Feeling At Home In Another Country
When do you feel at home? I mean really feel at home? In another person's home? Meeting a new person? In another country? I know I feel at home when I feel comfortable and welcome. At someone's home that could mean putting my feet up on the coffee table, or knowing where to find any item in the kitchen I might need. Meeting a new person, I begin to feel at home when I feel heard and understood. In another country? Well, that one I am still figuring out! But the longer I live away from my 'home country' the more I see how much revolves around language, mindset, and community.
To share a little of my journey, I first moved to Sweden in 2008, 10 years ago to live with a Swedish family and help care for their children and teach them English. Before coming to Sweden, I had studied my undergrad in psychology and worked a few years after studying, but was looking for an adventure abroad. Never in my wildest imagination did I think my journey would lead to where it is today. But that is true with life, it takes unexpected turns and twists, and as long as you are open to change and welcome the opportunities, it often turns out better than you could have imagined. My one year of caring for those adorable children, turned into four years in Sweden filled with many adventures traveling, studying a Master's degree in International Social Work, helping plant an international church, and eventually meeting my husband, Patrik, who is Swedish.
The Unexpected Surprise
The most surprising part in all those four years was meeting Patrik. You see, I did NOT expect to marry a Swede. I didn't think I would meet the kind of man I was looking for in Sweden, BUT meeting Patrik during my third year in Sweden proved me wrong. To read another story about one of my favourite dates with Patrik and discover how I fell for him, click here. In all my plans and dreams, I did not imagine marrying someone from another country. Not that I was against it, I just didn't ever imagine it happening. And I never prepared for it either. You see, languages were not one of my strengths during my studies. Even during my first year in Sweden, when language courses were part of the cultural experience, I didn't take them too seriously. Had I known then that I would NEED the language to truly feel at home in Sweden, I would have taken advantage of the opportunity. Instead I wasted the opportunity. Never waste an opportunity! You never know where life will lead you--even to the most unexpected of places.
A Relationship With Two Languages
For the most part, Patrik and I have always spoken English with each other (except for the time I asked him to tutor me in hopes of getting to know him better!) Patrik and I were friends before we dated, but when we started dating we could quickly see our relationship heading towards marriage. Before we would get engaged though, I suggested we go to pre-engagement counselling. It was recommended to me by a mentor and I thought it was brilliant. I am a fan of counselling and since both Patrik and I come from families that are divorced, and we come from two different countries, I thought it would be a great idea to go to counselling to see if we were well suited for each other in terms of marriage and if there was anything we were missing with our 'love blinders' on, because sometimes love can blind you. We knew we liked each other and the chemistry was there, but did we have what it really takes to make marriage work? I read LOTS of relevant material, but it's another thing to involve yourself in the messy, vulnerable, process of counselling, opening yourself up to the possibility that you are NOT well matched for each other after all. You see, I would rather know that before getting engaged, married, and having children. I wanted to know if we both had what it took. (For some great material on this, check out John Gottman's resources.)
One of the things that came up in pre-engagement counselling was the importance of language because we both have different mother tongues. One of the exercises the counsellor did, was to ask Patrik to share with him what I meant to him, speaking his mother tongue, Swedish. Though our counsellor understood no Swedish, he could understand a great deal of what was being said by the body language, the expressions, the natural way he could speak from the heart. Because Swedish is his heart language. The point was to show how important it is for two people with different mother tongues to be able to express themselves in their own heart language to the other person. Something shifts in the heart language. It's natural. It's more expressive. I was encouraged to allow Patrik time to express himself in Swedish to me, to listen, to absorb it, and try to understand what was being said apart from the words.
My Journey With Learning The Language
Fast forward 10 years. Am I fluent in Swedish now? No? Whose fault is it? Entirely mine. I take full responsibility. I have learned that mindset, purpose, and will are so important. When you align these things you will have the motivation to learn the language.
Do I want to become fluent? Yes and No. My mind says, Yes, because I know it will create more opportunities for me. My heart says, No, because of fear. Fear that I will never fully really understand, and be misunderstood. I have to overcome this fear and have the right mindset. Also, remember this: Knowing is one thing. Doing is another. We have said Sundays are our day to speak Swedish to each other. I have a hard time remembering to stay speaking in Swedish. Patrik is fluent in both languages, so he doesn't realise if he switches from Swedish to English. I have said he can speak Swedish to me and I can respond in English, but that doesn't work because he'll just switch over to English automatically. We have grown accustomed and comfortable with English. We have to have the mindset to stick with it and follow through!
