Tanjina: American-Desi in Sweden
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Stockholm, etc.
My name is Tanjina, and I am a Bangali-american living in Sweden. I come from a very diverse background and have been exposed to a mixture of completely different cultures.
I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and at the age of 2, I immigrated with my parents to the USA. As I grew up in the hot southern state, Georgia, I faced many challenges in the western world, language (English) and lifestyle being the main ones.
Little did I know that there was someone out there in this huge world who struggled with similar problems, the love of my life. I met my husband when I was 23, a Bangali-swede who was also born in Bangladesh, and raised in the “western world”, Sweden. After getting married, I left my home in March 2010, USA, to live in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then, I have been discovering new things each day in this beautiful country that I hardly knew about before.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
The idea of blogging crossed my mind after realizing that all these years I had lived in a closed box. I started blogging after living in Sweden for a year. I wanted to share with the world not only my experiences, but my change of thought as I live in a completely different place. Blogging has not only given me self-motivation but also eagerness to let others be aware globally of different cultures and being open-minded. I wanted to emphasize the imperfection of South Asia, North America, and Scandinavian region in a very calm manner all together.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
It’s hard to choose from. I have several actually. My blog has a very broad layout so I don’t just focus on Sweden. My favorite blog posts are “Racism in the Metro”, “Expectations of a Desi Wife” and one of my Art of the Day posts called “Women who gossip and the woman who tries to survive”.
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?
Comparing my old life to my new life is like day and night.
First of all, considering that my husband and I are Bangladeshi, we still follow some traditions. After marrying the eldest brother of three sons, I had to start living with my in-laws in Stockholm. I was the only child and my parents are very liberal which made it easier for me to embrace both the Bangali and American culture. Living with my in-laws was a challenge by itself. I had to learn their way of cooking, be more responsible and take care of my 2 younger brother-in-laws, wear traditional Bengali clothes and jewelry, dress more modest in front of elders, and so on. I never did any of that back home. So I had a big problem adjusting with that at first.
Once my husband and I move to our new apartment next year, I will be able to share more about the real life in Sweden.
I had trouble grasping the language at first. That’s about the only big negative factor I can find. Even though everybody knew English, I was still put in awkward positions when the salesperson asked me something in Swedish, or when someone asked for help in Swedish. Language classes however slowly helped me fix that problem.
I am still having trouble finding a job in Stockholm. The country recognizes only half of my education, so hopefully everything will be much better after I complete my Swedish degree in nursing.
The metro makes life much easier in Stockholm. I can go out more and not worry about traffic getting on my way.
Also, adjusting with the weather was a very big thing for me. I come from Georgia, one of the warmest places in America. I was not at all used to the freezing dark winters. I got depressed when sunset was at 2:30PM.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Stockholm? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
To be honest I had no idea what I was getting into before moving to Stockholm. I didn’t know that knowing the language was a big thing about surviving in the country. I never thought about studying something in a different language, let alone working and communicating with other people in that language.
If I could I would definitely have changed some decisions. I could have taken some language courses ahead of time so it would have been easier and faster for me to get in to an education. Meanwhile, I could have stayed in the US and finished the 1 year I had left in my university to complete my bachelor’s degree in biology.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Last spring I found out about this really nice gym through a new expat friend near the city. The deal was impressive compared to the other overpriced gym deals.
Anyways, the next week I tried to find that gym myself, but I ended up getting lost within that little city. I asked every Swede that came my way for directions to that gym. I knew the name of the gym and street name. I thought that was enough for someone to recognize and help me. I asked each person in Swedish. Half the swedes I asked seemed scared seeing me and ignored, as if they were going to get mugged. The other half helplessly said “ingen aning” (“no idea”). Some girl that worked in a SevenEleven even looked at me like I was nuts when I tried to explain in my broken Swedish.
Finally, a few beautiful ladies, one pregnant, the other with their 3-year-old kids, helped me out. I finally had to ask in English and boy did I feel stupid after realizing my mistake. Instead of asking where I can find this “gym” I kept asking about this “gymnasium”. The entire time while I ran around like a confused little girl asking people where this particular “gymnasium” was I realized why everybody had “ingen aning”. The pregnant lady clarified to me, “In Swedish gym means gym. It’s the same word.”
“Oh, ok.” I nodded.
The lady continued, “In Swedish, gymnasium means high school.”
“So you will find the gym one block away to the right, unless you are looking for a high school to do work out in.” She smiled and I thanked her.
That was one of my first experiences of getting lost in Stockholm!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Stockholm?
- Make your first trip to skatteverket (tax office) and get your personummer (personal identification number). You will need that number for EVERYTHING you do. Also, making a Swedish photo ID is completely necessary. They ask for it a lot, especially when you’re going to the bank.
- Be prepared to learn the entire language or else it will be really hard finding a job. Get into a language class (SFI-Swedish for Immigrants) right away, asap, and you might have the chance of getting money (up to 20000 kr) for completing it within a year. Keep in mind that they start calculating the time from the day you land at the Arlanda International Airport.
- Get ready for lots of snow and dark calm days during the winter. Get used to lighting up candles and make the mood romantic. Scraping off the piles of snow actually pays off, because everybody falls in love with Sweden’s incredible summer.
How is the expat community in Stockholm? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Not at all. Finding like-minded fellow expats was the simplest of all things. I found friends through my Swedish courses and expat networks. It feels good to know that you’re not the only one who’s having a hard time adjusting. Stockholm has a huge community of expats.
How would you summarize your expat life in Stockholm in a single, catchy sentence?
I brought a few Bangali and American clothes as well as some dollar bills with me to this place called Stockholm, but little did I know that bringing things were pointless, because living here simply meant starting from scratch!