A couple of weeks ago, I read an article that stated a human needs approximately 6 hugs per day to have the feeling of a healthy, emotionally supported and secured social life.
Now, when you move away from your established group of friends, family, acquaintances and perhaps significant other to Sweden, you might not get these 6 hugs per day for weeks or even months. And now you can either buy way too many oversized sweaters as a coping mechanism, as I did, or you can learn a bit more about how to maintain healthy relationships while you are away… and how Sweden can help you with that!
In this blog post, I will give you some tips and tricks that make long-distance communication easier, how you can deal with homesickness and making your loved ones from home feel more involved in your “new life”.
In the follow-up blog post (part two of this post), I talked to some people who are Swedish or have lived here for a long time, and we have gathered some information on how to become friends with Swedish people and how to emerge yourself faster in the social atmosphere of a new culture.
1. Dear Mom, Dear Dad,
We live in the greatest time period when it comes to keeping in touch with people who live thousands of kilometers away, undoubtedly.
With just a double-tap we can let our friends know we like their picture were they are relaxing with their cat, we send snapchats to our fiance on the bus to let them know that screaming kids should be banned from public transportation and we tweet that the book we have to read for our university course is completely outdated. And while it is wonderful to take advantage of all these opportunities, sometimes they may seem a little distant or impersonal.
So, why not go old school and write a letter or postcard? Especially your grandparents will be so happy that you thought of them and a handwritten note on the back of a beautiful picture of your city is a guarantee for lots of happy replies and great conversation starters.
Extra tip: Choose who you want to send what to- while your friends might be already very surprised over a cute postcard with two lines, your significant other or closer family might feel more valued by a letter. You can buy postcards and postage stamps at post offices, local supermarkets or gift shops in Sweden, or you can even take pictures of the city you live in yourself and create a postcard online- it’s pretty simple and adds that extra personal touch.
2. Welcome back to my adventures as an international student!
Writing pen-on-paper is an old school classic, but what if you don’t have the time for that, time to go to the post office or just have horrible handwriting?
Depending on how much the people in your life are involved in it, starting an online diary might be a great idea! Not only is it easy and convenient, you get to personalize it as much as you want and have unlimited space to express yourself. Adding a self-made font, pictures you took of the Swedish forests during your adventures and the structure of the blog are a great way to keep your friends up to date. Here are a few ideas, which can be adapted and changed to your style and liking.
- Start a blog. Write every day (or every other day) about what is going on, the people you met, university life. Make it fun and explain the differences between Swedish people and the people from your hometown, write about how disgusting salty licorice is and how lemon-scented candles help you through the winter darkness. You can make it poetic and explain the ways Sweden, as a country, is changing your belief systems as an individual or the way watching strangers in the central station in Stockholm gives you perspective on your own problems. Make long posts were you ramble on once a month or give short daily updates. Your friends and family will always be happy to click on your website and find a new post!
- Make an Instagram. my_swedish_adventures could be your username “the bad, the good and the weird life choices, surrounded by Scandinavian interior design and uni stress” could be your description. Make your life a gallery of little squares and keep your loved ones up to date by posting quick “inside the lecture” snapshots, “my traditional Swedish Fika” in your story during coffee break or the way you style 3 jackets (on top of each other) in cold December nights. Especially if you have a big friend group, making a swinsta (Swedish finsta, something I just came up with) can be the easiest way to keep everyone up to date. Plus you can create Swedish memes and keep everyone guessing what it is about. Educational purpose fulfilled!
- Vlogs. Especially if you always wanted to experiment with videos, editing and everything surrounding that, a move to a new country, a fresh start and new university friends are perfect to capture the changes on film. That way, you are not only describing to your friends what is happening but visualizing it for everyone. This is perfect if you are away for a very long time because your loved ones will have a deep insight into your life and know what your daily life looks like. You can just take videos of whatever happens on a daily basis, do sit-down videos and storytimes of how confusing the language is or even introduce your friends or your university topics! As with everything, your creative outlet is yours to design.
The big plus with capturing your life in that way is that you can look back on it. If you start an Instagram for your friends and family at the beginning of your master’s degree, imagine how fun it will be to go back after graduation and look at all the memories, good and bad times, your experience gained and the way you changed during this time!
3. Honey, look what came in the mail.
Choklad balls, kanelbullar, licorice, Kex, all that good stuff but no one at home knows what you are talking about? A very special and personal way to share a part of your life is to create a parcel that includes small snacks and other local and personal stuff and send it home. As an inspiration of what you can add:
- As already mentioned, some local Swedish food! Of course, frozen kottbullar might not be a good idea to ship into a different country but something that lasts a bit longer will give your friends and family a delicious surprise . Especially if you have culinary interested parents and siblings, weird and delicious food is a present that will bring them a bit closer to your new life. Snacks you can pick up at the grocery store will do the trick and if you want to add an extra edge, send mini-bottles of Absolut Vodka- a Swedish company! (But guys- please don’t send anyone Surströmming).
- If it is your significant other, a big hoodie or shirt you wore (not your sweaty gym shirt!) is the easiest way to maintain intimacy over distance. If you want to get really cheesy, add a stuffed-animal moose or a blanket in the traditional yellow-blue colors.
