#MySweden: ‘It’s a really great blend between young and old, native-born and foreign-born residents’

#MySweden: 'It's a really great blend between young and old, native-born and foreign-born residents'
Alyssa Bittner-Gibbs. Photo: Private
Every week one of The Local's readers take over our Instagram to show the world their Sweden. Today, Alyssa Bittner-Gibbs from the US shows us her part of Stockholm.

How old are you and what do you normally spend your days doing?

I am 38 and currently busy with a few political and civil organizations, but otherwise job-seeking after finishing a master's degree in political science from Stockholm University. So far, there's promising leads and I have become quite adept at networking, which is crucial to finding work in Sweden. Until very recently, I floated between the SU campus and central Stockholm where I interned at International IDEA. Otherwise, I am with American-born husband Keith and daughters Alice, age 9, and Matilda, who turns 3 on Monday.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

To answer my #1 Sweden FAQ: “Why did you come to Sweden?” let's first look back. *queue flashback* It wasn't because of a job transfer or because I partnered with a Swedish native (obviously)…the typical reasons many come here. It all began in July 1998 when I was a Rotary exchange student and was sent to Eskilstuna, just west of Stockholm, for a year. Then, I had never been on an airplane (let alone been abroad). Eskilstuna was great, but I fell immediately in love with Stockholm–vowing to live there “someday.” And so, I studied in Stockholm in Spring 2002 with “The Swedish Program,” (@swedishprogram) interning at the US Embassy (@usembsweden), and living on Heleneborgsgatan in Södermalm. In 2007 I started to aspire to live abroad again “someday,” instead of buying a minivan and settling in an American suburb like adults are *supposed* to do. Six years later, deciding that Sweden was a better place to raise our family, we took a big leap–selling most of our things, our car, our condo, and packing the rest into a shipping container. Along with our then-toddler daughter our dog and cat came as well. Since it wasn't a transfer, we arranged and paid for everything ourselves. It was stressful, but we survived. Barely. #whew Being my third time living here, #mysweden frame of reference is enriched in interesting ways. Having experiences (like living as a student with a Swedish family or my 1999 “studenten” graduation) to draw upon that other immigrants cannot adds a whole other dimension, especially in conversations with natives. Here I share some pictures from “way back when.” #partylikeits1999 Have any readers returned to Sweden after an initial time, to be lured again by the siren call of lagom and fika? What made you want to return to Sweden? #MySweden #TheLocalSweden #mittsverige #issy_in_sweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 6, 2019 at 2:16am PDT

When and why did you move to your neighbourhood?

Looking to move to Stockholm in 2014, I wasn't familiar at all with the suburbs (where we looked to buy for more living space) having previously lived on Södermalm as a student in 2002. We liked the Västerort area because it was close to the city with a lot of amenities and Beckomberga just felt right in the end! In the earliest stages we considered Ekerö, but shorter commuting times is a very big priority for us.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

This past Tuesday hubby Keith (@pixelheresy)and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, so it’s out tonight to celebrate!!! We’ve settled the kids with Julia the babysitter and left them to enjoy their own meal of tacos. ? #tacofredag #freedom #datenight Our wedding anniversary, PLUS finishing my masters, PLUS the family becoming Swedish citizens In August, plus our 6th Sweden anniversary on Sept. 27. I ..it’s time to go BIG and go somewhere super special…? Anyone wanna guess the restaurant? What’s your favorite restaurant and why? Moving abroad can certainly test relationships in a whole new way, whether one moves with a spouse from the same country, a third country, or follows a Swede back to their homeland. Sadly, many relationships don’t survive the move. An advantage of my husband and I both being Americans is that we generally identify and react the same to cultural differences and therefore, often validate each other’s experiences. Sometimes we share a laugh or engage in comfort activities (like hunting down a fave American food). Other times we appreciate together what we’ve found along the way, such as a better work-life balance and a family-friendly ethos. In the end, it’s brought us closer. Finishing the degree ??‍?wouldn’t have been possible without his support. Moreover, it is quite the gesture to change countries for someone, and I’m grateful to have such a fantastic partner as a support, willing to take the leap, and join me on this crazy roller coaster we call life. I couldn’t be here without him. Tusen tack Keith, and I love you! #mittsverige #MySweden #thelocalsweden #issy_in_sweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 6, 2019 at 10:30am PDT

What do you love the most about your neighbourhood?

While we are in Bromma, we are quite near Vällingby centrum (just 1.5 kilometres away) and the Råcksta subway station (1 kilometre) and a short bus ride to the commuter rail in Spånga centrum. There's a lot of green space and many shopping options. Recent low-rise building and the renovation of the closed Beckomberga hospital (which was [in]famous in its day as Scandinavia's largest mental hospital) into apartments has seen a lot of families moving into the neighborhood, but those living here for decades often have stories that provide interesting historical context I simply don't have!

