Harry's family at the tip of the Kullaberg peninsula, north-western Skåne, June 2020Harry Hult

Four years ago, my parents ushered me and my two siblings into a room and told us that we were moving back to Sweden.

‘Back’ is a strange word. All three of us had spent our whole lives in an unremarkable Hampshire town: we’d grown up in UK schools, watching British TV, and reading English books. Yet the word ‘back’ still felt as though it should apply just as much to us as to our parents, who had moved to the UK from Sweden before any of us were born.

This ambiguous relationship with Sweden was nothing new; in a way, it had defined my entire childhood. Our family had been making yearly trips ‘back’ to Sweden for as long as I could remember, flying across the North Sea in December to open presents from Jultomten on frosty Christmas eves, or driving the two-day stretch across Europe in June to play on the beaches of the warm Baltic Sea. I could relax in Sweden, forget about the tribulations of British school and British friends, and spend weeks being warmly welcomed by all the family I hadn’t seen for a year. By comparison, the grey, rainy term times in the south of England were boring and monotonous – and so over the years, this fantastic Sweden of holidays and adventures became a childhood home that never really was.

“My Swedishness became an exercise in escapism”

For their part, my parents had brought a slice of Sweden with them when they arrived in the UK in 1997. Unlike the experience of many immigrants to the UK, their arrival was decidedly privileged: as two white, English-speaking university graduates, from a country and culture deemed sufficiently Western, they were under no great pressure to suppress their Swedishness. They decided to raise us as bilingual, tried with mixed success to make us speak as much Swedish as possible at home, gave us sweets only on Saturdays as per lördagsgodis, baked saffron buns on St. Lucy’s day, and delighted us with the dazzling variety (meatballs and lingonberry jam…) that is Swedish cuisine. There were small differences as well, that I began to notice on playdates with English friends: parents drawing the curtains as soon as the sun went down (in Swedish Lutheran tradition, curtains are ‘the devil’s underwear’), or eating dinner in a different room from the kitchen. I came to pride myself on being Swedish, on maintaining some level of ‘otherness’ from my friends, and from the country that I had grown up in. My Swedishness became an exercise in escapism.

So, the prospect of moving back excited me. It was an inconvenient time – I had just finished Year 10 and was about to take my GCSEs – but the idea of Sweden that I had built up over sixteen years of living in the UK was an alluring one. By this stage, I was interested in politics too, and the social-democratic Scandinavian model seemed a breath of fresh air compared to the onslaught of Brexit Britain. Assembled in that room in 2018, my brother and sister were more hesitant; I was 100% on board. A few months later we made the drive through Europe for the last time, speeding down the Autobahn towards an entirely new life.

“My perception of Sweden was shaken; my perception of myself even more so”

Of course, the Sweden I’d idealised in my memories didn’t exist. That’s not to say that Sweden isn’t a fantastic place to live – it absolutely is – but, just like in the UK, the sky is usually grey and school is usually tedious. I realised that, just as I wasn’t entirely British, I wasn’t entirely Swedish either. Accustomed to British education and exams, I found it difficult to adjust to coursework and continuous assessment. Swedish people are socially withdrawn and private; it was a struggle to get to know the people in my high school program, especially given my own social anxiety. But my prudish British self was horrified when, paradoxically, my classmates happily walked around completely exposed in the communal showers after PE.


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Some months after trundling off the ferry in Trelleborg, I flew back for a weekend to participate in my former school’s Model UN. I realised then that, as much as I felt an intense connection to Sweden, I had left behind in England an education system that suited me and a group of friends with whom I felt comfortable and secure. Confronted so uncomfortably with my old home, I decided that I wanted to go back. At the time it felt like the cowardly thing to do: to give up on Sweden and return to the familiarity of the town I’d lived in my whole life. My perception of Sweden was shaken; my perception of myself even more so. But completing my GCSEs and A-levels under the roof of an English friend and his family, I came to appreciate how my childhood spent between the UK and Sweden had shaped me as a person, and given me a wider perspective than either country could alone.

I still visit my parents in Sweden regularly. I spent much of the pandemic there, connecting to British Zoom classes from a thousand kilometres away. In many ways, it still feels like home. But when I’m there, I feel a total Brit, just as much as I ache for Sweden while studying in the UK. Growing up between two countries, you end up feeling as though your true home is neither here nor there. Perhaps mine is hovering in the middle, somewhere off the coast of Holland.