"We chose a house out in the countryside with 30 minutes’ driving time for my husband to get to work – easy peasy compared to London! Our Swedish neighbours were incredibly warm and welcoming and we immediately felt that we had made the right choice."
In October 2017 my family and I arrived in Sweden for our new adventure.
We had no idea if we were going to like living here but we knew that we wanted to try something different – my husband and I were both from South Africa and had lived in the UK for a number of years. After years of itchy feet and indecisiveness, we decided to dive into an opportunity presented by a job offer for him with IKEA.
We spent the first three months searching for a house because our main priority was to get our kids (then aged 4 and 6) settled as quickly as possible. We chose a house out in the countryside with 30 minutes’ driving time for my husband to get to work – easy peasy compared to London! Our Swedish neighbours were incredibly warm and welcoming and we immediately felt that we had made the right choice.
Our children started in Swedish "skola" and "förskola". It was really tough for them for about the first four months. Thankfully, they had so much support from the teaching staff, and after 1 year they were both fluent in Swedish. It has been incredible to see them absorb this new language and find their own ways of fitting in.
While I was pleased that my kids were settling down, I was beginning to feel increasingly lost and isolated. There were days I would ask myself, “What on earth am I doing here?” One Wednesday in September 2018, I was really struggling in my Swedish lesson. I couldn’t follow the Swedish, despite having already been in lessons for 2 months. I felt completely out of my depth. I felt as if I would never be able to make myself understood or to understand. I felt like everybody else in the class was getting it much faster than I was. I then had a panic attack on the way home and spent the rest of the day feeling highly anxious and miserable.
The very next day I went to International Citizen Hub Lund’s Thursday morning drop-in session. I was feeling shy and tentative but was quickly welcomed into the Hub. I left the drop-in with a list of places to contact for more information to help me figure out how to set up a business here in the region.
I was also able to join the Hub’s Kick-Start programme where I received information about Swedish culture, job opportunities, CV & cover letter writing, LinkedIn profile-building and how to start a business. We formed such a lovely community who continue to support each other beyond the ending of the programme.
The biggest impact for me was that my self-esteem and confidence started growing very quickly and I was able to feel more like my old self – someone who is comfortable meeting new people, talking about myself and actively seek out opportunities for development and establishing independent financial security.
More and more I am understanding that in Sweden, networking is EVERYTHING. There is a positive connotation with networking because all it really means is, “getting to know other people”. And when you’re trying to find your feet in a new country, networking hits two bullseyes: I have been able to make great new friends while also growing my professional network at the same time.
Networking is important in Sweden because trust a big part of the cultural values here. Networking is about that trust developing between two people and, over time, someone who knows and trusts you is highly likely to recommend you and pass on opportunities that are, for example, not advertised online.
There is so much support in the region (often free) for both job-seekers and those with a business idea. In fact, pursuing both options gives you the possibility of doubling the impact of your networking.
My world just opened up after making contact with the International Citizen Hub Lund. I then managed to sign up to two business courses with Coompanion Skåne and IKF (International women’s association). I became a mentor with the Mitt Livs Chans online programme (in English), which is a great experience.
I have now set up my own coaching and mentoring business supporting other internationals and expats in English. I want to make sure that those who are struggling to settle are able to get help and tips to feel that they can integrate.
If your Swedish is not great yet, there is a lot happening in both Malmö and Lund in English or in mixed Swedish and English (Swenglish!). The main thing is to ask for help, especially if, emotionally, you’re at a low point in your move. Sweden is such a great country. We could not be happier with our move! The family-friendly culture has suited us perfectly. I encourage you to make contact to find exactly what you need! And International Citizen Hub Lund is the perfect place to start!
/ Janine Miller