August 31, 2020


Looking back on the past two years that I’ve lived in Sweden, there are so many things about my life that have changed. From daily habits to overall mindset, experiencing life in another country has given me perspective and opportunities I never would have imagined.

Though the number is closer to 10,000 – keep scrolling to see 10 ways I’ve changed since moving abroad! 


When we moved from the Bay Area to Sweden, one of the things I was most excited for was swapping my car for a bike, public transit card, and my own two feet. Yes, there’s a certain freedom that comes with being able to drive yourself everywhere, but after spending hours in traffic every day while living in San Francisco and Seattle, I was 100% over it. 

I’m lucky enough to live in Malmö, a city that was made for biking. Due to the size and amazing bike roads, I can cycle most anywhere from my apartment (in the city center ) in 15 minutes or less. There’s a grocery store 5 minutes walk from my place, restaurants and coffee shops down the street, multiple parks and a library within walking distance, and a major train station close as well.

Cycling and biking around the city has not only been convenient and great for my health, a side effect that I never expected was this: I’ve become more present and observant about the nature and city around me. I’ve always thought of myself as an observant person, but it wasn’t until I started to commute by foot or bicycle every day that I really truly noticed how the leaves turned, the flowers bloomed, and the construction of the city changed around me. 


Partly due to the fact that I bike and walk most places, I’ve shifted the focus of my wardrobe to incorporate pieces that are higher quality and more comfortable. 

When I lived in the US and drove most places, it didn’t matter so much that I was wearing heels or uncomfortable flats outside because the walk from my car was so short. Often when I went out and it was raining, I didn’t bother to bring a coat because I knew I wouldn’t be outside for long. Oh how the times have changed. 

I can’t tell you how many pairs of shoes and uncomfortable pieces of clothing I’ve donated and removed from my wardrobe in the past 2 years of living in Sweden. Walking, cycling, and just being outside more in general has completely reshaped how I think about the clothing and shoes I buy.

A few questions I ask myself now that I wouldn’t have thought important before are:

Are these shoes waterproof? 

Would I feel comfortable wearing these shoes all day walking 10,000 steps or more? 

Does this coat have a hood? Is it warm? 

Do I want this item just because it’s trendy now? Will I still like it next year and the year after? 

Does this item match my wardrobe? Can I pair it with multiple pieces that I already have? 

Will I feel comfortable cycling while wearing this skirt or dress? 

In the last few years I’ve been drawn to a more minimal lifestyle, and really tried to put focus on thinking about the clothing I’m buying and why (read more about my thoughts on fast fashion here). Thinking about the quality functionality, and sustainability of the items I add to my wardrobe has helped me to save money, support ethical brands, and really enjoy the pieces I own!  


In Sweden, there is this idea of “lagom”. There is no direct translation, but it basically means “not too little, not too much”. Lagom is something that is central to the Swedish culture and daily life, a way of balance. 

One of the things I love most about Americans is their passion and drive, but I think it’s safe to say I had no real understanding of lagom when I lived in the US. There are so many ways I’ve simplified my life and embraced this concept, and here are a few: 

Work/School Schedules: Work-life balance in Sweden is key. Living in the Bay Area, my boyfriend and I were caught up in the day to day grind of working hard to get ahead. It was a bit of a transition moving to a country where it’s looked down upon if you’re working overtime and employees are encouraged to take their 5 weeks of vacation all at once, but now I think I’d have a hard time living any other way. Removing ourselves from a place where work was everything has given us so much more time to pursue things that make us happy outside of work. Together MacKenzie and I have had so much extra time to travel, meet up with friends, explore our city, and do so many other things that we otherwise hadn’t made the time to do previously.

Food: For a while it was tough for me to live without all the fun Trader Joe’s snacks and specialty Whole Foods vegan replacements. When asked what I missed about America, my answer was “the food” for a long time. Since moving, I’ve cut most of these things out of my diet and honestly I feel better for it! While I do miss the occasional SkinnyPop or Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, eating more simply has allowed us to cut out a lot of the processed food that we were used to, eat more balanced, and has made us feel better than ever!  

Decor: Scandinavian design has been popularized for it’s clean and simple interiors. The “lagom” amount of furniture, plants, knick knacks, ect. One of my favorite things about visiting friends in Sweden is seeing how they decorate their homes, Swedish design is on a whole other level! When decorating our Swedish home, we tried to keep decor to a minimum, opting for plants, candles, and books to make our place feel cozy!  


Since moving to Sweden, I’ve substantially decreased the impulse-buying habits that ran rampant when I lived in the US. Amazon isn’t really a thing here (we have to pick up packages at our local supermarket post office anyway), and items are generally a little more expensive. These barriers have made it just a bit more inconvenient to purchase items on the fly, and allow me to pause and reflect if buying something is really worth the money or hassle.

