Updated: Sep 27, 2020
Hej from Sweden!
Yes, you read that correctly. I am currently teaching in Sweden! Despite Covid and the last 6 months being home, I am still able to say I am off teaching in my 4th continent… in the last year!
How did I get here despite the travel ban? Why did you not tell people before you went? Weren’t you supposed to be teaching in Poland? Did you just disappear the last 6 months?
Since you know I make my updates long, I might as well back it up to where I left you off last in February. Like mentioned before, in December I put in my 2 month notice at my school in South Korea. At the time I had been talking to a few schools where I was hoping to teach next, but had no official offer. My contract for South Korea was supposed to be through September 2020, but after just a month, I knew I would be leaving at the 6 month mark. Luckily, my school understood, and granted my leave without any consequences.
Shortly before my birthday at the start of January, I accepted a job to teach preschool students in Moscow, Russia. With the negative stereotypes surrounding Russia, I spent hours researching the school, city, and Russia in general. Having traveled so frequently and meeting a plethora of people, I reached out to my acquaintances that have visited and lived there to check if it really was a great option for me. Despite some minor “be smart, and you’ll be safe” warnings, everyone only had good things to say. To be honest, I disliked Korea so much that I could have been happy moving and teaching just about anywhere else. Unfortunately, after hyping myself up for a couple weeks at the thought my life was just starting to be organized, I received a panicked call from my parents sharing how they did not want me to go. After they shared with a family friend where I’d be off to next, he shared how dangerous and unsafe Russia is. Of course this made my parents question my choice to teach there, and respecting their wishes and listening to the voice in the back of my head having doubts, I broke that contract as well.
There I was, mid January, with just 5 weeks left at my school in Korea, looking for a new place to teach and live. I knew that if worse came to worse, I would be able to move back home and either find a teaching position in Minnesota or South Dakota to finish off the year, or live at home and substitute at my hometown school. Although it was relieving to have a back up plan, it was not my ideal situation. The search continued with offers in Japan, Hawaii, and Poland. After taking some time to compare the offers, I accepted a position at a preschool in Poland called, “Mommy Poppins.” This was all days before my trip to Taiwan, the last week of January. After my trip got cut short due to Covid and China no longer allowing tourists in, I went back to Korea where I had just 4 weeks left before my move. Those 4 weeks flew, until the last few days when I was told I would no longer be able to get into Poland, since South Korea was at that time a hotspot. Once again discouraged, and honestly just exhausted, I decided I’d wait out my 2 week quarantine back in Minnesota. Surprising my family, sleeping in my own bed, having home cooked meals, and being back in a familiar place I hold so dearly to my heart, was just what I needed after the long 6 months prior in South Korea. But, like how everything has been with Covid, my life plan once again got thrown together when the US became a hotspot during those 2 weeks, meaning I had no real plan or ability to get to Poland, or frankly even leave my house.
To most people, I’d like to think I come off as a nice, relaxed, positive person. I can take situations and work with them as they come. I’m always the girl who will smile when we make eye contact. I can find some sort of positive in a bad situation. The month of March, and my family, did not see that Megan, though. I was angry. Here I was, 23 years old, having so many plans and dreams I wanted to reach and fulfill, and I was stuck at home in my parent’s basement. I felt like I had gone back 10 years and was grounded. Due to schools closing, I was unemployed. I applied to work at two different summer schools, that didn’t end up running. Since I had been out of the country, I was unable to file for unemployment or get a stimulus check. Being in small town Minnesota, there were 0 jobs available within an hour radius, even minimum wage jobs working as a grocery bagger. I had worked full time since I was 16. In high school during the evenings and weekends I worked at a coffee shop. In college I had 3 different jobs. I got my first, full time teaching position when I was just 20. Yet, here I was, 23, with my bachelors, unable to find a job, living at home with my parents, with 0 friends in the area. I couldn't find a single positive in that situation and it made me a very sad, angry, and depressed person. To add more salt to my wounds, my boyfriend’s flight to see me at the end of the month was also canceled. Australia, at the time, canceled all international flights through the end of 2020. The last time I saw Matt was in November, and the thought that it would be at least another 8+ months until we saw each other again, left me heartbroken.
