Culture shock

Sweden was a real culture shock. I found the early years hard

Robert Twamley was born in Dublin and grew up in Tralee, Co Kerry. He moved to the town of Falkenberg, Sweden, in 2009. He lives there with his wife, Swedish author Caroline Twamley, and their two children, Erik and Kaitlin, who are 9 and 7 years old. He is a museum technician and singer-songwriter.

If someone had told me in 2008, when I was 39, that I would change countries, learn a foreign language, marry a Swedish woman and have two beautiful children with her, I would have thought that they were crazy. A chance meeting at The Kings Head pub in Galway is how it all started. Caroline was working with show jumping horses at Castle Forbes in County Longford at the time and had the day off so she headed to Galway with a friend. I was there with a friend who I worked with in the prison service.

About a week later Caroline invited me to visit her at Castle Forbes where she was training young horses for Jessica Kürten. We hit it off like a house on fire and after finding out what a fantastic singer she was, we even started writing and performing together. In 2009, we were already talking about getting married and having children. We agreed that if we were to start a family, Sweden would be the perfect place for it. I got a two-year career break from the prison service and Caroline quit her job.

I wear my Irish identity like a badge of honor everywhere I go and I truly believe that the impact we have on the places we choose to live is far greater than we will ever realize.

After packing everything we owned into a used Hyundai Accent I had bought for the trip, we left Ireland at 3.30pm on Saturday 21st November 2009 arriving outside his parents’ house in Falkenberg at 7.30pm on Monday evening.

The first thing that struck me about Sweden was how organized and clean the place was. I was trying to figure out if it was due to their resources (high tax system) or people’s attitude. Anyway, it was almost sparkling clean, but I was getting used to it. We decided to get married in February 2010 in the village of Drängsered where Caroline grew up. A magical winter wedding with lots of snow and a great time was had by all. Caroline got a job soon after we arrived and I managed to find work within six months. We also had a few gigs in the Falkenberg area.

I found the first two years difficult in Sweden. I had lived abroad before but Sweden was a real culture shock. I missed the spontaneity of a local pub and was told that to create a social network here you had to join a club. One of the myths I’d like to dispel is that everyone in Sweden has good English, so you never need to learn the language. Wrong. Everything changed for me after I mastered it. It’s true that Swedes love to speak English, but you’ll be viewed with suspicion if you haven’t tried to learn it after living here for several years.

When I reached the two-year milestone in Sweden, I had to decide if I would return to my job in Ireland or request a one-year extension of my career break. I applied and it was granted to me. The hardest decision I had to make was a year later when they needed to know if I was coming back. There was a lot of soul-searching, but I left the public service for good.

The hardest thing about living abroad is not going back in time when a loved one is about to die. My mum passed away in October 2019 and I was standing on the platform waiting for a train to try and possibly get back to Ireland when I got the call. I never got to say goodbye. Naturally, we have the house adorned with pictures of her and she is with us every day.

Today life is good, we live in a pretty house in the suburbs, near the beach, near the woods and Caroline’s mother lives about 1000 meters from us. Our children are happy and healthy thank God and their school is only a 10 minute walk away with no major roads in the way. I work as a museum technician at the Hallands konstmuseum in Halmstad and still write and publish music. Caroline has three new books coming out this year with the next one coming out July 14th and she will also be featured on the next single coming out July 16th.

I wear my Irish identity like a badge of honor everywhere I go and I truly believe that the impact we have on the places we choose to live is far greater than we will ever realize.

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