Foreigners with an expiration date

”They took the welcome rug away from under me.” Lundagård’s new international columnist, Catalina Ordoñez Valenzuela from Colombia, writes about the ambiguity of the Swedish hospitality, and about arriving in the promised land, only to discover there’s no room for her. 

“The most open-minded society”. “A society without prejudice”. As a student to be, I was excited reading those branding slogans for Sweden. I imagined an unknown land inhabited by blond giants who were kind and prosperous. It sounded like drunken tales. I had to find out for myself. So, a year ago, I arrived in Lund looking forward to exploring the land of diversity.

I came to live with 2000 other international students, in a community where foreigners are a huge part of the city. Lund has managed to adapt very well to an extremely varied student population with people of different backgrounds, who come to discover the world and rediscover themselves. The identity of the city is based on multiculturalism where everyone has their place. This city taught me that here we can be “lagom”. Not too much, not too little. No one is better or worse than anyone else; we are all equals.

At least, at first glance.

Six months later I moved to Helsingborg, a bigger city where there’s no longer the same “student environment”. Suddenly, I became an outsider. In the student life of Lund, my condition as a foreigner was considered interesting and delightful. Here I’m just an immigrant, and now I don’t seem so cute anymore.

Right now, the country is divided in a debate about the situation of migrants that, let’s be honest, does not look good to international students. There is a strong possibility that the government will decide to establish tougher restrictions for foreigners to become permanent residents. So far, non-EU students have suffered from multiple changes to the migration system. Unlike previous years, the renewal for the residence permit allow me to stay in the country for only 14 days after the last day of school. That’s right, only 14 days. That means I won’t even be able to stay for my own graduation ceremony.

How ironic is that? I haven’t even graduated, but very rapidly I’ve discovered there’s no place for me to stay. The government invests in marketing the country as warm and open for new, paying, students. But now they are closing doors. My passport that labels me as non-EU citizen, threatens to change my status to undesirable. They took the welcome rug away from under me.

Why is having an excellent GPA at one of the best universities in the world not enough? Why doesn’t a resume full of experience and a long list of extracurricular activities guarantee me a fair job-searching within the country? This is when I feel prejudice again. I no longer feel like a part of the diversity that is celebrated. I feel like a minority who has no right to live a ”lagom” life.

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