Due to my endless free time, I spent hours applying to hundreds of new jobs and remodeling my parents house. My family is not one who gets new things often, so when my dad did not shoot down the idea of finally replacing the original flooring in our house (50 year old carpet!!), I took it as an invitation to see what other projects I could add before he had enough of it. I can happily say my mom and I painted every room on the main floor of our house, as well as the garage. We also restrained our cabinets, got new flooring, fixtures, and furniture. It kept me busy, and was the small positive I needed to get myself out of my funk. If I didn’t have these months of free time, I would have never been able to do it… and we’d likely still have our ugly rainbow carpet. Apart from remodeling, I was Philip’s private teacher, and the two of us had great fun racing each other doing his math problems. Spending so much time with him, after being absent the last 5 years of his life, truly was my greatest positive while being home. When I graduated high school, he was still my little, 8 year old brother. Now, he’s a 13 year old man who I can joke with, make fun of, and have actual conversations, and arguments, with. Odd jobs also came my way such as babysitting and helping an Indian call support center with their English. (Don’t ask lol!) I was able to stay busy helping out on the farm as well. With Marcus being in vet school, he decided he would be incharge of vaccinating our cows for the year, versus getting a qualified veterinarian. This meant Marcus’ usual role of vet tech opened up for me. I learned quite a lot, under pressure, helping him.
Since everything was still so unknown of what the future would look like with Covid, I didn’t know if teaching abroad was something the new school year would allow. I refocused my energy on looking for jobs in the US.... in Hawaii. (Hey, Hawaii is in the US. You didn’t actually think I’d be staying in Minnesota, did you?) I was told in May, though, that due to Hawaii’s poor economy and flight restrictions, they would not be hiring anyone not from or currently living in Hawaii. I was back to square one. I could take the risk of looking at teaching abroad, or suck it up and stay in the continental US. Since my teaching license is only valid in Minnesota, moving in Minneapolis was my best option. Then, when I was just starting to lose hope once again, I heard back from a school in Sweden that I applied to back in March. Sweden had been my #1 pick the last couple years, but despite having applied to a hundred different positions over the years, I never got asked to have an interview. Until now. With being discouraged and realistic in terms of my chances of actually getting to Sweden, I held my guard up during the interview. In the next week 3 other schools in Sweden also asked me for an interview, and I was offered a position. I was overjoyed, but also very skeptical. I took the position, not certain if I’d really even get there.
As I waited to see if I’d make it to Sweden, I was able to meet up with my college roommates a couple of times. They surprised me once by visiting the family farm, and we spent the 4th of July out on the lake together. One of my close high school friends also moved home that summer, due to having difficulty finding a job, so we were able to meet up and have dinner and go for walks together. Social distancing meant I saw my grandma from time to time, as we’d sit our 6 feet apart on her porch. There were also a few evenings where I went to my grandparents’ house where we played cards. June came and left, and the start of July I was surprised with my Swedish work permit. In times where Covid wasn’t around, all I would have needed was my work permit to book my flight and make the move. But, with the travel ban, I would also need a residence permit saying I was allowed to stay in the country for more than 3 months. Since all embassies and consulates are closed, I was unable to get one. I spent endless hours calling airlines, border control, my school, the consulates in Sweden, the United States embassies, etc. No one could give me a clear answer, and after sitting on hold, the person on the other end would usually give me the line of, “It changes daily and it ultimately up to the border control officer that day.” or the, “yea… it should be fine…” Neither being helpful or reassuring. With needing to start work August 3rd, I was in crunch time. Not knowing if I would need to quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival, made me even more panicked.
To solve all my problems, I simply ignored them for 2 weeks. Most responsible decision? No. Did it help me more than any google search or phone call? Yes. The second week of August I took a much needed trip to Tennessee to see my two close high school friends. Apart from grocery runs and the 1 trip to the cities to see my college roommates, it was my first time really leaving the house and doing anything in months! After getting back Thursday night, Friday morning my college roommates and I were up at 5:30am for our road trip to Colorado. The 10 hour drive there was interesting passing through very rural states and seeing their response to Covid. Minnesota and Colorado had a mask mandate and still had many places closed or restricted, while South Dakota and Nebraska were living a “normal” life. We made it back to Minnesota July 22nd, so I’d be able to celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday with her the next day.
