As a new resident in Sweden I had 12 months to get a Swedish driver’s license before I’m relegated to pedestrian, bus or bicycle status. I must say, learning to drive “Swedish” style for this 52 year old foreign grown male (with a thirty-five year near spotless driving record) has been stressful and physiologically painful. This week I was ‘stunned’ when the kindly driving inspector failed me after my 25 minute road test that I thought went perfectly. The inspector failed me because according to the criteria, I failed to anticipate traffic conditions far enough in advance and I didn’t shift gears ecologically. His criteria for excellence and my criteria for excellence were obviously in conflict. Guess whose criteria prevailed? It became all too clear that my existing driver’s license and 35 years of successful driving experience were insufficient for the Swedish Traffic Authority. The experience made me feel devalued, isolated, discouraged, and stressed. It felt like a road block on my journey towards integrating into Swedish society. 

After I shed a tear or two for my own troubles, I realized how much harder it must be for all the dear Somalis, Iraqi, Kurds, and other less Europeanized immigrants who are trying to integrate (not just immigrate) into Swedish society. Not all immigrants in Sweden come with a predisposition to integrate. For those that do, not all have equal capacity nor equal resilience to endure the long and stressful journey integration requires. Attitude and capacity are critical, but the greater the discrepancy between the newcomer’s norms/values and the norms of the host society the greater the stress. In addition, unless the newcomer continues to believe the rewards for integration outweigh the costs he will give up. In this context, resilience is the quality that keeps a newcomer on the journey toward integration despite the costs.

Individual resilience is a psychological concept. The Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists (ATSS) defines it as a “person’s ability to maintain a level of functioning that adapts to a situation of extreme stress including exposure to trauma.” Research points to three key variables that influence a person’s resiliency: 

  1. personality
  2. family
  3. the availability of support systems

“Stress-resilient” people appear to be less vulnerable in extreme situations. According to the ATSS, studies show that resilient people tend to have the following traits:

• High sociability
• Faith
• A strong perception of their ability to control their destiny (confidence)
• Determination
• The capacity to preserve social connections
• The capacity to preserve their judgment, moral values and sense of meaning
• A high degree of responsibility for the protection of others as well as themselves, avoiding unnecessary risks
• The ability to accept fear in themselves and others but are prepared for danger as well as they can be
• An avoidance of isolation

It seems that resilience is a key to successful integration. In my own case, I must continue to believe the reward of obtaining a Swedish driver’s licence is worth the stress. It will require that my own driving norms are supplemented (or replaced) with the norms embraced by the driving inspectors of the Swedish Traffic Authority. Integration into Swedish society is a long road… longer for some than for others. Lord, grant me the resilience I need.