My Peter Pan Lifestyle - Pt 3
My “Welcome to Swedish Soccer” moment came in the form of a crunching tackle from a blonde-haired, nearly 6-foot-tall center back. The physical style of play was one of several differences which I had to adjust to in this new environment. Coming from DIII soccer where the athleticism is generally of a lower level, I found the learning curve was a bit steep here. At 5’4", I am a little on the short side but still just about of average height. In America, that is.
In Sweden, finding myself looking at the shoulders of my opponents is a regular occurrence. Though getting laid out a few times a game will never be high on my list of favorite things, I definitely needed a toughening up on the field and now I also move the ball faster to avoid the impact of bulldozers.
Another struggle I faced soccer wise in the initial few weeks was losing — badly— and integrating myself into a team that had become accustomed to this. We were in a relegation battle to start off the second part of the season after the summer break. The bottom three in Division 1 get relegated to Division 2 and we were definitely more than flirting with that line you don’t want to drop below in the table. My first games included 5-0 and 8-1 defeats. As a competitor, and one who has been privileged enough to be on winning teams for most of her career, it was a hard reality with which to grapple and I was humbled. Our team in those first couple of games often went in with the objective of merely stopping the bleeding as much as we could and hoping to get a goal on the counter. On the bright side, my defense certainly improved.
As can be the case with sports, the team became a hugely positive factor in navigating this tough transition period with soccer and ultimately in Sweden in general. For all the differences there are across countries with regards to language and culture, some elements of humanity feel universal. In my case, this constant was this — soccer girls are soccer girls whether you are playing next to the cornfields of Iowa or the castles of Scandinavia.
Just like the other groups I have been a part of, here, I have teammates who are constantly (playfully) the butt of all the jokes. There are the ones who pull out dance moves in the locker room that make you feel like you need to cover your eyes and then probably shower. In the midst of drama and results not going our way, there is still a strong push towards camaraderie and a recognition of sensitivity. And you always need to be on the lookout at practice because someone is probably trying to nutmeg you. I also found myself really connecting with my coach here, Lovisa Delby, who nurtured and supported me in the beginning, helping me to grow in confidence to play in the way I knew I could. It was these personalities and points of familiarity that allowed me to start laying down my roots in the first month.
The obstacles and slow ease into semblance of comfort on the field mirrored what I faced off it. My housing situation at first was very much a struggle. Uppsala is a university city which means a lot of Facebook groups exist with people looking to rent out their apartments or extra rooms to students. I took advantage of this and perhaps unsurprisingly for a naïve American attempting to go at this sort of thing alone -- struck out hard on my first room arrangement. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was out before I even moved in and found myself sleeping on the other Americans’ couch while I sought other options.
It seemed then that universe had heard my cries and perhaps had even checked my browsing history to see that I, yes, was at one point considering a flight home. The seas suddenly parted and there was my ideal housing situation -- the opportunity to live with a single mother and her 1-year-old daughter. For some, the thought of living with a baby is enough to get them running in the other direction, however, I am one of those who melts at the sight of them and was sold right then and there. Just a few hours after meeting what I hoped would be my future roommates, I hustled over with all my belongings to sign the lease and moved in.
Other smaller challenges were interspersed within these bigger struggles in the initial transition phase of the move of course. Although English is more prevalent here than in most countries, unsurprisingly, the language barrier was one. My inability to speak Swedish saw me confronted with minor but frustrating inconveniences at first like getting off at the wrong bus stop or a short trip for groceries becoming an odyssey as I attempted to Google Translate everything in the store. There were small cultural things too. As a whole Swedes are very shy and keep to themselves. In my first couple days in the country, I happened upon on article, labeling Sweden with the title of “Worst Country to Make Friends If You are Expat.” Yikes.
Of course, so many of these issues are to be expected when you pick up and move to live in a new place on the other side of the world. Really though, I am here in a Western European country that is highly educated and progressive and speaks a language with the Phoenician alphabet. I was never truly going to be “slumming it” as far as culture shock goes. I did foresee a lot of the things I have faced but certainly not all of them and though they were particularly stressful in that first month or so, this is also not to say that these challenges were merely “first month problems”. I still am constantly reminded of my knowledge gaps here and made aware of my position outside of my comfort zone.
I felt farther away from home than I ever have in so many moments but with the stark changes in my reality and feelings of instability, many of which were out of my control, I was pushed to think about the things intrinsic to who I am that have helped to create a sense of comfort, stability and confidence up until now. My passion for and dedication to soccer, my love for writing, my interest in getting to know people. These are the things -- that were never LA specific or Philly specific or anywhere specific -- that I latched on to and began to utilize to make me feel not just at ease here but also happy. That and the baby obviously.
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