It was July 24th. I now had to make the decision to buy a plane ticket and wish for the best that I’d be able to get into Sweden with just my work permit, or I break my contract and not take the risk and stay home. From what I had researched, I would be denied entry at 1 of three places- right away in Sioux Falls and I wouldn’t be allowed to board, London which is where I was transiting, or in Sweden upon arrival. Since I am one for an adventure, I took the risk of a $1000 plane ticket, barred visa, and chance of getting Covid, and booked my flight for Sweden, just 6 days later on July 31st. When booking my flight I had to accept the new terms and conditions stating that I would indefinitely be in Sweden, acknowledging getting a flight back home may be hard to come by.
I was in a bit of a daze when it came to packing and saying my goodbyes to family and friends. I was so uncertain if I’d make it into Sweden, that my goodbyes were all half heartedly shared, each ending with, “I’ll see you tomorrow, or I’ll see you next year!” I put off packing for the night before, and even then didn’t double check or make sure I got everything I needed. In the past, the last few days before I’d move were always an emotional time where I would regret my impulsive decisions and get homesick. This time I felt like I was just going on a weekend trip to see my friends.
Friday, July 31st came, and I was packed in the car with my parents, Philip, and my 1 suitcase, ready for Sweden. I was greeted at the United desk that afternoon by the most “Karen” of all “Karens.” Being an avid traveler, I know your 50 pound checked bag can be 54 pounds, without having additional fees. Karen wouldn’t even allow me to have 50.5. Yes, even when the scale was flickering between 50 and 50.5, she made me take out 1 more shirt. I was 1 of 3 people in the entire airport. The planes were all half empty at best. The weight was far from an issue. Apart from that, Karen asked me when I would be arriving in Sweden. Take in mind it’s July 31, so logically with time change involved, it would be August 1st, give or take a day depending on my connecting flights. I shared I would arrive on August 1st, to which she responded, “Okay, because the travel ban doesn’t lift until August 31st.” What?! A. I know that. B. That’s 30 days after I arrive. And C, did you think I was just going to taxi in the air during that time or what? Karen....
I don’t know if it was from Karen’s mistake or what, but I had no problems boarding my flight and having a tearful, “this is real, but I still might be back tomorrow” goodbye with my parents and brother. My flight from Sioux Falls to Chicago was almost full, and the Sioux Falls airport was as busy as normal. I cannot say the same for Chicago, though. The airport was quite dead, and many of the restaurants and stores closed. My flight from Chicago to London was essentially empty. I had an entire row of 9 to myself, with no one sitting in the row in head or behind me. Departing the plane in London, I approached customs with the mentality of, “this is it, now is when I’m going back home,” but instead, walked right on through with no problem. I had 1 last stop to get through before I could fully breathe. After just a quick 2 hour flight, I arrived in Stockholm. Customs asked to see my paperwork and read the letter the school gave me sharing how I was an essential worker, before smiling and waving me in. That was it. My months of stress and questioning if I’d be allowed to enter, was over. I was in Sweden… and had no further plans than that.
Now this whole post is making me sound like a very disorganized person. I promise, in a perfect world, I have things planned out for months. I have airport maps printed to know what exit I need to leave to get on my bus, housing sorted before arrival, bank accounts lined up, ect… Since I was so uncertain if I’d actually be allowed in, I had done none of that. I did look for short term housing, but since I was coming from the US, 6 airbnbs canceled on me worried I would bring Covid with me. (Very understandable and if I were a host I would do the same thing, but it put me in a real pinch.) That meant, there I was at the airport at 7pm on Saturday night, with no place to stay. With more google searches, and lying saying I was coming from South Korea vs the US, I was able to book a week in a private room in a hostel. After checking in at 8 that night, I was off to bed pinching myself that I was actually in Sweden.
At 4am on Sunday, I was awakened to a bright light in my eyes. To my surprise, it was the sun. Since Sweden is so far north, there are currently about 16 hours of sunlight, with the sun coming up now at 5 am, and setting around 9. In the winter this will be opposite with 16 hours of darkness. Not something I am looking forward to. After giving up trying to fall back asleep, I went to the lounge area to watch some tv. I was happily surprised that most channels were in English! That afternoon I scheduled a visit to a possible apartment and grabbed some groceries for the week. Since I was still new to the city, I walked everywhere. By the end of the day, my fitbit read almost 30k steps.
