Svetla Tileva

“So here is my first advice to the newcomers that plan a long stay here — if you have the option to live without working or studying for a certain period of time, just go to the most intensive course for a few months, make ‘deep dive’ and learn the Swedish language. It will be way more effective.”

All of us, the newcomers sooner or later face two major challenges: the language and the job. If you came here as a couple, then it is equally important also for the partner to find a job and be part of the social life in Sweden. Otherwise, the joy of moving to a the new country will soon vanish and the initial excitement will be replaced by unpleasant worries.

Here are some of my advises like to look after intensive Swedish language courses, networking possibilities, startup incubators, volunteering, free seminars, free mentoring programs. Read more about my own experience here and my tips in the following text. The very starting point to search for help could be ICHL - International Citizen Hub Lund.

My name is Svetla Tileva. As an ambassador and volunteer at International Citizen Hub Lund, I would like to share with all expats my knowledge about the first steps in Sweden in order to get an easier start.

I am a proud European citizen, who has lived in five different countries and for 20 years haven't had a permanent place to call home. I know how to start everything from zero (zero friends, zero relatives, no support and an unknown language), how to make the first steps to be understood and how to feel good in the end.

After living in Italy for almost 12 years I thought that it would be easier here in Sweden. Compared to Italy, the unemployment rate is much lower and one can find a lot of job offers. But I was wrong. Every country is different and no country is perfect. Newcomers have to deal with both positive and negative aspects of the new country, find a balance and learn how to live with the negative aspects, appreciating the positive ones.

The language and the job, two major challenges

It is a different experience when you follow your partner to Sweden from that to come here as an exchange student, for a short term job or as a tourist. Especially, if you plan to stay here for a long time or even permanently. All of us sooner or later face two major challenges: the language and the job. If the partner doesn't manage to find a job, the joy of moving to the new country will soon vanish and the initial excitement will be replaced by unpleasant worries. I know a few people who have left Sweden after struggling here for a few years.

I moved to Sweden about 3.5 years ago. Actually, in the first year, I travelled back and forth between Italy and Sweden, as I wanted to finish my IT diploma in Italy. When I searched for a place to do my internship, I got a chance to do it in ESS, European Spallation Source, in Lund. It was a dream for me because my previous job was connected with the research in physics.

Which Swedish language course to start and where?

I believed that it would be easier to find a job in Sweden because there are so many job opportunities. But after sending my CV around for a few months, I realized that the competition is high, too. I applied for positions in big international companies, where not knowing Swedish wasn’t an issue, but all I got was replies that they have options to hire specifically qualified specialists from all around the world. After all, there was no advantage in being already in Sweden. Looking among the small companies turns out it was required to know Swedish or some other Scandinavian language. And even knowing four languages (but being a beginner level in Swedish) was also of no use here. 

Yet I was determined to learn Swedish as fast as possible. One challenge was that I started an online distance course because I worked at that time, but that doesn’t give you the possibility to practice speaking. So, that passive learning was of no use. Late evening courses were suffering from other problems - too little for too long time. 

So here is my first advice to the newcomers that plan a long stay here — if you have the option to live without working or studying for a certain period of time, just go to the most intensive course for a few months, make ‘deep dive’ and learn the Swedish language. It will be way more effective. There are a few other possibilities, not only Komvux. Check for Swedish for university graduated students, so-called “akademiker”. An alternative is Lund's and Malmö’s University courses, but for those, you need to have an English 6 level certificate or the international equivalent of it.

Language cafés and meeting places

Be aware that there also are language cafés (språkcafé). These are meeting places where you get a chance to speak with some natives or good speaking foreigners in order to exercise your language skills. If you are interested in those, I recommend looking for EOS Cares, Red Cross (Röda Korset), at the Lund’s Library in the first place. Unfortunately for me, they were either during the day or too late in the evening and I didn’t go to them so much.

At that point, I got the idea to try to organize a theatre in Swedish language. I liked that idea so much for a few reasons. It's only when you needed to play a role that you had to memorize the words and really commit to it. That could be a cool way to speak, exercise, have fun, do networking and really learn the language.

