10 Years in Sweden (Happiness - Lows - Youth Advice)

I had a quiet celebration on April 16, the anniversary of my 10th year in Sweden.  Some have told me it’s quite the accomplishment, although I didn’t feel the need to go beyond a private toast with a good wine.

It’s been a wonderful ride, full of mostly highs, along with several disappointing lows, the birth of my dear children, exploring the country/culture of my lovely wife, becoming a Swedish citizen, working for a big international company, meeting new Swedish friends, studying a new language, getting to know my diverse Swedish family, bonding with expats, travelling in Europe/Africa/Middle East, beginning a basketball program, starting my blog and a host of other adventures.

During these last few months, my mind has mainly been focused on youth and what lessons I would share with them from an expat perspective. Having such a rich life experience (Boston, Manhattan, Serbia and Sweden), I occasionally feel compelled to share it with others, as some may need a push or a boost of inspiration to reach beyond the comfort and stability of a life lived in their hometown, state or country.

To anyone under the age of 25, I would say:

See the world if only for a few years, but preferably 5-10 years. Challenge yourself, find a mentor, learn as much as possible in your chosen career, network, help/influence those less fortunate in some way and embrace struggle, as it will be your greatest teacher. 

I would let them know that there's nothing wrong with an entire life lived in Sweden, or the USA or any other country, although to miss the beauty/excitement/struggle and life changing view of a life outside of Sweden, would be limiting.

We live in such comfort and bliss in Scandinavia, compared to the rest of the world, so it’s imperative (in my opinion) for our Swedish youth to see, feel, hear and smell the complex challenges and reality of those in other countries at some point in their lives. One cannot do that without making the bold venture to live outside of Sweden.

I realize that many around the world can’t, won't or don’t want to lead a life away from the comforts of the familiar. Family is typically the biggest factor in why people tend to live near the place where they grew up and that can be a wonderful thing. I saw the beauty of this last Christmas in my Pennsylvania hometown, when one of my best friends invited me to his sister’s house, where his family of 20+ people were celebrating. It was a warm and loving night.

Even if one doesn’t embrace the expat life, travel outside of one’s home base is still a brilliant option; an adventure that can provide tremendous excitement and an enriching education.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” (Mark Twain)

And if travel is not an option, soak up the words of my friend JD - an expat in Sweden:

“Travel outside of the world in which you live and if it’s not possible, read and research the countries all over the world and learn.  A book can temporarily take your mind and spirit on tour. Learn the laws, benefits, and drawbacks of living in various countries. The youth can learn from what we have to teach. They just need to listen.”
“So many of us don't travel but the lack of money is not an excuse. Last time I checked, books at the library are free, along with a good selection of e-books.”

One thing I've been happy about in Sweden is that everyday has been interesting, which has been a blessing, as I am most inspired around interesting things, people or events. I suspect that for most expats, being in a place like Sweden is nothing if not interesting (good or bad). It’s hard to dull my spirits as I am a lover of life, which bodes well in a foreign country.

Some of you have read my 5 year article, (5 Years in Sweden - No Place I'd Rather Be....BUT). A troubling issue (jobs for foreigners) in that story still rings true today and by many accounts is worse than 10 years ago. I think it is the responsibility of foreigners like me, along with Swedes, to do our best to improve society as best we can in this regard.

With immigrants increasing mightily in our country, Sweden will fall even further behind if we don’t improve the dialogue/interaction/job opportunities/community between native Swedes and immigrants. The paragraph below is cause for great concern, yet I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to get better. We all must make it our priority to help the situation if it is going to improve, which I know is no small task.  I pledge to do my part to improve the situation, like the basketball program (http://gswede.blogspot.se/) I founded in 2005, which is also in its 10th year.

“Nevertheless, high unemployment rates have disproportionately affected immigrant communities in Sweden. In 2009-10, Sweden had the highest gap between native and immigrant employment rates among OECD countries. Approximately 63 percent of immigrants were employed compared to 76 percent of the native-born population. This 13 percentage-point gap is significantly greater than the OECD average of about 3 percentage points. (See Figure 2.)
Among recent immigrants, defined as those who have been in the country for less than five years, the employment rate differed from that of the native born by more than 27 percentage points. In 2011, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 35 percent of the unemployed registered at the Swedish Public Employment Service were foreign born, up from 22 percent in 2005.”

If I had to provide 3 key points for young people, it would be these:

1)      See the World – It’s an invaluable experience to live in some part of our vast world as an expat, embracing a new culture and getting first hand knowledge of how others live. I would also give them this article to read called "Leave the country. That’s what I tell everybody — just go"

2)      Travel - If the expat life isn’t appealing, and one prefers the quite and calm of familiarity, make sure to travel as much as you possibly can. Travelling will never compare to the actual expat education, although it’s important to do in order to see and get a glimpse of our global world.

3)      Read Books - If the expat life and travelling isn’t your cup of tea or travelling isn’t affordable, one can lose themselves in the plethora of free books available at most libraries. Books can take one a long way in the areas of imagination, creativity, storytelling, dreams and a host of other positive outcomes.

I was fortunate to have dedicated, loving and strong parents, who always gave me the feeling that I could be whatever I wanted to be. They never tried to limit my thinking or desires for which I am grateful. I wonder if my parents ever realized how powerful their love was in making me feel that the world was my oyster.

If I had remained in the USA my entire life, my view of the world would have been vastly different and I would have had no idea that a distant place like Sweden could be a positive force for a man who grew up in small town America. Would I have still had an interesting life? I think so, although it would have lacked the depth, sizzle and breadth from a stimulating 10 year journey in Sweden and a blissful two months in Belgrade, Serbia.

As a parent, my hope is that my son and daughter will feel the same encouragement I received from my parents. One filled with love and the belief that I could create my own destiny, not one shaped in the design of another.  My hope is to guide them positively in order to embrace the sign of “No Limits” on their life journey. If so, it is more likely that they will feel inclined to see the world beyond their comforts.

The manner in which my 20’s were progressing, I knew that the expat experience would come my way one day; it was only a matter of me being bold enough to grab it. I’m so thankful I did and that it was with my lovely wife and in Sweden.

When deciding to take a unique life path, something outside the norm or one that may be uncomfortable, boldness will usually take center stage. As I look back on my life, being bold played a significant part in most of my interesting moments, fun times and fulfilling success. I’ve had 10 happy years in Sweden and it all began with the bold step to change cultures.

Happy Gswede Sunday! 

The Beginning in Southern Sweden - 2004

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant! Very informative yet personal. I completely agree, travel and education are crucial to making society better.

It's a beautiful article and you have articulated your feelings magnificently. I really enjoyed reading it. A true inspiration! Thank you for sharing it with me.