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International parents worry about the effect on their children of living abroad. In this article we look at the two main concerns that parents can creatively address in their children, to turn the challenge of foreign parenting into a triumph.

Parenting is hard enough at the best of times and each developmental stage that our youngsters embark on stretches us a little further. Add into the mix the development of intercultural, cross-cultural and international children and you find the challenges rise. Paradoxically, when you have moved internationally with children, they often need you more at a time when there is so much less of you; a time when you’re trying to get to grips with all the practical matters: a new job, running the household, and facing your own culture shock. However, in the words of Expat guru Robin Pascoe, author of Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World, we owe it to our international children to be there for them more, rather than less.

Children who move from country to country have many goodbyes to say, not only to their friends, but also to their bedrooms, their school projects, their ‘special places’ in the gardens or in the woods. Grief becomes an intrinsic part of their life experience.

At the same time, the challenges of an international childhood are often highly exaggerated and can actually be an asset, as Barack Obama, Christiane Amanpour and Reese Witherspoon, all so called ‘Third Culture Kids’, illustrate. ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCKs) is a term that has been used since the 1950s to describe children that do not grow up in their parents’ home culture. The idea is that the ‘third culture’ is neither the home, nor the host culture, but a parallel culture of other ‘global nomads’, who carry home in their heart, rather than linking it to a geographical place. With good and aware parenting, our youngsters can get the very best from the experience of being raised in a country that is not their parents’ own. In this article I will highlight two main concerns that arise for TCKs.

 

Home is in your heart

One of the two main issues faced by global nomads is linked to their (cultural) identity. One of the hazards of international parenting is that we sometimes feel we need to ‘push’ our own mono-cultural identity on our children; either because one day we will all go ‘home’, or because we feel a sense of competition with the host country. Sometimes we compete with the other nationality in our marriage. I have a son who is biologically half-Dutch and half-Swedish, but sociologically more Anglo-Saxon. There was a time when, not being quite as happy with Sweden as I wanted to be, I used to share my negative experiences with him. Many years later he told me ‘you almost drove a wedge between me and my experience of (also) being Swedish’. While I wasn’t pushing a specifically Dutch agenda, I was most certainly pushing a non-Swedish one.

Making your identity up from the inside out is much, much harder and actually involves some serious internal soul searching, but in the long run it is more robust than having an identity imposed from the outside in.

Our intercultural kids belong to what sociologists call a ‘third culture’, that is to say a non-nationality-specific one that embraces all, yet is defined by none. We benefit our children in handling the inevitable question of ‘where is home?’ by helping them to understand that there doesn’t have to be a geographically specific answer. Geography often equals labels and stereotypes, and our sons and daughters are learning to live outside of a national stereotype. Let them tell you who or what they are, and support them in being home to themselves, belonging to a culture of non-belonging. A response that I often encounter is linked to cultural heritage, i.e., ‘what if they lose the link to their roots?’. Ask any TCK whether it was more helpful to be plugged into a nationality-specific identity or to be free to make it up as they go along and they will answer the latter. As parents we always need to be mindful whose need we are meeting with our concerns; is it our own, or theirs?

Making your identity up from the inside out is much, much harder and actually involves some serious internal soul searching, but in the long run it is more robust than having an identity imposed from the outside in.

 

Grieving is normal

Children who move from country to country have many goodbyes to say, not only to their friends, but also to their bedrooms, their school projects, their ‘special places’ in the gardens or in the woods. Grief becomes an intrinsic part of their life experience. As parents, we see their pain and consequently may experience guilt for what we are ‘putting them through’, despite the move being ‘for all the right reasons.’ Our own grief is usually already disavowed. International nomads need to be allowed to express their feelings of grief and anger, be they big or small. As parents we need to sit on our guilt, our need to ‘make it all ‘OK’, to ‘talk up’ the experience; and instead allow our youngsters to say how hard it is for them, how much they hate their new school, friends, etc. Once expressed, feelings go away much more quickly than when they have to be hidden. Children are resilient, and what they hate today, they may love tomorrow; not because we tell them to, but because we allowed them to articulate their response.

Remember, listening to their concerns is not the same as having to act on what they say. When my son was three he came up with the wildest schemes to explore planet Mars. I listened to him, attentively; despite knowing that what he wanted was impossible. It taught him that what he said was important and it taught me to sit with the helplessness that is so much part of being a parent.

In summary

Make time to listen to your children; be there more for them, rather than less; be aware of any subtle underlying need to promote, (or rubbish) certain cultures, and allow them to express their feelings of grief. Help them to build an identity from the inside out. That way they will gain the most from their experience.

In part 2 we look at how international kids interact with local children, how to choose the right school, and what kind of health care to expect from Sweden.

For more information about TCK’s please go to TCKid.com, or visit Robin Pascoe’s website at expatexpert.com

Copyright 2014: Lysanne Sizoo

 

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne teaches the ‘Global identities’ workshop both in Stockholm and on her houseboat close to Amsterdam.

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DISCLAIMER
These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and
clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic
meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would
never be shared in a public forum.

 

Featured Image: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

In this month of Love and Friendship YLC’s mental health writer Lysanne Sizoo looks at the ways in which internationals connect with other, and how they can keep their friendships happy and healthy.

The human need for social connection and friendship is deeply rooted. Some people experience it stronger than others. While some seem designed to break down barriers quickly and connect deeply, others have more of a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

Often this is a combination of nature and nurture; the intrinsic design of your personality and the way it was conditioned as you grew up. How we connect to others doesn’t always run along the same lines and so may create confusion, especially if we factor in differing cultural backgrounds and norms. On the whole we enjoy meeting people with whom we have something in common, although it’s not unknown for an outgoing and social person to attract a shyer more introverted friend.

You understand me, don’t you?

In the past fifteen years I have run different kinds of support groups. These days internet forums fulfil much the same need, although group conflict is not always handled effectively. What all these groups had in common was the feeling of an immediate ‘click’ with others who were going through a similar experience.

The participants resonated with each other and although they came from different cultures, there was an immediate sense of intimacy.

And this is great, because it means that in those close safe groups they could explore the experience deeply, with sympathetic others, and begin to find their way through. But after a few weeks or months the differences between the participants would also surface. A support group is a great place to move from a sense of being all alike, to chaos, to unity in diversity, and most groups felt stronger and more supportive for having weathered the realisation that it was okay that they were more different than the same.

