Meet Abby, a CMB friend and Cincinnati native currently living outside of Malmo, Sweden with her husband, Mark and toddler, Bea (2). Read on as Abby talks about her family’s experience living abroad, including Swedish housing, bicycles, candy stores, naps, and food (not just meatballs!).
We (my husband, two year old and I) lived in Madeira and didn’t travel much except to visit family. Although, when I was ten, my father was offered to move to Kobe, Japan, and we ended up packing our bags and living there for five years. Like most families, we were busy with work, our child, and friends. We had a garden that my husband loved working in and we had two chickens that ran around the backyard.
My husband is getting his PhD in biology and specializes in green roofs, which are a newer technology for the U.S. He had worked with a professor at a Swedish University on green roofs, and had flown to Sweden to meet with him and study some of the older roofs. They ended up meshing well, and my husband was offered to work with a university in Sweden to research older green roofs to compare the long-term effects. We were offered to come for the 2016-2017 academic year, and we will be here for 8 months.
I had never been to Sweden or Scandinavia before, and my husband had only been the one time (in the end, he visited twice before we moved!). I am also embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about Sweden, and that my only exposure was the Swedish Chef and Ikea. Of course, I worried the most about my daughter and her adjustment. We did a lot of research and spoke with some people at the university; after seeing we could find housing and child care-we decided to go for it! I think the fact that I lived abroad and survived it as a child also helped calm some nerves. Hey, if we hated it-what’s eight months in the scheme of life?
House Hunters International
Housing was tough initially for us to find, because we wanted a furnished apartment with a crib for a strange amount of time. (I was awoken many nights to a nightmare of us arriving in Sweden, exhausted, having to head to IKEA and then figure out how to put a crib together while my grumpy child screamed at me.) So, we decided-furnished, with a crib was a must. We first tried to go through the university, but most housing was for students, and housing during the academic year is hard to find. So we actually turned to AirBnB-and are glad we did! We spoke to a few people on AirBnB and found a woman who owned a building with two nieces-one about Bea’s age. She said the second bedroom was made for adults, but she’d make it a little girl’s room before we came, equipped with toys and both a crib and a “big girl bed.” My worries about a crib ended up being moot, because as soon as my daughter saw the pink big girl bed, she wrote off cribs forever.
It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Our day now varies significantly from our life in Cincinnati! We have a two-bedroom apartment versus a house-so there is no escape! This means instead of an alarm, I often get a two year old pressing her nose into mine and asking her morning existential question as a wake-up call (Why don’t we swim in the winter? Where did my feet go? Answer-they are in your socks.). Once we are up, we walk her to day care and my husband takes a train to the university (we don’t have a car here). If the sidewalks are covered in snow, pulling her in a sled is the easiest way to get around. I work remotely from home, which is a big change-and a whole other story.
My husband actually leaves work earlier here than in Cincinnati to pick up our daughter. The Swedes seem to have a great family-work balance, and they don’t seem to keep their children in daycare as long as we do in the U.S. So, we felt the pressure and my husband tries to make an effort to pick her up earlier. He normally bikes her home, we FaceTime with family, eat some more beets and fish, and then try to get her into bed without too much of a fight!
Napping outdoors is really a thing here! The thought process is that fresh air naps are really good for children, so it is not uncommon to see a line of strollers outside of a restaurant or café. There’s even a Swedish saying that embodies the practice: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” I love the idea of outdoor naps but haven’t been able to take the plunge and leave my daughter outside while I eat inside. I wish I could bring this trend to Madeira-I’d love to see a line of strollers outside Coffee Please while I drink my cappuccino in peace.
Before we left for Sweden, we looked at some menu examples at our daughter’s school, and I was slightly worried my toddler would be picky about the food. The menu differed a lot from what she eats in school in Cincinnati. Fish stew, pickled beets, meatballs, and lots of potatoes (no Skyline chili 🙁 ). The thing is-she loves the food here and is infamous for coming back for seconds or thirds! (Her teachers like to joke that she eats a lot, like most Americans.) And, the teachers all eat with the students-the same meal, at the same table, which is a change from our child care in Cincinnati.
The Great Outdoors
Malmo’s climate is fairly mild, however, due to its northern location, summer brings 17 hours of daylight versus only 7 hours during winter. So, outdoor time is especially important here. Everyone goes outside in the cold, rain, and snow. The playgrounds here are also amazing-they seem to be everywhere and look very modern. Some playgrounds even have themes, such as space or animals. There are also a lot of wooden toys and songs-the Swedes seem to love to sing inside and outside the classroom-we’ve heard a few drinking songs while we’ve been out to dinner.
A Bicycle Fit for Two (or a Family)
Bikes are a common mode of transportation here and they seem to teach their children to ride a bike young. I swear, yesterday I saw a two-year old riding to school with his mom with no training wheels! There are even bikes on their playground at school, and kids can stand on the back while others pedal.
Swedes dress fashionably and there is a lot of black. I’m in an area where most people walk or bike for transportation-so heels are a no go. In the winter, flat ankle boots seem to be a staple. It’s cold so everyone is bundled up-there are a lot of thick, wrap-around scarves and knit hats. There are also a lot of neutral colors, even for children, so our bright purple and green coats stick out a bit. Snowsuits are also a must here (think Ralph in the Christmas story.) H&M is from Sweden, so there are a ton of H&Ms here.
In the Buff
Nudity here is no big deal and women are actually allowed to swim topless in city swimming pools. In fact, just this morning I saw a kids TV host moon the children in the audience. Also, they try to remain VERY gender neutral/equal here. A lot of men taking kids to school, and taking on a large portion of parenting responsibilities. (Although, most of the dads I know in the U.S. do, too.) I heard a few schools are even trying to neutralize gender at a young age-steering away from toy stereotypes (pink for girls, etc.), and trying not to use female/male pronouns.
More Candy, Please
Candy stores are everywhere here! It is traditional for Swedish families to go to candy stores on Saturdays. My daughter loves going to the candy store because there are a ton of options. They even offered a special “American” section last week-with Doritos, Reese’s Cups, and soda!
A Few Pointers
Don’t try to re-create your U.S. life abroad. I kept trying to make my daughter’s room look the same as back home and do the same activities as a family. Once I realized no matter how much I tried, it just wouldn’t be the same, I was able to let go and embrace our new activities and life in Sweden.