A year ago today I arrived to the wintery wonderland of Stockholm, Sweden right before Christmas. After another four month stint of long distance, which included five minute phone calls and once a week Skype dates/homework sessions during an intense semester of grad school, I was back, again. In the two weeks leading up to this moment, I had found a subletter for my apartment, completed my final projects, moved out of my Boston apartment, packed for a six month trip and then hopped onto a one-way flight. I was exhausted, to say the least, but thrilled to be given this opportunity. The secret was, though, I was fully aware that by leaving my interior design program in the middle, I may never return.
Now I sit here, listening to Nat King Cole, longing for home, and crossing my fingers that we get a huge blizzard just in time to make our Christmas Eve celebration a white one. Despite missing home more than usual right now, I feel at ease and at home in a way that I haven’t in years. This is the longest I’ve lived in one place since graduating from college over three years ago. My dad always tells me I’m restless, but I call it adventurous. Ok, and maybe a little restless! Either way, I had been dreaming of living in Europe since I visited Italy for the first time in high school, and difficult as it was getting myself here, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
In one year of living abroad, I feel I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me than I did the the five years prior. I’ve met interesting and brave people from every continent (still waiting on meeting an Antarctican…), learned to speak a new language fluently, and baked my first apple pie, to name a few. It has been a year of learning and getting to know myself a little bit better. And taking chances.
Here is What I’ve Learned From One Year of Living Abroad:
1. It is OK to Stand out. Sounds obvious, right? I never minded standing out in an art class, carrying around a school bus yellow lunch box, or even embarrassing myself among strangers (never on purpose, mind you!). But as soon as I moved over here, this once loud, bubbly American became quite, often whispering on the train. I became hyper sensitive to people turning their heads and often staring at me, either because they heard me speaking English or because I was wearing boots to my knees instead of the ankle boots that are so popular here. This puzzled and frustrated Fredrik… “Why do you care? You DO stand out. You’re American. Now, would you please get over it and just be yourself?” Wise words. I got over it. Hell, I embrace it. Sweden needs at least one more girl to rock bright red boots.
2. Being Naked is no big deal. So, everybody here showers at the gym before heading home after a workout. There are not curtains, no shower stalls, just an open room with six showers. I’m almost ashamed to say that I found this so unusual and weird my first time at the gym. But then by the second time, I tried it. IT IS LIBERATING. I don’t feel the need to hide behind my towel and don’t think twice about it anymore. I’ve even had a woman asking me to borrow my conditioner once… long before I could even speak Swedish. Talk about a temporarily awkward moment. ;) And on a side note, it feels damn good to get home all showered and clean after a workout. If you haven’t done this for yourself, I would strongly encourage it. IT’S NO BIG DEAL.
3. A lot Can Happen in One Year. Things often happen so quickly and seamlessly in life that even those things that seem like such a big deal at the time, fade into the distance rather quickly. We often focus on the things that go wrong, don’t happen, or should have happened, rather than the ones that went right. Take a moment to think about everything, good and bad, that has happened to you in this past year. Chances are you’re going to be a little surprised, and hopefully even proud. My list includes moving to a foreign country, learning Swedish fluently (which seemed IMPOSSIBLE when I began), creating 4 monstrous murals for an office in Boston that I’m not allowed to disclose, traveling to China, getting my dream job, and starting this blog. Phew! If you would have told me a year ago that that is what my year would look like, I would have laughed in your face. I know better now though.
4. There is NEVER any perfect time. This is a good one. If we all just stopped waiting for the “right” time, we’d get a whoooole lot more accomplished. Try it. Go after what you want, especially if it is something that makes your heart race and mind dream. Ask for what you want. Do the hard thing. And please do not wait. Oh yeah, and cut the excuses (I’m still working on that one!!).
5. Det Finns Ingen Dåligt Väder Bara Dålig Kläder. AKA – It’s not the weather, it’s you. That is a famous Swedish expression literally meaning, “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Swedish people have taught me the art of wearing long johns under my jeans (everyday from December until April – No joke!), always having my scarf and mittens on hand, and enjoying the crisp winter air and warm sunshine on my face. Even just tonight, I passed a lovely restaurant that had their outdoor patio open with bright red heat lamps. People sat outside in their winter jackets, drinking red wine, and just enjoying their Thursday night. No complaints here. Suck it up and get out there and enjoy.
6. Dreams Don’t Just Find You, You Have to Chase them. Everyday. I can actually remember Fredrik saying that to me in the spring time, when I was waiting and hoping a job would fall into my lap and that my little fairy god mother would tell me what to do. Tough luck. It doesn’t work like that. Instead you need to chase them. Everyday. Until your out of breath and want to give up.
7. Fika is good for the soul. “Fika” is the Swedish tradition (celebrated daily) of drinking coffee and eating something sweet, most often a cinnamon bun. It has been through Fika-ing that I have made such good friends, have had such interesting conversations, and have grown to understand Swedish culture on a deeper level. When I worked for short time in an office, it was a daily ritual. 3 o’clock = fika. It was a welcome break for all and a great way to keep a better sense of community among employees. Makes sense right? Don’t be afraid to take a break once in a while… or daily!
8. White is not boring. Moving to a country that not only loves white walls and white clothing, but also a place in which people, in general, are very calm and soft spoken, the color white quickly became my literal and figural description for my new home. I have always loved bold color, laughing too loudly, and choosing the weirdest in the bunch, making this move a bit of a contrast. Whenever we are exposed to something new, something downright weird even, it is easy to judge and think of how YOU think it should be done. AKA – what you’ve grown up with and what your used to. I’m learning that using white in an interior does a great job of placing focus on certain things, I’m learning to enjoy a more simplistic lifestyle, and I’m learning to reinvent myself and my ideas of how things should be. Just because I like bright color and grew up in an orange bedroom, does not mean that that is the only way to live. Dare to be open to new ways of thinking, your world will grow… and will thank you for it!
Well, that was a bit of a mouthful, but it has been something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Not to be cliche, but I do think the holidays are a great time to reflect on the past year and to take time to think about goals and aspirations for the upcoming year. I wish I could say I was a master at chasing my dreams and making sh*t happen, but I’m just a regular person who refuses to settle and has witnessed how wonderful things do come from taking chances. Nobody said it would be easy, but it’s sure as hell worth it.
Happy Holidays, everyone!!