ode to sweden

Sweden. The ‘exotic’ North. 

In my time here I have had my eyes opened. 

Sitting on the bus now, en route to Stockholm I find myself filled with conflicting emotions, something I truly did not expect. It seems that in the past weeks since deciding to leave Sweden I’ve been filled with excitement to leave and also overwhelmed with the stress of making sure everything is in order for a smooth dipping out of here earlier than I expected and finals as the cherry on top. I fear that perhaps I spent too much of that time being physically present but mentally I know I was fleeting, daydreaming about the U.S. which is something I would be shocked to hear myself say just 6 months ago, but it’s true. Leaving feels liberating, it feels like an exhale but also heavy. Being on this bus feels like the connection point between my determination to move across the world as well as the life I’ve been able to create for myself here and the decision to leave based on the recognition that Sweden didn't make me happy. I think that it’s important to recognize the difference between not being happy with the place that you drop everything for and knowing that you gave it a fair chance and have to leave in pursuit of finding the place that does make you feel full and not being happy because you don’t know anyone and it’s hard to have to be an adult in a culture you don’t understand. After much deliberation about why I wanted to leave I realized that I was trying to have a justifiable reason before I made the leap, I mean what would people think? I didn't want people to think that I couldn't do it, I could and I did and I will stand by that. I worked my ass off to make this work and I am genuinely amazed with myself for that. I remember that when I decided to move to New York for college from Minnesota I was sitting at my sisters soccer game with the moms and one of them told me that it was sweet that I was trying to move so far away but it would probably be too hard being “so far” and I’d return to Minnesota soon. I remember feeling hurt that she didn't think I was capable, and perhaps in a petty way I thought of her again when I moved to Sweden, it was a very “bitch look at me now, and you thought I couldn't last in New York a month. Hah” moment. I fear these kinds of reactions to me moving back to the states, I’m afraid of not being justified enough in my decision  but I’m making a conscious choice to allow myself to not feel the need to have a “good enough reason”. The city I lived in wasn’t sexy to me and I tired quickly of the impossible nature of Swedish bureaucracy. These small things created frustration and longing for something “simpler” but ultimately the reason that I am leaving is that I didn't love the program that I abandoned my life in New York for. I couldn't justify staying. Sweden for me has been bizarre and beautiful and full of growth and I think more than anything I’ve been touched by the pure goodness of a handful of people I’ve had the absolute joy of getting to know here. Swedish culture itself if something to be reckoned with and I don’t think I wanted to reckon with it. All of that being said this has been beyond eye opening and has taught me so much about myself and Europe and Scandinavia and the different way in which the people here think and live.

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Being abroad felt inherently productive somehow. Regardless of what I was doing I was actively living in Sweden and that was enough for awhile. No one asked what I was actually doing there, me being in Europe felt instantly impressive and my static continued state of staying in Sweden for a time was sufficient. I was impressed by how many people reached out to me in my time there to tell me how brave I was for doing what I was doing and for a long time I deflected this praise, anyone could do it if they had the means. All I did was get on a plane and get there and survive each day of being in Sweden. But it was brave, I’m owning that now. Getting on that plane was brave, letting it take off with me inside was brave, going to school and staying in it was brave, grocery shopping and paying my bills and asking for help was brave. So thank you for noticing and I’m quietly proud of myself along with others who’ve done similar things that I’ve watched from afar. I spent a lot of time alone while I was there, learning to be alone and pushing myself to get comfortable on my own. I made myself go to dinners alone, go to bars alone go to museums and countries, that was brave too. The woman I wanted to be could do that without a second thought and so I did and it made me feel powerful, even in those little things. 


It’s a funny thing to grow up in the states where transparency is sparse and privacy is held with immeasurable value.  When talking about privacy I mean public access to personal information on anyone about place of residence (to the extent of providing you a google map to the front door), phone numbers, income, age, whether said person has a car (and if so, which make, model and year) if they have any animals, if they live alone etc. This is something that got me. I was shocked and horrified and paranoid as all hell when i found out that if someone knew my first name (I was the only Coco in the system) and they could find me with the slightest effort. This is something that affected me to my core, paranoid? Maybe. For a long time I changed my social media to private, aware that people would be able to figure out if I was home or traveling or even understand the layout of my apartment beyond my comfort. Being there I had several but one standout concerning and problematic issue with a man finding me through this blog (and knowing my name could then easily find all of my above information). I would like to point out that this man was a neighbor of mine and found me through the name on my mail slot and I have never met or encountered him. It is also because of this that I have waited until I am out of Sweden to write about this issue, but I feel that it’s important to write about these things especially for other young women especially that want to move away, don’t be scared but be aware and be smart. Because of this along with just a general level of concern for my general safety and privacy I spent countless hours on the phone with the government, often being met with the explanation that “In Sweden everything is transparent and that way everyone knows everything, this is normal and you’re paranoid because you’re American” I tried, I really really tried to understand this from their perspective but to no avail. I am still more than baffled by this small detail of Sweden. Out of curiosity I looked into what it would take to have my information removed from public sites and the only way that it is possible to not have your whole life spread out in front of anyone that might be interested you must have a “death threat that has been verified by police” in which case you go under a sort of witness protection program (yep, name change, address change and government protection). It’s a strange thing and makes me grateful for certain aspects of the U.S. in ways I never gave a shit about before. 

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Sweden was for me, exotic, confusing, fascinating, overwhelming, underwhelming and for lack of a better word bland at times. I was and am immeasurably grateful that I went and that I stayed and that I left. I think that I needed to write this to justify why I don’t want or need to justify the move. I’m happy. I’m looking forward to taking my first break ever from traditional academia and want to thank everyone that has supported me in both leaving, within Sweden and in my decision to leave. Part of the reason I think I left the states initially was because I wasn’t seeing someone that I admired in myself. I was doing cool shit and that was great but I wasn’t someone that I would look up to and that’s what I left to do and to become. I saw the woman I wanted to be and I went to Sweden to try and get a close enough hold of her that she became me and I, her. 

Coco Wagner2 Comments