• Nadia Henderson

It's Been A Year! Reflecting On My First Year As A British Immigrant Living In Sweden

A traditional red, wooden detached Swedish villa against a blue sky with a green lawn and an apple tree obscuring the front door

In the weeks leading up to our move from South London to a tiny village in the northern Swedish countryside, the coronavirus pandemic had just begun to cut through the fabric of everyday life. With the trip so close, everything was organised: flights for myself, my Swedish husband and our cat, Bella, were booked; the moving company was primed to collect our belongings; goodbye dinners with family and friends were pencilled into our planners. We were hopeful that, despite the increasing case numbers, things would go to plan, but the threads soon started to fray, and the week before our scheduled departure was spent sketching up worst case scenarios, rewriting itineraries and forgoing farewells at a great emotional and financial cost.

It’s hard to think back to our arrival in Sweden without also remembering the moments that preceded it, both sad and absurd: binning an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream I’d panic bought at the corner shop but no longer had time to consume; taking turns playing the recently released Animal Crossing New Horizons game on our one Nintendo Switch; paying through the nose for strange men to load our perfectly useable furniture onto the back of a pick-up truck because donation services had been suspended; leaving the majority of our belongings in piles on our living room floor and trusting our downstairs neighbour to oversee the moving company boxing them all up two days after we’d left; crying on the doorstep of my sister and her fiancé’s flat as we dropped off our cat, desperately hoping she’d still make her planned flight but knowing she was in good hands if she didn’t. (Reader, she did!).

painting and repairing wooden windows

What followed was, in many ways, the best year of my life. Our house--a traditional, detached villa built by its original owners in 1960--immediately felt like home, even though we had to wait two weeks for the bulk of our possessions to arrive. Our new neighbours made us feel welcome, gifting us eggs laid by their chickens and offering to bring us groceries while we observed a self-imposed quarantine. After nearly a lifetime of city living and two years working in a stressful office environment, being surrounded by so much natural beauty felt like a balm. We got to work on our fixer-upper house, wallpapering with varying success, repairing rotten windows, painting kitchen cupboards and oiling the porch among other DIY tasks. We watched our garden bear fruit: an apparently rare type of blackcurrant grew on a bush older than the house; rhubarb came up in thick, juicy stalks; raspberries and wild strawberries and blueberries and lingon blossomed in abundance; we even had a small apple harvest. We swam in the neighbourhood lake just a few minutes from home and batted mosquitos away from our faces on beginner hikes (I’m forever thankful the Norrland climate doesn’t accommodate ticks).

swimming in Swedish lakes

It has felt uncomfortable expressing joy during a time of global grief, inequality and hardship, but doing so feels important for me personally. Of course, this first year living in Sweden has not all been smooth-sailing: I’ve missed my family terribly and have struggled to detach myself from the U.K.’s criminal mishandling of the pandemic. Opportunities that would have helped me settle in, such as learning to drive and enrolling in the free Swedish For Immigrants language course, have been put on hold, and while I’ve managed the resulting isolation and lack of independence well, I can’t help but sometimes mourn the progress I should have made during this past year. With all this in mind, my joy is a reminder that making this move has been more than worth it. I am grateful for so very many things: the pre-Brexit freedom of movement that allowed me to enter the country with such ease in the first place; the immediate access to nature and my ability to enjoy it. I’m also conscious of my privilege as a white, Western immigrant, and the anonymity my identity affords me in this new place, something I hope to write more about in upcoming posts.

As I come to the end of this post, there is so much I feel like I’m forgetting to say. In lieu of mining my memory for what I think I’m missing out, I’ll finish by looking forward at the many dreams we have as our second year in Sweden begins: planting a vegetable garden to circumvent some of the expense of food shopping in Scandinavia; visiting new sites in our local area and going on (slightly) longer hikes; trying out some cycling routes on our newly purchased mountain bikes; taking an educational tour to learn to identify different types of mushrooms (safety permitting - we missed it last year!). Bit by bit, one new experience at a time, I hope to continue to find my feet on this most exciting journey.

Follow my journey from London-born city girl to well-adjusted countryside stan on Instagram.