Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Joke tells us about her life in Sweden.
1. Hi, Joke! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
I’m Joke Guns and together with my husband Han and our kids Nathan (15), Yun (13) and Moseo (8) I moved to Björköby in the south if Sweden just after Christmas 2014. We lived in the Netherlands the first 8 years of our marriage and the 11 after that in Belgium.
The last couple of years we always went on holiday to Sweden. “It’s all Astrid Lindgren’s fault”, we sometimes say, laughing. Because of her stories we were attracted to the country. The fact that I’m an author of children’s books and a writing coach myself, only made that fascination bigger.
After six or seven holidays we bought a vacation house here. My husband didn’t feel for migrating, so this seemed like a beautiful compromise.
When I entered a contest on the Facebook page of Visit Sweden two years ago and also won that, we had the chance to spend four weeks in the country. After that, my husband was convinced as well. We’ve been living here for over half a year now.
2. What did you expect before you moved to Sweden? Did those expectations hold up?
We moved to a house we’d known for two years already. We knew who the neighbors were and already had some friends there. So no huge surprises. Our expectations have been met so far. Swedish people don’t visit often, but when they can help out, they do so. We like that tranquility.
We expected to enjoy being able to spend more time outside and also that came true. We can really relax in our wonderful garden which is nothing like the pathetic courtyard we used to have in Belgium. Our kids were very happy with this as well.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Sweden and life in Belgium
Peace and nature. Three cars make a traffic jam here. The air feels healthier.
Schools are very different here. Our oldest son has autism and receives very individual guidance here while still being part of his class. He feels great and speaks decent Swedish already. Quite impressive when you know his autism limits him in a lot of ways.
Our daughter is a good student and thought school here was too simple at first. We know this is something a lot of kids from Belgium and the Netherlands experience here. She’s gotten a lot of other things instead, though. She’s less stressed plays tennis, is a Scout and so on. She learns a lot from these things as well.
Let children become full people first, before you have them choosing a career. That’s how they see things over here and that really pleases us. Our youngest son, who ‘s rarely still, was quickly pushed towards taking medication in Belgium (which didn’t make sense in his case). Here, he can just be who he is.
4. What’s the best part about living in Sweden?
Everything. We love it here.
5. What do you like least about living in Sweden?
Euh… Bureaucracy isn’t less here than it is in Belgium. But not more either, I think.
And there’s racism here too. We are a colored family. Two of our kids are adopted. Not everyone reacts to that in a nice way, but that wasn’t different in Belgium. On the contrary.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
My parents. They’re a bit older already and it’s not easy for them to come here. That’s not nice. We Skype every week, so we don’t need to miss each other too much.
Besides that I’d love to go to a nice fries shack :-) I don’t really miss it, but occasionally I do feel like having a pack of fries with a currywurst or a mexicano (Sofie: Kind of fast food meat).
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
The traffic, the mass of people, the rat race, the importance of status…
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Sweden? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
Never say never, but as things are now, we’ll stay here. We’re at home here. Writing goes well, inspiration gets more space here, both literally and figuratively. I can work from home. Such luxury! I write and translate and I coach people who want to write for children. All online. We’re so lucky to experience all of this.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Sweden?
If you’re moving here with your partner, make sure you both want this. Migrating, however well prepared, comes with a lot of emotions. You need each other.
Are you a Belgian who moved abroad, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new Belgian Expats to talk to. Check out the X-pat Files for more information on who exactly I’m looking for and drop me a line!