Monday morning, bright and early just 36 hours after I arrived, I was off on my way to my new school. Since I did come from the US, I had my mask in tow with me, but the school nurse reassured me that it was unneeded. Sweden looks at Covid from a much different approach than the rest of the world. Until you are confirmed you have it, there’s no reason to believe you do. Currently my city of 200,000 has 0 cases of Covid, and the past 2 months just had 1. The government has made no mandates or forced closures, but simply have advised the public to stay home when possible, wash your hands, and stay 6 feet apart. Unlike the US, everyone listened, which is why they are in a much different position today. Like here is as normal as it can get. We have 0 Covid related protocols in our school to follow, other than to stay home for 2 days if we’re feeling sick, vs just 1. I have seen just 2 people in the last 4 weeks wearing a mask, and every store and restaurant is open. From being in lockdown since January, it’s such a freeing feeling.
Back to school… Monday morning I was met by 10 other new staff members. 2 of them were from Canada, while the remaining 8 all have lived in Sweden for some time. My school has approximately 80 staff members. Of those 80, about half of us are not native to Sweden. There are 11 Americans!
It is a junior/middle school to students entering grades 4-9. Today there are 39 different IES schools in Sweden. They are very renowned. In Sweden, if you would like to go to an English school, you need to be in the que. Most parents get their childrens in line before their first birthdays. Our waiting list is thousands of students. My school has 4 sections of each grade. I am teaching Grade 6 this year, and am in charge of mathematics. After teaching English last year, I have missed math greatly. It has always been my favorite subject to learn and teach, so when offered the position, I was thrilled. Our school is set up a bit different than other schools I have worked in. There are no set schedules or bells, and the students all have different schedules each day. That ensures that only 1 or two classes are in the hallway at a time. I also have lunch with the students each day in our cafeteria. So far I can’t complain about the lunches. They do lack the dessert part which was always my favorite as a kid.
So far I have had the students for just a week and a half. I can say compared to Australia, my students here are much better behaved. My classes are large at 32 students, so as you can imagine, there are a lot of big personalities and chattiness. We’re still finding each other’s rhythm; them learning my teaching style and me learning the Swedish way of teaching. I have high hopes for the year though.
Some other things to note, is this weekend I will be moving into my apartment! After spending a week in a hostel, and the past 2 weeks in a subleased room from a student visiting home, I’m excited to soon be in my own place. I spent the last 3 weeks looking at almost 20 places, and messaging people endlessly. Housing in Sweden is a bit different than other places I have lived. Here, you rent a room from the landlord or family most of the time, vs renting the whole house or apartment. This meant that not only did the house need to meet my needs, but the people currently living there. It took some searching and looking at some very underwhelming places, as well as meeting some people I would not want to live with, before I found the 1. I’ll technically be living in student housing, but I am sharing my apartment with 3 other master/phd students. Ironically, although I am the only non student, I am the youngest. (I forgot to mention above that, yes, once again I am the youngest faculty member at my school, too. Maybe next year that will change…)
Some other cool things about Uppsala I should mention: Uppsala has the oldest University in the Nordic countries. It is very prestigious and brings students from near and far. The temperature, Celsius, was actually discovered or studied or something cool with Celsius happened here. (I’ve gotta look into that fact more.) Another cool thing about Uppsala, is every Saturday afternoon and night, there is a classical card show. Swedes are very into their old American cars, and will drive them around the city until the early hours of the morning. They are literally everywhere, usually blaring music, with their whole family bopping around inside. Like mentioned before, Uppsala’s population is 200,000. But, you’d assume it was much smaller than that. Uppsala has a landmark cathedral in the center of the city, and there is a variance with the city sharing that no building can ever be built taller than it. You’ll rarely see buildings in the city taller than 4 stories because of that.
The city is absolutely beautiful and the most stereotypical European city you can think of. There’s a castle, a river running through downtown, parks everywhere, and owning a bike is a must. It has such a small town vibe that makes you feel at home quickly.
Due to Covid, you can only enter the city busses from the back doors. This means you do not need to show or scan your bus pass. Badass Megan has used this as an invitation to ride free everyday. So far I have only had 1 close run in with the bus police, but due to being able to buy tickets on their app quickly from my phone, I have no real worry.
One quarantine activity I was hoping to finish while I was home was putting together a website for their updates and helping others get starting on their international, and teaching, adventures. That is still in the works, so in the meantime I’ll still be posting them on Facebook.
I hope everyone back home, and my friends near and far, that are reading this are staying healthy, but more importantly, are happy. I know being stuck at home or not able to travel is hard, but find that little positive to help get yourself through it. Eventually things will turn up. Who knows, you may see yourself in a new position or place you were only dreaming about.
Sayonara from Sweden,
~Megan on a Move