Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Southern Cross Club, The Canadian Club and other expat communitites

We went to Djurgården today for an Easter egg hunt put on by the Canadian Club for the kids. I saw the event last year and thought about going so when it came around again this year I had already decided and was not going to be deterred by the drizzle this morning!I set off with the kids and Ty - who complained about having to go out but dutifully followed along. He didn't ask any questions until we were almost there, and I was glad, I knew what the reaction would be.

When I first moved to Sweden I knew I would only be here for a set period of time - 15 months. In that time I had no desires to meet other Australians - that was not what I was coming to Sweden for. And rightly so I met plenty of Swedes, but no other Aussies.

When I moved back here in the mid 90s I knew I would be here for a few years, and I didn't feel quite as willing to absorb myself in the Swedish culture at the expense of my own. Consequently I started the Southern Cross Club - Servicing Aussies in Stockholm, which later opened up to the New Zealanders too. I still had a number of Swedish friends but became active in building an Australian community. It was a great time, we had a lot of fun and I made many life long friends, the type of friends you make not just because you happen to be the same nationality living in some faraway place, but the type of friends you would choose at home too.

That's part of what happens in these international communities - you have one thing in common - your nationality. You have the same frames of reference, watched the same stuff on tv as a kid, listened to the same music as a teen, your mum cooked the same type of food for the family, you went to the same type of school, you often know or can at least relate to where the others come from, if you don't know it well you might have been there or know someone who lives there, generally you a product of the same sort of culture. You can laugh at each other's stories, you understand each other's humor - you are a product of the same culture, pretty much. While the social aspect might be nice for a while, ultimately there needs to be more than the fabric of our culture that binds us together.

Since the SCC disbanded a few years ago I have met a several Aussies that have been here for many years yet never came in contact with the club. They had no need, no desire, no interest. There are those who say they have never had to go out looking for friends, those who say they never had time, those that had no interest in socialising or networking with their countrymen. I also met many both through the club and independently who lived a very Swedish life until one day they reached a point where they started yearning for their countrymen, for their roots. It was then that they went in search of a club.

That time often comes with children and wanting your young ones to have a balanced cultural upbringing. It is no longer either politically correct or accepted as the right thing to do - to absorb children in one language, one culture. These days it is generally accepted and understood that our language and traditions are a part of who we are, that we want to pass them on to our children and that it is enriching to do so.

While many say they don't have time for new friends, I love to get out and meet new people. And when you go to these events, with your countrymen, it is freaky, but fun, to meet someone who was born in the same hospital, someone who was also standing on the banks of that same river during the Millennium, someone who has mutual friends, someone who has had similar experiences since moving to Sweden, someone who also has a three-nationality family. And all the time I thought I was the only one.......

I really miss the Southern Cross Club, especially now I have children. Luckily I am still surrounded by plenty of great Aussie friends so my kids get their fare share of the culture, the humor, the warmth. Today was a nice chance to give them a little taste of Canadian culture - well as much as you can get racing around on the grounds of Rosendal's Palace with other Canadian-Swedish kids.It is great that there is someone organising events, things that the kids think are fun and that give the family an outing, events that create both variety and tradition. Going to events like this where you don't know people and you mix around anyway is one of the things that makes life here in Sweden feel more normal than it does otherwise. And one of the important things the kids learn from this is to mix with kids they don't know, something they don't get a whole lot of in everyday life. Its good for their social skills.

Yey for the Canadian Club of Sweden! - and aren't we lucky to have three countries to choose from? We are also lucky to live in a city where there is a whole range of clubs. Wouldn't it be cool if someone did a register of who lives where around the country so you could find other expats when looking for fun things to do throughout the year......

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