From Bermuda to Toronto to Sweden: Fresh Presse
Hello! My name is Sara Graham – an editor, yoga teacher and (brand new) author of How To Make Big Moves: Relocate Without Losing Your Mind. I was born and raised in Bermuda before leaving to attend a Canadian university. After I graduated, I remained in Toronto for about 15 years. I met my partner, Mario, and, well, read on to find out what happened next!
1. Why did you move abroad?
My partner is a character artist and his industry is very transient. We met in 2011, when I was living in Toronto and he had just relocated from Italy for work. In 2013, he got offered a job in Prague and I joined him there in early 2014. 16 months later we left for his new opportunity (a video game startup) in Uppsala, Sweden.
2. How do you make a living?
That has been an interesting experience as a freelance content producer. I have an EU/UK passport, which is helpful but, because of the rules (and headaches) around obtaining a work permit in the Czech Republic, I maintained contract work with companies in the US and Canada. This all worked well because I was still paying taxes in Canada. However, in order to diversify myself in a crowded freelance marketplace, I rebranded my business, while in Prague, to offer email marketing services.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Well, my immediate family live in New Zealand (they relocated there around 2009) so it’s tough to schedule Skype chats due to the time difference. We keep in touch through email, Facebook and the occasional call. With my friends in Toronto, I’m averaging one Skype call per month. Facebook and Instagram come in handy as well to keep up with what everyone is doing.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Sweden?
I never would have known about chocolate balls! But seriously, guess my current favourite thing about the country in general is that 99% of household waste is recycled. They make it so easy for residents to separate garbage and compost. The latter was not happening in Prague at all and it was very frustrating.
I am inspired by Swedish style. The millennials here have mastered sweatshirt chic; love the trainers with the long coats. Going to be working on editing my closet.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Sweden?
I don’t want get geopolitical, but here we go… The beggar situation really makes me angry. It is a criminal operation that not only deals in human trafficking, but takes advantage of the current migration crisis. I believe the average person is quite naïve and these Romanian beggars are easily confused with refugees and those that are legitimately homeless.
While the EU’s “open borders” policy has many positives, this is a negative outcome and I hope it changes. There is no reason why this should be allowed to perpetuate given that the Romanian Ambassador to Sweden thinks begging should be banned.
6. What do you miss most?
I was just in Toronto in March and had a great time catching up with good people. Of course, I miss my friends, but I miss certain parts of the city …and the food!
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
In Prague, I joined HUB (a centre for entrepreneurs) and InterNations. Both offered ways to connect with like-minds through events. I am a yoga teacher so, because I knew I was allowed to work as soon as I arrived in Sweden, I reached out to a few yoga studios before leaving the Czech Republic. I actually taught a class the first week I arrived in Uppsala. I continue to go to InterNations gatherings here, and recently joined Meetup.com so I look forward to going to some events and organizing a yoga-related meetup this spring or summer.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The Swedes can be a bit abrupt - especially the older men - so that takes some getting used to.
There’s also the attention to detail. Sometimes it’s too much. I mean, I am a perfectionist in a lot of ways, but let’s not get picky about me being five minutes late to pick up my laundry. Any expat, who lives in an apartment building here, knows what I am talking about.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That the Swedes are really beautiful. While not all blonde and blue-eyed, that “myth” is true.
Then there’s the perception that it is SO dark in the winter. Yes, the sun does start going down around 3pm starting in November, but after a week or so you just get used to it. On most days, there’s still a fair amount of sunshine from about 9am, so I just up my Vitamin D intake and it’s all good.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Definitely much higher in Sweden compared to Prague. I’ve had to be a lot more aggressive about adding projects to my workload.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
It’s not an easy transition and I think my best advice is to find your people ASAP. As I say in the guidebook: Whether you join a running club, or sign up for weekly entrepreneurial brainstorms, you need to go where your people are. I know the yoga community is the best place for me to start and build out so that was my first ‘target market’, so to speak. All I had to do was find a yoga studio that offered the sort of yoga I like to practice and, second, enquire whether I could teach there. Miraculously, all of this can be done before taking off so apply this to your own situation and set yourself up for success!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
It was in 2010 that I sort of moved away from writing about fashion and beauty, and began writing travel features for magazines and web sites. This was due to my increasingly global reach with more trips to New Zealand and making other stops – if you are going all the way there then might as well see other countries in between, right? So I launched TheTravelPresse.com in 2011 and then rebranded it to FreshPresse.com in 2014. HowToMakeBigMoves.com went live last month to support my guidebook on relocation.
Sara's Blog, Fresh Presse
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If you are interested in Sara's guidebook, please visit www.howtomakebigmoves.com for more information. As a special offer, Easy Expat readers can use the coupon code '*bigmover*', which has a value of $1 towards the purchase price (PDF format only).