Why I finally decided to seek Swedish citizenship

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Why I finally decided to seek Swedish citizenship

With three years in Sweden under her belt, US-native and parent Rebecca Ahlfeldt debates the pros and cons of taking Swedish citizenship.


The end of April marks the three year anniversary of our family's arrival in Sweden. From this day forward, my visa tells me, I am eligible for Swedish citizenship. I have come to understand that this isn't always the case. For example, I know a woman who arrived as an asylum-seeker 14 years ago and still isn't eligible. So I should probably just count myself lucky and send in the papers.

Yet, I've hesitated. Again, I'm aware that the ability to hesitate makes me lucky. Strictly speaking, as a "love refugee" (as I think we’re called) and not, for example, an asylum seeker, I don’t need citizenship. And since both the US and Sweden allow dual citizenship, I don’t have to choose.

From a practical perspective, there only seem to be advantages. I'm the only one in our nuclear family that does not have dual citizenship; becoming Swedish would mean avoiding visa hassles, both for living here and for travelling. I would also be able to vote on a national level.

According to the US government, the ostensible downside of dual citizenship is what it cryptically describes as “the problems that may arise from it”… like if Sweden suddenly erupted into civil war, the US wouldn't have the same authority to negotiate for my escape? Hmm...I think I have more to worry about on the other side of the Atlantic. Besides, the rest of my family would be stuck here, too. I'll take the risk.

So there’s not much speaking against my becoming a citizen. But still there’s something that’s holding me back, a question that keeps nagging at me: Do I feel Swedish? What would it take for me feel like I am a part of this country?

Even stripped of the country’s blond-haired, meatball-loving stereotypes, my instinct is to answer a somewhat ambivalent no. On one hand, I'm not entirely un-Swedish. I am, for example, now well versed in the Nordic art of preparing Jerusalem artichokes, "black root" and other obscure, previously unidentifiable root vegetables. I follow Zlatan's career with a sense of pride and hope, and I have overcome an instinctive fear of eating mushrooms not purchased from the store. Most notably, our increasingly lenient parenting has more in common with Sweden than with North America. But the only time I’ve felt remotely Swedish was on visits back to the US.

But here’s where things get tough. I can also ask myself the citizenship question from another angle: Do I want to live in a country indefinitely where I am not a member? My answer is no, a definite no.

For many people, citizenship is intricately connected with identity. When I think harder about my own identity, calling myself American seems too simplistic. Aside from living for periods on the Midwest, East Coast and West Coast of the US (which can be as culturally different as bordering nations in Europe), I’ve lived in both Spain and Sweden and have spent every summer of my life in Canada. All of these experiences have shaped my identity and perspective, not just one of them.

In fact, identity is also a choice to some degree. This becomes apparent the more I talk to other immigrants, all who have widely varying perspectives on how much they identify with their new home as well as their place of birth. Many have used dual citizenship as an opportunity to incorporate the best of both worlds into their identities. So the answer might be this simple: If I decide I'm going to be Swedish, I will be.

Maybe I need to frame my citizenship through an entirely new lens. Instead of asking myself if I feel Swedish, maybe I should ask myself this: Do I want to be a part of Sweden? Do I believe fundamentally in the values, priorities and future of this nation? Do I want to be a part of its future?

That’s easy. Yes, I do. In fact, on many issues, I agree far more with the direction of Sweden than I do the United States. Sweden is a country that prioritizes taking care of its people in policies that span gun control, environmental priorities, family support, gender equity, and much, much more. The society, like all others, is not without problems, and racism and xenophobia continue to drive a wedge into the society. But by this measure, just about any other nation in the world is a glass house.

Sweden is offering me this chance for citizenship so that I, too, take responsibility for the future of this society. That’s why I am allowed apply, despite my short stint as a permanent resident. And, in the end, it’s why I decided to send in my papers.

After much consideration, I'm applying to join the club. Now it remains to be seen if I’ll be accepted.

Rebecca Ahlfeldt is an American expat writer, translator, and editor currently based in Stockholm. Follow Rebecca on Twitter here


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