Without purpose, we wander. Without knowing why learning a language is important to us, we will not have the motivation to speak or use it. I saw this when I was teaching the children English. From their perspective, everyone spoke Swedish, so why was this new girl from another country expecting me to learn and speak her language? It wasn't until they visited Thailand a few months after that they realised not everyone can speak Swedish and English was useful to communicate with people in other countries. So their learning picked up quickly after that trip. I have seen this similarly in my life. At the moment I am able to converse in Swedish and have worked at an international school where I use Swedish on a daily basis. I speak Swedish with the students, even though I make mistakes, you know why? Because I know for some of them, my Swedish is stronger than their English at this point in time. So there is a purpose, a need, to speak Swedish in that context. At home though, I struggle because for me it is SO hard to reason with my logic that I should speak Swedish to my husband, whose English is nearly perfect, and I KNOW my Swedish will never be equivalent to his English. My logic says, Swedish will never come as naturally to me simply because I am learning it later in life and my husband grew up with it in his culture. (In Sweden they don't dub anything, they keep movies, shows, and music in their original language of English, so the kids grow up listening to English all around them.) Plus my husband is just gifted with languages, he has an ear for it. But I have to set my mind to it and remember why I need to learn.
I don't like making mistakes. I don't like looking or sounding silly. I know what you're thinking... don't be so hard on yourself... just get over yourself. Unlike my husband, I don't really have the ear for language nor do I have the natural gift of learning languages. And that is humbling. But in order to learn a language you have to go through the process of learning and that includes making lots of mistakes. I didn't realise how important language, expression, being understood, and being correct was to me until I started learning Swedish. I need to lose my pride, humble myself, and keep going in the learning process.
Another area that is important to feeling at home with regards to language is community. I have found it to be so valuable to be involved with a community and have friends that I can both practice Swedish with and speak in my own heart language with. It is important to have friends that are native to the country you are living in because you get a deeper understanding of the culture and language than you would otherwise. But how do you meet natives? There are a whole number of ways, depending on your situation. In my case, I made a lot of friends through going to a Swedish-speaking church, or at the park meeting parents of other children. It is also important to be able to relate to other foreigners in similar situations to gain support and encouragement. I have met internationals through going to an international English-speaking church, through local Facebook groups, and kids play groups. The opportunities are out there, you just have to search for them and be willing to initiate, connect, and follow up when you do meet people.
Although my journey is ongoing with learning the language of Swedish (and perhaps others?) I have some tips for learning a language that I have found helpful so far and am trying to put in to practice.
Tips for learning a language:
Be kind, patient, and gracious towards yourself
Find the right setting for you to feel comfortable practicing
Choose the right mindset: how you think is how you will act
Understand your purpose for learning the language
Get over yourself and your fears
Allow time for you and your spouse to speak in your heart language
Find a community where you can practice your new language
Find a community where you can express your heart language
Perhaps you have heard it said that the eyes are the window to the soul, well, I say that expression or language is the window to the soul! I have felt lost at times in Sweden without the ability to express and communicate myself to others in Swedish. I believe that once I am fluent in Swedish, I will also find myself feeling more at home in Swedish culture and more at ease in my marriage when I can understand my husband's heart language more comfortably. As long as I set my mind to it, with the purpose and will to succeed, have a humble approach, and immerse myself in a supportive community, I will succeed.
Hi! I am Christina Lorentzson, Co-founder of Parental Legacy together with my husband, Patrik. We have one amazing son who is 2 1/2 years old and will become a big brother in August 2018! We have been married for 5 years and are committed to growing and bettering our relationship through the challenges that we face. Currently we live in Stockholm, Sweden which is where we met. I am from MN, USA and have studied psychology in my undergrad and a masters degree in International Social Work. Patrik is from Sweden and studied Business and is an entrepreneur, coming up with new ideas weekly. We enjoy serving both local and global communities, helping out at church, hosting dinner parties, taking walks through nature, and exploring other parts of the world.