Sweden has long been a beacon of hope for those looking to improve their lives. Whether it's people like me escaping the Brexit-driven madness of the UK or a Syrian refugee fleeing that country's civil war, Sweden offers opportunity, security and a chance to build a good life for you and your family.
The Nordic country is almost like a modern European America in that way -- a land of opportunity and freedom. But while the ‘American Dream' has been endlessly discussed, dissected and celebrated, not so much thought has been given to the ‘Swedish Dream'.
Maybe that's because the Swedish Dream isn't much like the American Dream at all.
The American Dream is all about money, power and status - ‘making it big'.
The Swedish Dream is all about happiness, opportunity and family - ‘making it golden'.
A region such as The High Coast in Sweden, on the Bothnian Gulf in Västernorrland, 500 km north-east of Stockholm, embodies the Swedish Dream - it's a place of staggering natural beauty, thriving towns, great schools and robust entrepreneurial spirit.
But what are the other constituent parts of the Swedish Dream?
Living close to nature
Photo: Fredrik Lewander
Chasing the Swedish Dream on The High Coast can be a spectacularly beautiful experience - the region's unique combination of ocean, mountain and forest landscapes offers a unique playground in which to enjoy outdoor life. Hiking, surfing, fishing, kayaking, climbing, skiing and snowmobiling, are all possible at different times of the year.
And then, when you want to kick back, the towns of The High Coast, such as Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall have bustling bars and restaurants.
Blair Christianson, who left Canada for The High Coast 17 years ago, still can't quite believe his luck: “We have ski slopes just a few kilometers away, are surrounded by gigantic expanses of wilderness and have peace and quiet when we need it. It really is fantastic.”
Sense of community
Rural Swedes are generally a warm, generous bunch. In our village, residents visit often to have coffee, share cakes and bring presents for kids. When we had our twin girls, we were inundated by well-wishers, many of whom we'd never even met before. It was an endless flow of friendly, baked goods-carrying Swedes. It was just like The Waltons TV series but with less God and more cake.
Photo: Friends enjoying a drink at APA in Härnösand
“We've never come across rude people here,” says Blair. “If you want to talk, they'll talk to you. If you want to be left alone, you can have seclusion. But one word of advice – learning the language will make you feel so much more at home. It's really worth making the effort.”
Sweden is almost ridiculously civilised. Its approach to gender equality is totally taken for granted by locals but a regular source of astonishment to outsiders. Every non-Scandinavian on their first walk or drive through a Swedish town is immediately struck by the number of men pushing kids in buggies. It's a common sight in Sweden to see a posse of men wheeling their kids around town centres before stopping off for an afternoon latte. Where I come from in England such unusual behaviour would make the local TV news.
Photo: Fredrik Lewander
Blair agrees. “Life here is so much more focused on both parents, not just the father. It's so much fairer.”
This is the result of Sweden's incredibly generous 16-month parental leave which can be shared out between mothers and fathers, with three months of that set aside specifically for each parent. This encourages fathers to bond with their children and allows mothers to get back to work.
Great work-life balance
When you first start work here in northern Sweden it's a little discombobulating. You have to disentangle yourself from all your previous working practices. Swedes are loyal and highly committed employees who are unafraid of taking the initiative themselves and solving problems. They don't need to be held by the hand. This makes them a productive bunch.
This dedication to getting the job done springs from being treated well. Employers don't expect workers to eat their lunch at their desk. They encourage regular fika breaks and offer flexible working hours. Workers go home on time. Indeed, many parents in the office will likely have already gone to pick up their kids from school at 3.30pm to take them to the nearby ski slopes where they'll enjoy an hour or two of skiing before heading home.
Photo: Peder Sundström
Entrepreneurial spirit and support
Entrepreneurs here don't just want to make money but are passionate about making the world a better place.
Take, for example, Sandlund/Hossain, a Swedish/Bangladeshi leather bag company founded by High Coast local Anders Sandlund and his childhood friend Tulin Houssain. The company not only makes beautiful bags but does so sustainably through its CowFunder initiative which provides families in Bangladesh with cows. The idea is that the family cares for the cow throughout its life after which they can earn a year's income from the meat while Sandlund/Houssain gets traceable and well-kept rawhide. Sandlund/Hossain embodies innovation and sustainability, two keywords for any business seeking the Swedish Dream on the High Coast.
There's also a tradition of locals supporting local entrepreneurs by buying into their businesses, in a phenomenon called ‘stock-based crowdfunding', which bolsters new businesses. Hernö Gin, for example, a startup distiller, has 1,000 investors of which 50 percent come from The High Coast - it's a remarkable level of local involvement.
Local authorities also provide vigorous support for businesses. Timrå municipality on the High Coast was recently ranked eighth in ‘Best Service for Businesses' category in the Confederation for Swedish Enterprise's survey. Any business that relocates to the High Coast can expect a warm welcome, comprehensive support and streamlined establishment processes.
A great place to raise a family
In the UK, for example, childcare provisions now take up nearly 34 percent of a family's income. In Sweden it is 4.4 percent. That disparity is truly vast. Medical care for children is free. The education system up to, and including, university is free. This is great. I don't want my twin girls to have to pay for their university education and to be encumbered by debt for years after graduation. Sweden nurtures its young, understands that you have to invest in youth, not demonise it or financially hamstring it.
Photo: Peder Sundström
Blair agrees wholeheartedly with me. “The life here for our kids has been amazing. Brilliant. I would never have moved our kids back to Canadian schools. It's very civil here. No bullying. There's such a supportive atmosphere – kids can just be kids.”
One of the most surprising aspects of The High Coast is the incredibly low price of property. For the average price of a garage for your car in London, in rural Sweden you can buy a well-maintained, 4-bedroom house with land overlooking a lake. Yes, all that for €60,000.
Indeed, moving to Sweden could be even cheaper if you're a DIY ninja. If you're willing to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in to a spot of renovation you could buy a large house in need of modernisation for an amazing €15,000. No, you're not seeing things.
The Swedish Dream is alive, real and waiting for you on the beautiful High Coast.
This article is produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by High Coast Invest.