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

So it’s Saturday and Saturday means it’s time for #lördagsgodis!!! Lördagsgodis is a tradition starting decades ago when dentists advised limiting candy to one day a week (Saturday). https://www.thelocal.se/20170123/sweet-tooth-why-are-the-swedes-obsessed-with-candy/amp And if you read the statistics Swedes DO LOVE their candy. Maybe more than this family (our family doesn’t have candy every week, but we do limit it to weekends). Here in Sweden, when a candy basket arrives to your office at Christmas time from another company or a bowl gets put out, it’s like watching sharks sense blood in the water. ? I’m not exaggerating. They tackle candy ?? with the gusto of a child sugar addict! ? Just sit and observe. #mysweden #mittsverige #thelocalsweden #issy_in_sweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 7, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

The buildings associated with old Beckomberga hospital have been cleverly adapted for modern use. For one example, the hospital's old horse stables and atelje once used for patient therapy using art and riding, are today a preschool with big windows that let in lots of natural light and open into the playground. Our first daughter went to preschool Stallet ('The Stables') in the 'pony' group, and now our second daughter attends in the 'four clover' group. Another former guard building serves as a cozy bistro called Tobbe's kök which is closing on September 22nd, but rumour has it another restauranteur is coming in.

What I particularly love about Beckomberga is that it's a really great blend between old and young, native-born and foreign-born residents. With everyone knowing everyone, it often feels like a small town within Stockholm. While we plan on finding a bigger home soon, we hope to stay nearby.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

My neighborhood, until rather recently, was a major site of construction. The results are lovely, restoring the culture marked gardens and grounds around Beckomberga, which has quite an (in)famous history as a mental hospital. ? Because of this, reference to Beckomberga in Swedish can be an old-timey, short-hand euphemism for “the crazy house” or “loony bin” that is now dying out 24 years after the hospital's closure and more modern awareness around mental health issues. Still, mentioning of living in “Beckomberga” might evoke a smirk or raised eyebrows from an older Swede. ? What I particularly love about Beckomberga is that it’s a really great blend between old and young, native-born and foreign-born residents. With everyone knowing everyone, it often feels like a small town within Stockholm. While we plan on finding a bigger home soon, we hope to stay nearby. Beckomberga has had a few famous residents and associations. Hospitalized in Beckomberga in the early 1960s, author Nelly Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966. ?More recently, former Swedish Academy member and acclaimed author Sara Stridberg wrote a book Beckomberga: Ode till min familj which was nominated for literature's August Prize in 2014. ? #mittsverige #MySweden #thelocalsweden #issy_in_sweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 11, 2019 at 10:53pm PDT

What annoys you the most about your neighbourhood?

It was a bit trying with the years of construction, where the last stage involved totally tearing up the main road and splitting the neighbourhood for a year. After this, fumbling between town government and a contractor meant that the bus operator stopped serving two bus stops after all this considerable taxpayer inconvenience and expense.

I would like to see the missing bus stops restored for the sake of less mobile residents who need to reach the geriatric care ward in Bromma Hospital or the handicapped swimming facilities in Beckomberga, plus added oversight over snow removal which has been lacking. Of course, the green metro line can sometimes have issues (especially in the wintertime) and frequent traffic jams at Brommaplan need addressing.

Otherwise, the construction results are lovely, restoring the culture marked gardens and grounds around Beckomberga.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

So this evening I had my info meeting for the mentorship program Mitt Liv @mittlivschans . I was messaged only last week they had found me a suitable mentor. That isn’t always easy to locate. I won’t get to meet the mentor though until Sept. 30 when we have the official kickoff. Exciting right? ?? Tonight we discussed expectations for us in the program as well as spent some time sharing our experiences in Sweden when applying for work. One of the things we could all agree upon was how important networking is in Sweden. ⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️ This I cannot emphasize enough. For example, did you know that statistically 7 of 10 hires in Sweden are through contacts? Obviously, this affects non-natives pretty hard…since they haven’t had the same amount of time and resources to build a network through childhood, adolescence, university, etc. Funnily enough I met another fellow adept Ana (hi Ana!) who broke the ice saying “You know you look exactly like someone I saw on “The Local”…” ? We shared a good laugh, and finding out that Ana also has a political science background, I managed to hook her up with one of my contacts who has a connection to the particular area that she is interested in. They are going to meet up soon. So already the program is paying off! I’m also a participant in Jusek’s mentor program starting Oct. 2. I am pulling out all the stops, as we say, and this networking will continue long after I find a job as I have made it somewhat of a very valuable habit, especially if you’re interested in political science. Most of all, I hope I can pay it forward someday for those who come after me. For those of you who have made it where you need to be, consider being a mentor! Its even a way to broaden your own network when you meet other mentors and you never know what your adept may become! ?? #mysweden #thelocalsweden #mittsverige #issy_in_sweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 9, 2019 at 2:44pm PDT

