Expat HLG: Spain, Fall Colors & the Refugee Crisis

Glorious from Alex Smith in Sweden

High: Travels to Spain

The first week of October we were able to spend ten days back in Madrid, Spain, our former home. It was just what the doctor ordered. A dose of sunshine, 24 degree temps (75 fahrenheit), great food and wine, late nights out and reconnecting with amazing friends, often in plazas with more great food and wine! It’s always nice to change the scene for a few days and escape the daily routine. It’s even better when you can do that in a place that you’re passionate about. When you’re a long-term expat and move countries, your identity begins to change and you glean pieces of the places you’ve lived. Spain will always be a sort of sanctuary for my soul. It was great to recharge my batteries.   

Low: Refugee Crisis

If you’ve followed the news at all recently you have read about the historic refugee crisis occurring in Europe as millions of people are displaced, the majority now coming from Syria. Sweden happens to be one of the top destinations for refugees seeking asylum so during the past months there have been thousands of people making their way to Sweden – on boats from Germany as well as by train from Denmark. Because of Malmö’s geographic location it is the main entry point into Sweden for most refugees. For weeks our central train station has been a welcome center to more than 900 asylum seekers per day. The Red Cross has a stand set up to provide information when people arrive, give them a hot coffee and other basic supplies. Many refugees also curl up on a blanket for a night’s sleep in the train station.

The stories of what many people have gone through to get here are heart-wrenching. It’s hard to imagine being in the situation of having to risk everything to leave your own country. It has to be terrible when the fear of dying while escaping is less than the fear of staying in your own home.

One evening after getting off my train and making my way through the station I saw a group of refugees with a couple police officers and Red Cross volunteers. They had just made contact via cell phone with family members who had been separated in the migration process. They were crying tears of joy and jumping up and down together in collective joy and relief. The emotion was palpable and I couldn’t help but get choked up. It was as if the images from the news had come out of the television and met me face-to-face. It made it real instead of merely something happening “over there” that you can easily forget.   

Glitter: Fall Colors

After years living in Boston and New York City I was spoiled with amazing fall colors and I still miss it most this time of the year. The past two fall seasons have been subpar in Malmö and I had basically succumb to the fact that I won’t experience fall again like on the East Coast. This year, however, we have been enjoying some fantastic colors. My morning bike rides to work have been filled with “ooo” and “ahhh” moments. Yellow and orange leaves formed beautiful canopies over the bike paths creating a sort of living kaleidoscope as the light passed through. I’m grateful Mother Nature is giving us this beautiful show before our days turn to pure darkness! 

Alex-SmithAlex Smith’s semester in Seville, Spain became the motivation for his leaving the comforts of a corporate job in his native United States to rekindle his love affair with Spain. He is the author of Study U Abroad: The 5 Keys to Unlock Your Awesomeness and Transform Your World, a book that empowers students to stretch beyond their comfort zones and seize the opportunity for self-growth while abroad. Alex currently resides in Malmö, Sweden but has lived and worked in Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Barcelona, and Madrid. He draws on his personal and professional life experiences to help students and expats thrive abroad and back home. Connect with Alex at studyuabroad.com.

The HLG of Two Years in Sweden

sweden

by Alex Smith

February 25th marks my two-year anniversary in Sweden and it’s a perfect time for me to reflect on the overall experience!

High: Amazing friendships. Sweden is not the easiest of places to meet locals and the Swedes will be the first to admit that! One of the best parts of Malmö, however, is a thriving international community with people from all over the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some amazing people here and I know these relationships will continue regardless of where we all end up living in the future. The highlight was my birthday this past December when 25 friends joined in throwing me a surprise birthday brunch! Two years back I couldn’t have imagined having such a wonderful group of friends around me today.

Low: Darkness and depression. After spending a few years in Spain before the move to Sweden I was spoiled with sunshine, siestas, and fiestas. Nothing could prepare me for 9:00am sunrises and 3:00pm sunsets with months of cloud cover and uncomfortably damp, cold temperatures. The lowest point was January 2014 when we received 8 hours of sunshine for the entire month…yes, the entire month! I had also given up everything I had created in Spain to accompany my spouse here to Sweden. My dream had always been to move to Spain and stay for the rest of my life. That dream seemed to have died.

Glitter: New book, new language, new dream! The silver lining of having given up my life in Spain is that I made space for new things. I finally had the time and motivation to publish my book, which had been on the back burner for too long. The culture shock I experienced moving to Sweden was a necessary evil, giving me fresh, first-hand insight for the book. I also love learning new languages and have now added Swedish to my repertoire. Lastly, I’ve learned that dreams can change and when you accept what shows up in life instead of resisting or resenting it things just get better and better!

Alex-SmithAlex Smith’s semester in Seville, Spain became the motivation for his leaving the comforts of a corporate job in his native United States to rekindle his love affair with Spain. He is the author of Study U Abroad: The 5 Keys to Unlock Your Awesomeness and Transform Your World, a book that empowers students to stretch beyond their comfort zones and seize the opportunity for self-growth while abroad. Alex currently resides in Malmö, Sweden but has lived and worked in Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Barcelona, and Madrid. He draws on his personal and professional life experiences to help students and expats thrive abroad and back home. Connect with Alex at studyuabroad.com.