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Coping with Culture Shock in Sweden – a Scot’s tale

Dec 08, 2016 anne_pihl
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I arrived in Sweden on the 11th January 2015. I was 7 months pregnant, I’d never lived in Sweden and certainly didn’t speak any Swedish. It was dark, snowing and cold but I was so excited to be starting this new life.

We had decided almost 2 years previously that we would wait out the lease on our flat in London and then move to Sweden, where my partner was from. Our decision had come about because, despite earning very good salaries, we weren’t any closer to being able to afford to live in London, we both wanted to start a family and after 8 years of London-life, we were tired.

This new start was invigorating and freeing! I was about to start a completely new role in life, “mum”, and it felt thrilling to be doing it in a country renowned for it’s positive attitude to family life and children. I was eager to embed myself into the cultural norms of Swedish life and get to know, what felt quite exotic, the “done thing” as a parent in Sweden…

Who was I kidding?!  How ignorant was I?! It must have been the pregnancy hormones. I seriously underestimated the enormity of what I was actually doing. Sitting alone, in a flat in Stockholm, with a new baby, scared to go outside and interact with people and I was totally lost. I had let go of every single ounce of what I had regarded as my identity. I felt drained of every piece of my existence up until now. Whether that was the infamous 10 week hormone/parenthood meltdown or just the last 3 months of life-changing decisions catching up with me, I felt ruined.

I no longer had the job title, status or other verbs that went along with working so that other people could “contextualise” me. I no longer had friends to drop by with at a moment’s notice. I didn’t have the disposable income I had had to spend on what ever pleased me. I didn’t know where to find the  outlets, communities or networks to express my beliefs or values. Hell, I didn’t even know what my priorities, beliefs or values were. The worst thing of all was that I couldn’t even express myself as I normally would because most of the people I was speaking to didn’t understand what I was saying. I was a foreigner. I felt like I was on the fringes of society. What I would have done for an ally, a reliable source of information about “the System” and every day life.

Having someone on your side, an ally in a foreign country is incredibly important. Knowing you can call that person with questions, rely on them for sound advice and meet with them physically is the most important tool for you to have in tackling culture shock, feeling home sick and isolation. It is vital to have a “person on the ground” when neither you or your partner have friends or family to catapult you into an already existing social circle; when your partner or spouse trots off to work everyday to an already existing social circle and comes home at the end of day clueless to how miserable life can be without having ANY adult social interaction. Except, of course, when you couldn’t figure out the differences between filmjölk and mjölk in Swedish so you were forced to ask someone at the supermarket using Google translate and guesswork.

Using relocation resources such as Relocate to Sweden and working alongside knowledgable embedded expats like Anne, you get two perspectives. Firstly, the breadth and depth of their vast knowledge. And, secondly, a vision of expat life on the other side. Knowing that there will come a time when this place feels more like home than ever.

From sitting alone, in a flat in Stockholm, with a new baby, scared to go outside and interact with people, it has taken one year to reintegrate and re-form me. Being an expat and a new mum has been dark, scary and, at times, utterly thankless but its also made me re-start ME. Like a heart-starter, it shocked me into starting another identity. An identity I don’t think I would have ever sought out had I remained in the UK and continued the life I was leading.

Now, I’m helping other expats with small children resettle in Stockholm. My company, Littlebearabroad, provides information, events, networking and a community for people who need a refuge for them to re-build their own expat identity. I run an English-speaking playgroup in Stockholm, Högalid Hedgehogs. Littlebearabroad also run monthly events for parents with under 5’s. The events offer them the chance to meet and make friends whilst getting to know the city they’ve decided to call home, temporarily or permanently.

If you would like more information about what Littlebearabroad does, please visit the website Littlebearabroad is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 🙂

/ Jill Leckie

Relocate to Sweden provides expert advice and hands-on help for companies recruiting internationally or transferring staff to Sweden. We help your international recruits with the entire relocation process including work and residence visas, home finding, tax consultancy, registration with Swedish authorities, schools, health care, translations, language and intercultural training. Email us at or call us on +46 8 361011 if you would like help. You can also read more about our relocation services at or follow us on social media for tips and advice.

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