But honestly? Though it might be annoying to order something and have to wait a bit longer for delivery, or pay a little more for some quality boots, I know that it’s worth it because I’ve really thought through my decision and it’s something I’ve grown used to and can appreciate. My shopping has become more mindful, my house is less cluttered, and my bank account thanks me for it!


Before moving abroad, MacKenzie and I spent 2 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area. While it definitely isn’t as hot or beachy as Southern California, we grew accustomed to +- 70F/20C ish degree weather all year round. I knew not to expect this of Sweden, we’d been told to get ready for the rain and darkness. I grew up near Seattle, so I’m definitely used to the rain, but nothing could prepare me for the limited amount of daylight in the winter (sun rising around 9:00 am and setting around 3:00 pm in Southern Sweden!).


Needless to say, after a long, dark, and cold winter I’ve joined the Swedes in soaking up every bit of sun May – September! Picnics and sunbathing in public parks are a popular pastime here, and if the sun is even slightly peeking out of the clouds, you can bet every patch of green around the city will have someone laying out on a blanket reading, tanning, or eating falafel!


Because of the aforementioned dark Swedish winter, doing everything I can to feel cozy and content is key. You may have heard of the popular Danish word “hygge”, meaning a moment that is especially cozy, charming, pleasant, or special. The Swedes have a similar term: “mysa”, meaning to get comfortable and enjoy oneself, especially at home – being content and cozy.

There is a tradition in Sweden called Fredagsmys (Friday’s “mys”) – or relaxing on a Friday, spending time with friends or family. This can include cuddling, watching movies, eating comfort food – whatever you enjoy doing to decompress at the end of the week (99% of the time it involves candles!).

This is a tradition we have gladly embraced during the winter months. Instead of going out in the evening, we’re all about feeling cozy at home surrounded by friends, yummy snacks, a game or film, and of course candles!


It’s no secret that Sweden is known as the most sustainable country in the world –  a ranking it’s earned for its use of renewable energy sources and low carbon dioxide emissions, as well as social and governance practices such as labor participation, education and institutional framework. 

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who cared for the environment. I was a vegetarian for 6 years and I always recycle – look at me I’m so eco-friendly! But it wasn’t until I moved to Sweden that I realized there is so much more to sustainability than giving up meat and sorting plastic from paper! 

In the last 2 years, I’ve become so much more interested in learning about sustainability and incorporating strategies to reduce waste and environmental impact (read more about my strategies here!). From opting to use public transit (our buses run on green electricity!) to sorting my recyclables and food (food waste is used in our apartments to make climate-friendly biogas fuel!) living in Sweden has made it easy to learn more and incorporate sustainable actions into my everyday life!


One of the highlights of living abroad has been the amazing people I have gotten to meet and befriend. In addition to my friends back home, I’m lucky enough to count people from Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden as some of my closest friends. There is something so special about my friendships with people that I’ve met abroad that – a bond that’s created by people who have shared a certain type of life and experiences. I love chatting to people from all over the world; I find our conversations so interesting and after awhile it’s easy to see that we’re all pretty much the same! One of the best things about having international friends is that you always have a tour guide and place to stay when travelling. We love traveling and meeting up with locals, it’s a completely different experience! 


I’ve always been the type of person who makes a plan, writes lists for that plan, and tracks my progress as I execute that plan. Giving up control was never something I was a fan of, but is something I’ve become more and more comfortable with as I settle into a life so different than what I imagined for myself.

Giving up preconceived notions about how I think things should be verses my reality has allowed me to be more intentional about being present and in the moment. I still make plans and have goals for myself, but in the last few years I’ve realised that there are many ways to achieve the same goal, and sometimes the things you always thought you wanted aren’t what you actually needed. 


It’s a cliche, but it’s true: traveling, and especially living abroad, opens your mind and your world in a whole new way. When putting yourself in a culture and country that is different than the one you grew up in, you’re bound to learn a thing or two and notice the differences right away. But instead of complaining that Swedes don’t celebrate Halloween, or eat almond butter, I’ve focused on the amazing things that this country does do. I’ve embraced all the new holidays, foods, customs, and even the language. By allowing myself to keep an open mind and not constantly comparing life in Sweden to my life in America, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and experience so many amazing things. 

When I let go of how I think things should be and opened myself up to new ways of living and thinking, that’s when I was able to grow. This way of thinking has opened so many doors, and it’s an ongoing learning experience that I’m looking forward to continuing!

Have you ever lived abroad? What is something you loved or learned?

Talk soon,

expat life, thoughts 3 Replies to “10 WAYS I’VE CHANGED SINCE MOVING ABROAD”



    Author’s gravatar

    Hi Emily! This is so good! And yes I agree to all of the above as well. Living in a new country really broadens your horizon in so many ways, mostly all good.


    Author’s gravatar

    Loved your story. Can’t wait to read more.

    Author’s gravatar

    Love reading about your life!! I’m so glad you’re happy 😊

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