Out in the real world that process is a whole lot harder and a whole lot messier. And in international friendship groups it happens all the time.

I use this example because I think there is a similar mechanism at work when we make friends while we are abroad. Driven by the need to make friends and belong we seek out other like-minded people. If we find internationals on our path then there is often this immediate ‘click’ of recognition, which is great, but this ‘click’ can also knock out our normal ‘friendship radars’, essential to deciding who we want to play with or not. International friendships can have a kind of hit and miss quality, adding to the feelings of rejection and abandonment that we might already be experiencing.

I have also met internationals who are impatient for new friends because they think the ‘home front’ expects them to be making friends as swiftly as others expect them to learn the native tongue.

In both cases they’re wrong; languages and friendships take time, effort and patience!

And even if your mutual click went beyond the initial phase of resonating with each other’s life experience, deepening into something longer lasting, then your new friendship might suddenly be challenged by either one of you moving on to the next foreign adventure.

The effect of these additional challenges to international friendships can be two-fold; you become more and more open to friendships you would never entertained ‘back home’, or you become insure and self-conscious, believing that this roller coaster ride is somehow their fault, rather than the result of circumstance. And while the former might be an interesting experience in terms of personal growth and expectations, it can also lead to boundary shifts and entanglements that are difficult to handle because you lack the experience.

What underlies a longer lasting friendship?

If you look at the friendships that survived your travels, you might notice that they are in a deeper, more lasting phase. Time and distance will have sifted out the one or two friends that are lasting, while others faded away. Just as there are different ways of making friends, there are also different ways of staying friends and expressing what we feel for them. Since we are heading into the Love highlight of the year, Valentine’s Day, we might want to consider what the Greeks thought. They had six words for love*. Eros is the one we all seem to strive for in the Western world, the all-in-one, all-encompassing love that fires the passions, telling us we are uniquely special to that one other person.

The Greeks viewed this fiery kind of love as rather short term and dangerous.

I think this kind of ‘falling in love’ in a platonic way, can also happen when people meet who really ‘resonate’ with each other around a certain issue, like being an international. But as we also know, Eros is of a fleeting nature.

Pragma describes a longer term kind of love, one that can entertain compromises, tolerance and patience to help a relationship to work. A more communal version of that would be Philia, is the kind of love that supports a sense of camaraderie, loyalty, devotion, sacrifice and a sharing of an emotional depth. Pragma and Philia are the stuff of long term friendships and intimate relationships.

All relationships – whether from an early age or between people who move around the globe – are subject to periods of ebb and flow, just like the oceans.

The hard thing is to know if you are feeling a period of ebb with your newly acquired international friend or whether you really feel you’re coming to a full stop. Breakdowns in a friendship can deepen them if we dare. And while that is made harder by the fact that we bring different sets of cultural conditioning to the table, it is a rich ground for learning too. When in the spirit of Philia and Pragma, you allow the other to express their hurt, annoyance and confusion it creates a spirit of trust. This goes for couples as much as other kinds of friendships.

Endings

Finally, International friendships, especially if you have been living the international life from a very early age, can suffer a little from closure fatigue. Not only in the sense that we begin to feel we have said goodbye one time too many, and are too exhausted emotionally to try again, but also in the sense that we become lazy about ‘breaking up’. At some point, someone, be it you or them, will probably move on, and so pain or frustration never needs to be expressed. You just drift apart. In some cases this may be correct, in others the opportunity is missed to thresh something out and grow a little in the process.

In short, relationships are messy, painful, as well as gloriously wonderful and supportive when they work. International relationships are, if possible, even messier, and so require more of us when it comes to putting the ideals of Pragma and Philia into practise. Have a great Valentine’s Day!

 

* the other three are Ludus, playful love, agape, selfless love, as well as Philautia, self-love.

 

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizo

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo has been working as an international counsellor and coach for the past twenty years. In 2009, she founded the first and only international counselling centre in Stockholm. She divides her time between coaching, lecturing and writing, and regularly holds workshops in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Zurich. She specializes in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

DISCLAIMER
These articles are a composite of my personal, my previous colleagues’ and
clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic
meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would
never be shared in a public forum.

 

1375118842 header 290713 e1383221623981 Expats and mental health: YOUR questions answered

Just moved to Sweden? Feeling like a fish out of water? There’s no need! Let the Global Expat Centre in Stockholm be your home away from home!

Named Best Practice in Talent Support by the EU’s BSR Project in 2013, the Global Expat Centre offers language training, cross-cultural services and job support, along with a wide range of social activities that will swiftly help you settle into your new life.

The centre was singled out for their exemplary work, being cited for their ‘total solution’ approach in covering the needs of international families and workers. At the Global Expat Centre, they don’t just teach you the language, they offer members a variety of activities to get you out and participating in the life and language of Sweden.

 

Language Courses: Swedish for Internationals

Learning the language is of course an important first step when arriving in a foreign country. Being able to communicate with people around you on a daily basis, whether it’s to order a meal or simply ask for directions, can’t be overrated. But when it comes to language training – what suits one, might not suit another – and that’s why the Global Expat Centre offers both group- and individual classes – tailored to the needs of expatriates and internationals.

All the teachers have experience of expat life themselves and can therefore provide students with the practical language knowledge necessary to make their time in Sweden more productive and enjoyable, both professionally and socially.

Lessons are built around day-to-day experiences, allowing newcomers to swiftly feel comfortable in everyday life situations.

Group lessons are kept small (8-10 students), giving students the benefits of individual coaching while not losing the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. However, private lessons are also available and can be booked at the time and place most convenient to the student, whether at the centre, in the student’s home or place of work. Intensive courses, tailored to the specific needs of the student, are also available throughout the year.

To secure your spot or to find out more, contact the centre HEREall group lessons start Week 6  (3rd – 7th February) 2014.

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The Global Expat Centre is located in Vasastan, close to Odenplan Metro Station

 

Cross-Cultural Training: Solving the cultural puzzle

Anyone who has relocated to another country knows that a new language must be put into context, and GEC therefore provides coaching in Swedish culture and social code. These go a long way in helping you avoid sometimes hugely embarrassing social or work faux pas.

You don’t want to be the one guest who shows up at a dinner party with flowers still in their paper, or waltzing into the living room with your shoes still on your feet!  

