To become part of a new country

I have often wondered about what makes a person feel like they belong in and is a part of a certain country and culture. When I read an article in DN that was about this topic I felt that I wanted to write about this subject too. In this article the author says that many people who move to Sweden doesn’t feel like a swede, that process might take several generations. He put that in relation to people who move to the US that feel more at home in their new country.

Reading about this makes me sad and many questions come to mind. What can explain this difference? Can it be that people come to the country for different reasons? That people go to the US for the American dream and many people come to Sweden to escape from war? Of course that’s a generalisation that doesn’t explain anything. So what have we done wrong so that people don’t feel welcome in our country? And what is it that makes people feel at home in a new country?

Can it have to do with the language situation perhaps, that many more people speak English so it’s easier to move to a country which language you already speak. The same goes for other countries with languages that are spoken by a larger number of people in the world, like France or Spain. When moving to a small country like Sweden you more or less need to learn the language to get integrated for an easier life, and most people who come here doesn’t speak Swedish before and have to learn after they arrive. As a tourist it’s enough with English (or perhaps French or German if you find the right people to speak to) to get by but when living here for a longer time I guess it helps a lot to speak Swedish, for example when having to do with official work, the hospital or other services. I personally believe that language is a key aspect to an easy life in a new country. It makes it possible to communicate easily and also makes it easier to get a job etc.

The example from the article isn’t the first time I see this problem (if that’s what it is). I have many friends here in Sweden that are not “ethnical” Swedish if I can call it that, they have parents from other countries and are either born in that country or in Sweden. Some of them do feel Swedish but I was surprised when I learned that some that were even born and raised here didn’t always feel like they were Swedish and gave their parents country when asked where they are from. So from that aspect language can’t explain everything since those people speak perfect Swedish. It’s a complex issue that probably have many factors that make up the answer. It’s probably a combination of many things that makes a person feel at home in the new country.

I got some input from B also. He suggested that the difference they mention in the article might be because US is built as a multicultural country from the beginning. That might make it easier to feel at home since there are already people living there from all parts of the world. I guess I can see that point also, when thinking about American people it’s not just one type of people that come to mind because the majority of the population are really either immigrants or at least descendants of immigrants (except the native americans then of course). With a much more mixed population I can see how it would be easier to fit in. If you look at Sweden instead then we don’t have the same mix of people (yet) and when people mention Swedish people I guess some kind of stereotype comes to mind (white, perhaps blondish etc). So if you don’t fit into that stereotype, don’t speak the language and perhaps don’t know about the traditions and culture, then I can understand why it’s more difficult to feel a sense of belonging with Sweden and our culture.

A way to break this might be to mix more, be more open and integrate better. I don’t believe in people living in an area with only others from their own culture and country, be it Swedish or other people. Mixing (including talking and interaction) bring understanding and perhaps that can help the new swedes feel like they belong here with the rest of us. I really hope it gets better in the future and that everyone becomes more open toward each other so that everyone feels welcome and proud to be a part of Sweden.

Another aspect of this question is wether we really need to choose only one country and culture that we belong to, can’t we belong to several different countries and cultures at the same time? If I were to move to Nepal for example, then I’m pretty sure I would feel at home there after some time, but I would still also consider myself a swede at the same time. I’m guessing that’s how it would feel for our children in the future as well. They would, hopefully, feel both Swedish and Nepali. With people traveling and moving more in their life, perhaps between different countries, I think they can feel at home in more than one place. On a smaller scale I guess it could be compared to the fact that people used to live in the same village or at least a close by village their entire life and later on started moving to different cities within the county and then country for studies and work. Nowadays people start to move between countries more, but I can imagine that they can feel at home in several countries at the same time much like we can feel at home in several cities that we have lived in in our lives.

To complicate things further, perhaps we should avoid putting labels of countries on ourselves and start feeling like a citizen of the world instead.

Now I’m curious to hear what others think. What factors do you think is part of explaining this difference between countries? If you read this post and live in another country than you were born in, what makes you feel at home there or what hinders you from feeling like you are a part of your new country?

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4 thoughts on “To become part of a new country

  1. World citizens +1 (I first heared that term when we visited a “grundskola” in Japan, where there were many japanese children, but also many “foreigners’ children”, and the spirit of the school, the mindset among both teachers and studens was that we’re all world-citizens. 🙂

    I must say I do believe it has a lot to do with each country’s history. Of course every family and individual is different, but the history of each country has brought each family and individual different opportunities and different memories and focus and so because of history we now have different values and “settings”, “installed” in our DNA and upbringing and so I don’t really think it’s strange that counries differ, just the same way as species have developed differently in different parts of the world.
    Evolution +1

    I feel “at home” wherever I can get a good morning’s sleep and have access to electricity. (So that I can use my compuer). Also whenever I feel “safe” I feel at home. So even if I’m in a friend’s home in South Korea, I still feel “at home”, as long as I can communicate well enough, and as long as I am welcome.

  2. Interesting post! I think that no matter how long we live in Nepal, we’ll always be considered outsiders in some ways. I feel comfortable with the culture and language and feel at home among our Nepali friends and family, but my skin color will always make me a spectacle in Nepal.

    • Perhaps we will, maybe the important thing is that we can feel comfortable with the language and culture as you say you do, that will probably bring more acceptance at least.
      I was surprised when you mentioned that your skin color is what is noted as making you different. I thought that people in Nepal were used to seeing many different skin colors so they wouldn’t notice it any longer. Personally people have never commented about my skin color, but instead it’s usually my hair color that brings attention. In Nepal though my hair was colored red so I didn’t see the normal reactions to compare them to other countries.

      • Even though Nepal is a very diverse country, and there’s a range of skin colors, white/caucasian skin color and features aren’t part of that range, so while I was there, I always got a lot of stares. As I lived there for longer, they weren’t as frequent, probably because I started to adopt Nepali mannerisms and dress. That’s cool that you had red hair while you were there! I used to have pink hair (before I went to Nepal), but my husband’s mom really didn’t like it!

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