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Moving to Sweden: is it the right decision?

Irishman and newly-minted Malmö resident Patrick Reilly reflects on the ups and downs of deciding to up sticks and follow one's Swedish partner to start a new life in Sweden.

Moving to Sweden: is it the right decision?

Taking the plunge and committing to a new life in Sweden usually prompts many questions from your nearest and dearest back home.

Namely, why are you going somewhere that has such severe winters and a peculiar language that you will be forced to learn in order to properly integrate?

Perhaps more alarmingly, why are you upping sticks for a nation that still broadcasts the Golden Girls, or should I say Pantertanter, at 5am?

Mind you, for all the frustration one might endure learning how to wrestle open a TetraPak carton of milk, there are definite advantages to becoming a faux Swede.

Particularly if you are a “love refugee plus one”, a phase of life during which the benefits of the Swedish welfare state make the case for relocating almost a no-brainer.

Like many fathers-to-be, I willingly followed my Swedish partner back home – in this case to Malmö in southern Sweden – in anticipation of welcoming our first child.

After spending the last few years living in Britain, we decided to divide 2012 between Sweden and my native Ireland once our first born arrived in early February.

Our intention was to know by October at the latest where we were going to live in the long-term. Britain, Ireland or Sweden were our choices, and in true Golden Girls style, we discussed our options into the wee hours over coffee and cheesecake.

Returning to the UK was always an option, especially as my prospects of finding a job as a journalist there would be easier. In Skåne, media jobs are like hen’s teeth, with experienced reporters being laid off and local newspapers requiring bail-outs to survive.

In other words, potential employers are not exactly queuing around the block to snap up an Irish writer with dodgy Swedish.

Moving back to Ireland was briefly considered, even if half the population has been laid off (or emigrated) and the whole country needs the odd bail-out just to keep the place going.

Then there was Sweden, with its tantalizing promises of free healthcare and inexpensive daycare to entice us.

Compare that to Britain, which is ranked second in Europe behind Switzerland when it comes to the most expensive daycare.

There, we were quoted the princely sum of £800 ($1,300) a month. Friends with children in the UK reliably told us that was cheap.

In case you were wondering, Sweden was ranked 27th out of the 31 countries surveyed when it came to expensive childcare, with Britain coming in second and Ireland third. The average British family spends 26.6 percent of their income on daycare, whereas in Sweden it is 4.6 percent.

When you have a new baby to consider, these are factors you have to take into consideration. Or as my father put it rather more bluntly:

“What is the point in going to work just to pay some stranger to raise your children?”

The cost of daycare and lack of family support ultimately ruled out Britain as we edged closer to settling on the country we would call home.

While my native Ireland was still in the running, circumstance soon intervened and the decision to uproot to Malmö for good was made.

On a short visit back to Ireland in mid-April, our two-month old son suddenly took ill.

As any new parent can tell you, it is a frightening experience made all the worse by the eye-watering cost of medical care in my home country.

A visit to the night doctor and couple of nights stay in an Irish hospital cost over €200. And when our son later developed a fever, we were charged a flat fee of €50 just to see a medical professional.

That pretty much sealed the deal – get out of here fast.

Leaving my family behind and removing their day-to-day involvement with a new grandchild wasn’t easy. However, when they were informed of how much better the system for children is in Sweden, they practically offered to buy the ticket for our flight back.

So now we’ve set up shop in Malmö for good.

Granted, daycare and healthcare are top-notch, not to mention the generous paternity leave benefits, especially if you have been working in Sweden.

But that doesn’t mean everything is better in my adopted land.

For starters, finding a first-hand rental lease in Malmö is akin to an act of God, with the situation similar – if not worse – facing new arrivals in Stockholm.

Sure, there are plenty of places in Malmö’s upmarket western harbour, where rents start at 12,000 kronor ($1,780) per month for a two-bedroom apartment, or in one of the suburbs better known for violent crime.

Finding somewhere in-between which is suitable for a young family requires patience and a great deal of luck. But that’s another story altogether.

After a few weeks of our new life in Malmö, we are slowly starting to appreciate what this city has to offer.

There is a free daycare centre a stone’s throw from our flat which is open weekday mornings and welcomes kids ranging from practical new-borns to five-year-olds. It also encourages parents to sing along with obscure nursery rhymes which will surely put off their offspring from ever cropping up on X Factor.

