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We have gone to Sweden for the last six yrs to a summer home we share with a Norwegian friend.Area is a bit north of Ystad. Everyone in Sweden is friendly, and helpful. Beer, and wine ect is expensive yeshowever this is a well known fact. As far as food prices, gasoline and more they are the same as we pay in Germany. I am American living in Germany for 14 yrs now, my husband and I will retire when the time comes to Sweden.
I am English and have been living in Sweden for just over a year so thought I would share some of my thoughts of what its like to live here. This is not so much advice instructing other people on how to move to Sweden and the rules and regulations here, but rather my experiences and opinions on living abroad. (However if anyone does want to know a bit more about the rules and regulations moving here let me know and I'll try and help)
**Where am I?**
I live in a small town called Trollhättan, which is about 70km north of Gothenburg. There are about 52,000 inhabitants here and the town lies on either side of a river and canal system, which flows from Gothenburg through the centre of Sweden to Stockholm. Trollhättan's main claim to fame is that the Saab factory is situated here, and it is Saab that generates most of the revenue around here, both in terms of paying wages and bringing in new business. The other main industry in Trollhättan is film. Trollhättan is affectionately known at 'Trollywood' due to the large number of films made here. If anyone has seen Dogville or Dancer in the Dark, then they were made in the studio just up the road from my flat.
**Why am I here?**
My English boyfriend, Dan, spent a placement year from university in Sweden working as a design engineer for a supplier to Saab. He then moved back to the UK to finish his final year at uni, where we met. After graduating he moved back to Sweden for another year as this was part of his contract. We remained together during this time and probably kept Ryanair in business with our number of flights back and forth every few weeks! He then retuned home and we lived in London for 2 years. Dan continued to work as a design engineer in London but work wasn't looking so great and I was getting fed up commuting to and from work and both of us were generally ready for a change. Just as we were deciding whether to renew the contract on our rented flat or not, or what changes we could make to make life a bit more exciting, the opportunity came up for Dan to go back to Sweden and work for 3 months. We decided it was time to take the plunge and move there for a little while, as we had so many great friends there and we wanted to try something new.
Dan went ahead and moved to Sweden, whilst I stayed at home for a bit, handed in my notice at work, packed up the flat, organised furniture removal, residency permits etc etc!! Neither of us had ever had any time off in-between school, uni and work, so we thought that even if we couldn't find work we would treat our time in Sweden as a gap year and then return home. After completing his 3 month contract Dan managed to get a new full time job with a Swedish company designing the car interior in the Saab design department (I can't tell you anymore about what he does as it is all top secret!) Secure in the knowledge that one of us actually had a job I flew out to join him.
**When I first got here**
I arrived in Sweden in April 2004, just as spring was arriving - the flowers were starting to come out, it was bright and sunny and it felt as though I was on holiday! We were very fortunate in that a friend helped us to find a flat here very quickly. He knew the landlord and put in a good word for us and we jumped straight to the top of the list. Our flat is right next to the canal, and as we're on the top floor we have a great view. It was built during the 1930's and has a very Swedish/Ikea minimalist feel to it - all wooden floors and clean design.
Although nearly everyone in Sweden can speak excellent English, I knew that to be in with some sort of chance of finding a job I had to learn the language. I had researched several Swedish courses in my local area on the internet before I moved here so knew quite a lot about what was available. The best course to me (and the course I followed) was a government run course called 'Swedish for Immigrants' or SFI. This course is free as it is funded by the government, but you can only take the course if you are registered with the immigration authority. The course took place every morning for 3 hours Monday to Friday, and covered all the basics you would need to conduct your everyday life in Sweden. I studied this for 6 months up until Christmas and as there was a great deal of homework involved, I didn't have time to work in-between my lessons.
**Living here now**
I have now been living here for just over a year, and since finishing my SFI course I have started a new Swedish course. This is also paid for by the government and we study more about Swedish culture, history and literature, which is very interesting but a lot of reading and extra work. I was rubbish at languages at school, so have amazed myself that I have been able to learn anything! I can now read the newspaper from cover to cover, follow most of what is being said around me and on TV, and hold a fairly decent conversation!! Although most people here are fluent in English, they are all so impressed when they hear you speak Swedish and will go out of their way to help you with the language.
As my new Swedish course was for fewer hours than my last one, I knew I needed to find work. I have a marketing degree and worked as a retail assistant buyer in London previously, so started looking at similar jobs, but the problem was that they were all full time so I wouldn't be able to keep up my Swedish studies. This led me to write to the local schools offering my help as an English language assistant. One of the schools asked me to help and I am now employed there part time, working in between my Swedish lessons. I work with the children aged 12-16, which is great fun. They were quite shy at first but most of them have really opened up and become more confident in their English. They all love to hear about England and if I've met David Beckham/the Queen etc!! It's also been a great help to my Swedish as the other teachers only talk Swedish with me, and the children like questioning me to see how much I know. However, the children have a knack of remembering the words I can't say or mispronounce and then proceed to shout them across the playground at me!!
**Good parts of living in Sweden**
The people are great here - everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I think people are probably extra friendly because we are English and the novelty factor of speaking to us! When we first moved into our flat each of our neighbours came to introduce themselves and welcome us. Just popping to the shops now takes longer and longer each time as I stop to talk to neighbours, friends and children from school - who are always so excited to introduce me to their parents! Swedes are also incredibly proud of their country and will take every opportunity to show you around, so we have had many invitations to friends and neighbours summerhouses.
