Fredrik and Madeleine Ahlgren with their children

The corona crisis transformed the Canadian adventure for the Ahlgren family

In late 2019, Lnu members of staff Fredrik and Madeleine Ahlgren left Småland with their two children to spend one year in Vancouver, Canada. Fredrik was going to teach on a Stint scholarship at University of British Columbia (UBC) and Madeleine was going to carry out her work for the Department of Sport Science at a distance. And the children were going to attend a Canadian school. Everything started according to plan. But then came the corona crisis.

The children’s school closed down in March and their teaching has been carried out from home and via the web ever since. Fredrik’s job at UBC has been transformed into distance education. On Madeleine’s part, there have been no major changes since she was already working at a distance for Linnaeus University.

In what ways have your plans changed?

“The original plan was to stay in Canada until the end of 2020. However, due to the corona crisis we will now return home in August instead. The main reason for this is that our children do not attend school here now. A major part of this adventure was for our children to get the opportunity to attend a Canadian school and learn English. As things turned out, they attended school for two months before the school closed”, says Fredrik.

“At Fredrik’s work they will use distance education all autumn, and that can be done just as well from Sweden. If we would stay, we would also have to find new accommodation in August, as the family we are renting this house from will return home then. And then there is our family in Sweden asking us “Shouldn’t you return home?” And that kind of gets to you. So one could say a number of factors have made us take this decision. But other than that, we have really enjoyed our stay here”, says Madeleine.

How does it feel?

“At first, we were a bit disappointed, but then we came to terms with the situation. We are very pleased with the time we have spent here”, says Madeleine.
“We have had a fantastic adventure here. Things did not turn out quite the way we had planned, but we feel very content with the situation. Also, I will still continue teaching at UBC this autumn, only at a distance, from Sweden”, says Fredrik.

What has your distance work been like?

“It has worked well for us. We were used to distance education from before so it has not been problematic. At my job at UBC, we teach via Zoom and the learning platform Canvas. Even though this has involved a changeover for the students they seem happy. What has proved more difficult is my research work. It is a challenge to start working digitally with people you do not know. It is more difficult to establish new networks via Zoom than in a physical environment”, says Fredrik.

“On my part, I’ve actually appreciated the nine hour time difference. Before noon it can be quite hectic, but then Sweden falls asleep and you can work in peace and quiet! I haven’t felt the same stress level that I experienced in Sweden, that I, for instance, am expected to answer an email directly. The time difference makes it more difficult to participate at meetings though”, Madeleine adds.

What has been the greatest challenge?

“I would say that managing our children’s home schooling while working from home has been most challenging. It would have been easier if our children had been able to attend school. You can’t really tell a seven-year old: “Now you should sit here and study mathematics for four hours. See you at lunch”, says Fredrik.

What do you bring with you from your work during the corona crisis?

“I’m thinking that also when everything has returned to normal, it would be great to have the opportunity to work from home one day every week, to get to work in peace and quiet every now and then. That would mean a lot. I will also try to calm down a bit, and not get stressed out about trying to respond to all emails within five seconds”, says Madeleine.

“I’ve come to realise that working at a distance works quite well, that I can do my job well anyway. Another thing that I bring with me is that I will try to make my workdays less compartmentalised between different activities, to become more flexible. I will also try to become better at going for short walks during the day to become more effective”, says Fredrik.

What have the restrictions from the Canadian state looked like?

“Here in British Columbia, the federal state where we live, all universities, schools, restaurants, and shops closed down, except for food stores and pharmacies. It is just recently that the state has started lifting these restrictions. In the stores that are now open, you have to use hand sanitizer and protective mask, and guards make sure that there are not too many people in a store at the same time. You are not allowed to meet in groups of more than five people, except within the family”, says Fredrik.

“We have felt safe. It feels like society is taking responsibility. By Swedish standards, the Canadian measures may seem a bit strong, but we think they have handled it well”, says Madeleine.

How has Canada been affected by the corona crisis?

“Here in British Columbia we have been quite spared. Up until now, there have been some 160 reported deaths and the population is 5 million. In the eastern parts of the country, in Montreal and Quebec, the situation has been worse”, says Fredrik.

What do Canadians say about Sweden, concerning the corona crisis?

“Canadians have paid a lot of attention to the fact that Sweden has kept society open to a much larger extent. Many believe that Sweden is quite extreme in that respect. I have received a lot of questions from colleagues here about the situation in Sweden”, says Fredrik.

How does it feel moving back home to Sweden?

“Many of our friends have felt sorry for us, because we have to go back home earlier than planned. But no, don’t feel sorry for us! We have had a great time here, and we are already thinking about where to go next. Maybe Scotland or New Zeeland. Or perhaps Portugal. We are already making new plans”, Madeleine concludes.