Love and curiosity took Christchurch-born Lee Kearney to Sweden as a young man.
Twenty-three years later, he is a permanent member of the Nordic nation that emerged as a global pandemic pariah for refusing to go into lockdown, as most countries did just the opposite.
9 o’clock, when Kearney talks to Stuff, it’s minus 8 degrees and 40 to 50 centimeters of snow cover his street.
The dual New Zealand-Sweden citizen left New Zealand in the late 1990s as part of an extended foreign experience (OE) and ended up in London, where he met a Swedish woman.
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When his girlfriend wanted to go home to study, Kearney was happy to embrace a change. “My visa had run out, so I said ‘yes, let’s try Sweden’.”
The relationship did not survive the move, but Kearney remained and made the country and the language his own.
Today he lives in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, on the country’s southwest coast with his 12-year-old wife, son and daughter.
Sweden has gone through the worst of the covid-19 pandemic, but the number of cases had recently started to rise again.
Kearney said that the Swedish government’s decision not to enter into a formal shutdown was harshly criticized and stood in stark contrast to the path taken by New Zealand.
Flock immunity – the idea that if enough of the population is immune, either from infection or vaccination, the virus will encounter so many roadblocks that it will eventually die out – was the basis for Sweden’s strategy against Covid-19.
“Here we all thought it was good to start with, but after a while we thought ‘hmmm, yeah, they should do a lot of things a little earlier and faster,'” Kearney said.
“But at the same time, our economy has survived quite well.”
As a self-employed commercial food photographer, Kearney said that an extended lock-in would have been extremely difficult for his business.
Tyler Jensen has been told that he must leave Sweden but he can not return to NZ. (The video was first published on October 3, 2021)
He felt happy about not getting the virus and knew many people who had become infected.
According to the World Health Organization, Sweden has had 1.2 million Covid-19 cases and more than 15,000 deaths, while more than 15 million vaccine doses have been given.
The country is currently experiencing an increase in infections, but hospitalizations and deaths have dropped significantly from a peak of more than 600 deaths a day in December last year.
Kearney said that despite the pandemic, life in Sweden had been kind to him and his family.
“My whole life and my work revolves around Swedish nowadays. I think in Swedish and dream in Swedish, so I have noticed that my English has become quite awful actually. ”
Kearney was motivated to learn Swedish because he loved the sound of the language. He went to Swedish school with other expats and political refugees and after eight months began to spend time in Swedish.
“I spoke terribly, my vocabulary was very small, and I would mix words and throw in lots of English words, but as time went on it got better and better, and the amount of English words got smaller and smaller.”
With her son an avid ice hockey player and daughter a dedicated figure skater, Kearney said the weekends mainly involved driving from one ice rink to another.
Gothenburg was “quite like Christchurch, but only a little colder” and the skiers took longer to get to.
In the summer, the sunlight stretched from 02.30 to 23.00 and the family visited nearby islands on their boat.
Kearney had not returned to New Zealand in 13 years, but said he was anxious to return soon with his family.
“It’s a damn long journey and very expensive.”
Instead, the family had traveled to other European resorts such as Greece and Cyprus.
Kearny acknowledged that he had been reluctant to have his fond childhood memories of Christchurch before the earthquake shattered until now.
“I have not really been ready to go back, because I have pretty fond memories of my childhood, and when I come back, everything will be different.”