The Cross-cultural workshop Welcome to Sweden, Focus on Stockholm, helps answer questions and to introduce newcomers to the quirks (and irks) of daily life in a foreign city. If you have ever asked yourself questions like “Why do Swedes always remove their shoes indoors?” and “Why does no one want to chat to me on the bus?”– this is the course for you! The workshop is free of charge for Global Expat Centre members but is also open to paying non-members.

Whatever your particular needs – the Global Expat Centre provides its students with the tools to make the most of their stay in the city. To make your Stockholm experience one that will stay with you for a lifetime – HERE is where you join! For more information or to book an appointment contact Global Expat Centre Stockholm.

GEC2

Activities and get-togethers are all part of the learning experience

Full Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Global Expat Centre Stockholm.  At Your Living City, we only choose to work with partners that we feel would help our readers; these select few are chosen for our sponsored articles. 

If ever there was a description less befitting the hard work of a partner accompanying their loved on a foreign adventure it has to be the ‘trailing spouse’. YLC’s mental health expert Lysanne Sizoo explores the stereotypes and the reality.

trailspouse

Many couples who move away from their home country express that it was a joint decision, “We always hoped that we could move to another country one day, and this was the opportunity we’ve been waiting for”, sighs Jennifer*, “So why am I feeling alone and misunderstood, and at times even jealous that my husband seems to be having a better adventure than I am?

Just as I have always thought that it is easier for the one doing the travelling than the one staying at home, I also think that the accompanying partner ends up having a very different experience than the one whose career took the family to a new country.

I often ask accompanying spouses what their expectations were when they decided to move country, and how invested they really were in the decision.

Sometimes, after a great deal of reflection, they realise that they did it to be supportive to their partner or, despite having agreed that ‘a foreign adventure would be exciting’, the timing or the location were not really of their own choosing. They’ve told themselves they will have lots of time and freedom to indulge in the adventure, forgetting that the entire responsibility of settling in to a new home in a foreign country will be resting firmly on their shoulders. The true significance of the contribution that the accompanying partner makes is often left unacknowledged by both their working partner and the new employer.

Writer and author Julie Power puts it like this, “They waved their spouses off to a new, often exciting, job, unpacked the bags and the boxes, settled their kids into new schools,  then found the supermarket, the post office, a doctor, and arranged to get the phone, internet, TV installed and connected. Only after all that, they thought – now what about me?”

While all families tend to experience a honeymoon phase before culture shock hits, most psychologists agree that the accompanying partner skips the honeymoon altogether.

By the time they have done all of the above they are exhausted and in need of some serious R&R. I often counsel accompanying spouses to take some quality time to ‘land’ in their new life situation. After all, you can’t jump while you’re falling. And all the plans of starting a new career or study, or writing that book during the foreign assignment don’t have to happen all at once. A more realistic title than ‘Trailing spouse’ would be the Relocation Expert, the International Logistical Planner, or CEO of International Ops.

 

Stereotypes and Projections

Top of the list of concerns expressed at my TrailBlazing spouses workshop are the kind of stereotypes that are projected onto accompanying partners. Too often they are still seen as ladies (or gentlemen) that lunch and shop, that are privileged to spend their days doing what they like with a sound financial buffer to boot. They are seen as being identified with their partner’s standing in the (professional) world, as a substitute for their own lack of direction. At worst, having no professional identity of their own, they are seen as uninteresting and just plain dull. You may have a PhD in Economics, but without a job title to back it up, you feel like people see you as a Nobody.

It is important to remember though that projections only ‘stick’ when there is a small part of us that believes them to be true.

For example, unconsciously you have been socially conditioned to have a lower opinion of women who are ‘just mothers’ yet have chosen to use the time of the foreign assignment to focus on your children. My colleague Louise Wästlund, a Relate counsellor, has found that sometimes the assignee partner might have an unconscious longing for his or her professional ‘equal’ from before, and then feels shame for even thinking like that. When we fight projections, stereotypes and prejudices, we need to begin by compassionately looking at our own. That way the projections of others’ do not take hold as easily.

 

Grief and loneliness for one, stress for the other

On top of the unexpected amount of work, the lack of identity and reassessing our motivation there is the aspect of unacknowledged grieving.

In the rush to prepare for the foreign adventure we forget that our psyches will grieve for the people, places, and yes, identities left behind.

Once the dust has settled, unacknowledged grief can lead to loneliness and isolation, especially if you think that everyone else is doing a better job of settling in than you are. The working partner will have colleagues and social contacts at work to distract them. The accompanying partner, with or without children, will be struggling much more with the local culture and the local language. So while the working partner is experienced as HAVING a life, the accompanying partner may feel vulnerable and threatened because the other person has BECOME their life.

 

The relationship

Our partner, temporarily, becomes our new ‘best friend’, despite Skype and Facebook, and they seldom live up to these expectations. The assignees want to come home to a safe place where they don’t have to feel they are on their toes all the time, and instead get to hear how useless they are. Many foreign assignees experience increased levels of stress and anxiety. On the one hand they owe it to their employers to make good on the big financial investment to bring them into the country, and on the other hand, they feel a huge responsibility to their family.

What happens is that the couple end up in a negative downward spiral that is fuelled by arguments about who has it the hardest.  

An open dialogue, that respects that both partners are facing new challenges, and that shifts the relational dialogue out of the ‘needs deficit’ spiral into a ‘mutual support’ spiral can really turn the experience around.

Many accompanying spouses find that once they have ‘landed’ (and remember, this can easily be a full year after unpacking the first boxes), they are ready to explore new frontiers for themselves. As internationals we may find ourselves doing things we may never have dared embark on in our home country. Many have starting studies, or small enterprises that grow into large ones, or truly embrace the joys of fulltime parenthood, revelling in the opportunity to raise strong and well attached children who see the world as their oyster. And most importantly, be gentle to yourself, look at what you HAVE achieved, instead of what you can’t do (yet).

**Names have been changed

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizo

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo has been working as an international counsellor and coach for the past twenty years. In 2009, she founded the first and only international counselling centre in Stockholm. She divides her time between coaching, lecturing and writing, and regularly holds workshops in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Zurich. She specializes in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my previous colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

1375118842 header 290713 e1383221623981 Expats and mental health: YOUR questions answered

 

 

When we bring our Inner Perfectionist with us on our foreign adventures we may find that she or he is a more of a hindrance than a help. Our expat health specialist Lysanne Sizoo helps you to chill out.