And hey, there is more to this city and indeed Sweden than just a new parents’ utopia.

Practically everybody speaks English, which is both a blessing and a curse if you want to learn the local tongue. In the interim, it at least helps me to practice my profession while I resume my svenska studies.

Finding a home was a struggle and I’ve no doubt the task to find proper work will be just as tough. A daily scan of the employment market generally only yields techy jobs with strange titles.

Why for the life of me I didn’t become a C++ developer, I’ll never know.

Having ruled out a radical career change (for now anyway) the only thing one can do in these circumstances is be resourceful.

Sweden, as I’ve discovered, is a country that welcomes new ideas, and entrepreneurship is encouraged, which fills this new arrival with hope for the future.

Ultimately those of us who decide to build a new life in Sweden have to make things happen for ourselves.

And if you ask me, there is no greater motivation to succeed than the desire to want to create as secure a situation as possible for our infant son.

Due largely to the Swedish way of life, the country’s ample social safety net, and other pro-family policies (did I mention the parental leave thing yet?), those aspirations now feel much more attainable than they might have been in Britain or Ireland.

And if none of that works out there is always another re-run of the Golden Girls to lap up.

Patrick Reilly

twitter.com/thelocalsweden

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EXPATS

For internationals, ‘reliance on social media is sometimes greater because we are more disconnected’

Over-reliance on social media can cause stress and loneliness, and is a particularly easy trap to fall into for those dealing with life in a new country, writes psychologist and The Local guest columnist Edita Petojevic.

For internationals, 'reliance on social media is sometimes greater because we are more disconnected'
If you're already feeling isolated, reliance on social media can make things seem worse. File photo: AP Photo/Jessica Hill/Ritzau Scanpix

Do you go about your day feeling overwhelmed by thoughts? Do you catch yourself feeling constant high level of anxiety, without being able to shake it off? Do you struggle to stay grounded in the here and now?

If you’ve answered yes to the questions above, know that you are not alone. The period we live in makes it difficult to stay still for any length of time, not to mention quieting the noise inside of us. We are constantly bombarded with information that creates pressure to keep up and that interrupts our focus on more meaningful things.

The fast-paced lifestyle, however, doesn't allow for deeper reflection. Instead it pushes us to scroll through feeds on our phones mindlessly. There is a near constant pressure to stay informed and updated, and a fear of missing out (FOMO) when we try to put our phones away.

As a psychotherapist based in Copenhagen who mostly sees internationals, I have spoken with many clients who experience these difficulties. The virtual world that we spend so much time in is causing people stress and loneliness, and often the very sense of disconnectedness we seek to avoid.

The purpose with this article is to bring awareness to the correlation between the digital world and mental health issues.

Moving towards good mental health requires that one is in touch with one’s own physical, emotional and intellectual needs. It doesn't necessarily mean that these needs are always met, but it indicates an awareness of them and an intention to meet them. This means tuning in to and striving towards taking care of oneself.

We live much of our lives in a digital world where the focus is on external validation. For instance, when you see something you want to take a picture of, it is less about engaging the subject and remembering, and instead is all about showing and sharing. The need to be seen by others and to share with others is immense and it forces an unhealthy focus on external validation.

Sharing with others has become more important than taking time to nurture ourselves. The focus is on informing the external world rather than being present and enjoying the moment.

You might be asking yourself, ‘Why can't we do both?’ Here's where the true dilemma lies.

When we try to think about who's liking our post or whether we received that email, while at the same time trying to be grounded in the present, we wind up with only a superficial level of attention on any one thing. Furthermore, due to splitting between thoughts and states, we seldom get to be in the moment and never truly allow ourselves to relax.

READ ALSO: The link between international relocation and depression

Katarina Gospic, one of the leading brain scientists in Sweden, explains it well by talking about the need to check our phones as a natural part of a system of rewards. Our brains are seeking the reward we get every time we get a like, a positive comment or anything that makes us feel good in the moment. It's an instant reward, an external validation that we are liked and okay in the world. However, these rewards are short-lived, so we keep checking our phones, hoping to receive another positive reassurance, again and again. 

It's all part of an “intermittent reward system”, as Gospic so well explains it. 

