Svitlana Odynets - Integration in Sweden: how to do it faster than in ten years

"I watch, listen to and analyze myself and others in this integration process of "re-installation" from our native social worlds/systems to the Swedish one, with all the accompanying all typical “program crashes and conflicts”, and I think that in adult age, migration is an unforgettable adventure."

If an immigrant who is not a programmer or a doctor would ask me how to enter the labor market in Skåne and become part of Swedish society as soon as possible, I would give only two pieces of advice.

Firstly, to start learning Swedish the next day after receiving an ID in good programs (thus in Lund and Malmö University where there are intensive ninth-month courses in Swedish as a second language).

Secondly, after receiving Svenska 3 (or being very close to that), to enter the “Aspirantutbildningen” program at Malmö University.

Between the two phases – start volunteering in some organisation and keep doing it, thus be ready to give even earlier than you receive. Do not give up, of course, at any of the stages.

Aspirantutbildningen became my discovery of the year because it is almost unknown in my social networks. The program really works, but few people know about it, which in my opinion can be partly explained by the somewhat discredited discourse about “matching foreign academics with Swedish employers” that is the main activity for many private actors in Skåne and is not always very efficient. Aspirantutbildningen also works with academics but differs from other programs in the quality of knowledge about how the Swedish labor market really functions and by honest feedback from teachers as well as their real institutional support, which in the case of Sweden probably is one of the key factors to succeed. It is interesting that the main group of students in the program is comprised of people with university diploma from non-English-speaking countries. 

In general, in my opinion, there is a lack of public debate, and accordingly of integration programs for those migrants who do not belong to the group of refugees and asylum seekers that came to Sweden in 2015. If we separate from the big group of “nyanlända”, which juridically and politically refers to refugees and asylum seekers, those who came to Sweden for other reasons, and from this smaller group remove the IT specialists and doctors, thousands of well-educated persons from different parts of the world will remain. There are no systematic solutions for them, except for the advice to believe in yourself, which are obviously too shallow to serve as a road map. Therefore immigrants from this group try to reinvent the wheel to understand what it means to be “employable” in the Swedish labor market and how to have their dream job (or just any ‘good enough’ job). Sometimes it takes around 5 or 10 years, sometimes more. 

Much transformative energy comes from these efforts and you can hear the crackling sound of old ideas and habits breaking - from the inside. There is also a lot of painful self-reflection that does not lead to new decisions. All of this resembles a long marathon without a compass and without knowing how long you should run. Therefore, you focus on the sunrise, the color of the sky, the people around you, and all your individual lucky and unlucky experiences that are made by improvisation. 

"Start writing your own book – autoethnography - right after you have moved, because if you fail the integration you will have at least the book". This was the advice of my colleague when I told her about my migration plans two years ago. With hindsight, her advice, which was meant as a bit of a joke, seems to me to be not so banal. 

I watch, listen to and analyze myself and others in this integration process of "re-installation" from our native social worlds/systems to the Swedish one, with all the accompanying all typical “program crashes and conflicts”, and I think that in adult age, migration is an unforgettable adventure. But in the context of Sweden, a relatively homogeneous country only a few decades ago, that received the largest share of migrants per capita in 2015, and where the tectonic plates of different cultures converge and disperse under multiculturalism, this process has many unique additional senses, which are not analysed in the academic literature or pictured in fiction. But that is why it is so essential to experience them per se. 

As my third Swedish Christmas approaches, I feel as if the air is finally starting to thin out. Possibly from a slight change in altitude.

/ Svitlana Odynets, journalist, anthropologist, migration researcher

 

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