Home Away from Home: My Swedish Journey

Sheeba Alakkal, Home away from home
Home Away from Home: My Swedish Journey by Sheeba Alakkal

I moved to Sweden as an accompanying partner in early 2023. My decision to move was far from straight forward and was driven by a desire for personal growth and professional enrichment. Having built a career that spanned over a decade and a half in India, I became acutely aware of the significant ties I would be leaving behind as I prepared to transition to a new chapter in my life.

 

My family, deep friendships, financial stability, a successful career and a robust support system of community and social connections; all weighed heavily on my mind. But eager to build a life with diverse experiences, personal growth, and exciting possibilities, I packed up my life into four suitcases and embarked on this new chapter with a heart full of courage and an eager spirit.

Transitioning from the bustling streets of Mumbai to the serene landscapes of Gothenburg was equal parts exhilarating and daunting. Armed with ambitious to-do lists aimed to help me settle into my new life in a new country, I approached my days with purpose as I found myself steering the unfamiliar terrain of a new city. The familiar labels and roles that once defined me were no longer relevant in this new context, allowing me an opportunity for self-discovery and exploration. As I embraced the challenges and opportunities presented by my relocation, I embarked on a quest to find meaningful work opportunities that would not only utilize my skills and expertise but also align with my values and aspirations.

When not spiraling down the rabbit hole of information available on the internet about the adapting to the city, I would spend time wandering its beautiful streets, cafes, gardens, and libraries, hoping to discover a favorite spot. Even so, I felt like every street corner, every shop, and every face I came across, held a story I didn't yet understand. Surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds, amid change and uncertainty, I longed to find community and connection in my daily life. A few weeks after moving here, when I was asked what I longed for, I answered almost immediately - a sense of belonging!

A few weeks after moving here, when I was asked what I longed for, I answered almost immediately - a sense of belonging!

As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I discovered that familiarity isn't about finding the places or things that resemble what I left behind. It's about forging connections—with people, with routines, and with the essence of a place—that slowly and gradually weave a new tapestry of belonging. I began actively seeking opportunities to expand my social and professional circle through networking events, social media platforms and meetup groups; repeatedly pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I must admit though that it was a lot more challenging than I had imagined. The multitude of platforms, the task of picking relevant events, and the persistent fomo regardless of my choices, made the process even more daunting. It was around this time that I read about International House Gothenburg.

Over an online meeting, I remember meeting with Madalina who patiently answered my endless questions about the local job market, my resume, and my next steps towards my professional and personal goals. She invited me to attend their various career related and social integration events and initiatives. Stepping into International House felt like a breath of fresh air. Apprehensive at first, I did not know what to expect when I walked into the premises to attend a session on Preparing for a Job Interview. I was met with friendly smiling faces and a relaxed atmosphere. It instantly put me at ease, and I felt like I was there to catch up with a friend who was eager to hear about my life. I was told that I could come in anytime during their open hours and spend my time there having coffee, attending planned sessions, and chatting with fellow internationals. In the whirlwind of networking events scattered across the city, there was something about this physical space that calmed my mind. I quickly added ‘check and register for IHG events weekly’ to my to-do list and added ‘Current Position to Järntorget’ as Favourites on my Västtrafik app.

IHG became more than just a resource center for me in my integration journey; it transformed into a hub of connections and community. It provided me a platform for forging meaningful connections and finding my tribe in Gothenburg. Every time I was there, I made sure to walk up to new people, hear their stories, connect with them, and explore common threads that bound us. There was so much to learn from every interaction, so many stories of persistence, tenacity, hope and inspiration. Through the people I met there, I learnt of new networking avenues, volunteering opportunities, cool hangouts, public services, local businesses and so much more. As friendships blossomed and connections deepened, the once alien and indifferent city began to unfold its layers, revealing its hidden charms and character.

The journey towards belonging is not always linear. It requires openness, patience, and a willingness to embrace the unfamiliar. And as I navigated this journey through the richness of shared experiences and diverse perspectives, I was able to carve out spaces where I felt seen and heard. Now as part of the team at International House, I am eager to share the knowledge and experiences I continue to accumulate, with fellow internationals and find deep fulfilment in enriching their integration experience. My workplace is a space that fuels my passion for fostering connections and facilitating support systems for communities and I am filled with gratitude for the invaluable role it continues to play in my own transition to life in Sweden. Perhaps most importantly, IHG became my safe haven in an unfamiliar city. It provided me with a sense of belonging and a platform to give back to the community, ultimately beginning to shape my sense of a home away from home.


Writer: Sheeba Alakkal