Sweden has the most amazing landscape, ranging from golden sandy beaches in the South, to amazing snowy mountains in the North, along with huge, clear lakes scattered through out the rest of the country. A 10 minute drive from our flat takes us to a huge lake (the size of the M25 area!) where we can BBQ, swim, sunbathe, fish etc. There is a law in Sweden called 'Allemansrätten' (Everyman's right) which allows you to camp anywhere without asking permission, provided you stay a reasonable distance from other dwellings. This means if we fancy getting away for a bit we can simply pitch our tent wherever we want! With a population of only 9 million people, there is rarely a problem with finding a space to stay.
Although Sweden is thought of as a cold country, it is the weather here that I also love. It has a different sort of weather to England and 4 definite seasons. We live in the South of Sweden but still had several feet of snow from November to March, which was fantastic! Temperatures around us dropped to -17, but there isn't the biting cold wind we get in England. Everyone is prepared for the snow, both in terms of winter tyres on the cars, big snow boots and insulated houses, so it doesn't prove to be the same problem that it does in England. It also gave us the opportunity to take up snowboarding. We went away for 3 weekends further North in Sweden and rented a little log cabin at the foot of the mountains which was fantastic. The summer in Sweden is maybe not quite as hot as England, but it is a less sticky, muggy heat, and with all the lakes to go and swim in there is plenty of opportunity to cool off. The west coast near were we live is beautiful and when it's sunny I can honestly say there is no where else I would rather be. With Sweden being as far north as it is, in the summer we have nearly 24 hours of daylight which is very odd when you're trying to get to sleep, but it is beautiful when you are at the coast and can stay outside with friends until the early hours.
Sweden celebrates many festivals that we don't have in England, which is great fun. My favourite festival is Midsummer, which is celebrated on the Saturday closest to 24th June. It is celebration of the longest day of the year in terms of daylight, and most people travel to the coast to celebrate with huge outdoor parties, with lots of eating, drinking and singing, plus dancing round a huge flower covered maypole! Christmas here is also very special - lots of snow and pretty fairy lights. Christmas in Sweden seems more of a family celebration and less commercial than home too.
Sweden is a very organised, efficient country - transport runs on time, the roads are clean, the hospitals and schools are new, there are lots of local facilities etc, so this also makes it a very easy place to live. Most people are a member of trade union here, and if after working for a year you loose your job, the union will pay 80% of your wage and pay you for attend courses until you find a new job.
I also like Sweden as it is not too far from home! A 2 hour flight courtesy of Ryanair and I can be back home seeing friends and family and stocking up on all my favourite goodies - namely good strong cheddar, sausages, bacon, Cadbury's chocolate and all the gossipy magazines I can get my hands on!
**Bad parts of living in Sweden**
Sweden can be an expensive place to live both in terms of buying things and paying tax. Everyday food shopping is expensive with a loaf of bread costing on average £2.50! Swedish alcohol is renowned for being expensive with a beer or wine costing around £4 - because of this everyone buys their own drinks and no one ever buys a round of drinks! 33% tax on wages is paid to the state, and increases with the more money you earn, but as I mentioned above the roads are clean, schools and hospitals are efficient and transport runs on time, so at least you can see where your hard earned money is being spent!
This is not so much a bad part of living in Sweden as it is a strange part - there is only one type of off licence and it a state run monopoly. It is called 'System Bolaget' and it only opens between 10-6 during the week and for a few hours on Saturday morning. It is shut at all other times and other shops/supermarkets are not licensed to sell alcohol. They are also very strict on age limits and the amount of alcohol bought, and until recently alcohol had to be bought over the counter, in a similar way to receiving a prescription at the chemist!! Due to the high alcohol prices and this strange regulation in buying alcohol Swedes are not very good at handling their drink, so there is lots of pushing and shoving and general drunkenness when you go out!
Sweden is probably a few years being England in terms of clothes fashions, which is a big disappoint for me! There seems to be lots of 80's style leggings and batwing jumpers which aren't really my thing, but at least it means I have saved myself some money!! Can't wait for my next weekend at home and my trip to Topshop!!
Because so much of Sweden is state run there is a lots of red tape and things can take a long time to be processed. For example my residency permit from the immigrations office took 3 months for them just to stamp my passport! It also seems to me that everyone has a different job role and no one can switch and do someone else's. On several occasions I have had to return to the bank/insurance company because the correct person was not working that day, which can be quite frustrating.
**How long will I stay here?**
How long we stay here is really reliant on Dan's job - Saab are going through a hard time at the moment so fingers crossed he will be able to keep his job (or 'hold your thumbs' as they say in Sweden!). Ideally I would like to be here for another year or 2, so that I can feel as if I have mastered the language, and hopefully by that time I will have found a job more related to what I used to do. I can't see us living here forever, but I think that is more because I would like to experience somewhere else, rather than me not liking Sweden.
**Overall opinion of living abroad**
I have my days when I miss my family and friends and wonder what I am doing here, and have I wasted a year by not working, but then I look out of my window and see the beautiful scenery here and realise that I am doing something that many other people can say they have done and realise that I did make the right decision. It has made me more confident and has taught me a lot about myself. We have met a lot of very close friends and have had some wonderful experiences here, and Sweden will always remain a very special place to me.
Thank you for reading, Helen