In my therapy practice, I have noticed that the number of clients who rely on their phone for repeated daily rewards is growing. As mentioned above, my clients are primarily internationals living in Denmark, and this appears to be making their over-use of social media even worse. Our reliance on social media for comfort and validation is sometimes even greater because we are often more disconnected. The outcome, however, is the opposite. Our clients report feeling more isolated, depressed and anxious when seeking connection in these ways. 

In treating clients with an overuse of social media, we gradually expose them to whatever might be difficult for the client. In this case, we create a treatment plan that helps clients engage more with people in person, and spend less time seeking the short-term rewards on their phones.

We have noticed a direct link between the use of the phone and avoidance behavior. The more we avoid engaging in real life, the more we retreat to the use of the phone, which results in more negative feelings.

In fact, the use of the phone resembles the use of alcohol and drugs in the sense that we use it to get an instant reward and to escape the reality we are in. This explains why more and more digital detox camps are being set up all over the world.

Another part of this reward system is the thinking process behind it. Every day we hear our clients share how they compare themselves to others on social media and the pressure they feel to meet the social expectations of good looks and successful lives. For some, there is a constant race to become better, prettier, and more successful, and those who don't pause to reflect get caught up in trying to meet these impossible and imaginary goals, slowly but surely moving the focus from thinking about what is important to us, and instead buying into the ideals we see around us.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Copenhagen Travel Guide (@travel2copenhagen) on Nov 8, 2018 at 3:21pm PST

Furthermore, the virtual world often presents filtered versions, where the majority focuses on sharing only the most beautiful and most successful parts of life, leaving many who already have low self-esteem to become ever more insecure and stressed.

For some, it even leads to comparison and competition rather than sharing in other’s happiness or good fortune.

Externally, we are chasing to get more and internally we have never been lonelier.

READ ALSO: OPINION: A foreigner's attitude hacks for transitioning to life in Denmark

What can be done?

We have more ways to connect and communicate than ever before, yet we have never been more disconnected. The need to be heard, truly and deeply is huge. So, how do we get back to our true selves? Is there a way to find a balance between the external and the internal world? We believe there is. If you have read up to this point, you might be one of those who realizes the problem but lacks the tools to change the current state. If so, you are off to a good start.

Here are some specific steps you can take to begin finding the balance you need:

  • Awareness is the first step. Before we can make any changes, we need to acknowledge the problem.

  • Secondly, write down your individual needs. Try to make time for every single one of them during your week. Talk to your partner or friends or anyone who you trust about this process. Change can be hard as it requires you to challenge old ways of thinking and to step out from your comfort zone. Sharing with someone allows you to get support and to hear your own thoughts and feelings.

  • Limit the time you spend on your phone. For this, consider using one of the apps that reports back to you how much time and what you have used it on. Then set achievable goals.

  • Try to use the phone with intention rather than for mindless scrolling. Have set phone times and stick to those boundaries.

  • Spending less time in the virtual world will lead to more time in real life. Think of the things you have wanted to do for a long time but didn’t have time to do. Here is your chance! Read, study philosophy or astronomy, explore your local environment, develop new friendships, attend evening classes, learn to meditate.

  • Pay attention to all the things you get done when you limit the time on your phone and notice the effects it has on your mental health. Notice how you feel.

  • Evaluate before and after. Write down the results gained from restricted phone use and more time spent on your personal needs. This can be done as soon as a week after you start out.

One of our most profound findings from restricting phone use is a more peaceful everyday life. Freeing yourself from the need of external rewards allows you to get in touch with your internal needs. Once you become aware of your needs, you will also start thinking of ways to meet them. This opens the door for healthy habits such as physical activity, meditation, reading, playing and so on. 

We’ve also noticed a sense of regaining control over daily life once these boundaries were implemented. Our clients report a feeling of freedom to plan their days and follow through with activities, rather than getting sucked into talking or scrolling on the phone. There was an overall increase in satisfaction with the time spent.

To conclude, we would say that by not escaping reality, we are given the chance to notice what is going on around us, and to begin to more readily face some of the many challenges many internationals face when starting life in a new place.

Edita Petojevic has lived outside of her home country for most of her life. She received a B.A. in psychology from Jacksonville University in Florida, United States and an M.A. in Integrative Psychotherapy and Counselling from Roehampton University in London. She sees clients in English and Swedish at the MacFarlane Psychology Group, a Copenhagen practice offering psychotherapy for internationals.

READ ALSO: Why moving to Denmark can cause feelings of loneliness – and what you can do to feel better