‘Australian sport helped me settle in Sweden’

For this week’s My Swedish Career, Giulia Armiero talks to Simon Fittock, 27, who leads a compelling double life teaching mathematics while competing in Australian Football League contests.

Leaving his home country at the start of 2013, Simon initially moved to London to work as a teacher, with his fellow Australian girlfriend in tow.

After his visa expired, the couple looked for work elsewhere in Europe and when Simon got a job at a school in Stockholm, they jumped at the chance to move to a country famous for its education system and beautiful landscape.

The couple made the move in August 2014 and are still learning the basics of their host nation's language. Simon says he’s helped by staff at the school he works at and also uses online teaching tools.

But while he says he finds the experience a “fun journey”, like many expats he is frustrated that he can’t always put his new vocabulary into practice.

“It's a bit disappointing when you attempt to talk Swedish to someone at the shops and they answer in English!” he jokes.

Apart from his language struggles, Simon cites finding a decent long-term apartment contract as his key problem since arriving in Stockholm.

“The biggest thing when I came to Sweden was the difficulty to find rental accommodation. The whole process of buying and renting houses is very, very different to what I’ve been exposed to both in Australia and in London. That was probably the biggest shock to us.”

On the plus side, he says he and his girlfriend were also rather surprised by the country’s major focus on equality and freedom of speech, something they both really respect.

“A lot of places around the world could learn from Sweden,” he adds.

Simon is from Hobart in Tasmania, while Amy hails from Perth in western Australia. Both are used to living close to nature, but say they have been shocked at how stunning their new home is.

“The beauty of the landscape, the preservation of forests, the Swedish law which allows people to enjoy the nature, and the way Sweden uses the nature is just captivating,” says Simon.

And unlike some expats, he says the couple are embracing the cold weather.

“I think obviously the big change is the climate, having a white Christmas is a bit of a novelty to me,” he laughs.

Simon (right) and his girlfriend Amy are enjoying exploring Sweden. Photo: Private

It’s safe to say Simon’s landing was softened by the welcome he was given by his new Australian Football team, the Solna Axemen, who reached out to him soon after his arrival as they have done with many other sporty expats.

“I went down and played a game with them and I haven’t turned around since,” he told The Local.

“They’ve been like my second family over here.”

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It’s a multinational family, where people from all over the world with different sporting backgrounds such as football, hockey or handball come together to have a go at the sport.

“I think sport is a really good social tool, and having a team like the Axemen makes moving countries and having a non-familiar place feel quite welcoming.”

Simon describes his sport as requiring a combination of athletic and physical abilities, decision-making skills and teamwork. He adds that it is also important for members to be good at socializing and having a lot of fun. 

The Axemen. Photo: Private

The Axemen are a part of the Stockholm Australian Football Federation (SAFF) and recently won the premiership of the Australian Football League in Sweden. This year, the club has the “privilege”, as Simon puts it, of being invited to compete in the first ever European Champions League of Australian Football, which takes place in Amsterdam in March.

While Simon admits that his girlfriend Amy, 25, who is a trained ballerina and contemporary dancer has found it trickier than him to make friends in the Swedish capital, he disagrees with expats who accuse Swedes of being introverted and failing to include foreigners in their community.

“I don't think Swedish people are unfriendly, maybe they’re a little bit less outgoing socially, maybe they don’t want to meet stacks of new people, but they’re certainly not arrogant or disrespectful or anything like that,” he says.

Asked how long the couple will stay in Sweden for, Simon says he’s unsure, but he’s planning to keep enjoying the experience for a while yet, even if that includes apartment-hopping and speaking to Swedes in English.

“We really enjoy working in schools over here and we want to make sure that we’re progressing in our careers. The window is open really,” says Simon.