you need help booking flights give me a shout… and I’ll ask my mom! #shesthepro

Bon voyage!
xxLena

(all images via)

Arriving in Sweden

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adventure / lately / life / moving / stockholm / sverige / uppsala


Hej hej! As you’ve probably noticed, I’m in Sweden! I arrived last week and have been fighting both a nasty cold and horrendous jetlag, so I have not had much of a chance to blog. The trip over, for those of you wondering, was fine. I was really anxious about flying with Winston, but other than a minor issue at customs in Stockholm (they couldn’t locate Winnie’s microchip, despite using about 4 different chip readers! When the man told me that he technically shouldn’t allow me to enter Sweden with Winston, I nearly had a meltdown but luckily another kind TSA agent was nearby and, after being enchanted by Winston because he is just SO CUTE, she told him – in Swedish – to just ‘let her in, for God’s sake!’. Thank you, anonymous TSA lady. I LOVE YOU), he was fine.

Once we got out, I was hit with a triple whammy of an ear-infection, a terrible cold, and, as mentioned, some really debilitating jetlag. Going from Europe to the US is usually no problem, as you tend to go to bed early and wake up early, but the other way around is just awful. And it probably didn’t hep that for the two weeks before leaving I was staying up until 1 or 2 am every night, messing me up even further.

Still, I made it! And I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it was to wake up the next day (at one in the afternoon, but who’s counting?) and realize, ‘I LIVE IN SWEDEN AGAIN!’.

For those of you not as familiar with my weird background, I actually lived in Sweden from ages 15 to 21. I moved to Gothenburg in 2004 with my family, and ended up going to college in Malmo before heading to Colorado for grad school in 2010. During that time I learned Swedish and, thanks to my dad’s French nationality, was able to apply for Swedish citizenship in 2013.

Conrad and I have been talking about moving to Sweden for years, but the timing was never right. I was in school, then he was in school, then our nephew was born, then we were engaged and getting married, etc., etc.

After No. 45’s election, however, we started to get more serious about moving. I started applying for jobs sporadically, whenever I saw something interesting on LinkedIn or Monster, half hoping I’d get something and half hoping I wouldn’t. I’ve been a nomad of sorts my whole life, never living anywhere for longer than seven years. Although I was definitely getting antsy in Fort Collins, the idea of packing up our life and going somewhere else was both scary and exhausting. We had great friends, good jobs, a wonderful community, family nearby, and instant access to Colorado’s incredible nature. On the other hand, we’re quite young, and neither of us saw ourselves living in Colorado forever.

I finally got a bite from a large global company I had applied to one year before, and after a whirlwind two weeks, I was hired and booking a one-way flight to Stockholm. Yikes!

Of course, it was not all as easy as that. Many tears, discussions, doubts, worries, and emotions were a part of our decision, and once we decided to take the opportunity, we had even more items to add to our to-do list. However, thanks to our incredibly supportive friends and family, I made it here with Winston without any issues, and Conrad will join us as soon as he is done with his teaching job in CO and graduate research in Kenya.

We’re definitely in an odd transition period, but somehow everything just feels right. I don’t have everything figured out (more the opposite, actually), but so far everything has worked out and I am choosing to believe that its because this is what we were meant to do. I’m living with my dad in Stockholm, and my commute is not bad at all (about an hour door to door, but I only take two trains and they’re both fast and quiet). Winston is settling in and loving our walks in the gigantic forest right outside our apartment. He LOVES my family dog, Poppy, though she is still warming up to him. My new job is great so far, and I feel at home surrounded by fellow web analytics nerds 🙂

The hardest thing right now is being away from Conrad. We talk every day, but I miss him so much. It doesn’t help that CO is eight hours ahead of Sweden, so it’s difficult to catch each other at a good time to talk. That said, it’s only temporary, and I know everything will be fine. I feel bad that I have Winston, because it really helps to have a fur-person to cuddle when you get lonely. But it’s only a few months! My parents have been doing long-distance for years, and I am in awe of how they’ve managed so far. If they can do it, we can do it.

