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.

Why I finally decided to seek 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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Sweden considers expanding mother tongue education

More students should study their mother tongue in Swedish schools, according to a proposal delivered to the government.

Sweden considers expanding mother tongue education
File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT
Students in Swedish schools who have a parent or legal guardian whose native language is something other than Swedish are offered courses to help them strengthen their skills in the other language. 
Roughly 280,000 students are eligible for this education but only approximately 170,000 are actively participating in the courses. 
According to Nihad Bunar, a professor of youth studies at Stockholm University who has been appointed by the government to address this issue, part of the reason the participation is so low is that the mother tongue courses are often held at the conclusion of the regular school day. 
“The consequences of this are obvious: tired students who have competing free-time activities. There is also a general perception that the subject is not as important as other school subjects,” Bunar said. 
Additionally, schools are not required to offer mother tongue classes if there are fewer than five students who would participate in the classes. 


A commission report that has been submitted to the government calls for making mother tongue education a more integrated part of the school day and offering it to smaller groups. The report also suggests offering the classes via remote learning, as a lack of qualified teachers in other languages is also a significant problem. 
The report points out that students who are given the opportunity to develop their mother tongue also tend to develop better Swedish language skills and perform better in school all-around. 
Education Minister Gustav Fridolin welcomed the report’s recommendations. 
“Studying one’s mother tongue can strengthen learning in all students. Therefore, more students should receive mother tongue education and the quality of the education and the curriculum should be strengthened,” he said in a government press release. 
The largest languages in mother tongue education in Sweden are Arabic, Somali, English, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Persian, Kurdish, Spanish, Finnish, Albanian and Polish.
The Local would like to hear from parents whose children are involved in a mother tongue programme at their local school. Please get in touch with us at [email protected] if you’d like to participate in a follow-up article. 
The recommendations on mother tongue education come just a few months after a report carried out by OECD at the request of the Swedish government, suggested that Sweden can and must do much more to help immigrant children perform better at school
That study noted that 61 percent of first-generation immigrant students do “not attain baseline academic proficiency”. The number decreases to 43 percent for second-generation immigrant students and that 19 percent differential is well above the OECD average of 11 percents.