Imprefect-main

What I call the inner Perfectionist is that part of you that is always telling you to do better. Some people have this aspect built in to them from birth, others ‘learn’ from parents and caregivers that they really must try a little harder. 

There is nothing wrong with that sentiment in principle, but when it relentlessly pursues us with its ‘must do and can do better’, 24 hours a day, while we’re already totally confused about the new cultural and linguistic paths we have embarked on, it can become a hinderance, rather than a help. The one thing I hear most from newcomers to the international life is I thought I would have settled in, spoken the language, be doing better by now. And the one thing I and other veterans of multiple moves have learned is If only we’d been more patient and a little kinder to ourselves.

Example

People that are learning a new language seem to fall into two groups. Some will open their mouths and practise, practise, practise, by blurting out whatever they can in their newly acquired language, regardless of grammatical or even vocabulary accuracy. Others will bide their time until they feel they can come out with sentences that are grammatically correct, using words that don’t force the listener to make wild leaps of imaginative fancy to know what you mean.

Whether you belong to the first or the second group, you will know you’ve passed the language test when people will actually laugh at your impromptu Swedish language jokes, rather than assume you made a mistake.

This example of language goes to the heart of how much risk we are willing to take to be considered not foolish or silly, or even imperfect. The Perfectionist hates to look silly, hates to feel that others judge him or her to have failed, even just a little.

I’m not a Perfectionist… yuck!

Have you noticed while you are reading this how you react to the word perfection? Little Miss Perfect, young Master Perfection. These are stereotypes that most of us won’t want to recognise as being us. After all, anyone who has ever read any self-help books knows that it is a bad thing to be a Perfectionist, right? I certainly didn’t think I was, until someone pointed out to me how hard it was for me to just let things happen, instead of controlling every event so that nothing could go wrong. Inner Controllers and Perfectionists go hand in hand.

However, when we slightly change our perspective and instead assume that almost everyone has a Little Miss Perfect, or a young Master Perfection residing in their psyche, it might be easier to take a long hard look at your own.

While none of us wants to recognise ourselves in trying to be perfect you’d be amazed at how, unconsciously, these inner perfectionists are pushing us along, striving to be the best that we can be, and then some.

We moved countries so we are, by definition, adventurers who have moved outside of our comfort zone, and more often than not that goes hand in hand with character styles that are highly achieving, that set themselves a high standard, that want to put their best foot forward. We want to be the best we can be.  And why not? I now hear you inner Perfectionist say. What’s wrong with wanting to give it your best in every situation?

The untouchable Perfectionist

The inner Perfectionist, of all the aspects of self that congregate in our psyche, is the one that it is hardest to work with. In therapy I see people who are at the end of their tether, sometimes on the brink of a burn out. First the inner Perfectionist hides form sight and is unrecognizable to the person who is never satisfied with being the best she can be. The person who never asks, Why can’t I just ‘be’? To these people – and I was very much one of their ranks – the words ‘good enough’ might as well have been written in Sanskrit. The way to tease out an Inner Perfectionist is to offer some Bohemian lifestyle tips.  Very quickly the Perfectionist will show him or herself by arguing But that way, NOTHING will ever get done!  But then, once they’ve been teased out in daylight, they can seem irreproachable. After all, why not be the best that we can be?

The perfectionist is like the beautifully tailored and manicured blond who exudes power (though seldom charm) and who seems to say Who wouldn’t want to be me? She is the patron saint of anorexia, plastic surgery and workaholics.

Imagine this dialogue with someone who is on the verge of a burn out because he or she just cannot stop from wanting to be the best he or she can be:

“How do you feel today?”

“A bit shaky. Apparently my blood pressure is sky high and I wake at four every morning and can’t go back to sleep.”

“Did you try some of our relaxation exercises?”

“I tried … but stopped because I didn’t feel I was doing them properly. Every time I sat down to do the deep breathing I was worried that I wasn’t breathing the right way, and that made me feel more anxious. I mean, there’s no point doing something if you can’t do it right, right?”

“I see … so just sitting and breathing, without worrying too much about whether it was right or wrong was not possible. What would it have been like to just sit, forget about the exercise, and stare out the window?”

“That would have felt like a waste of time, I mean, I’d just get even more stressed. And I will never fit in to my company if I stare out the window all day.”

“All day, or just five minutes … there is a difference.”

“Well … we can do it here. Last time I was here, just closing my eyes and breathing deeply made me feel a lot better. I thought you said I had done a good job…”

What I hear in that inner dialogue is that the Perfectionist stopped themself from doing the one thing needed to help feel less stressed. Perfectionists have favourite mantras:  Why do anything if you can’t do it perfectly. right’ (this is the procrastinating perfectionist) or If I do that, the world will go under (taking the five minute suggestion and turning it into forever). Basically, as far as the inner Perfectionist is concerned, if it wasn’t in this person’s life, then everything would fall to pieces and all hell will break out. And their biggest enemy? Chillout!

Chill… become a perfectly imperfect expat

So how does all of this pertain to the experience of making a new home for yourself in a country that is not the one you once considered home? Is there such a thing as ‘settling in burnout?’ I see people come to this country with huge demands on themselves. Our psyches are doing overtime to find our way in this muddle of new impressions, foreign words, and unwritten rules. If we were ants our antennas would reach from here to Umeå. But still it isn’t good enough.

The inner Perfectionist always shows you how much of the mountain still needs to be climbed, not how much you’ve already covered.

It was only years later that I realised that it takes a long time to integrate into a group of people that have no real need to make new friends.I could have continued learning Swedish, but also indulged in a little international relating too. I could have allowed my sense of constantly falling short to be mitigated by hanging with people who thought I was just good enough, regardless of the fact that this expression brought my inner Perfectionist out in hives!

If, as you read this article, you begin to wonder whether you are ‘attacking’ your international experience with mainly your Perfectionist in the driving seat, then see if you can make him or her take the foot off the gas this very minute. What would be the least I am perfectly settling in to my new country behaviour that you could experiment with right this minute? Watch back to back episodes of Greys Anatomy?  Go for a long walk in the park?  Or go to a meeting where people speak your own language? How do you access your inner Chill Out man or woman?

