Although I’ve lived in Europe for more than 30 years, there are still European countries I haven’t visited. Sweden is one of them. I admit to being fairly unmotivated when it comes to discovering Scandinavia, but every place can’t be for everybody. I’ve heard wonderful things about all of the Scandinavian countries, but – with the exception of a few business meetings in Copenhagen – have never spent any significant amount of time there.
That obviously doesn’t mean that Scandinavia isn’t an interesting place for African-American students to explore, so I was particularly happy to encounter an article called “20 Things To Know Before Moving to Sweden” by Lola Akinmade-Åkerström, who is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer!
Many of the 20 facts she mentions were either new to me or their significance wasn’t completely clear before reading her breakdown. Along with interesting factoids concerning customs and rituals in everyday life, here are a few that seem particularly relevant for anyone planning to do more than spend just a few weeks in Sweden as a tourist.
You can probably get by with English for decades, but…
Chances are you can live in Sweden for years without learning a lick of Swedish. That’s because many Swedes are fluent in English and are always happy to switch so they can practice their English on you. This means it might take you longer to properly learn the language, and the Catch-22 is that fluency in Swedish is crucial to full integration.
Signing up for SFI (Swedish For Immigrants) — which is free and provided by the Swedish National Agency for Education — could be a step in the right direction.
re Education and Health Care:
Not all education and healthcare is free
Contrary to popular belief, not all healthcare and education is free, a common misconception many foreigners hold about Sweden’s subsidized social system.
As of autumn 2011, Swedish universities will charge students who are not citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland. The universities set their own fees, which will mostly vary between SEK 80,000-140,000 per academic year, depending on the subject. Fees for medicine and art programs will be even higher.
While healthcare is heavily subsidized by the Swedish government and taxpayers, don’t be surprised if you’re required to pay a few hundred crowns for a visit to the doctor. For routine doctor’s office visits, the maximum amount you may have to pay out of pocket for an entire year is SEK 900 (SEK 1,800 for prescription drugs).
Considering that works out to roughly USD 145 per year (USD 290 for drugs), that’s a lot less than what many new residents have to pay in their home countries.
re Gender Equality:
Daddies pushing strollers
When it comes to equality between the sexes, Sweden is one of the leaders, and men here definitely pull their own weight in staying home and raising infant children.
Couples are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, and this time can be shared between parents. So you’ll often find new fathers with parked strollers and babies strapped to their chests, having lunch and fika dates with other dads.
re Code of (Public) Conduct:
Try keeping it “lagom”
There is a societal code of conduct in Sweden which really has no direct translation in English. Loosely translated, the word “lagom” means “just enough,” “in moderation,” “appropriate,” and other synonyms you can pull out of the dictionary. When used in reference to societal behavior, it means blending in appropriately without extreme displays of emotion.
re “Green” Living:
Keep that plastic bag
Before you toss out that plastic bag, you may want to reconsider. Most grocery stores will charge you a few kronor for plastic or paper bags in an effort to keep waste low and encourage recycling. Sweden is one of the most eco-friendly countries on Earth, and its capital Stockholm was awarded the European Green Capital distinction in 2010 which recognizes exemplary recycling and sustainability efforts.