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'I'm one of those people who don't know where they belong'

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'I'm one of those people who don't know where they belong'
Saina Behnejad in Stockholm. Photo: Emma Löfgren/The Local
10:14 CEST+02:00
The Local's intern Saina Behnejad, whose Iranian parents moved from Stockholm to London when she was five, explains why she will always keep returning to Sweden.

I'm a Londoner through and through. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, the uneven streets, and the feeling that I'll never finish exploring the city. But Stockholm is my second home.

A city with more of a town vibe, Stockholm is where I have spent numerous Christmases, half-terms and Easter holidays.

I'm technically a Swede. I have a passport to show for it and a birth certificate that states I was born here. But I don't feel like one. Given that I moved to London when I was five, I guess that's understandable.

But while growing up in England, my classmates and teachers would say my accent sounded ‘American', although Americans themselves would disagree. It's best described as a strange twang, perhaps Scandinavian, that not everyone notices. British gingerbread will never live up to the delicious pepparkakor. I'd also like to personally thank whoever invented the infamous kebab pizza.

I'm one of those people who don't really know where they belong. Born to Iranian parents in Sweden, growing up in the UK and studying for three years in the United States can make you feel grateful as well as confused. I'm a foreigner everywhere I go, whether by my heritage, accent or passport, and when I find myself explaining my background the person asking often gets a longer answer than they anticipated.

I admire the Nordics, but I know they're not perfect. The picture portrayed to the rest of the world is not necessarily inaccurate, but it's incomplete. During my time in Florida, it was amusing to hear the varied views Americans had of Sweden. American conservatism, so different from its European counterpart, meant that Republicans thought of Sweden as a socialist wasteland, while those on the more liberal side of the spectrum expected me to paint a verbal picture of a perfect society.

I'll admit, I only started to pay attention to Sweden's day-to-day news in the last few years. I can credit my renewed interest to how America made me appreciate what Sweden, and in general, Europe, has to offer.

Given my inadequate Swedish, I'm thankful The Local Sweden exists. It's where I get the majority of my Sweden related news, fostering a tentative connection to the country I'm so familiar with and yet so removed from.

OPINION: 'If you ask me where I'm from I'll be proud to tell you'

I have a sense of both gratitude and resentment. My family left Iran in the 1980s and most of them ended up in Sweden as refugees. They settled in relatively well, allowing them to learn Swedish, go to school and university and become productive members of society.

Iranian Swedes are an immigration success story. Integrated, educated and successful. The high percentage of Iranians in medicine and engineering attests to that.

But this is where the resentment comes in. Success was very difficult to attain. My parents faced racism in university because they weren't Swedish, often having to study even harder than their Swedish counterparts to get a fair grade, and rejection from employers because of their accents. This is why we ended moving to the UK. My parents just couldn't get jobs after finishing degrees in dentistry.

I'm told it's a lot better now. But seeing the reported rise of racism in Sweden and other countries during the refugee crisis is concerning. I feel a sense of kinship with those people, although what they are fleeing and what my family fled are vastly different.

That's not to say Sweden's reputation of humanitarianism isn't well-deserved. It's taken in more refugees per capita than any other European country since the refugee crisis began, although its asylum rules have been tightened since. There will always be some hurdles to overcome when faced with such responsibilities. I might have held Sweden to an impossibly high standard and that's unfair of me. Especially given the messy situation the UK has found itself in after the Brexit vote.

So, it's evident that I'm a mixed bag of opinions and emotions about the place of my birth. But Sweden will always be a place I run to for family time, a break, a breath of fresh air. And delicious food, obviously.

This article was written by Saina Behnejad, who is currently interning with The Local in Sweden.

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