I was asked this question by friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even people who I just met; why Sweden? Everyone is inquisitive why would a Sudanese guy move to a country that's pretty much the opposite of his home country in everything. I get it; I would be damn curious too if I met someone who went from living in a country where the median temperature is +30 degrees to a country where it is -30 degrees centigrade.
I have to admit that I gave different answers to this question depending on the person asking. Sometimes I just made a quick joke about how I love cold weather and darkness. Other times I go on long rants about personality, rights, laws, and winter. In this post, I will try to summarize my answer to this question and hopefully shed some light on what made me live through these crazy winters.
The Winters <3
I love winter and cold weather, so Sweden was a fantastic destination, given its geographic location, long winter, and constant low temperatures. Many people complain about the cold (and rightly so, it can be harsh sometimes) but I honestly love it. However, I survived Swedish winters only because of the friends I made here, and the country handles winters exceptionally well, so it's more about the infrastructure and less about my resilience.
Two mind-blowing things come to mind when most people think of Sweden, northern lights and midnight sun. The two awe-inspiring sightings are likely on every bucket list in existence, and deservedly so. Seeing the northern lights for the first time is a true testament to the "You have to see it yourself" argument we use whenever our words fail to describe something. You have to remember; I come from a country where day and night are almost equal in length. We don't see green lights dancing in the sky, and we most certainly don't see the sun at 1 AM.
Sweden has more to offer when it comes to nature, to mention a few: national parks, huge forests, complex archipelagoes, frozen lakes during winter, and endless hiking trails. If you are a nature person, Sweden is one of the best places to live in, hands down.
Sweden is home to many of the popular tech companies and the birthplace for many of the products we love and use every day. There is a good chance you listen to your music using Spotify. Maybe you used Truecaller to detect spam callers and avoid unwanted calls; perhaps you know someone who works for Ericsson; how about Candy Crush? These products and companies are Swedish, and they paint a picture of the tech sector in the country. There is a vibrant tech scene in the major cities, and it keeps getting bigger.
Laws, Rights, and Democracy
Last year, Sweden ranked 3rd in the Corruption Perceptions Index , 4th in the Press Freedom Index , 3rd in the Democracy Index , 7th in the Human Development Index (HDI) , and 6th in the ninth World Happiness Report .
Now, that doesn't mean Sweden is a perfect country, no such country exists, but Sweden is definitely one of the best places on earth to live in if you can withstand the weather, the culture, and the ridiculous amounts of coffee you will have to drink every day.
Even though I am not a citizen, I get access to free healthcare, free education (with certain conditions), unemployment insurance, generous holiday, and many other things that you can't get in many parts of the world. Granted, you pay headache inducing taxes (21% - 35%) but once you realize the benefits you get in return, these taxes become much easier to stomach.
A Personal Urge
These are all good reasons to move to Sweden but deep down I had a very different reason. After living most of my life in my home country, I had an unshakable urge to move somewhere else, to a place far away from home where I can experience new things, take new risks, and maybe learn a few lessons. I was hitting a wall in my career progress and considering my future plans, a master degree was a great step forward so when an opportunity presented itself when I was accepted into the Swedish Institute scholarship program, I took it, and it changed my life.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Since I moved to Sweden almost five years ago, a lot of positive things happened in my life, the following list is by no means exhaustive:
- I cleared all my master degree courses with flying colours and working on my thesis.
- I made new friends, learned something about almost all of Europe cultures.
- Developed my communication and collaboration skills.
- Joined two awesome companies as part of their security teams and progressed my career miles ahead.
- Learned a bit of Swedish.
- Most importantly, I became a better person, a better friend, and a better engineer.
The Less Positive
It's not all roses and rainbow, living in a different country far from home comes with a standard set of challenges and over the past few years I experienced the following:
- Homesickness, obviously. Spending a year or two at a time without going back home can be tough, specially during the time of COVID-19.
- Horrible sleep quality because of the brutal changes in daylight over the course of a year. It sucks, it really sucks.
- The absolute worst type of racism, subtle racism that you don't notice until a few years in and boy oh boy it's much worse than direct racism.
- Struggling with making new friends and feeling isolated at times which didn't work nicely with darkness and extended daylight.
Moving to another country isn't an easy thing regardless of the destination, one must never move across the world without carefully considering the benefits and costs of such a move, Sweden is no different. I have no regrets whatsoever about my move to Sweden and would gladly do it all over again.
- Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 for Sweden - Transparency.org
- 2020 World Press Freedom Index | RSF
- Democracy Index 2020 - Economist Intelligence Unit (eiu.com)
- | Human Development Reports (undp.org)
- Happiness, trust, and deaths under COVID-19 | The World Happiness Report
- The Local - Sweden's News in English