That’s about it for now! I’m hoping to get into a blogging groove soon but right now things are still all over the place. Thanks for  putting up with me these last few months! You guys are the best.

xxxLena

BIG NEWS

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change / lately / life / move / moving / new / sweden / update / uppsala

Last year, when Conrad and I celebrated our marriage with my French family, we followed the celebration with a week to wind down in Sweden. During that week, we took a day trip from Stockholm to Uppsala, where some great friends of ours live. Before making our way to their incredible farmhouse just outside the city, we spent a few hours exploring Uppsala.


The town is one of few medieval cities still left in Sweden, and we were utterly captivated by Uppsala’s charm. It’s a small city, but it has lots of character! Though Conrad and I have always loved Stockholm, we really enjoyed Uppsala, and we left the city in agreement that we had to come back some day for more exploring.


Little did we know, that almost one year later, we’d be moving there!

Yes, you read right. WE’RE MOVING! To SWEDEN!
I’ve been offered a position in Uppsala, starting immediately, so I will be leaving Colorado very soon…which is exciting, crazy, overwhelming, stressful, nerve-wracking, and every other emotion out there.
Leaving Fort Collins will be hard. I’ve been here almost eight years, and for someone who is used to moving every 2-4 years, that is a long time. Plus, we truly love Colorado; we have family and friends here that we love so much, the weather is impeccable, the mountains breathtaking, and the beer delicious. But, Conrad and I have both agreed that it is time for a change, and this is our big chance to do just that.

Obviously, I will try to blog as much as I can in the following weeks/months, but I will be really busy packing up eight years of my life into a max-weight 50lb suitcase. I really want to try to document the move, though, because even though I’m nervous, I really think anyone can do an international move if they want to. Yes, it is scary, but it’s also SO doable, and I want to share my process so you can see what moving internationally means and how to do it, and hopefully learn from my mistakes (of which I am sure to make!).

Thank you to all our friends and family who have been so supportive during this crazy but exciting time in our lives. We can’t wait for the next adventure!!!
xxLena

P.S. Norwegian Air flies to Stockholm for as low as $169 one-way! So don’t be a stranger!

Walking Winston

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fashion / fashion blogger / inspiration / ootd / outfit / puppy / style / stylish

Ok, HOW IS IT MARCH 15 ALREADY? Didn’t we just celebrate the new year? Seriously, this year is zipping right by. Things are crazy as usual. But I’ve come to accept that that’s kind of the norm if you have three nationalities and family on three different continents (can you tell it’s tax season?). And a job. And a husband. And a wonderful, ENERGETIC little puppy! Though those last ones obviously make all the craziness worth it☺.

While the East Coast seems to be blanketed in snow, we have been having temperatures in the 70s (20-25°C)! Last week we decided to take Winston on a walk, and since the sun was out, we brought the camera along.

Wearing my new uniform – straight-leg, high waist jeans, a delicate blouse, and leather boots. And for the first time on this blog, I actually have links to the items I’m wearing! Also, look at Winnie’s face in the photo above! He’s just the cutest ♡

This blouse is a new favorite.
I’m a massive fan of online shopping (mostly because I don’t like leaving my couch house to go anywhere shopping). I spotted this baby from Tobi a few weeks ago, and I am obsessed!

Also, this is how much I love this blog (despite being terrible about posting regularly). I took my coat off to show you the shirt. And this was not one of those aforementioned 70° days. It was freezing and windy! But Winston needs his daily walk, and isn’t it so cute? The shirt, I mean. Not the walk.

