Six months in: returning back home after eight years abroad
Last week marked six months since I left London to move to Malmö, a Swedish city the size of Hackney. It wasn’t the first time I left London - I’d previously left to move to Wales, Berlin, South Africa and Uganda, but this was the first time I left with all my stuff without an intention to return to London, my home and base for the past eight years. Moving to new countries hasn't always been easy, but moving back to the motherland is not even comparable. Here are my few cents on moving back to the motherland after spending all your adult life abroad.
Culture clashes o'clock
My worst culture clashes before moving to Malmö didn’t take place in Uganda or South Africa but rather Aberystwyth, Wales, the place where a pint of beer was cheaper than doing laundry in student halls and where students made fun of other students for taking their studies seriously (I left two terms in). Moving to Malmö has opened a new set of cultural challenges, albeit mostly in the best of ways. As an example, I’ve been pretty taken aback by how open and generous people are in Malmö, and I’ve already made a number of fairly close friends in a way that took me years to achieve in London. That said, since I come with a London mindset I initially met this openness and generosity with slight suspicion, which obviously was a bit strange to people who are now my friends. As for me, I seriously didn’t get why people were so friendly. The things London do to you...
People won’t know you’re different, so they’ll think you’re strange
Since you look and sound like everyone else - that wasn't the case in Uganda or South Africa - it’s likely people you meet will assume that you come from the same-ish context as them. That would probably have been fine had the place you left been similar to the one you moved to, but London and Malmö are surprisingly different - perhaps particularly in the workplace. For instance, I’m usually the last person to join a meeting (bang on time when the thing starts) and the first one to leave (right when it finishes) because I. Have. Work. To. Do. People in London aren’t exactly known to linger at work meetings, and that’s how I was raised so that’s what I’ll do (not linger, that is). That’s not how things work in Malmö. You chat, you laugh, you get to know each other and right then and there is where you build your network. I still haven’t mastered the art of small talk and as someone who suffers from social anxiety, it’s a pretty significant challenge… But more on that in another post.
Prepare for a pretty major identity crisis
Beyond people thinking you're a bit odd, and beyond probably being a bit odd, you'll also feel pretty odd. I still talk of Britain and London as though I’m British myself, and I have a hard time feeling Swedish, whatever that means. I suppose I feel like an immensely privileged immigrant in Sweden, with the passport, the SSN, and the language all in place, but without the Swedish cultural capital. I just don't feel very Swedish in the way that I still identify as a Londoner, though of course a majority of Brits (as was seen in the EU referendum) would see me as an alien in Britain. That's the tricky bit about being a global citizen - suddenly it's as though you belong anywhere and nowhere.
They have changed - and so have you
I left Sweden for London when I was 18, and at the time I was immensely disappointed with Sweden at large. Growing up, I’d met few adults I could turn to for advice, inspiration or just a helping hand. I moved from home aged 15, learned to trust no one and ultimately became a pretty angry person. That changed as and when I went to university and pursued a career in London, a place where I all of a sudden had several role models and people that were more than happy to help me out. But my resentment for Sweden was still very much in place, and that didn't really change on a fundamental level until I moved to Malmö six months ago. I have a wholly different experience of my motherland now than I did growing up - a surprise to no one perhaps, but working to let go of previous prejudice and entrenched anger has allowed me to become a softer and kinder version of myself, both in spite and because of my motherland.
In many ways, returning back home after that long is like a gift that keeps on giving, while at the same time being a pretty significant challenge - a paradox of sorts. In my experience, many people seem to think that it would be easier to move back to the motherland than somewhere across the globe, but that's a fallacy. That said, rediscovering your country of birth is wonderful, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it takes some eight years of being away...