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'Our identity is Welsh first, European second, and British is way down the line': Lessons learned after one year in Sweden

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'Our identity is Welsh first, European second, and British is way down the line': Lessons learned after one year in Sweden
Nathan Lloyd, left, and Tom Jones in Malmö. Photo: Viktoriia Zhuhan/The Local
15:55 CEST+02:00
When Nathan Lloyd and Tom Jones moved to Malmö one year ago, they brought with them 68 boxes and a dream of being European. Their first year in Sweden has brought both despair and inspiration, they tell The Local.

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The couple decided to leave the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, as Lloyd – who had been active in the Remain campaign – had always wanted to be European and was worried that he might now lose that option. 

He had long been mesmerized by Scandinavian design and so they spent the evenings searching for jobs in Sweden and Denmark, as far east as Täby near Stockholm and as far west as Esbjerg in Denmark.

When Lund in southern Sweden offered Jones a teaching job in mid-2017, the couple hit the road. This meant renting out the house they owned in Swansea, and moving into an apartment in Malmö. 

But the Swedish landlords soon decided to sell that apartment forcing them to find a new place to stay, and around the same time, their Welsh tenant decided to move out, leaving the couple in a kind of limbo.

"We didn't just go abroad, we arrived with 68 boxes of stuff. We weren't naïve enough to think we were safe, but we didn't expect we'd have to go through a major move again," Jones recalls.

"That was the point where we were at our lowest financially and mentally. Such a logistical nightmare," Jones says now. While he had a stable income, Lloyd was hunting for jobs in food retail, catering, and kitchens. Even though he had experience, he would often lose to local candidates.

One of the catering events he worked at during that period was so poorly organized that Jones had to come and help Lloyd out. One hour before the dinner the chef asked Jones to count how many plates there were. At that point Lloyd broke down into a panic attack – and the couple decided to slow down their busy lives.

It took "many long, snowy walks" in the forests around Malmö, a tightening of belts so that they could focus only on activities that inspired them, and helping pick each other up from moments of despair, but eventually they managed to carve out a more permanent, relaxed and happy home for themselves in Sweden.

As for the living situation, they ended up moving in with a person they had bumped into at a Christmas party and stayed in touch with. Now they emphasize that it's important to maintain contact with people you meet.


Lloyd and Jones with friends at Malmö Pride. Photo: Private

Going back to the UK, however, was never an option they considered. The uncertainty following the vote to leave the EU reaffirmed the couple's decision to leave the country for good.

"I feel disheartened and sorry for the people who want to remain European but who are stuck in the UK because of a family or a job. I feel very fortunate that we were able to get out," says Lloyd. As the couple watches the Brexit deadline approaching, they think their life would be "a mess" if they had stayed.

For them, it was a question of identity. The EU had partially funded the new campus at the Swansea University that Lloyd used to attend, and subsidizes many other projects across Wales.

It's these things that make Lloyd proud of being European, and that's what he fears the Wales will lose after Brexit. "Our identity is Welsh first, European second, and British is way down the line," he says.

After moving to Sweden, the couple speak more Welsh with each other than they used to at home.

A majority of Welsh voters backed Brexit in the 2016 vote, but Jones and Lloyd believe people voted for something that would be a disadvantage to them. They also felt disappointed by what they saw as the growing influence of the right wing.

"We have no desire to go back home. It's hard to stay in a place where you can do nothing about it," Jones sums up.

Jones adds that Britain is becoming increasingly nationalistic these days, and that's an identity they don't want to associate themselves with. 

Although Swedes have a reputation for being reserved, the couple found ways to build a community in their new country.

"We were like: we're just going to talk to people. And they started talking to us. We've met a lot of friends in a year. We've managed to put down roots," says Jones.

As for Lloyd, he started interacting with local businesses on social media months before the move to Sweden was finalized. Eventually, this led to a connection with the social media manager of monthly breakfast lecture series Creative Mornings, Jenny, who invited him for a fika once he had arrived in Malmö. After that, things snowballed and she was the person who introduced Lloyd to many of the people he has worked with since then.

Jones, on the other hand, joined the Simply Draw it Big agency where he develops his passion for illustrating. He says he didn't have much time and inspiration for the hobby while teaching at a class of 31 children in a troubled area in Wales, but work at a Swedish school leaves him with some energy for creativity.

These activities don't always bring profit, Lloyd explains – as of now, Jones is the main provider and Lloyd stays busy for around 20 hours a week. Getting a permanent job hasn't yet worked out for him, so he's following a more entrepreneurial and freelance approach. But he is positive: eventually, the networking will pay off.

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Solea - 11 Aug 2018 13:34
This is exactly what I'm hoping to do: move to Sweden because of Brexit. Great to read this about a couple who have already made the move and hear a little about how it has gone for them. I wonder how many other Brits are planning to move in hopes of retaining their EU citizenship.
Michael Olsen - 16 Aug 2018 15:46
I was gone from the UK to Sweden within a month after the Brexit vote, though it was in my long term plans anyway. The vote was a complete shock and two years on, I am very happy that I left when I did and very happy to be here in this lovely place. I only wish I had been able to leave sooner.
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