Life is presenting challenges to everyone these days. Add to that being a foreign resident, away from your home country. We wanted to understand how international professionals in the Gothenburg region, West Sweden are coping with living and working here in such unusual times.
Here is the first of these interviews. A digital conversation with Leena Dhankher Joshi, an Indian national who has been living in Gothenburg for more than four years.
How has life changed for you?
"COVID-19 has impacted my world, as it has changed the rest of it. On the professional side, we tend to work more from home. Some of our activities have been modified and some plans deferred. But we have used this opportunity to do a lot more digitally and find alternative solutions, so that has been a good learning process. Outings are restricted these days, mostly to being out in the nature. I feel lucky to live in a city where nature is always close and there are many special places even within the city. It feels good to still be able to do some simple things like sit outside the Opera House and watch the water flow. And there's that underlying stress over for the health and well-being of your family. So I seem to exist in a day-to-day sort of bubble, hoping I will emerge out of it soon," says Leena.
You have many family and friends living abroad - in India, Singapore and the Netherlands - how has that been?
"That has actually been the hardest part, to be separated from your family in a way that you can't connect by jumping on a flight easily. The fact that we cannot help or look out for each other through our presence and care is difficult. Because they're not in front of my eyes, I worry more, as also about when I will actually see them next. It is also confusing to keep track of the social distancing measures being implemented in four countries and the rest of the world. So many people are struggling in different ways and one can't not be affected by that too. But then I guess, you try to be even more responsible, not only for your own sake, but also to make it easier for the others. "
Any advice for staying connected?
"I’ve learnt to use technology even more than normal to really connect and hang out with colleagues, family and friends. After the initial clamour and unease with the tools, there’s a rhythm and a cadence to the connectivity. But it's also about staying connected with yourself and with reality, in a good way. Whether it is the days I work from home, or even the weekend, I get ready, wear my lipstick and earrings. I've been sorting through and trying to arrange our thousands of old photos. This has brought back some wonderful memories and discussions over those memories. Some of my friends and I have been sharing music. I'm often touched by how people have reached out, and by my friends in Sweden who feel that I need some special attention. So it's good to remind yourself of how fortunate you are and also reach out and hold a few hands (figuratively only!) and try to provide some support, for your part. We need to remind ourselves of life outside this surreal bubble. We can only be of some use to others if we are okay ourselves."
Time in Sweden: over 4 years
Favourite Swedish food: Swedish coffee & Princess cake
Favourite place in Gothenburg/West Sweden: The island, Tjörn
Sweden has gained a lot of media attention for its COVID-19 strategy, both positive and negative. How are your family abroad reacting to this? Any misconceptions?
"There has been so much curiosity about the 'Swedish experiment' and of course, concern for my well-being. A lot of people have asked me why the Swedish government doesn't care or seems so lackadaisical about protecting its residents. Many weeks back, Johan Trouvé, the head of the West Sweden Chamber of Commerce asked me if I felt afraid being in Sweden. My instinctive answer was, “No, I don’t, I feel safe”. I have also reflected on that subsequently, I realise I have mostly felt safe being in Sweden during this crisis, so far. I am also being very careful and that feels like something I can control the extent of. My colleagues ask after my well-being and I am confident if there was a problem, I would have support. So I mean, what else could I ask for and expect anywhere in the world at the moment?"
“I have mostly felt safe being in Sweden during this crisis, so far.”
Swedes are generally positive towards the strategy while international residents are more divided, why do you think that is?
"I think the Swedes have faith in the authorities and this is obviously based on past performance and credibility. While we international residents can't have had the same shared history and perspective for the trust. Also for almost all of us, our home countries have adopted stricter measures so we have felt a bit uncomfortable with the 'Swedish strategy'. But you need to be here and understand the way the Swedish system works to trust the reasoning. And I must say I have moved some paces on that front too. I have had my apprehensions and made comparisons with other countries, but now I appreciate the approach of following the evidence, and social distancing guidelines that try to take into account the way society functions in Sweden. Right or wrong, time will tell, as it will for everywhere else in the world. But with so much suffering in our world, this is one time I hope every country is right," concludes Leena.
Are you living and working in the Gothenburg region, West Sweden?
Move to Gothenburg has compiled relevant information in connection to the COVID-19 pandemic. Access the PDF to learn more: Living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic (version 4 May)