Corinne: Stockholm Stories
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Stockholm, etc.
I am born and raised near San Francisco, California. I’m the oldest of three and my lifelong hobbies have always been music, reading, and soccer. At the age of 17, I moved to Santa Barbara, California to go to a private university where I got my bachelor degree in Communication Studies as well as Spanish. For a few years, I stayed and worked in Santa Barbara after graduation, loving that little beach paradise and building a really amazing group of friends. I worked in both real estate and educational consulting during those years. In 2008, I met some Swedes who were there studying abroad, and fell in love with the culture and the country (though from afar and having never been there). In August 2010, I moved to Sweden to begin my masters degree at Lund University, and after that year I took a job in Stockholm, as I really loved living here and saw great job opportunities. I work at a management consulting firm in Stockholm and have an amazing life and fantastic friends here that makes missing California a little easier than it would be otherwise.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I had been keeping a personal blog for three years before I moved to Sweden, and have always loved writing. I found that I enjoyed writing most when I was telling stories about people and places. It was important to me to share my experience of living in Sweden in more ways than just Facebook photos to my American friends and family. It was also important to me that people in Sweden that got to know me would have a chance to read about my deeper perceptions of and love for their country. So I started this blog right away upon arrival in Lund, calling it Letters From Lund, and now it is called Stockholm Stories.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Oh I have a few…my Arrival in Lund; regarding my love story with Sweden and the journey; the graduation speech I gave at our masters degree ceremony in Lund; my first birthday in Stockholm and how that anchored me in my new city; my most popular post ever, by far, I did not realize how many people around the world are searching this topic on Google, called how to win a Swedish guy´s heart; and finally my relationship to being an expat.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Stockholm differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The great thing is that when it comes to the most important things for me in where I live - great friends, a variety of fun things to do, and beautiful scenery that I adore- living in Stockholm isn’t so different from my adult life I had back in Santa Barbara.
But my Stockholm life does differ in three key ways:
- The weather is the main one, of course, as I wasn’t accustomed to such drastic seasons and certainly not temperatures below 5 degrees. I generally enjoy the changes and variety of beauty that different seasons bring, but the shortness of summer and length of winter can sometimes bring my spirit down at times.
- Another way my life is different is that Stockholm and my social circles are more formal than I was ever accustomed to in my previous West Coast casual beach life. Clothing, dinners, big events, plans between friends, birthdays, holidays… all more formalized usually, whether that is in regards to style or just because of advanced and organized planning. It doesn’t mean that behavior is more formal, but there’s just a different set of expectations here.
- The third most noticeable way that my life is different is likely because I’m living in a (sort of) big capital city, which Santa Barbara was not (and neither was the San Francisco suburb I grew up in). But that isn’t necessarily because of anything that is very Swedish, so I will say that the third way my life is most different in Stockholm is the amount of alcohol that is consumed on a regular basis here. It’s, to put it mildly, quite a bit more and more often than I was accustomed to.
I would say that my first couple months in Lund took a little getting used to but then I settled right in quickly and got very involved in student life. But then, my first year in Stockholm, although full of friends and fun, was probably more stressful and more demanding in terms of emotional adjustment to an entirely new life and challenging career situation than I realized at the time.
But I’ve never really experienced culture shock per se… adjusting to student life in Lund was a whole different ballgame, which would require that I take up more space to discuss. But overall Swedish culture and I are quite a compatible match. Every once in awhile there are little cultural tendencies that give me frustration, but I’ve never felt completely clueless or shocked.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Stockholm? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was over anxious about developing strong friendships… I assumed it would be hard to stay close to my Lund friends once we all moved to Stockholm, that the random American girl might get “left out” once we were out of the student context. I over-extended myself socially to ensure that wouldn’t happen and I didn’t really need to worry so much. I put a lot of effort in and got a lot out of it, but maybe I would have been healthier and more relaxed if I wasn’t so anxious about that. Show that you care, be proactive and follow through, and the friendships will develop and grow.
A way in which I was not prepared for what awaited me in Stockholm was the unexpected difficult job circumstance I found myself in after a few months when my company wasn’t doing well and I had to leave it. There was some very stressful times in regards to that and to eventually landing where I am now, very happy and a year into my third job in Stockholm. I would hope no one else would have to go through this in their first year in Stockholm, but I’m not sure how I would have prepared myself for that other than making sure all my employment insurances were in order. Otherwise, I did the best I could and have mostly recovered from the stress of all that! Dating in Stockholm can be confusing for a foreigner, but that is yet another more detailed discussion that there’s not room for here!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Can’t think of many funny moments that are tied to being an expat, but, hmmmm... One time while in Lund, I wore the wrong kind of boots for an extremely icy day, and managed to ride my bike and get into the library safely. But then when I wanted to walk to the grocery store for lunch, these dumb fake leather California boots with worn down soles just absolutely couldn’t manage the ice. I was trying to get across a courtyard area of about 70 meters that was snow covered with a layer of ice over it, and even though there was a pathway with others’ footprints, I couldn’t take one step without slipping. I couldn’t go backwards or forwards. I ended up having to crawl so I could make it off the courtyard icy area. In quite a public area. That was a real, “You know you’re not from Sweden when…” moment.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Stockholm?
- Develop a good and strong contact network, as it can help with everything, especially jobs and housing. There is an extremely high reliance on contacts in Stockholm. Make genuine connections with people, show that you are trustworthy and competent, and that if they needed something you would help them as well.
- Create really healthy coping skills for the winter months. Work out, eat healthy, and get outside on sunny weekend days during the few hours the sun is up. Make use of outdoor activities so that you have a good relationship with wintry weather instead of just waiting it out… such as ice-skating in a rink or on a lake, hiking through the snow, or skiing.
- Sure, Swedes are relatively quite reserved. But be warm with them while respecting their space, and be interested in (rather than complaining about) their culture. If you do this, and also involve yourself in fun activities and groups, friendships will come.
How is the expat community in Stockholm? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
To be honest, I don’t know a lot about the expat community in Stockholm. I have an American friend and a handful of other expat friends, but mostly my social circles consist of Swedes, and I’m so busy that I can’t usually attend expat networking events. But the expats I have met in Stockholm are usually very resourceful, tough, and plugged into the community, especially those I’ve met through consulting and the technology and communications industry. There are probably a lot of expats here via a marriage with a Swede, but I don’t know hardly any of them. “Like-minded people,” for me, is often found via my dear Swedish friends! And when I do need a bit of North American-ness, the American and couple Canadians I know help out with that!
How would you summarize your expat life in Stockholm in a single, catchy sentence?
A California girl living in Sweden and discovering that the most fulfilling life has so much more to it than the proportion of sand versus snow one gets year round.