Mark Lewis

"Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. This goes for everything from enrolling children for after school activities through to opening a bank account and ultimately finding paying work. But it’s OK to push the system! Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice and help. The system works quicker if you ask the right people the right questions. And in case you’re wondering, 3 months is the answer to the bank account question."

Moving to live abroad was always a family dream. So when a job opportunity opened up for my wife in December 2019, saying yes was always going to be the automatic response. My existing career as a freelance marketing consultant also meant that I would have the chance to take things in a new direction too.

Of course, in retrospect, 2020 was a crazy year to relocate. Moving in January 2020 means that we have only ever experienced 2 months of ‘normal’ Swedish life.

The pace of bureaucracy has taken some getting used to, there are times when everything feels hard and barriers in the way that are impossible to scale. Days when every experience is new and requires the energy to find solutions – even if that’s just figuring out which is the correct room for your child’s piano lesson or basketball class.

But this is often quickly replaced by the reminder that we are making new friends, professional connections, living, working and experiencing a foreign country.

And so, as my professional opportunities continue to build and have met the fantastic community of freelancers at Optimist Klubben, here’s a quick run-down of the things I have learnt so far that have helped me in my role as an ex-pat spouse:

Patience is a virtue

Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. This goes for everything from enrolling children for after school activities through to opening a bank account and ultimately finding paying work. But it’s OK to push the system! Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice and help. The system works quicker if you ask the right people the right questions. And in case you’re wondering, 3 months is the answer to the bank account question.

Trust has to be earned

The Swedes are, in my experience, almost uniformly, fantastically polite, trusting and willing to help. But this initial trust will only get you so far. Finding ways to prove oneself and take that trust to another level has been key for me; whether that is volunteering to run branding workshops for my friends and colleagues at Optimist Klubben or starting to help Lunds Brass Band with their marketing.

It’s all about the networks

Like England, building a professional and personal community here requires networks. And though it’s a bit clichéd to say, a fika meeting that on the surface holds no role other than to have a general chat, can often be the stepping stone to the next fika(!) and the right introduction to another key person. My personal and professional journey in 13 months benefited hugely from the knowledge of the great team at International Citizen Hub Lund. Thanks Martina, Lisa and a free consultation with Lunds NyföretagarCentrum.

Be ready…

Although the mechanics of Swedish systems can take a long time to get moving, I’ve learnt the importance of being ready to quickly follow-up or jump on any opportunity, whether large or small.

Learn the language!

As a native English speaker Sweden can be a dream. Almost everyone in Lund has a great grasp of the language and feel more than willing to converse in my mother tongue. But if there’s anything that has changed my experience as an ex-pat here, it’s learning to speak Swedish. It has helped with everything especially building trust, networks and deeper connections with everyone, from professional colleagues to Swedish neighbours. And thanks again here to the Kick-Starter team at International Citizen Hub Lund for the introduction to EURES and for their assistance in funding intensive language courses at Folkuniversitetet.

/ Mark Lewis

 

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