So, I have something to tell you.
We’re moving! In August, we will leave our beloved seaside apartment in Sweden and head to Corvallis, Oregon. James was offered a tenure-track professorship at the university there, and the Pacific Northwest has been on our shortlist of dream locations, so off we go! We are all of the things you normally experience in anticipation of a major move: excited, anxious, hopeful, sad, sure, and doubtful.
We always knew Sweden was a temporary home for us (James’s job contract was for five years). On the positive side, there are so many reasons we made this decision. James was offered a really great job (and in contrast, his job situation in Sweden has been difficult), and I will be employable again. We’ll be living in a great small town not far from a great biggish city (Portland), and we will finally have walk-/bike-able lives. We will be fairly close to mountains, wine country (!), and the Pacific Ocean. We will be closer to family (cousins!) than we are now.
Since having children, I’ve dreamed of taking them camping and hiking in America’s national parks, and I’m thrilled to have that chance now (well, assuming America still has national parks by the time we get back). I’ve had some of the most moving moments of my life on the trails and mountain peaks of the American West, and I long to be immersed in that geography again and to share it with my children.
There are some more difficult reasons we made this decision, too. While Sweden has been wonderful for our family, it can also be a really difficult place to live. There are the winters, of course. More insidiously, it’s very closed-off socially. I wrote a lighthearted post about that once, and have on my editorial calendar to write a more serious post about the difficulty of being an immigrant in Sweden. For example, Sweden ranks 61 (out of 67 nations) in personal happiness for expats in an Expat Insider survey from InterNations. It ranks 64 of 67 in finding friends, and 61 of 67 in feeling welcome. Quite frankly, it’s not always an easy place to be.
I’d go so far as to call our first year in Sweden our “dark year” as a family. Despite living in a really hip, family-friendly part of the city, we made no close friendships. We were all a little depressed. Not coincidentally, that’s also when James began applying for jobs back the U.S. Our lives changed dramatically when we moved to a beautiful apartment in a small town outside of Stockholm, but it’s still taken us two years since that move to feel that we’ve made Swedish friends. (In contrast, the closest friends we’ve made since moving to Sweden are Finnish, American, and American-Swedish.)
The decision to move was largely about the kids, of course. Sweden is a fantastic place to be—maybe the best in the world—when kids are very young. As they get older, though, we’re less convinced it’s where we want to raise them. We want them to grow up feeling that it’s okay to be outgoing and it’s okay to make friends (there’s this feeling, especially in Stockholm, that it isn’t worth even talking to someone unless you are going to become best friends); that it’s okay to help other people; that it’s okay to smile in public. We also want them to know that it’s okay to work incredibly hard and to excel at something if they want to. We want them to be encouraged and supported to work hard at school. (More thoughts on those statements in a future post.)
But despite all these reasons, we are more than a bit hesitant about our impending move. I’ve heard that repatriation is incredibly difficult, and that we should expect the first year to be hard. In addition to the general difficulties of repatriation, we feel that Swedish values, as reflected in national policies and the culture at large, are more in line with our own values than the United States’. Work-life balance isn’t just a joke here, it’s the reality for most people. Family life is valued and supported. Health care is a fundamental right, as is education. Not a single one of these things is true in the United States.
For all of these reasons—and more—it’s been an agonizing decision-making process. James applied for the job during that difficult winter when we made no friends and were certain we wanted to leave Sweden as soon as possible. He was offered the job within weeks of us moving to our gorgeous seaside apartment, when we started making friends and found a great preschool for August and the endless summer light began. James asked if he could delay his start by two years, and to our shock the university said yes. So we thought that two more years in Sweden would be great, and then it would be a good time to go back to the U.S.
I have to admit that there was a long period when we thought we wouldn’t end up going back after all and that we would stay in Sweden long term, but something changed late last summer and we realized we were going. (And then, you know, winter happened, and there was no question that we wouldn’t be staying in Sweden for another one of those.)
While we have serious reservations about American culture and society at large, we feel good about the local community in Oregon that we’ll be moving into. We will make friends who share our values. We will be surrounded by other multi-national families with broad perspectives (one of the joys of being in a university community). The challenge for us as a family is to take with us what we’ve learned from living in Sweden for three years, lessons about the value of community and work-life balance above all else. That time is more important than money. That being together is more important than getting ahead. That contributing to the community is vital and life-affirming.
We hope to spend the next few months having the best Swedish summer we’ve ever had. We have a number of visitors coming and lots to do to prepare for the move. I’m trying very hard to balance the stress of moving a family internationally with the joy of having beautiful, quirky, wonderful young children and the time to enjoy them. To balance being here now with getting ready to go. It’s not easy, not at all.
Have you ever made a life-changing move? What made you decide to do it? Or, have you ever said no to a life-changing move? What made you stay? I’m soooo curious.