Swedish for Professionals offers a monthly newsletter just for expats! Looking for great ideas to help you enjoy your community, delivered straight to your inbox? Don’t forget to sign up for the Swedish for Professionals Newsletter for Expats! We promise we will never send you spam – great content only! Sign up here.
Moving to Sweden
Relocation is a huge challenge. Anyone that’s ever moved abroad, or even considered it, knows it can be a complicated process. From filing the right paper work to finally arriving and getting used to your new home, there is a lot to manage when making the move.
Fortunately, Stockholm is full of experts to help your relocation go more smoothly. Since we over here at Swedish for Professionals are in the business of helping you handle a new language and culture, we wanted to speak to someone with a similar mission but a different strategy.
Earlier this month, I sat down with Lotta Rosenfeldt at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology Relocation Office for a talk about the challenges expats face when they arrive in Sweden for school or work. The office exists to ease the transition of internationals into Sweden. According to Lotta, their #1 service is assisting with housing, which can be notoriously difficult to find in the Stockholm area.
It’s not all about housing, though. For students and employees, the office has become a comprehensive support structure that also provides “integration events.” Participants attend city tours, excursions, and “after works;” the Swedish phrase for, well, meeting up after work. Such events are critical for getting people comfortable in their new lives.
Language and Culture
I was curious about the biggest challenges the Relocation Office saw new arrivals facing. As an expat myself, I certainly had some ideas. As Lotta explained her thoughts on the subject, I found that we were in agreement.
“At the end of the day,” she explained, “you will never feel at home if you can’t speak Swedish.” She elaborated; “I think that’s one of the biggest challenges; to make people (speak) Swedish. If you’re working in academia, it’s too easy to stick to English.” The same goes for many large companies around the country.
She went on to describe insular work environments. Often, non-swedish-speaking residents are recruited in Sweden by citizens of their original countries. This ultimately makes it harder to feel integrated or move on to other job opportunities.
Barriers to Integration
It’s not just about language; it’s also about overcoming cultural barriers and doing some networking. “If you’ve done your PhD in Sweden, it’s not 100% certain that you know how to find your way out to industry. You need to get the network.” The Relocation Office is particularly proud of their successful lunch program. For two months, international participants had lunch with a Swede once a week and spoke only Swedish. Participants had their share of struggles but generally felt deeply accomplished by the end of the program. Previously unconnected members of the KTH community also finally had a reason to speak to each other.
Lotta also explained the difference in approach prior to the Relocation Office. Before, each department handled their new arrivals separately, and in whatever way they felt was appropriate. No one knew how many international arrivals there were or what they needed, because no one was communicating.
“It turned out we had more than 1000 people coming every year.”
So there must be a huge staff handling the social and cultural needs of so many people, right? I certainly assumed so, but that’s not the case. “It’s me and a colleague; we are the KTH Relocation Office,” she told me, matter-of-factly.
With such a large group of international students and faculty coming every year, what was her biggest concern for them? It all came down to language and culture above anything else. She explained to me that KTH did not want to see people who had cut their ties with home, many for several years of intensive study, continue to feel unconnected in Sweden.
For Other Expats
Lotta summed it all up perfectly in one sentence –
“You can never regret that you learned another language.”