Your inner Chillout says You’re doing great … you actually managed three words in a row today … you got a wave from the neighbour. The Inner Chillout will tell you what did go right, not everything that still has to happen. The Chillout can be your own personal Comedian that howls with laughter when you get it wrong. But with you, not at you – like the inner Critic would do. Put your foot in it, make less progress than you expected – it’s fine, you will get there in the end … and you will be happier and healthier too.

There is a time and a place for an inner Perfectionist. Their place is in balance with other parts that know you are Good Enough, and their time is when you ask to have that extra little push from them, for an exam, for a job interview… but not to tell you if you are okay as a person.

 

You are already okay, end of.

So please, don’t stress the psyche any more than it needs to be stressed. You’ve taken yourself well out of your comfort zone, and being perfect, really, is about the last thing you should worry about as you stumble through a land where neither language nor etiquette nor climate will make any sense to you until enough time has passed for it to become second nature. Let Chillout and Perfectionist become teammates, not rivals, and you will sail through your new life experience.

 

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo

 

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

1375118842 header 290713 e1383221623981 Expats and mental health: YOUR questions answered

 

Lysanne Sizoo is the founder and director of Turning Point, the only international counselling centre in Stockholm. In 2008 she obtained her psychotherapy license from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. She has been practising as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1997, specialising in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

Has your inner perfectionist made settling into Stockholm a bit more difficult?  Discuss in the comments below or on the forums!

Ever feel like the sore thumb in Sweden? This week, YLC’s mental health expert, Lysanne Sizoo, discusses the difficulties associated with simultaneously adjusting to another culture and a new work environment abroad.

lena_granefelt-workplace_environment-2651Photo: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

So you’ve found a job in Sweden, made the move, and started work. Grattis! If everything is going swimmingly, then you’ve cracked the first few numbers of the cultural code. If not, you may be suffering from double culture shock.

Almost everyone feels anxious when starting a new job. We wonder whether we’ll be liked and if we’ll be able to handle the responsibilities and workload. On top of these normal anxieties, we are in a foreign country, struggling to learn a new language (as Swedish is often a requirement in the country’s workplace). Sometimes we have elevated expectations of the time it takes to be relatively  fluent, and other times we bend the truth at the job interview, hoping for the best. But, six months down the line, there’s one thing we don’t often prepare ourselves for: the clash between remaining true to your own culture and adjusting to the new, working environment and the country’s culture.

Company vs. Country Culture

Research from Randstad, the second largest HR company in the world, shows that more than two thirds of adult employees recognize the importance of adapting to their company’s environment in order to succeed in the organisation. But, when you’re working in a Swedish environment, it’s not always easy to see where the separation lies between company culture and the Swedish culture. So my advice would be to allow yourself time to sort out the ‘rules of engagement’ and get plenty of rest, because your mind is working overtime trying constantly to listen and observe.

Even if you’re working for a company that represents your own culture (like in an embassy or school), don’t expect things to be the same as they are at home.

Relating with co-workers is an important step in this process, but, in your enthusiasm to please, you may not notice how your own cultural conditioning on ‘getting to know people’ doesn’t fit in. “I came from New York with a very American ‘shooting the breeze’ kind of approach when I first started working here”, relates one of my friends, “but I seemed to meet a lot of resistance, and after a few months I was told that this is not how things are done in Sweden.”

One oft-heard piece of advice from recruitment companies is to ask a lot of questions. However, where in some cultures this would be seen as positive, curious and willing to learn, in others it may be interpreted as not being able to cope. If it’s the latter, you may find yourself being pushed from pillar to post, because no one wants to give you a clear answer and take responsibility for perhaps getting it wrong. So ask for help for the right reasons, because in the end, new culture or not, it’s always better to admit when we’re in over our heads.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to announce the fact that you are a newcomer and a foreigner and that you will be found putting your foot in it occasionally. If you can laugh about it, others will too.

I’ve frequently heard clients reflect with regret on the fact that new colleagues aren’t always forthcoming in including them in their lunches or after work engagements. Others hoped that they would have help settling in, but have instead been left to their own devices.  If these colleagues are Swedish, they might just be reluctant to intrude on your privacy; it might not be that they’re not inviting YOU as a person, they’re just letting time do the hard work for them and suddenly one day you’ll find yourself heading out of the door with them at lunchtime, without any explicit invitations ever being issued. On the other hand,  If your colleagues have a mixed cultural background, they may just be curious to wait and see how you fit in to the international melting pot.

Timing is Everything

Just as new boyfriends or girlfriends don’t want to be compared to the previous models, neither do new colleagues and managers. If they are  local to the host country they especially will not appreciate being told how things are done in your previous company or country. Of course, it’s natural for us to compare one with the other, but save your research results for discussions with those who sympathise and concur, or when asked for an assessment by your managers.

First impressions often only tell us something about the superficial layer of the new culture, so it’s probably wise to wait a few months before judging your new situation too harshly.

National recruiters generally advise clients to expect things to be tough for the first three months. With international recruitment, I would extend that to anywhere from six months to a year.

What we see when we coach international employees at Turning Point is that the first glimmers of a potential conflict between the ‘old me’ and the ‘new me’ begin to appear six to twelve months after the first day of work. Again, you have probably been fighting the culture shock on a private and corporate front, so you have been taking on a lot of messages about how to behave in order to be accepted.

There has also been time for the realisation to sink in that you are not on holiday, and that the way you used to do things may not work in your new environment. We miss the ‘mirrors’ from home that tell us who were are and how to act. But at the same time, our new mirrors show us a different side of ourselves and present us with the opportunity to grow. However, what often happens is that we end up giving ourselves an ultimatum: either I learn to become reticent or I have to leave, because that’s just not ‘me’.

As I wrote in the article on changing identities abroad, the challenge is not to become a different you, but to become more of you. My friend says “I now know that I can be both ‘American’ in my way of meeting clients and colleagues, and be proud of that, but I also know when to melt into the background and be more ‘Swedish’”.

“I am freer to be who I am, because I adjust, not to please others, but to help me perform better. The choice is mine.”

So the moral of the story is to enjoy the adventure of your new international workplace. Don’t be too eager to have it all together within the first few weeks, try to distinguish between the new culture in and outside of your new workplace, and sit on your comparisons for a while until you’ve seen the underlying motivations behind surface behaviour. Most importantly, though, is that you don’t lose who you are in the process; see your new situation as an opportunity to let go of parts of yourself that are no longer useful, and to embrace the new parts your host culture has helped find.

