Expat Life: Interview with Author Kimberly Golden
Today begins a new interview series where readers can get to know a little bit about the expat life and how women reinvent themselves in a foreign country.
I have great pleasure in introducing Kimberly Golden from Philadelphia, PA. Kimberly gives with us a fascinating insight into her life in Sweden. She's lived in Sweden 22 years. By day she's a copywriter at a cosmetics company, but at night (so to speak) she's a published author of fantabulous books that I love! Okay, I'm a bit biased because I met Kimberly at a book signing in Dublin last year and she's freaking awesome! But, enough about why I love her! You can read more about her books here.
Tell us about yourself:
I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA but moved to Richmond, VA to study Creative Writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. While there, I ended up meeting my husband, who is Swedish. I moved to Sweden to live full-time with him in July 1995 and haven’t looked back since. We’ve been married since 1999.
By day I write copy for a Swedish cosmetics company. At night and the weekends, I write and publish romance and women’s fiction novels. I recently published my 10th book, Under the Midnight Sun, a love story set in Sweden.
What did you think when you first heard you were moving to a new country?
It was a little different for me. My then-boyfriend/now-husband and I made the decision together after two years of having a long distance relationship. We’d talked about it a lot. I’d already been to Sweden a few times on vacation so I sort of knew what to expect. I knew I would be learning a new language, knew that—since he was a PhD student at the time and I’d just finished my master’s degree, there would be a few years when we’d have a limited budget since he was still studying. I was up for the adventure.
What were the first few days like?
They were my “honeymoon” period. I was in love with all things Swedish. Everything was bigger, brighter, better than what I’d had in Richmond, Virginia (where I attended grad school). It was also at the end of a beautiful summer, so the skies were blue and the days were warm. Once autumn set in and there was frost on the ground close to two months earlier than I was used to, I was not as in love with Sweden.
What was your first big “aha” about the culture?
When I realised that Midsummer is more important to most Swedes than Christmas. You are more likely to get an entire Swedish family together for Midsummer, which celebrates the summer solstice than you are for Christmas. It’s even more important to Swedes than their national day.
What do you/did you like the most of the country?
I like that Sweden takes care of its people. Even though we pay high taxes, our salaries are scaled so that we can still afford to live on the salaries we receive. We have five weeks of paid vacation, up to 18 months of paid parental leave, free education (even up to the university level) and we have a single payer healthcare system that is easy to navigate and gives us the freedom to choose our doctors, etc without ever having to worry about going bankrupt if we fall seriously ill.
What do you/did you like the least of the country?
The weather — Swedish winters sometimes feel like they will never end, and Swedish summers are unpredictable. They’re either insanely beautiful or insanely chilly and rainy.
Being an expat can be quite isolating. What’s the social scene like? Is it easy to make friends?
Stockholm is not the easiest place to make friends, but I have been lucky in that I worked as an English teacher for a community college and met many of my friends while working there. We were all expats thrown together and we became each other’s families. Stockholm has a pretty vibrant social scene, but it’s more geared to singles. Since I was already in a relationship when I arrived and I am more of a homebody, it wasn’t really my scene. For anyone interested in moving here, I would suggest joining groups on Meetup to get to know people.
How is your new home different from your old one?
When I lived in the US, I lived in a house that was old (it had been built back in the early 1800s), beautiful but always felt cold during the damp Virginia winters. Now I live in a modern apartment complex with comfort heating in the floors, triple-plated windows that keep the apartment warm and passive heat since the building is so well insulated that it can even use lamp light to help warm the apartment.
If we had just one day in Stockholm what should we not miss?
Don’t miss trying walking along Monteliusvägen in Södermalm. You get the perfect postcard images of Stockholm when you walk there. Do it during the summer though—it’s pretty icy during the winter.
Did you experience the expat blues? If so, how did you beat them?
Whenever I have the blues, I book a weekend trip. Sometimes I just need a quick change of scenery to get over it. I also always make sure I go back to the US at least once a year to catch up with family and friends.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from being an expat?
There’s more to life than the rat race and what I left behind in the the US. I feel so much more aware—of life, of politics, etc. since I moved here. I appreciate all the benefits of living in Sweden—the social welfare safety net, the quality of life and the work-life balance. I wouldn’t trade these for anything.
What advice would you give a new expat or someone interested in moving abroad?
Don’t try to recreate what you had in the US when you move abroad. Enjoy the differences and live like a local rather than trying to force everyone else to fit whatever American sensibilities you have. You’ll be much happier if you learn the local customs and avoid forcing everyone else to be faux Americans. We all go through it when we move abroad and we all eventually come to the realisation that we’re happier when we learn the customs of the country we live in.
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
Stockholm is a walkable city and it’s a very green city—there are lots of small parks in the city and the city is very committed to sustainability and lessening its carbon footprint. Get a map and just walk around and enjoy the beauty of the city, or rent a bike and ride along Norrmälarstrand in the Kungsholmen district and enjoy the views of Lake Mälaren. If you have time, jump on one of the boats in front of Grand Hotel and enjoy a day in Stockholm’s archipelago. I particularly like Grinda. You can also take a bus from Östra Station to Vaxholm, the “capital” of the archipelago and explore the islands from there.