David Cooksey has taken up a post as principal of the brand new British International School Uppsala in Sweden. Over the coming months he will share his diary with ISMP, documenting the joys and challenges of moving from his current home in Jordan to establishing a school at his new northern posting. He is accompanied on his adventures by wife Mariam and his two Jordanian rescue cats, Clover and Coco.
The British International School Uppsala is open. Finally, after years of planning, the first students walked through the door at 8.30am on Thursday 19th August 2021. On the same day my father was celebrating his 100th birthday with fish and chips in Seaton Carew, County Durham, UK.
Of his three children, only my sister was there to help him celebrate, but she sent some photos and at least he got his card from the Queen.
But back to the school opening: the days running up to opening day were all fine, clear and warm. Staff were preparing their rooms and their first day teaching materials. We went shopping for all those last-minute essentials, bunches of flowers, ribbon, red carpet, all the things you need when celebrating opening a new venture.
“On opening day, rain wasn’t in the plan or even in the forecast.”
Balloons were blown up, scissors made ready, dry runs performed with the staff, parents and students informed. To my horror though, when I woke up in the morning itself, it was raining. This wasn’t in the plan or even in the forecast.
The BBC Weather app assured me that the morning of 19th August was going to be, if not fine and sunny, at least dry. Not a chance. Luckily, we have plenty of trees to shelter under and as parents and excited students arrived for the first day, we all gathered under the trees, avoiding the drizzle and waiting for everyone to arrive by 8.30am.
The red carpet was a bit soggy, but we delayed laying that for as long as possible and, at 8.30am precisely, 23 excited and exciting young people made their way along it to the ribbon that was guarding the entrance to their new school.
Pairs of scissors were handed out, much to the consternation of the parents of the youngest students and, on the count of three, the ribbon was, well, cut to ribbons, by the simultaneous closing of 46 scissor blades.
Four members of staff and various parents thankfully escaped from the rain and made their way up to the assembly hall to start a new school year and a new school. The easy bit is over, now was the time for the hard work.
“It’s definitely not much fun for my wife at the moment as she tries to come to terms with a new life in a new country.”
Since my wife Mariam and I arrived in Sweden from my previous school in Jordan, it’s been non-stop. I’m lucky she’s so patient; the effect on loved ones of setting up new schools has to be taken into account.
It’s definitely not much fun for her at the moment as she tries to come to terms with a new life in a new country. Not only is there a new language and culture to cope with but also me being out of the house 12 hours a day.
The first two Saturdays the school held two open events to advertise the opening of the new school so we weren’t even able to explore the city of Uppsala together.
And then there was trying to register with the Swedish Tax Authorities for a Personal Number, the key to life (and, I guess, death) in Sweden. Without one you cannot buy a car, cannot access the health service, cannot get a prescription (even for our pet cats cats), cannot pay taxes, cannot even join the discount club at the local pet shop.
“You cannot even join the discount club at the local pet shop without the mythical Personal Number.”
The saga of getting the mythical Personal Number first involved filling out a form online, then printing off the form and taking it to the Tax Office in person.
We went on a Monday afternoon, turned into the car park, saw the queue stretching round the block and promptly drove home…we had better luck the following week after arriving much earlier. My colleagues did not and it took three hours to make their application.
This sluggish start to access Sweden’s many delights did not really pick up speed and we were told it would be up to 18 weeks to get the number.
So, as my school finally springs merrily into action and our pupils begin their exciting educational journeys, we wait for the wheels of the Swedish Tax Office to turn slowly and allow us access to the rest of our lives.