Victoria da Costa, originally from Canada, has lived in Skellefteå for 20 years. Here she gives newcomers some great tips on how to settle into Norrland life. Interview: Gerald Laffey. Portraits by Donna Richmond
GL: How, when and why did you end up in Skellefteå?
VDC: I met a person from Skellefteå and after a while we decided to move in with each other. We considered whether we should live in the Stockholm area or in Skellefteå. Well, this was 2003 and by then I had been living in Stockholm county for 18 years and a number of crazy incidents had transpired in Stockholm, namely a number ofphysical attacks on innocent bystanders by lunatics. I have never liked large cities, but because of the circumstances in life, I was obliged to live in them. I had done so for most of my life, except for in my early childhood. You see, I was born and raised in British Columbia in small towns situated in valleys of forest covered coastal mountains; rugged and beautiful nature. However, at this time I realized that I now had an opportunity to flee city life and seeing as we were expecting a child, I definitely didn’t wish to remain in the city any more. So, we decided that Skellefteå would be the perfect place to settle down in.
GL: Where are you from? What’s your work background?
VDC: I was born and raised in Canada and moved to Sweden in 1985 for love, what else! I worked in departments of public health in Sundbyberg and Solna (suburbs of Stockholm) for many years assisting researchers in public health with, among other things, translation and reviewing English in scientific articles destined for international medical journals. I quickly realized that the prevailing attitude when it comes to disease and injury in Sweden is prevention. There’s a long history of it here. After moving to Skellefteå I began working as an interpreter while I was furthering my studies. Some years later I began teaching at the adult education center on Campus Skellefteå.
GL: What were your first thoughts of Skellefteå?
VDC: When I moved to Skellefteå in 2003, it was a bit of a sleepy town. Downtown was completely desolate on a Saturday after the stores had closed at 14:00 not to mention Sundays with not a single soul about, which was alright with me, since I had fled the city in pursuit of quieter surroundings. One of the things that I definitely noticed and liked was that there were no high-rises and the majority of the residential dwellings were one or two stories with some here and there having three or four floors. One more thing was that there were no immigrants to be seen anywhere. I was the only one everywhere we went.
GL What were the biggest culture shocks?
VDC: I can’t say that I have encountered culture shocks here in Sweden, as Canada and Sweden are very similar in many ways. The only thing that I still have a bit of difficulty with is that people keep very much to themselves to the extent that you can live years next to neighbors without every interacting with them at all and people are reluctant to make contact with strangers; even in small everyday things such as asking if someone needs a hand loading their suitcase on to the airport coach. However, I noticed that in general people in Skellefteå were more inclined to greet a stranger passing by with a “hej”, which was not something I commonly saw in Stockholm.
GL:What are the plus points of Skellefteå?
VDC: The plus points of Skellefteå are that it is far enough north that we get snow in the winter that stays, in contrast to how it was when I lived in Stockholm county. Many, many winters down south were relatively snowless and gray and dark. I always feel delighted when the first snowflakes fall in October. When I came to Skellefteå, the job market was a bit tough and so it was difficult for people to find employment, but it is like night and day when you compare then and now. The unfortunate thing is the shortage in housing. When I came to Skellefteå there were lots of empty apartments, as people were leaving Skellefteå for employment. Now the situation is the reverse.
GL: And the negatives…
VDC: A few negative points about Skellefteå are the increase in drug problems, bicycle thefts and, as mentioned earlier, the housing deficit. Otherwise, I don’t really have negative points to make about life in Skellefteå.
GL: Do you have any tips for Skellefteå newcomers on how to settle and integrate?
VDC: If I’m to give tips to newcomers to Skellefteå it would be to set your mind on learning the language, because Swedish is the language that the majority of the people speak; all the signs, instructions and such are in Swedish, and I don’t think Swedish is a complicated language to learn. As long as you learn the grammar rules and rules of pronunciation, most can easily learn.
GL: Secret Skellefteå tips – are there any unheralded Skellefteå locations, food places, shops, etc., that newcomers should know about?
VDC: There are too many pleasant and charming places in and around Skellefteå to mention. And the best thing is the info about what and where is right at your fingertips on the internet. Sweden is very efficient in informing its residents of what’s available. You can find out about practically anything you’re interested in. One good tip for finding out where to contact others with similar interests or hobbies is the database containing close to one thousand associations and clubs in Skellefteå county alone. It’s called Föreningsregistret (the association/activity register). You can do two things at once: have fun with your hobby or interest and practice Swedish. Or three things! Make some friends!
More information on the Föreningar register can be found here
Victoria was talking to Gerald Laffey
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