I know it’s been a year since I last posted, but it really doesn’t feel that long for me, in good part because I still get comments pretty regularly on what has turned out to be my iconic post, Why I hate living in Sweden. While I still remember with bitter clarity how I felt when I wrote that entry a year and a half ago, and feel intense sympathy with people who recognize themselves in that post, I no longer hate living in Sweden. My life in Sweden is going really well right now, actually. I no longer think Swedes are boring and close-minded (not as a rule, at any rate). I no longer hate speaking Swedish; sure, I still find it irritating when I say things wrong or can’t find the right word, but it’s not the biggest deal ever anymore. I no longer have to try to follow a complicated set of foreign-feeling rules to interact socially with Swedes; it just comes naturally, and I am Swedish enough now that when the American shines through, I think they just find it refreshing. And fuck them if they don’t.
But wait, go back a second, why did I stop blogging? I started to feel weird about posting about my kids. I felt even weirder about the growing share of Swedes among my readers, and became half-convinced people I knew were reading the blog, and that my blog was somehow the reason I was having trouble making Swedish friends. And then I got a government job and, while it certainly gave me a lot of really fabulously good stories, I didn’t want to write about them online. And I just plain got really, really busy.
That’s because I didn’t just get that government job I mentioned; oh no. During the same early autumn week last year, I got three paying jobs all at once. There was a lot going on. Now I am down to just one job, but it is full-time, and it is the perfect job for me, you guys: research at a university on the topic of schoolchildren with immigrant background. Let me repeat: I work at a university. As a researcher! It may not be a permanent position (that is my next goal) but I am almost there, almost back to where I was career-wise in the US. It feels like such a major accomplishment. And I am kicking ass at my job, too. I have brought my corporate American effectiveness and put it together with my practical experience as an immigrant, research background, and teaching degree and experience, and am just hitting it out of the park.
The puzzle-solving element of all this working and simultaneously having two kids has been a new challenge for us as a family—I hadn’t worked full-time since having children—but it has been so wonderful for my self-esteem and my feeling of belonging and purpose in Sweden that it has been totally worth it. And the kids love daycare/after school care and time with their grandparents. What is particularly great about the work that I have gotten is that it is precisely because of, not in spite of, who I am that I am good at it, like my being an immigrant and having foreign work experience and a different native language than Sweden. My problem before was seeing those essential elements of myself as a problem instead of as a advantage. (To be fair, in most contexts in Sweden those things actually are a disadvantage: I am lucky as all get out to have found work that values them.)
While the main reason for my feeling much more at home in Sweden is because of having meaningful work where I am appreciated for my unique and professional contributions, things have improved on the living-in-a-rural-village front, as well. It is at this point that I have to give thanks to the school bully (now reformed). The ONLY reason we had moved to Sweden was for a better life for my kids, and they were not getting it. I had had enough. It was a circuitous route, but if that kid hadn’t been running around wreaking havoc on that school and harassing my kid in specific, I never would have spent the summer of 2013 rabble-rousing the other parents and (sort of) suing the school. And winning! And thus effecting real change, from getting the school to bring in new teachers and student aides as well as changing the entire climate of the school with regard to bullying. I have much closer connections now to many other families out here through this process and also as a result of their gratefulness to me for being, in effect, NOT Swedish, not conflict-averse, but being American, with my native-born get-shit-done don’t-take-crap from others approach.
This is why I no longer hate living in Sweden: I have had the great luck of finding a way, a context, to participate in Swedish society while still being myself.