Maintaining Swedish Roots in Singapore

Five years ago, the Karlsson’s made the decision to move to Singapore with their two children. Since then, many things have changed. A third child has made her appearance in the family, but one thing that hasn’t changed is their mind about living abroad.

Louise Karlsson is sitting by the end of the table in a soft leather chair in one of the meeting rooms at Canadian International School of Singapore. She is only seven and in her school uniform but she is principal of this meeting. Her parents, Conny and Victoria Karlsson are sitting next to her, smiling. The whole family looks so Swedish that they could be picked straight out of an episode of “Emil from Lønneberga.”

In fact, the Karlsson’s don’t just looks Swedish,  they try their best to be, because to them, maintaining the culture and values is tremendously important – especially because they live thousands of kilometers away from what used to be home.

Life in Singapore
“We wanted to live in Singapore, because we wanted to be warm,” Louise announces. Conny and Victoria add that although being warm is certainly one of the benefits of living in Singapore, it was not for them the primary reason why chose a life abroad. They decided to move because Conny was offered a position with Cybercom in Singapore.

Victoria had already lived in America for six years, and the couple had also spent a year in Madrid together. So it did not take long for them to accept the new opportunity and meet the adventure moving to Singapore would be. At the moment, they have no current plans of ever going back.

Taste for international life
“Life in Singapore is easier than in Sweden in many ways. The climate is better and the children can run around in their underwear all day if they want. We are able to travel to exciting places that are close by, and we can afford to have hired help in the house which, in the end, gives us more quality time together.”
But even though the family enjoys their Singaporean lifestyle, they make a point of going back to Sweden twice a year for summer and Christmas.
“Then we go ice skating and I throw snowballs at my dad,” Louise says.
There is however more to the visits than fun and games. Both Victoria and Conny are proud to be Swedish, and it is very important to them that their children grow up knowing their roots and feeling Swedish.
“Sweden is a good country. A lot of good things come from Sweden, and we want our girls to know that,” Victoria says.

A fairy-tale country
Both Conny and Victoria are aware, though, that the children’s idea of Sweden might not correspond entirely with reality.
“Because we only go at those times of the year, they think that Sweden is the land of Christmas presents and summer barbecues, but of course there is more to Swedish life than that,” Victoria says and adds that she hopes one day to be able to take them there during spring or fall, because even though those seasons are the epitome of Sweden, her children have no concept of what they are. To compensate, Louise’s best friend in Sweden sends her photographs of the sprouts and delicate flowers of spring and of the piles of red and orange leaves in the fall.

Relationship with grandparents
The hardest part about being abroad as a family, is that the grandparents are not always around to help out when they are needed. The fact that they do not see each other for long periods of time is also something that might affect the relationship the daughters have with them. Fortunately, the grandparents try to visit as often as possible, and the children love it.

Sometimes, however, Conny and Victoria wish they had their families closer. The Karlsson’s have recently bought the well-known and well-known STYLE:NORDIC shop in Singapore that sells exclusive Scandinavian design in the area. Victoria is the Managing Director of the company and sometimes she wishes that her parents were around.
“It would be nice if I could just call and ask them to help me out once in a while. We do have our hired help, of course, but it’s not the same. They’re not family.”

The Singaporean school system expects a lot of involvement, too.
“When your child asks why all the other mommies are there and you are not, you’ll want to be there,” Victoria says.

A global education
The couple decided to enroll their daughters at Canadian International School of Singapore where they believe their children will receive a better education than they would if they still lived in Sweden. However, as they say, it all depends on what goals you have for your kids.
“We want our children to be world oriented and global. They get that here and they learn to believe in themselves. To us, that is really important.”

And the kids are truly global. Louise has friends from all over the world. Her best ones are from India, Australia, and Singapore, but it is not something she really thinks about.
“I just play with them and have fun,” she says, and to the Swedish family, the fact that everyone is considered equal disregarding nationality and skin color is also one of the benefits of attending international school.

Belonging somewhere
Even though it is important to be global, it is also important to maintain and nourish one’s roots. That is why Louise attends Swedish school for two hours every Friday. There the students, who are already able to speak Swedish, follow a Swedish curriculum and learn about Swedish culture and literature.
“The roots are important. That is why we make sure we celebrate all the Swedish festivals even though we are here. We have name days and Mid Summer festivals,” the couple says and adds that it is important to them that their children do not grow up feeling rootless. They know children who do not know what to say when people ask where they are from.
“It is such a simple question, but for these children it is very tricky,” Victoria says and emphasizes that her children will never have any doubts about where they are from. Both Louise and her little sister Elin were born in Sweden, even though they left at an early age. The third child, Jennifer, was born in Singapore and the whole family chuckles as they start talking about her because apparently, she is more Asian that any of them:
“My little sister only eats at school because she loves Asian fish porridge,” Louise says and giggles as her mother adds that the rest of the family has no idea what fish porridge is but that they have been told by the teachers that she devours it every day.

Even though she acts Asian, little Jennifer will also grow up feeling Swedish in Singapore, and that is why both Conny and Victoria are not worried about the children’s future even if they, however unlikely, should decide to move back to Sweden.
“They will realize that Sweden is not the magical country of Christmas and summer holidays that they know. The international environment abroad has its own challenges though – learning a new language and saying goodbye to close friends on a regular basis are just some of them,” they say and add that life abroad has taught them to overcome different challenges but also prepared them for whatever the future holds.

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