Tag Archives: culture shock

Expatriate life in lyrics

Today I’ll provide a link to one of my favorite musical songs. It describes the life of an expat mother, but an expatriate life of past times and of much hardship. Expatriating today can be tough too, but hopefully not on all the levels Kristina experiences.

Listen to Kristina

From the musical “Kristina from Duvemåla” by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulveus (the Bs in ABBA).

Moms’ expat disco

When I moved to Zurich I had made a few contacts in advance (thank you dear Internet). Nothing that lasted though. I knew I needed to make contact with people, to find friends but also information. On location I called a woman mentioned in a resource for expats-book just to ask where I could find playgrounds. I called my relocation agent and asked where I could find a super market – don’t know why she found that a strange question; how would I know?? I called moms that I had met only once at Gymboree or at the Swedish church. Some of them are still dear friends. I joined playgroups and applied (yes that’s right – applied) for membership in a Swedish one. I spoke to people everywhere; mostly expatriates due to the initial language barrier. I hungered for contacts, new friends, acquaintances. I still think it is a shame that my husband’s company did not provide any of this. A coffee morning was promised but nothing happened. Such an easy thing to do.

I joined the WAC in Uster where I came to spend a lot of my time; not only enrolling kids in the pre school but also on my own with new friends, or at family activities with the growing family. Not to mention working with finances and new arrivals. It’s such a wonderful place if you want to find activities and friends. One relocation agent called us a “lifesaver” for expat women.

Once we had a moms’ disco. I swear. Just us moms who wanted some time on our own but were to tired or too attached to a nursing schedule to be able to make it downtown to a real club late at night. We had a blast. Luckily this was before Vine and Instagram. 😉

We were all home by 10 pm by the way.

Intention vs. perception – when moving abroad

Moving to another part of the world can be exciting! It can also hold some frustration. When you experience a new culture – a good advice is to just take it all in. Try to leave interpretation and judgment behind for a while, until you learn more about the rules, norms and values. It will save you some emotional rides. I know it sounds easier said than done, but from the top of my head I can think of situations where I have felt indignation and later learnt that there was no such intent behind. It was just a matter of cultural difference.

This is not only valid for expatriation but for all encounters with a, to us, new culture.

Save your first repatriation impressions

Repatriation impressions

When I moved back “home” I wrote down my first impressions. I have moved and settled quite a few times and I know that sooner or later many of the first impressions will fade away. What you find astonishing, weird, beautiful or just different might become everyday and taken for granted. I’m not saying all of it will, but first impressions are simply not just called first impressions without a reason.

I moved back to the same little town I had once left. It was all familiar yet quite different. I was looking upon the village with different eyes. The very first thing that struck me was how coastal it all looked. Lots of wooden houses in different pale colors, the older ones with gingerbread work. It was a dark winter evening but yet I felt the presence of the sea without actually seeing it – all due to the building style of the houses. Today I don’t see that anymore. But sometimes when I pass a certain house I think about this first impression I had returning from expat life, and try to get the feeling back. It would have been lost without my notes.

Why saving first repatriation impressions?

I am so happy I saved these first images and thoughts. I have even written on top of the paper that I expected to not find any of it peculiar after a while. Some things I can still see why I wrote down, others are a complete surprise to me today. It is really amusing. It is also something to reflect upon; how quickly do we adapt? Do we ever fully integrate and accept things? When repatriating; do we go back to the same values? It is also a reminder of what we found marvelous in the beginning and that we just take for granted by now; a reminder to still appreciate it.

My advice to you is to write things down if you are in a new place or situation. I did the same thing each time I had a baby. I kept a tiny notebook by the bed and tried to scribble down a few lines about the new life. These memories are golden. Save them!

Pls share or comment! I love to hear from you!

If you wonder why I quoted “home” – find out why 😉

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Poems and the importance of interpretation #13

A year after repatriation I took an on-line course on creative writing. As an expat I had embarked on the e-learning journey and I enjoyed – and still do – partaking in classes from the comfort of my own home. In the middle of the night. One of the tasks was to write an engaging poem. I had never written such a thing in my life; it´s not really my cup of tea, or at least so I thought. But I knew exactly from where to get the inspiration – the first cold and wet, dark, months back in Sweden. So I wrote. And I cried. The words flowed and at the same time evoked such strong feelings. Apparently in the teacher too. I received high praise. She commented it might be about suicide though – referring to darkness, cold and that it didn’t have to be. Eh … no. Only about the weather. ;/

Umbrellas are not for mothers #12

Being back. A repatriate getting reacquainted with the Swedish winter.

I hated it. Constant rain. Wind. The dark. You couldn´t walk from the house to the car without being soaked. Had it only been snow.

Being a mom you know you might as well throw your umbrella away. There are never any hands left to hold one anyway. Besides, umbrellas doesn´t really work here on the windy west coast where the rain actually comes down sideways.

I was so frustrated I could scream. Thinking of it I most probably did. Once.

It rained to the extent that the front door of our house was ruined. It rained so much I discovered a product called “rain cover for infant car seats”. Great.

The timing of repatriation #11

I had always said that if we were to move back to Sweden it must not be during the dark and cold season. To me the climate was one of the best things about having expatriated from Sweden. I knew it would be tough moving back, and I had also not forgotten the long, dark winters in Scandinavia – they wouldn’t exactly be helpful. Hence repatriating in the late spring sounded like a plan. Now my dear readers, do you think it worked out? Nope. Mid-December we left to resettle on the Swedish west coast. Yes, you heard me – December. As far as I could possibly get from late spring. December was pretty exciting though – the novelty of being in a “new” place, Christmas with family, old friends. Swedish food, shops. Lights and comfort, no need to spend much time outdoors. But after that … re-entry shock set in, largely due to the worst winter weather I can recall. Ever.

Cultural parenting – of course! But which cultures?

Parenting styles can vary from family to family. But there are also differences between countries, or should I say cultures. We appreciate different values, which are likely to impact our upbringing of the children. Sometimes they are easily spotted, sometimes they are not. Concept of time for instance is a good example. Coming from a culture where being on time is considered important and a courtesy, I found it annoying at times as a foreign student working in groups with others that were happily an hour late for study meetings. No surprise that we soon found out that Germans and Swedes worked well together!

As always, awareness of the values and set of rules can lead to a better understanding, and less annoyance; tolerance. In the case of time, I simply learnt to agree on another time with the students I knew would be – in my world – an hour late.

Being a parent or not; moving into a new culture you will be exposed to the impact of cultural differences. As a parent a playground is a perfect location for observation and “study”. It´s fascinating that you often can tell from the parents’ responses to their children’s behavior from which country they are. I have encountered societies where one believes that adults should not interfere when children are “playing”. In the beginning I just assumed they did not care; now I hope they care but still want the kids to solve problems on their own. I have also experienced children being constantly corrected and taught. Swedes are normally somewhere in between these two parenting styles; of course, I would like to add with a touch of irony– after all we are the land of “lagom” (just enough) and “mellan” (in the middle).

There are also differences when it comes to physical punishment (illegal in Sweden) and scolding in public. Some people want other parents to know they are dealing with the matter, and some don´t.

Another, always hot, topic is whether it is considered acceptable for a parent to deal with someone else’s child.

I do believe that the culture you are currently living in influences your parenting. It is a way of fitting in, of accepting the hosting society but also grabbing the good stuff!

It is interesting once you start thinking in terms of cultural parenting. What are the cornerstones of your culture/-s when it comes to raising children? Which are the strengths? Have you added anything from your host culture?

Perhaps you are even a slightly different parent in another location! And by that I am not referring to the newly relocated, stressed and culture shocked parent …