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

1375118842 header 290713 e1383221623981 Expats and mental health: YOUR questions answered

 

Lysanne Sizoo is the founder and director of Turning Point, the only international counselling centre in Stockholm. In 2008 she obtained her psychotherapy license from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. She has been practising as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1997, specialising in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

 

Getting cold feet as temperatures plummet and the kids want to make snow angels in sandals? No worries, YLC’s got your winter wardrobe woes covered – booties, bags and beanies!

Parenting +46

If you’ve been in Sweden for a while, you may find yourself well aware of what winter is like, but still overwhelmed by the daunting task of dressing your wee little tykes appropriately. YLC is here to give a breakdown of what you need for your kids to enjoy quality time outside, all winter long.

The Swedes like to say there is no bad weather, just bad clothes. Parents, take heed: Children in most Swedish schools, particularly preschools, spend a lot of time outside. But of course, depending on what age your children are – their clothing needs will differ. Let’s get started!

 

General advice for kids of all ages

Wool is your best friend when winter rolls around – not just for your own socks, but as the layer of clothing closest to your child’s skin. Wool keeps kids warm while wicking away moisture, unlike cotton, which locks it in. As the snow piles up you will be grateful for the existence of wool socks, wool bodysuits, wool long undewear, wool balaclavas, wool hats, and even wool shoe inserts. Layering wool with cotton or fleece (depending on the temperature) is also a wise move, but keep wool close. It may well take additional time to peel off more layers, but it’s practical to be able to remove or add some clothes depending on your child’s activity level.

 

Footwear

During not-quite-frozen winter weather and not-quite-spring months, your ambulatory children would benefit from lined rain boots. Prices vary depending on the brand, but regardless, lined rain boots are a staple for dark, damp days. (No bad weather, remember?) Swap out regular socks for wool socks for some extra warmth.

And when you do need full-on winter boots, Gore-Tex is your friend. I repeat, Gore-Tex is your friend. Children’s boots range from expensive to even more expensive to “Are you freaking kidding me?” expensive.  Across this range of prices, you have boots with Gore-Tex waterproofing and some brands that claim to be waterproof (involving technology that is unfortunately not Gore-Tex). Cheekiest are those boots that are blessed with neither.

If you want your child to spend any amount of time outside, don’t even think about buying winter boots that are not waterproof.

To save money, look at Blocket, Tradera, and flea markets or second-hand shops to get a used pair. The smaller the size, the greater the chances that the boots were only used for a short time since kids’ feet grow so fast; buying used in this case can save you upwards of 400 SEK.

 

Newborn to crawling stage

Chances are that much of your time outside with a newborn will involve the child being already cocooned into a stroller bassinet (“liggdel”, or, for some strollers, this might be called a “mjuk-“ or “hårdlift”). When the weather drops below zero, many parents use a winter “åkpåse” (travel bag), which looks like a sleeping bag. These åkpåsar are available in a range of sizes and prices, with off-brand one-size-fits-most being the cheapest.

If you’re not going to be outside for long and your baby is inside a winter åkpåse within a bassinet, they won’t need much more clothing than a hat and perhaps some light outerwear overalls and a regular outfit underneath. It’s easy to overdress small babies, so keep in mind that when they’re protected from wind inside the stroller and in an åkpåse, they’ll be quite comfortable.

babybag

If you plan to be out longer or your child is no longer in a bassinet, some warmer outwear overalls, a hat and mittens, and boots should be sufficient coverage for short trips in the stroller. When it’s colder and you’ll be outside with the stroller for a longer period of time, go all out. Keep your child cozy and content with winter overalls, boots, hat, mittens, and that åkpåse.

 

Toddlers and preschool-aged kids (through age 5)

Outerwear options for small children include one-piece overalls and two-piece sets. A convenient advantage of overalls is snow can’t get inside even when kids roll in the snow. They are also faster to put on than separate pants and a jacket. However, it’s easier to peel off a coat indoors while running errands, whereas removing the top half of overalls usually results in them falling below the child’s hips as they walk.

Much like winter boots, winter outerwear comes in a range of prices and quality. Frequently you get what you pay for, but not always, so know what qualities you want in your outerwear.

They should be waterproof and hold up to use and abuse. Having taped seams and reinforced knee, bum, and elbow areas contribute to durability.

Some brands will include info on the tags describing the degree of waterproofing of the external fabric.

If you understand Swedish or have a patient Swedish-speaking friend, check out this year’s review of children’s winter overalls from product evaluation agency TestFakta here.

Many Swedes also swear by putting a sheep skin in the stroller, keeping your child snug and warm even in the coldest weather.

 

Children 6 years and above

Which outerwear you choose for your child will depend upon how much time they spend outside. If your child enjoys playing in the snow (which is pretty much a given for any child not yet a teenager) keep this in mind when you decide on the quality of outerwear you are willing to pay for. As with younger children – the trick is smart layering and most (children’s) clothes shops stocks wool undergarments (often called an underställ) for older children (and adults) as well. They won’t mind wearing them – all their friends will be too!

Again, bargains can be made on sites like Tradera or Blocket – but don’t rule out the sports shops like Stadium and Intersport. Often they will have a range of options to suit all purses.

Enjoy the snow!

 

Alexandra D’Urso

Boston-area native Alexandra moved to Sweden in 2009 and gave up cod for smoked salmon and Sam Adams for wine in plastic bottles with screw caps. When not bragging about the awesome aspects of Swedish life to people back home, she spends time writing and laughing loud enough to disturb innocent bystanders.

Follow Alex and Your Living City on Twitter!

 

You pratar lite svenska, you wear skinny jeans and drink coffee from 7-Eleven. Why do you still feel like the protagonist in Where’s Wally? YLC’s Kirsten Smart has one answer on how to get into the beanie-covered heads of the Swedes.

 mikko_nikkinen-ski_cap_-2157Mikko Nikkinen/imagebank.sweden.se

So you’ve decided to learn Swedish. Hurra! The next step is deciding whether you’ll go for private, one-on-one lessons or a public, group setting like SFI, both of which have their costs and benefits. Private is more expensive and it may be difficult to find a good, reliable teacher who can cater to your specific needs. Government-funded programmes are generally free, but the classes are often large, meaning there isn’t the one-on-one attention and everyone needs to march at the same pace, regardless of whether they are faster or slower learners.