- Your grandparents might find an interest in some decorations for their homes. The famous Dalecarian horse can be the perfect addition to their living room shelf. Otherwise, something practical like a lighter or a hat can give them a daily reminder to be proud of their grandchild studying in a country abroad!
- Some brands might deliver to Sweden but not your home country. If your best friend is dying to get their hands on a new lipgloss or piece of clothing but have no way of purchasing it, ordering it for them will make them love you forever!
- Add a small note with some nice words, maybe even a book or a printed out picture. A photo of you in your university that can be put on the fridge is something your grandparents and parents might especially cherish.
- Go all the way with an IKEA or Spotify gift card (both Swedish brands) for your friends who are also moving to university, and could need some decorations or new tunes. Your best friends might get excited over an IdealOfSweden phone case, as they are internationally famous, or an ABBA band-shirt.
4. When are we seeing each other again?
Especially important in long-distance relationships is to know when you will be able to fall into each other’s arms again. Being unsure about the next time might put an unnecessary strain on the relationship and cause avoidable fights. If you have the exact time your girlfriend will visit you as a marked red circle in your calendar or Instagram countdown, it is a lot easier and both of you and you have something to look forward to. If you know your university schedule beforehand, even try to look for a flight or train to visit them while they are still visiting you. That way, it is a thing you are deciding on together. If you have the possible resources and the privilege of scheduling your own time how you want it to be, a surprise visit could be an amazing way to keep the spark going and make your loved ones day. After all, you can get a LOT of uni work done on an eight-hour flight!
5. Hello, can you hear me? Wait I think I can’t see you!
Might it be Whatsapp call, Skype, Snapchat call or even just the old classic- phone calls- it is uncomplicated to just ask “can I call you in 5 minutes?” and telling your parents about your new room or updating your friends on the latest tea about your professor. Depending on what type of person you are, there are two main ways to go about this form of communication: you can schedule set times and plan them into your routine (“every Thursday night at 8pm I am calling my sister”) or you just randomly see if your friends are free to have a little talk.
I found a mixture between both works the best, especially if your friends have strict working schedules. A set time might work best for you, but your dad might be easier to just randomly call and check-in. Both ways, remember to not put too much pressure on yourself to have amazing stories to tell every time you call- sometimes a 5 min talk about an especially good sandwich you had and wishing them a nice day is all it takes to keep a relationship intact. The aspect of random little details is what keeps you and your people close and involved in each other’s life!
Technical difficulties due to bad internet connection might also create a bond between you, you didn’t know existed.
6. I should have added more salt, how is yours?
Have you noticed how social of an interaction eating is? Friend groups in restaurants, parents with their kids on a park bench picnic or lovers over a romantic dinner- food is a social aspect in every culture, and getting together to eat is a very easy way to get closer with people. Now, going out for a quick lunch is obviously a bit tricky if your best friend lives 6000km away. But as weird as it sounds, sharing a snack and some stories over facetime is surprisingly fun!
Added bonus, if you and your friend cook the same food and then eat it together over a call. It might feel weird at first, but can quickly become an established ritual and even has the benefit of only having to clean up one plate!
If you enjoy cooking, it is an easy way to introduce your friends to Swedish recipes- a live cooking show brought directly from your kitchen! Some fun recipe ideas to show them are the classic “Raggmunk and Lingonberries”, traditional marinated salmon with dill potatoes or make use of your oven and make fresh kanelbullar (or during Christmas time Saffransbullar). Get cooking together, and it will immediately give you that homey- atmosphere.
7. I scheduled a whole day of fun for us!
Nothing beats the feeling of welcoming someone at the airport and showing your loved ones your new home town.
After months of skyping, writing letters and sending voice notes, you can finally get those 6 hugs a day in again. When your mom comes to stay with you over the weekend, you get the joy of planning all the fun activities and places to visit. Looking up some interesting museums, restaurants, beaches (and also the weather) is a way to build up the anticipation. When your best friends are staying over, take them to your favorite bars and show them the university building and if your significant other is currently booking their train to see you soon, you can plan all the cooking-dates, cinema visits, and shopping trips.
If it is possible for you to have visitors from home, it is the best way to reconnect, emerge them in your life in Sweden and give your relationships a deeper bond!
To summarize it, the way you keep in touch is a very personal and individual decision- and there are tons of options! But some general rules that can help are to not neglect old friendships because of new ones- quick voice note updates in the evening and short facetime are valuable and give both of you a deeper connection! Giving them insight into the Swedish way of life and some random quirks and benefits of the country are also ways to keep everyone interested. If you choose to bring this to a larger audience via blog or vlog is up to you, or if you keep it very personal. Small presents and packages that contain individual favorites are great. Take advantage of the Swedish postal service! Make sure you know when you will see each other again. Communicate with everyone and make time.
Tell your family what is going on and don’t hesitate to ask for help. And also help them book a visit. It can be hard, but it is worth it!
Now we know how to avoid homesickness and keep in touch- but how do you make new friends? Stay tuned for my next blog post where I investigate the labyrinth of meeting new friends in Sweden!