7 Questions: Kate from Michigan


Hey! My name is Kate, and I currently live in Lund, Sweden with my sambo (soon to be husband!). I’m originally from East Grand Rapids, Michigan, best known for being the inspiration for the American Pie movies. Besides my day job as a Language Consultant at Orange Box AB in Malmo, Sweden (read: primarily teaching Business English and translating/proofreading), I write the Expat Blog at Sweden.se, a blog portal run by the Swedish Institute, and I write and run my own blog, transatlantic sketches.

1) What made you pack your life into a bag and become an expat?


I got the expat bug when I studied abroad in Perugia, Italy. I studied Italian at the University for Foreigners there, lived with Italians, and met people from all over the world. It was an eye-opening and exhilarating experience, and when I went back to the States six months later, my biggest goal was to get back to Italy in whatever way I could.

Almost four years later, and I’ve only made it back to Italy for a quick trip over Easter, but my dream of living abroad motivated me to apply to all sorts of jobs within Europe. The one that worked out—working as a researcher and program manager at an international NGO—took me to Vienna, Austria for six months, and from there, I moved to Sweden to finally in the same country as the guy that I had started dating in Italy.


2) Can you think of a single moment that occurred while living as an expat, which made you completely change your viewpoint on something you strongly believed in before you became a traveler?


After almost three years of living abroad, there have been a lot of those moments. One of the first ones had to be in Italy, when I was talking with a 40-something Egyptian classmate of mine in the school cafeteria. He told me what it was like to be jobless and hopeless in Egypt (this was before the Arab Spring, obviously), and I realized then just how sheltered (and clueless) I really was.

I had a similar conversation with a Chinese classmate. We were supposed to discuss whether we were homesick or not. I had been away from home for about a month and was doing just fine. My conversation told me that he missed home, but he had committed to working in an Italian textile factory for the next seven years. Talk about a reality check—I was there to have fun and learn a little Italian along the way while he was there to learn the bare minimum of Italian to allow him to do grueling factory work for the next seven years.

Those types of dramatic contrasts are pretty few and far between these days, but even a Swedish perspective on a topic that is very familiar to me can add a new dimension to the issue.


3) Besides the obvious language barrier, what is the scariest aspect of settling in a foreign country?


Not knowing how to get things done. How do I get a cell phone contract? How do I get the internet to work in my apartment? What’s the best place to buy the electronics that I need? That stuff takes time to figure out, and in the meantime, you’re just wasting money and treading water.


4) When people ask you about your experiences as an expat, what’s the one memory you always share?


Oof, tough question. Lots. Celebrating Midsummer in Stockholm’s Archipelago. Going mushroom picking in the forest in Sweden with my friends. Going to Paris with my cousin for the first time. I’m getting married in a couple of weeks, so I’m sure that will be added to the list.


5) Do you ever find it difficult to connect with the locals of the country? If yes, why? If not, why do you think it’s been fairly easy to connect with them?


I did not find it difficult to connect with Italians at all, but I had a harder time with Austrians and Swedes. I think the different levels of outgoing-ness made a big difference. In Vienna, people were pretty insular within their friend groups, but if you can convince them to go out for a beer with you twice you’re on your way.

In Sweden, I felt like it was moving back to the Midwest in some ways. People are very friendly and very helpful—as long as you make the first move. By the same token, people are very kind, but they’re not particularly effusive, and they keep you at a distance for a long time. I feel like I have real friends now, but it took awhile. I think that Swedes typically look for deep friendships with a small group of people rather than a wide but superficial network of friends.


6) What hard to get items do you wish could be overnighted from back home?


Mexican food and my family.


7) Besides being able to live in another part of the world, what has been the greatest benefit of becoming an expat?


Learning new languages, having extremely different experiences than anything I could have ever expected, broadening my perspective on the world, challenging my own assumptions about life and the way things are, experiencing public health care and public transportation at its finest, making amazing friends throughout the world, and… of course… delicious food!

You can check out more from Kate on Twitter, @kwise321, Transatlantic Sketches http://www.transatlanticsketches.com, and The Expat Blog at Sweden.se, http://www.blogs.sweden.se/expat .

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