Many jump straight into SFI because it’s free (private lessons can be very pricey), incentivized, challenging and effective.

But if you’re fresh off the boat and still looking at the metro map upside down, SFI can be somewhat daunting.

“I felt as though I was chucked into the deep end at SFI. Everyone in my class was speaking pretty fluent Swedish when I arrived and I felt like I was bringing the class down. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. I’m so glad I stayed as I caught up quickly, but still, it was a somewhat brutal experience at first!” Australian, Vicky, tells YLC.

Moving to a new place where you don’t know the language is hard. It’s like starting high school all over again; you so badly want to fit in, make friends, know how things work and be fluent in the local slang.

You ultimately want to feel comfortable in your new surroundings; which is why schools have orientations, fun days and mentor programmes.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone did all this for you when relocating to Sweden? They would teach you the language, show you where to buy groceries and let you in on inexplicable inside mysteries, like why cheese seems only to be sold in bulk and how “oj” can be used as an apology. They would provide a helping hand and a sympathetic ear, making your transition to Sweden as seamless as it could possibly be.

Enter Nina Mumm.

 

Mumm’s the word.

Nina  offers language lessons (one-on-one or group both in person and over Skype), cultural training (in which she provides insight into everyday life in Sweden and covers Swedish values, attitudes and business culture) as well organises free, Monday morning fika sessions for expats to meet, mingle and munch. Additionally, she organizes cooking events, day trips, museum visits and girls’ nights out.  She has studied Psychology, Languages, Linguistics and Bilingualism and uses her entire skill-set in providing the ultimate package for expats.

Of course, you don’t have to do the whole shebang. You can pick and choose what you’d like to sign up for and if you want to join in on the fika sessions, there is absolutely no obligation to take Nina up on any of her services.

In my opinion, the amazing thing about Nina is that she cares about you. She may not know you from Henrik, but she actually wants you to be happy and settled.

When I tried out one of her private language lessons (she offers a free lesson to anyone interested in learning with her) I felt as though I was sitting down with a friend who was extremely well-versed in all things Swedish. Not only did she give me a relaxed and informative lesson that she had catered to my level (which is somewhere between confused hamster and Swedish toddler), but she also asked me about my family and interests and doled out sage advice.

In fact, she even provided insights into Swedish quirks that irk (why in the heck do so few Swedes own a microwave?).

Nina explains that Swedes…just do life a little differently. Many foreigners enter a Swedish work environment and become frustrated with meetings that seem to go nowhere, lunches that last hours and whole summer months where business is put on the back burner. However, Nina encourages expats to rather go with the flow than try and change the system. Because, let’s face it, the system works; things still get done.

According to Nina, the key to integration is “patience, curiosity and an open mind. Having a positive attitude and building a new social network also helps.” This is the kind of inside information that sets Nina apart from regular private language tutors and overwhelmed public ones. She prides herself on giving her students her undivided time, attention and expertise in a non-judgmental, helpful way.

Truthfully, there are plenty of viable, economically conservative options available to aid you in the quest of becoming a Swedish language master (some of which may even have you nattering like a native within a matter of months), but if you’re looking for a gentler, more rounded experience, Nina has got to be the best of the best.

Now aren’t you glad I didn’t stay Mumm?

 

**If you have any queries, you can contact Nina by phone on +46707368127, or email at info@ninamumm.se. For more information, visit her website or Facebook group.

 

Kirsten Smart

Kirsten blindly followed her husband from South Africa to the land of snow and snus in 2011 and proceeded to procreate. When she isn’t discovering the 101st use of the humble wet wipe, she can be found writing adjective-laden articles for YLC.

me1 1 e1381346897680 YLC Guide: Swedish November Traditions

 

Follow Kirsten and Your Living City on Twitter!

 

 

 

As an expat, deciding to make the move back home can often be harder than the original emigration. This week YLC’s mental health adviser, Lysanne Sizoo, answers a reader’s enquiry on the unforeseen difficulties of saying hej då to Sweden.

girl-typewriter-autumn

Whether it was love, work, or studies that brought you to Sweden, when these come to a natural end, it can be hard to know how to begin the next chapter of your life. At least this was the experience of one YLC reader, who, at the end of her letter, writes, “the process and decision to leave Sweden has ended up being so much harder than that of moving here some years ago. I would never have expected that.” 

As a therapist, I’d be quite curious to ask the reader more about the ‘pull home’ she describes in her letter. Is it a longing to be home, but a fear to actually make the return, or are other people pulling at her, making her feel she ‘ought’ to go home. Either way, any homecoming after a few years abroad needs to be carefully thought through.

Contrary to popular belief research shows that returning home can actually be harder than leaving.

Reverse culture shock

Jane* experienced the usual ups and downs of settling in to life in Sweden and, despite the demise of her relationship, she still feels able to enjoy all the adventures that Stockholm has to offer. She has made friends and is feeling somewhat settled, while at the same time there seems to be this pull toward home. Perhaps it was easier to relocate to Sweden because, at the time, there was a sense of adventure and, above all, purpose to her relocation.

However, when our adventures have run their course and we do opt to return home, we may be in for a reverse culture shock. This is because we expect that we’re going back to the comfort and safety of familiarity, only to find out that everything has changed. That we have changed. We may have expected that our friends, family, and even aspects of our national culture may have changed during our absence, but we might be shocked to learn that our experiences have altered us in ways deeper than we might have imagined.

As expat expert, Robin Pascoe, explains in her book, Homeward Bound,

“What may not have occurred to friends and family back home (…) is that while they may have changed, they have not grown, at least not in the way that those who have been lucky enough to travel would describe growth.”

This psychological growth, the widening of horizons and acceptance that there is always more than one way to skin a cat, is the most wonderful aspect of having lived away from home. But it’s not always one that the home front is terribly keen to hear about.

A while ago, I wrote about group psychology and the understanding within the discipline that, upon their return, the ‘leaver’ in a group needs to earn their place back in the tribe. And while we are often welcomed home with an initial warmth and fanfare, followed by the familiar honeymoon phase, life eventually equalizes and people become disinterested in hearing about our life abroad. Just as with ordinary culture shock, our old and new identities merge, and we inevitably do settle into to our new life back home.