Then, just by chance, I found the International Citizen Hub Lund. That was a great discovery for me at the time. They had just started their Kick-Start Program to introduce to expats the local rules, habits, best practices and a lot of advice to have a faster and less painful start in the new country. That is my second recommendation - don’t miss ICHL. You will get a bunch of useful lectures, a lot of questions answered, new friends and networking (for free). After two years now I am so glad that I decided to volunteer for them.

A change into a new professional field

In the meantime, I decided to change completely my professional field. And that is very normal here. Now I needed to get some diplomas, covering the activities that I was already doing like web content creator and support, back in Italy, but needed to officialese them with a diploma. I subscribed to some creative design and digital marketing courses from SoftUni in my home country.

While working during the day, in the evenings I was studying Swedish and the two new courses. When you have a strong ambition and high expectations in life, everything is possible. Of course, The Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) was of no use in my case, they didn’t know what to do with me, with all my diplomas. I heard a rumour that for highly educated people, the average time to get a job can be years, sometimes even 5 years. But I had no time to waist, I needed to find a job now.

At that point, I was searching for just entry-level jobs. I even applied for not paid "praktik", just to start somewhere. You can tell how it went. There were also two cases that some recruiters told me that they couldn’t take me because of my high-level background, now of no use but preventing me from getting any other job. Then I decided that to forget my previous 15 years in physics and that was one of the saddest periods of my life, it felt like cancelling part of me.

Mentoring programs

Then I found that in Malmö and Lund existed a lot of mentoring programs, like Mitt liv, MINE, Yrkesportal. But I got the chance to become mentee entering the Malmö Rotary Club program. It gave me a lot of inspiration, tips, support and better understanding of the Swedish culture and society, not to mention the networking. Here is the next advice for you - if you have a chance to get into a mentoring program, just use it. Most of them are actually in Swedish, but some of them are in English.

Swedish professional programs with "praktik"

To be honest, however, I didn't have much free time with all the things that I was doing, but I understood that if you don't have a Swedish sounding name, a good alternative is to get Swedish diploma. I found the Malmö Yrkeshögskola "Content Producer course" that perfectly fits all the activities that I was doing anyway, like graphic designer, video producing, web sites building and creatives in the area of the digital marketing.

It didn’t matter that it was a full year completely in Swedish and my Swedish at that time was still at evening classes SFI level. I started it and I ended it with VG (very good) points in all the exams, including the internship. I was surprised by myself. And here is another advice - if you have any passions and goals, try to find a program, university or Yrkeshögskola, distance or flex courses. There are many options and distance possibilities are valid alternatives since everything is digitalised here.

Startups, incubators, accelerators and starting own business

Thinking about the idea to start your own business is how I found Lund’s Ideon Science Park and finished NyföretagarCentrum (LNC) lectures on that topic. You can check by yourself how many incubators and accelerators there are in Lund and Malmö to give you support. Think about MINC, The Ground incubators in Malmö, in Lund Ideon Science Park, Venture Lab, and maybe others too. There is also Drivhuset at Malmö University to support students in developing their business ideas. I was most impressed by the Helsingborg’s THINK accelerator, that I visited as a part of the startup where I did my internship as Content Producer.

Lectures, seminars and events

Don’t miss to discover the free lectures for people with an interest in software and IT, offered by Foo Cafe in Malmö. Just regularly check the Eventbrite for events closest to you. There is a lot for each field.

I am happy that for such a short period I can say that I found and experienced all these activities and possibilities. With 7 professional diplomas, daily using 4 languages (two at home and another two outside), I hope I will soon find my true occupation. But the diploma itself is just a paper until somebody starts to believe in you and really see your skills. The biggest challenge is how to do it. Here really the networking has the main role.

These are my advises to all of the new expats. Summarizing all, remember and search for these keywords: free seminars, free mentoring programs, intensive Swedish language courses, networking possibilities, startup incubators, volunteering. The very starting point to all this is ICHL - International Citizen Hub of Lund.

Of course, don’t forget that it’s important to make new friends and have a good time. Do yoga, do other sports, get your hobbies, read books, Lund’s and Malmö’s libraries are really good. Find a balance between goals, duties and happiness.

Good luck to you all!

/ Svetla Tileva


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