How learning Sweden’s history will help you feel at home

How learning Sweden's history will help you feel at home
Photo: Stock image/Depositphotos
There's one crucial integration tool that's often harder to access for adults. But you will only truly know how and why Sweden is the way it is today if you understand the country's history.

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For immigrants in Sweden, it can feel at times like the normal daily routine offers precious few opportunities for cultural and historical immersion. This is doubly true for those raising a family. Between acclimating to new ways of doing things, learning the language, working and/or studying, setting up and maintaining a home, caring for children and prioritizing their needs, trying to squeeze in time with a partner, and maybe actually having a social life, it's no surprise that our knowledge of Swedish culture and history often goes woefully uncultivated.

As children, we grew up in our respective native countries soaking up the culture and history in a very organic way. Our formal educations were, of course, a major contributor to our knowledge. Whether we wanted to or not, we sat in history and literature classes, went on field trips to museums and planetariums, wrote essays and book reports, and so on. But in a thousand other ways, we breathed in culture and history without ever knowing we were learning. The inherently inquisitive nature of children saw to that.

Unfortunately, it's a characteristic that can be lost as busy adults, whether living in a foreign country or not. But for those of us living and raising a family in another country, it can suddenly dawn on us that we know very little of how and why Sweden is the way it is today. While the children of immigrant families become culturally immersed through education and osmosis, the adults in those families are often left to pick up what bits and pieces they can without ever really grasping a bigger picture.

Of course, everyone is free to choose this path if they want, just as they can decide they simply don't have the time to devote to developing an understanding of Sweden's extensive history. For some, just the mention of history may bring back bad memories of a particularly boring history class that makes them strenuously avoid the subject to this day. Still others might even argue that they can lead a perfectly good life in Sweden without ever really knowing much of anything about its history.

While all of this may be justified or true, by defaulting to any of these positions, we deprive ourselves of knowledge and perspective that can not only make us feel more at home in our adopted country, but can also make us better and more integrated members of society. If we hope for and expect this of children, why not hold ourselves to the same standard?

The good news is, it's not necessary to return to school to achieve a reasonable level of cultural and social immersion and integration through history. We simply need to call upon our natural intellectual curiosity to find history in our everyday lives and discover the value in it that speaks to us as individuals.

Those of us with children may think that our demanding schedule and divided attention make this less achievable than for those without children. In fact, children are an excellent conduit for our own learning that in some ways gives us even more opportunities to educate ourselves about Sweden's history and culture.

But whether you have children or not, anyone who can't find ample opportunities to explore the past in their immediate vicinity isn't looking hard enough. And whether you live in the city or in the country, you don't have to step foot in a museum or read a colossal history book to discover Sweden's history and culture. Even as adults, we have the ability to embrace the inquisitive nature of our childhood and breathe in the culture and history of Sweden without breaking much of a sweat. All that's required is a greater awareness of what's around us and a little context to get us going.

The knowledge that stands to be gained from even simple efforts can help improve ourselves and our lives in myriad ways. Our knowledge of Swedish can advance beyond the practical and everyday to a more nuanced and meaningful level. The quality and nature of our social interactions can broaden and deepen. We can find meaning and purpose in our everyday activities in ways we never considered. Most importantly, our time in Sweden – whether it's just a few years or a lifetime – will be well- and honourably-spent.

Just as I have shared my experiences as an immigrant parent in Sweden through this monthly column, starting with my next column, I will be doing the same as a historical researcher and writer who has made embracing Swedish history an integral part of my own cultural and social immersion and integration process. The column will alternate between a focus on family life one month and on cultural and historical topics the next.

The goal for both is the same, to contribute something of myself that I hope will be of value to other immigrants in Sweden who seek a sense of community, connection, and enrichment.

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

Read more from her family and history column on The Local here.