Dealing with projections of failure

I had fallen in love with Stockholm two years before I met my future (Swedish) husband. We were living in England at the time and, for me, moving to Sweden was the logical ‘next step’, but my husband felt he would only want to move back if it meant his career moved forward. Otherwise it might be perceived that his move to England was a failure and coming home a regression.

So while you know that you have been enriched by your foreign trip, despite the fact that the job or the boyfriend didn’t work out, you may still fear that the home front will see your journey as a failure.

If this fear turns out to be founded, what you need to remember is that others’ feelings of fear of change and failure may be being projected on to you. In the therapy world, this is called ‘transference’.

When we feel transference is occurring, we have two options. We can try and explain that we don’t see our return as a failure, or we can brush off their assumptions and continue on our merry way. However, the latter is only an option if we actually believe we aren’t failures. If there is self-doubt in this area, we must deal with this first.

An identity of non-belonging

If you are settled here, yet also feel a pull back to your origins, perhaps it is time to explore another way of relating to the issue. Emmy van Deurzen writes that the true challenge for anyone leaving his or her home country “is to embrace the identity of non-belonging”. While everything in us wants to feel a sense of belonging, accepting that we no longer ‘belong’ home in the way we once felt we did and that wherever we travel in the world we are outsiders, can be incredibly liberating.

Yes, knowing when your time in your ‘new’ country is up is terribly hard, and the issue may be clouded by some of the fear outlined above. But never forget, nothing we do or experience in life is ever wasted.

As the old French saying goes, ”Sometimes we move back to jump forward faster.”

There are no guarantees you’ll get things right, just the promise that whatever you do, you will learn from it and grow. Not a bad proposition in my book.

* Jane is a made up name.

 

Copyright 2013: Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo

 

DISCLAIMER

These articles are a composite of my personal, my colleagues’ and

clients’ experiences in order to protect recognition. All therapeutic

meetings are Turning Point are confidential, and specific content would

never be shared in a public forum.

 

If you have any specific problem that you would like Lysanne to consider in her articles, please contact her here (anonymity will always be preserved). 

 

1375118842-header-290713

 

Lysanne Sizoo is the founder and director of Turning Point, the only international counselling centre in Stockholm. In 2008 she obtained her psychotherapy license from the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. She has been practising as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1997, specialising in the field of cross cultural issues, as well as fertility, bereavement, parenting, anxiety and stress management.

 

 

 

 

There are four little letters that put together mean a great deal to the Swedes. It’s a noun, it’s a verb and it’s synonymous with friendship, companionship, sharing and nourishment. That’s right, we’re talking about fika. Want to join us?

coffee-love-nina-mumm

Did you know that, according to the International Coffee Organization, the Swedes come in second in the world (after Finland) for the most coffee consumed per person? This, in my opinion, is directly correlated to the deliciously ingrained ritual that is fika; where friends, family and/or colleagues get together every day to share a cuppa and something sweet (generally termed fikabröd).

In fact, research indicates that taking a short pause from work makes employees more productive. Not only this, but in Sweden, where fika often a mandatory break in any company, a great many executive discussions take place over a steaming pot of bryggkaffe.

 

“At my husband’s work, a lot of major decisions are made over fika.” Canadian expat, Katie, explains to YLC.

 

And one can see why; workers feel more relaxed, less pressured and oftentimes more creative in an informal setting, surrounded by caffeinated beverages and yummy buns. It’s almost as if fika is the Swedish equivalent of the water cooler. Except it has more of a ritual aspect to it. It’s a soul-enriching timeout from the hustle and bustle, where a small chunk of the day is set aside for some quality bonding time; making this tradition equally warming for the heart and stomach.

But for expats wandering into a cafe alone at 15:00, it can often be a time where we are reminded that we are not natives. The fact that we may not have someone to share fika with can make us feel even more alienated from the Swedish tribesmen. Let’s face it, if anyone needs to bond over a zillion cups of stomach-cramp-inducingly strong coffee, it’s us.

The feeling of belonging is right up there on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; this need is all the more piquant when you’ve relocated to a different country (or continent). We need to feel connected to others through the sharing of experiences, exchanging of ideas and offering (and receiving) of advice.

 

Sometimes we just want to lament that the Systembolaget makes you feel like you’re in a prison commissary and that smoked moose meat and lettuce slapped onto a bun does not a breakfast make.

 

And sometimes, just sometimes, we just want to speak English without feeling guilty for not speaking Swedish. That’s where Nina Mumm comes in.

Nina is a highly trained Swedish language teacher who hosts an informal weekly English-speaking coffee morning from 9:00 – 11:00 every Monday morning. Although she is a native, she’s had her fair share of the expat experience, having herself lived and worked in Switzerland, Canada and Norway. She is therefore perfectly positioned to dish out advice on how to balance work with family life while living in a foreign country as well as offer an inside view onto the Swedish way of life.

There is usually a small group of around six expats at the Monday morning fika, but it’s a relatively new venture and it’s been growing steadily in popularity. How Nina has accumulated such a consistently lovely and helpful group of people is beyond me, but when I attended I felt like I had just been hugged by Santa Claus. Of course, we all nattered about living in Sweden and the trials, tribulations and frustrations that go hand-in-hand with being an expat, but the mood was unequivocally positive. All of us were of different ages and backgrounds, yet we all found commonality in our present experience. We were also all similar in that instead of sitting alone on our couches watching the sun set at 4pm, we were actively out seeking companionship… and coffee.

So if you’re looking to meet some genuinely good people to share your expatriate emotions (and perhaps your kanelbulle) with, I strongly urge you to pop in to Vete-Katten and join Nina and the crew. I can’t think of a better way to start a Monday morning, can you?

*If you want to join Nina and her group of drop-dead lovely expats, pop into Vete-Katten, Kungsgatan 55, on a Monday morning between 9am and 11am. It’s free (except if you want some coffee/tea or nibbles) and there’s no invitation needed! Anyone can join in and there are absolutely no obligations to attend every week.

**If you have any queries, you can contact Nina by phone on +46707368127, or email at info@ninamumm.se. For more information, visit her website or Facebook group.

 

Kirsten Smart

Kirsten blindly followed her husband from South Africa to the land of snow and snus in 2011 and proceeded to procreate. When she isn’t discovering the 101st use of the humble wet wipe, she can be found writing adjective-laden articles for YLC.

me1 1 e1381346897680 YLC Guide: Five Swedish October Traditions

 

Follow Kirsten and Your Living City on Twitter!