Sweden was a real culture shock. I found the first years tough

Sweden is almost unnervingly clean. It has taken this Kerryman time to get used to it

Robert Twamley  grew up in Tralee, Co Kerry but moved to  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

Robert Twamley grew up in Tralee, Co Kerry but moved to 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

 

Robert Twamley was born in Dublin and grew up in Tralee, Co Kerry. He moved to the city 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. He is a museum technician and a singer songwriter

If anyone had told me back in 2008 when I was 39 years old that I would move country, learn a foreign language, get married to a Swedish woman and have two beautiful children with her then I would have thought they were mad. A chance meeting in the The Kings Head pub in Galway is how it all started. Caroline was working with show jumping horses at Castle Forbes in Co Longford at the time and had a day off so headed to Galway with a friend. I was there with a friend I worked with in the Prison Service.

About a week later, Caroline invited me to go and visit her at Castle Forbes where she was training young horses for Jessica Kürten. We got on like a house on fire and after discovering what a fantastic singer she was we even started writing and performing together. By 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 was granted a two-year career break from the Prison Service and Caroline resigned from her job.

I wear my Irishness as a badge of honour everywhere I go and I really think the impact we have on the places we decide to live in is much greater than we’ll ever realise.

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

The first thing that struck me about Sweden was how organised and clean the place was. I was trying to figure out whether this was down to their resources (high tax system) or people’s attitudes. Anyway, it was almost unnervingly 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 copious amounts of snow and a great time was had by all. Caroline got a job soon after we arrived and I managed to get work within six months. We also got some gigs in the Falkenberg area.

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

When I reached the two-year mark in Sweden I had to decide whether I would return to my job in Ireland or apply for a one year extension on my career break. I applied and it was granted. The toughest 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 getting back in time when someone close to you is about to die. My mother passed away in October 2019 and I was standing on the platform waiting for a train to try to eventually 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’s with us every day.

These days life is good, we live in a nice house in the suburbs, close to the beach, near the woods and Caroline’s mother lives about 1,000 metres from us. Our children are happy and healthy thank god and their school is only a 10-minute walk with no major roads on the way. I work as a museum technician at Hallands konstmuseum in Halmstad and I’m still writing and releasing music. Caroline has three new books coming out this year with the next one to be released on July 14th and she will also feature on the next single to be released on July 16th.

I wear my Irishness as a badge of honour everywhere I go and I really think the impact we have on the places we decide to live in is much greater than we’ll ever realise.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do