One year in Sweden: 5 considerations from a Dane living abroad

Today, the 1st of February, it is exactly one year ago that my husband and I moved to Malmö, Sweden. Moving to Sweden was for us a consequence of the harsh Danish migration law. A law usually referred to in Denmark as “the 24-year rule” does not let the foreign spouses obtain resident permit if one of the two parts is under 24-year old. This law has been stopping our dreams of a live together in Denmark from the beginning, because I will not turn 24 until September this year. We had no other options than to search for alternatives. And Sweden became the alternative.

At the beginning I did not think it would be much of a different from Denmark. The two countries are both two modern welfare societies. Now after one year in Sweden, I must admit that there are some differences:

1. Front runner in recycling

One of the first things that struck me when we moved here was the carefully outlined system of separating of trash for recycling.  In Malmö each block has a so-called “Miljöhus” (environment house) with huge trash bins for all kind of different trash: paper and newspapers, plastic, metal, electronics, cardboard packaging, and organic left overs (there is even special trash bags for organics which you can take for free).

For a recycling and environmental freak as me this has been heaven. Every time I go to Copenhagen to friends’ houses and have to throw out organic left overs, plastic or paper it almost hurts me. Sweden is really in front when it comes to recycling! Thumps up!

2. Paper loving health care system

In contrast the front position in recycling, Sweden is steps behind when it comes to digitalizing their health care system. There might still be many things which have to be done with the Danish health care system. But the process of digitalizing has started in many parts of the Danish system. However, in Sweden almost everything I have had to do within the health care system has been sent by ordinary mail: from receiving the answer on a blood sample to my appointment reserved at the doctor or the hospital. I am not saying that Denmark is a lot better in everything but at least I can reserve time by the normal doctor through internet. In Sweden I have only been able to request a time, and then they usually give me an appointment when I cannot come.

3. Humanitarian superpower

The migration crisis and our own example (among many other Danish-international couples’) have shown Sweden as a humanitarian superpower which opens its door for people in need. It seems to be a very strong part of the Swedish self-understanding. Some weeks ago I heard a Danish radio program about Sweden where an expert mentioned that the concept of “political correctness” (a highly discussed topic in Denmark) does not really exist in the Swedish debates. It is seen as a fact that Sweden should help. However, this general idea of a humanitarian superpower is today also resulting in a series of problems in the Swedish political life: on the one hand, right wing extremists are winning more and more support because not everyone agrees with the notion of what being a humanitarian superpower includes. On the other hand, areas of Swedish cities experiences difficulties with the integration process of migrants.

Recently, there has been taken steps away from this position. In November 2015, and again in January 2016 Sweden enforced border a strict border control, especially in our region of Skåne (southern Sweden) towards Denmark.

4. A labor market not in gear for the loads of migrants

This is in strong connection to the point above. While the Swedish politicians have been keen on opening the borders and providing protection for people from hot spots around the world, the Swedish labor market has not been adjusted at the same speed. We have experienced this ourselves through the flight of finding a job for my husband.

Sweden has developed different economic labor market offers for newly arrived immigrants. Therefore, we sought help at the employment office. After filling out forms after forms my husband finally got assigned a caseworker in charge of helping him. However, this person had no knowledge in working with a person which does not speak fluently Swedish. The pieces of advice he gave seemed like the ones he would give to a Swedish speaking person. The many the especial offers of immigrants, for example internships, appeared to only exist if you found them by yourself. There was nothing organized by the employment office. There was not even established a database with jobs possible for foreigners to apply for where, for example proficiency in Swedish was not a requirement.

In my opinion, this is an area which should be focused on improving before Sweden (and any other country facing issues with integration) can have a successful integration of the many immigrants of all kinds.  Denmark, I imagine, is not any better in the area. However, the more showing the immigration debate is for me.

5. (Mostly) enthusiastic when you try your poor Swedish

A thing that really pushes your limits when moving to another country is to communicate oneself in the foreign language. Swedish is almost a sister language to Danish, and we have many things in common. However, we do also have many different ways to express and pronounce words. Nevertheless, to make an effort in understanding and communicating in the language is one of the greatest forms of respect you can show when living abroad. Therefore I have been keen to try out my crazy Swedish-Danish mix when I from time to time interact with our local Swedish community. Mostly, I must say, the Swedes have been nice and patient about my poor Swedish. Parts of me believe that it is because they like that I at least try.

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