Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I’ve lived abroad a number of times. I studied abroad in college in Italy and ran away to live in Barcelona for year. Most recently in 2014 I moved to Sweden on a Fulbright grant.After it ended I decided to stay because I’ve always been attracted to the European lifestyle and I like the Scandinavian quality of life.
What challenges did you face during the move?
I moved to Sweden at the beginning of the winter and struggled deeply with depression and loneliness. The weather was rainy, gray and depressing like nothing I’d ever seen before. People didn’t make eye contact on the streets and making new friends was extremely tough as an adult outside of university. There were days I couldn’t leave my couch at all.
How did you find somewhere to live?
In my first year in Sweden I moved 5 times. I kept getting kicked out because as a new immigrant I didn’t have any way to get a secure contract. It made me feel very vulnerable and I yearned for stability. Eventually I had to invest in a cooped building that couldn’t kick me out.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes. There are a lot of immigrants fleeing conflict zones and quite a few visiting international students but because we aren’t a huge city there are fewer international workers than the larger capitals around us. (I live in Malmö).
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I have a few local friends but haven’t really connected with many on the same level I have with fellow internationals.
What do you like about life where you are?
Things function smoothly. The food quality in the supermarkets is really high. Life is calm most of the time.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I still feel lonely and have trouble finding creative inspiration where I live. The bureaucracy to get anything officially done related to “the Swedish system” is overly cumbersome. (immigration, taxes, etc.)
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
People in Sweden often avoid confrontation and therefore give you very vague answers that offer false hope and expectations. It’s taken a while to learn how to read between the lines.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The quality is very high. I think the international food is quite lacking here but the Swedish food is quite high quality and delicious. There are also great Syrian restaurants popping up left and right.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Join activities and groups around your hobbies to meet new people. Try not to compare everything to your culture back home.
What are your plans for the future?
To solve my problem with making friends in Scandinavia I have created a mobile app that is supposed to ease the integration process for newcomers by allowing them to meet locals through common interest keyword searches. We are launching next month: www.getpanion.com
You can keep up to date with Melanie's adventures on her website.
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