A few days ago I gave notice at my job, a company I’ve been at for over 20 years. And on October 1, I will be moving to Stockholm, Sweden, a city I’ve been fortunate to visit a few times over the last few years. It’s taken me over four years to make this decision. Through doing this, for the first time in many years I'm asking myself: Who am I and what do I want?
This journey to Stockholm began years before my first visit to Sweden. It began when I was a sophomore in high school, when I discovered a pop/R&B family music group from England called Five Star. As a shy teen from Phoenix, Arizona, Five Star heped me became aware that there were young black people living in Europe who looked similar to me. This also opened up the portal to me discovering black American expatriates like writer James Baldwin and entertainer Josephine Baker, both of whom left pre-Civil Rights America to live in France.
And so it was during my senior year of high school that my love of Five Star gave me the gumption to defy my mother and stepfather and withdraw $250 from my bank account to secure a spot for a spring break trip to London, England led by my English teacher. That nine-day trip blew away the dust of Arizona, revealing to me the world of international travel, and of course London’s eclectic and cosmopolitan scenes. After this visit I spent the next few years dreaming of becoming an urbane expatriate thriving in London.
Three years in to college, I left the University of Arizona’s theater program in Tucson and fumbled my way into the glitzy borders of Hollywood, hopeful that I would become working actor. With the realities of life in Los Angeles settling in, 20 years would pass before my dream of international travel would be resurrected. Thus, in 2008 I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to visit to Spain. And in 2012 I went Montreal, Quebec, which was my first solo voyage traversing international borders.
During my Spanish and Canadian trips, I did casually revisit the idea of living abroad. But although both trips were amazing, the desire to expatriate remained a dream, to luxuriate in on those days when the daily grind of life in L.A. was challenging.
Three more years would pass before I would again smartly pack a suitcase, this time visiting Copenhagen, Denmark in August 2015 to support a friend competing in the Ironman triathlon. At the suggestion of a Swedish work colleague, I added a side visit to Stockholm. Other than the reruns of the Pippi Longstocking series that aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel during my youth, I knew very little about Sweden. So for me, I saw the visit to Stockholm as just an opportunity to expand my Scandinavian experience.
So it was a surprise, after landing at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport and boarding a commuter train into the city that my first thought was: Hmm, I like it here. And over the next five days of sightseeing this feeling remained, and was one that hadn't been present during my previous visits abroad.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, I gushed to my Swedish friend about how much I loved Stockholm, going on about how great it would be to live there. Amused by my glee of roaming the cobblestoned streets of some the older parts of the city, my friend gently reminded me of Sweden’s reputation for harsh winters. Right, I thought and immediately booked a flight to return a few months later in February 2016. I needed to find out for myself if it would be too much. Winter in Stockholm didn't deter my desire to live there. And so upon returning to L.A., I signed up for an eight-week Swedish-language course at Strømmen Language School, located in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. With my return trips to Stockholm over the next three years, my desire to live there increased after each visit. And I must admit that a touch of melancholy would hit me each time I had to repack my suitcase for my return to the United States.
So here I am, with the reality of this decision slowly sinking in. But I feel I'm ready for it. I've already begun the process of purging my some of my material possessions. And I have to say that I'm grateful to my family and friends for their love and support. I must also give shoutouts to podcasts like Chronicles Abroad, Gayside Stories and 30 Something, Black, and Gay. Yes, I'm moving to a new country. But more importantly, I’m fine-tuning my receptors and opening up myself up to the possibilities of what can be.
Some time ago I discovered a connection to a higher reality. However, it’s only now that I’m discovering that through this connection, it’s okay for me to have faith in myself. It’s okay for me to pursue my aspirations. It’s okay for me to follow my heart. And it's okay that I'm continuing to become who I’ve always been.