{jeans from H&M, blouse from Tobi, boots from Target (old)}
With my short hair, a red lip and my favorite pea coat, I felt trés francaise in this combo.
P.S. I LOVE having short hair! Makes life soooo much easier☺



I can’t wait to wear the shirt with a flouncy, a-line skirt when the weather warms up. Or with a pair of kickflare jeans and ballet flats. I also got a few other things from Tobi, so I will try to show those to you soon.
Hope you’ve all had a good week. And, tomorrow’s Friday!
xxLena

the dirty gin martini

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cocktail / delicious / DIY / easy / martini / quick / recipe

Are there any Mad Men fans out there?

Back in the day (ahem, like 2 years ago), I was OBSESSED. I devoured Mad Men like there was no tomorrow, and I loved every minute of it. The only downside? Every time I watched an episode, I got this insane desire to drink whiskey mid-day and smoke like a chimney like they do in the show…e.g. not the healthiest of behaviors!

I still love to play an episode here and there, if only to be transported to the (admittedly, fake) 1960s and all of it’s tacky, kitschy greatness. One of my favorite things about the show is it’s meticulous attention to detail. Every book, poster, drink, snack, toy, gadget, etc. is totally authentic to the time, and it’s so interesting to see how these items have become obsolete, modernized, or even back in fashion.

Which brings me to martinis. They’re ‘back’! And here to stay, I hope.

Martinis are…how should I put this…an acquired taste. A lot of martini-lovers have very strong opinions on what makes the ‘perfect’ martini (Gin! Vodka! Olives! Onions! None of the above!), but if you’ve never tried one and you want to ease yourself into the experience, look no further. I’m going to show you exactly how I make my favorite drink: the dirty gin martini.

Now be warned: this drink is NO JOKE. It’s strong, it’s not sweet, and it’s a little bitter. If you’re the type of person who prefers colorful, fruity libations (no judgment – you do you!), you may want to skip this post.

If, however, you’re adventurous and a fan of olives, read on.

First things first, assemble your ingredients.

To make a dirty gin martini, you will need:
2.5 oz. Gin (or vodka if you prefer, but I highly suggest starting with gin)
Dry vermouth
Olive brine
3 Olives + toothpick
Cocktail shaker
Ice cold martini glass (I stick one in the freezer about 30 mins before starting)
Ice

Once you’ve got all your items, measure out your Gin into a shaker, followed by a splash (a splash! not more) of Vermouth. Add as much brine as you like – the more, the ‘dirtier’ (aka better in my opinion). Throw in a small handful of ice, and shake that shaker like there’s no tomorrow.

In order to avoid that whole ‘shaken not stirred’ controversy, my shaking method is actually more of a circular motion, in which I gently swirl the shaker until it’s contents are freezing cold.

Once it’s sufficiently cold, bring your martini glass out of the freezer.
(And please ignore my disgusting, half-chewed thumbnail. I guess I really was in need of a martini!)

Poke three olives onto a toothpick, plop it in, and pour that beautiful mixture into the glass.



And that’s IT!
Just sit back, relax, and sip that delicious cocktail.



Soooo, have a I convinced you to try a martini?
Come on, you can do it!
And if you don’t like it, just give me a call and I’ll be over in minutes to help you out 🙂

xxLena

lately

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lately / latelylena

I always like these ‘lately’ posts because they really force me to slow down and appreciate the little moments. A delicious dessert. An extra warm cuddle from Winston. The magical way the light hits the trail behind our house. Things have been crazy as usual, so it’s been extra nice to take note of these small happenings and remember that, no matter what else is going on in the world, things are and always will be ok.

Enjoy!

{cherry cheesecake on a Saturday afternoon}
{newest addition to our living room: my DIY mudcloth pillow!}
{local friends stopping by to say hello}
 {that winter light!}
 {cooking with Winston is my new favorite after-work activity}
{speaking of my favorite little guy…}
{the perfect gin martini…recipe + tutorial coming sooooon}
{standing up for women’s health together}
{and of course, more snow}

Hope you’re all having a lovely week.

xxLena