Expat Series – Living in Stockhom, Sweden : Interview from a True Expat

Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerstöm

Our Expat Series kicks off this month with a young woman who takes travel and being an expat very seriously! Lola Akinmade Åkerström is the type of expat that not only gains a tremendous amount of life experience through her travels but takes the time to offer her expertise and experience to others by sharing tips, tools and facts so that we can have a firsthand account of what it truly feels like to be a local. Through her unconventional choices in travel and her desire to share and promote cultural awareness through her articles, we can’t help but love to read more and more about her treks across the globe.  

Meet Lola. Expat. Freelancer. Entrepreneur. Photographer.

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The Start of Life in Stockholm

Lola is originally from the beautiful country of Nigeria, located on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa. After living in the U.S. for 16 years, Lola and her husband have now grounded their lives in Stockholm, Sweden. In the past 6 years, Lola has greatly connected with Stockholm and has established a love for the city that has surely made her Swedish husband overjoyed! Love and adventure brought Lola to Sweden and she has explored the land so deeply that she is now able to share so much with the world. Stockholm had been somewhat familiar to Lola as she was able to visit once before during the winter months (January and February). She recalls that although the temperature was cold,

“The city’s beauty still came through, beneath the white coating of snow like icing over its earth tones and ochre-colored buildings. At the time, I never really imagined moving there because it felt like a quiet sleepy big town to me. Stockholm today still maintains that big town-vibe even though it’s a cosmopolitan city by Nordic standards.”

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Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

The great thing about being an expat, for Lola, is the chance to understand the culture, figure out what it means to be immersed and evaluate how that experience can help one have a full life in a place not originally their own. Click here to find out how Lola shares 20 things we all need to know BEFORE choosing Sweden as home!

Lola has positioned herself as an independent authority and expert on the city and Sweden’s overall culture when it comes to travel. She freelances (writing and photography) for several high profile publications, and she is often referred to as a regional expert when it comes to travel, culture, and lifestyle stories. Lola identifies herself as #TheEntrepreneur as she is in full control of her work and personal life! 


Getting Settled and Set-up in Stockholm

Being an expat will require you to think more broadly about how to live day to day. Instead of just focusing on what museums to visit or what restaurants to divulge in, establishing a life abroad demands that you take care of the “essentials” which are:

 – How to find an apartment

 – Opening a bank account

 – Getting a cell phone (must call the family back home!)

 – Health insurance

 – Finding daycare/schools (for all the families!)

Remember when we said that Lola is the expert, well here is proof! Here is where Lola holds our hands through the “set-up” process in Stockholm and opens our eyes to the importance of doing your research! Lola has written “the blueprint for expats on the step by step process of moving, getting settled with all the paperwork. She tells us:

“They [these steps] actually have to be done in sequential order – Get residency through the Migration Agency, register with the Tax Agency and get your personal ID number, get insurance, get a Swedish ID card, open a bank account, find a job/start your own company, find an apartment, learn Swedish, and get a driving license. The in-depth article above includes links and resources to all these.”

There area multitude of ways to live in Stockholm in terms of establishing a visa for long term stays. Lola tells su that there are five main ways of migrating – to be with close family members, for work, for relationships (we’re called love refugees), for studies, and to seek asylum. Lola is also a Swedish citizen and has a passport. The process is often faster for those who are married. You can learn more about the full process here for each of the routes above through this resource.

In terms of finding a job and learning about the job market, the ideal resource is the Swedish Institute’s site which provides a ton of resources to make a living. For those who are interested in studying, the Institute also provides you resources, testimonies and scholarship information!

Students relaxing and taking a break in the warm spring weather on the grass outside the school.
Students relaxing and taking a break in the warm spring weather on the grass outside the school.              Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola speaks and writes good Swedish but mentions that it’s still far from absolute fluency. The government lets you study Swedish for free in its Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) program. Lola took it for a year but dropped out due to work and growing her family. The “problem” is also everyone here speaks good English so you can easily live and work here for years without learning a lick of Swedish. 