Because of the hospital's history, reference to Beckomberga in Swedish can be an old-timey, short-hand euphenism for “the crazy house” or “loony bin” or “insane asylum” that is now dying out 24 years after the hospital's closure and more modern awareness around mental health issues. Still, mentioning of living in “Beckomberga” might evoke a smirk or raised eyebrows from an older Swede.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Today it’s to Stockholm City ? to work. It wasn’t my original plan, but when you settle down and the noise two floors above sounds like this…its time to head to a co-working space. I recently subscribed to one so I can go somewhere to avoid distractions in the home (laundry, dishes, etc) and just get out of the house for its own sake. Co-working spaces are especially popular in Stockholm given its status as a tech capital. You literally can’t trip without falling on one. Many have different amenities, such as sound proof booths for calls seen here. Of course, coffee ☕️ is a given, this is Sweden after all. For a variety of things, neighbors tend to leave notes to notify about renovations or loud parties (as a courtesy) or, famously, to leave the passive-aggressive or angry note when residents misbehave themselves. Didn’t remove the lint after using the communal dryers? Expect an “arg lapp!” Swedes are famously non-confrontational, so these notes are pretty typical citing around mailboxes, entrances, or near your workplace coffee machine. On my way to working, on Olof Palme’s gata, I noted the memorial plaque that marks the spot of his murder on 28 February 1986. Still unsolved, the murder of Palme is an event that many Swedes still remember as “the day Sweden lost its innocence.” Previously, politicians walked around with little to no protection. Today, the Palme case is still the world's largest active murder investigation and citizens still occasionally leave red roses ?, a symbol of the Social Democrat party, at this site. Now it’s time to work until I have my driver’s lesson tonight! I am finally getting around to working on my Swedish driver’s license. ? #mysweden #mittsverige #thelocalsweden #issy_in_sweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 10, 2019 at 12:58am PDT

How should I spend a day in your neighbourhood?

Perhaps a morning hike in Judarskogen nature reserve looking for berries or mushrooms, then visiting Kvarnviken's mill when it has an open house to see the mill in action and buy some organic flour. In the afternoon, a visit to nearby Kaananbadet with lunch at Kaanan garden cafe and playing boules or kubb. In summertime, there is mini golf overlooking Lake Mälaren in the same area, and of course, swimming!

A definite favourite for our daughters is Björklunds hage 4H, which has chickens, rabbits, pigs, goats, sheep, and guinea pigs and a cafe supporting the local 4H club. Gotta keep fika in the mix at all times! There are many walking and biking paths throughout the area to get around to these various spots.

What's a fun fact not everyone knows about your neighbourhood?

Non-natives might not know that nearby Vällingby, inaugurated November 14th 1954, is Sweden's first ABC-stad (which stands for arbetsplatser, bostäder och centrum – 'workplace, homes and centre') and thus, a culturally significant and architecturally protected suburb. It received considerable domestic and international attention for the planning of other multi-functional town planning and became an icon of the Swedish welfare state.

Vällingby has an additional strong association with the Social Democrat party as former Prime Minister Olof Palme lived in Vällingbyhöjden from 1968 to the early 1980s. Today, Social Democrat politicians hold election day speeches in Vällingby to underline their role in forming Sweden's welfare state.

However, Vällingby was settled long before. There is a Bronze Age sacrificial site marked by a plaque on Vittangigatan, right in Vällingby's center. Different Viking runes can be found scattered throughout the wider area.

Horror film fans might want to take a little excursion to Blackeberg, which is the setting of the vampire film Let The Right One In, although it is the Råcksta pedestrian bridge underpass used in one notorious scene in the film. Poor Jocke!

Hospitalized in Beckomberga in the early 1960s, author Nelly Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966. More recently, former Swedish Academy member and acclaimed author Sara Stridberg wrote a book Beckomberga: Ode till min familj which was nominated for literature's August Prize in 2014.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

So, as my time as hosting “The Local” Sweden’s ?? Instagram comes to a close, I want to say “tusen tack” (“a thousand thanks”) for following along with me this week! Things got busy with work commitments, so I didn't post as much as planned, but I am glad you got a glimpse of #mysweden in #Beckomberga. In October 1997, I made a spur of the moment decision to apply to be a @rotaryinternational exchange student after hearing a announcement in homeroom class in my small town high school. I interviewed, got accepted and casually circled “Sweden” on a list because I liked IKEA and “The Cardigans” and meatballs seemed like an okay thing to eat. ?? Plus Swedish Fish! ???? July 1998, I boarded my first airplane ride and left my homeland for the first time to live a quarter way across the world. I celebrated my 18th birthday and graduated high school in Eskilstuna. I came back in 2002 to live in Stockholm, and later returned in 2013 bringing my entire family with me. Three weeks ago, I became a Swede myself along with my family. If there's anything you take from #MySweden story that I have shared this week, it is this: There’s no such thing as a small decision. Even the tiniest, spontaneous idea or choice can ripple like one never imagined and open up a path. It makes life crazy and amazing. As St. Birgitta of Sweden prayed: “Show me the way and make me willing to follow it.” Whatever decisions you make about your life in Sweden (or wherever else in this big, beautiful world) make them with an open heart and prepare for it to take you to people and places you never thought possible. ?? If you see me around, say hello! (Carefully though, I am a Stockholmer after all. ?) God natt! #issy_in_sweden #mysweden #mittsverige #thelocalsweden

A post shared by The Local Sweden (@thelocalsweden) on Sep 12, 2019 at 2:09pm PDT

Follow Alyssa on Instagram here. To find out how you can become The Local's next #MySweden host, click HERE.


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