Lola owns her own company. It’s a self-proprietorship which means she is the only employee at the moment but she works with consultants and interns and use their services occasionally. She tells us that

The [job] market here is still very open for those with technical skill-sets, a lot harder for creatives who aren’t being transferred from parent companies. There is still some institutional discrimination that is being addressed because a lot of well qualified expats and migrants who have foreign sounding names often don’t get called back for job interviews or often have their resumes passed over in preference for Swedish-sounding names.

Lola maintains an editorial site all about exploring Stockholm called Slow Travel Stockholm where she share a lot of what I love about the city as well. Some of them include its “fika” culture where we break several times during the day for sweet pastries and coffee. Lola love just how family friendly Stockholm is, enjoys exploring Djurgården during the summer and loves meeting up with girlfriends for scheduled monthly dinners where we try out different new restaurants around the city. 


The City through Lola’s Eyes

Stockholm has a fabulous and efficient subway system called T-bana which also happens to be the world’s longest art exhibition – If you’re pushing a stroller, you get to rides buses for free. And there is a great ferry network as well. Stockholm is built on 14 islands and has over 30,000 more islands in its archipelago.

Subway art inside Kungsträdgården metro stop along Stockholm's tunnelbana.
Subway art inside Kungsträdgården metro stop along Stockholm’s tunnelbana.                                                 Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Here are a few of Lola’s favorite things:

  • things to do – You have to see my city Stockholm during the summer. It is absolutely stunning. My absolute favourite thing to do besides walking around with my camera is actually taking this 3-hour brunch cruise on S/S Stockholm. My husband and I invited our wedding guests who flew in to Stockholm on this cruise and we’ve celebrated it every year since 2009 by making it an annual tradition 
  • places to go out – Even after all these years, I still enjoy the lush green island of Djurgården. It has some of the city’s best museums, parks, and gardens with amazing views of the city.

museum

Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

  • places to eat – Love eating around town and discussing new places. I enjoy Southeast Asian cuisine so I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants. You can check out my Food + Drink section for tons of recommendations

food

Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

  • neighborhood – I don’t have a favorite neighborhood even though there are some cool ones like Hornstull, Skanstull, and the whole island of Södermalm, but I’ve been enjoying finding little corners on Kungsholmen.
  • memory made in the city/countryThis would have to be my wedding day in 2009. We married in one of the most beautiful churches in town, Katarina kyrka, and had our reception on one of the most beautiful hills and location, Fåfängan, in all of Stockholm.

There’s a ton to do in town for every taste. The thing Lola wished people did more in Stockholm was actually say “hello” when they pass you by or acknowledge others with a “how are you doing?” (in Swedish of course!). This is one of the main things I miss about the US. This casual cordiality.

Sweden is a whole lot more diverse than the American media portrays it to be and local Swedes come in very shade, color, and creed.

Like many of us who have traveled outside of the U.S., Lola dislike when the media perpetuates this “tall-blond-blue-eyed” utopia, using that clichéd image as the “standard of beauty”, and reporting anything different from that which inhibits its space as threatening that Nordic ideal.


A Typical Day and Meeting the Locals

Lola tells us:

“There really isn’t a typical day for me since I truly enjoy being a freelancer. The weekdays start with daycare and ends with picking them [the children] up from daycare. Everything else in-between those key times and afterwards are super fluid and dynamic. Anything from several client meetings to running around town on assignments and photo shoots to sitting at the laptop and cranking out work. I also travel a lot since I specialize in travel, culture, and lifestyle so what I described above is when I’m not on the road.”

small friends

Photo Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

“I often say Sweden is the most open society run by the most private, closed people. Meaning you can move here and society as a whole is more or less tolerant but it would be difficult to find local friends who are ready to invite you into their lives. This can be disheartening for a lot of expats who move are in the hopes of making Swedish friends right away. But take heart! There are tons to social groups you can join. Peruse the Meetup Stockholm community for various activities that interest you is a good place to start.  There are tons of expat groups by nationality such as the American Club of Sweden which you can join as well.”


Words of Wisdom

Do your research and be prepared. Don’t move without some form of anchor on paper – whether it be school, work, or love.

We totally agree!!


Want to Learn More about LIVING IN STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN, follow Lola Akinmade Åkerström through her site, Slow Travel Stockholm.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SlowTravelStockholm    

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lolaakinmade 

Blog: http://www.slowtravelstockholm.com  

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SlowStockholm

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