Why did you move to Sweden?
My partner is Swedish. We met in 2010 and had spent a few years travelling back and forth to stay with each other for a couple of weeks at a time. We discussed the possibility of him moving to the UK, but Sweden proved the better option in almost every category.
When did you move to Sweden?
I moved to Malmö in the summer of 2013.
What do you wish you knew about Sweden, when you first moved here?
I wish I knew to expect long (and I mean long) periods of waiting for decisions from various authorities. Citizenship, teaching qualifications, ID card, residence permit, etc. When you’re waiting on these things to kickstart your job search, it feels like an eternity. I wish I’d prepared more to use that time wisely - not just for my productivity, but also for general mental wellbeing.
How would you compare the work culture of your home country to Sweden’s work culture?
It’s a tricky one to compare. As a mother tongue teacher, our department is made up almost entirely of international teachers. It’s by no means a typical Swedish workplace in that sense – we all have different work cultures that we bring to the table, which makes our meetings lively affairs!
However, I do notice a big difference in working conditions. In the UK, there’s still the culture of ‘soldiering on’ and coming to work even when you’re sick. I’m sure that’s changing now, but we would force ourselves in to avoid the stress of setting cover lessons. Similarly, we were expected to work until the late hours every evening marking, spend unpaid weekends teaching revision classes, etc. It’s certainly not perfect here, but at least we’re able to have a personal as well as professional life.
Did you have any trouble getting your professional credentials (for your work) recognised in Sweden?
A couple of months before I moved here, I submitted my university and teaching qualifications to Universitets- och högskolerådet (UHR). They provided me with a certificate that equates my studies to Swedish qualifications and makes applying for things like university courses easier - in theory!
I still ended up waiting over two years after applying for my full lärarlegitimation in the subject I’m qualified to teach. Despite already having my UHR papers, it took a year for my first lärarlegitimation to be approved by Skolverket. Whilst this was enough to become permanently employed and escape my temporary contract, the issue then was that I was given very niche subjects as my specialisation, based on my module list from university. Despite having a Master’s Degree in English and a CELTA (teaching English as a foreign language) certification, I was still required to enter into a 90hp (högskolepoäng) English course for beginners before I could finally get my specialisation. I ‘tested out’ of most of this by providing evidence of my earlier studies, but I still had to participate in one ‘Writing in English’ module with three lovely older Swedish women. I definitely felt like a ringer in that situation!
That being said, I have colleagues in Lund that had a much simpler (and quicker!) route to their lärarlegitimation, though. So maybe I was just unlucky.
What do you think of the education system in Sweden?
Students in Sweden seem so much more independent and self-motivated than the students I taught back home, in my opinion. They are encouraged from an early age to have a say in their education, which creates a more open and equal relationship between student and teacher. For the most part this is a really positive thing.
I found the approach to behaviour management quite difficult to adjust to when I first arrived. I have a clear memory of writing students’ names on the board when they contributed or showed good effort in one of my first lessons. My boss told me soon afterwards that you shouldn’t praise or punish individual students – it’s not the Swedish way! Also, I’m still not used to being called by my first name by students…
What’s your favourite part about living in Sweden?
Bearnaise sauce! I have it with everything. I really like BankID too, which might be an odd thing to say. I really don’t miss having to call up places and try to remember the 3rd, 5th and 9th letter to a password I set when I was 18. I also enjoy the prevalence of card over cash.
Most of what I enjoy is city living. Malmö has a lot going on and I’ve seen more bands I like play here than I ever did in England. Similarly, the wealth of restaurants and takeaways puts my hometown to shame!
What do you struggle with the most in Sweden?
Making friends and developing a proper social network was, and still is, my biggest struggle in terms of the move here. I never used to believe people who said that it’s impossible to ‘break in’ to a Swedish group of friends, as I got on well with my partner’s family and assumed that’d translate. But I’m nearly 7 years in and all of my friends here are internationals – maybe there’s something to it? I spent a period of time meeting lots of interesting women through the app GoFriendly, and made some lasting friendships – but again, only internationals kept up contact.
What’s the biggest misconception you’ve come across about Sweden and/or Swedes?
I think the ‘everyone here speaks English!’ thing is slightly harmful. Perhaps in modern industries it’s different, but in public sector work you really need Swedish to function. Also, I can’t count how many times I’ve been hung up on as soon as I started to speak English!
Can you speak Swedish? If so, how did you learn? How often do you get to speak Swedish?
I speak decent, but lazy, Swedish. I missed a lot of groundwork that I now lack the motivation to go back and fix, so there are some grammatical errors.
I had completed the Rosetta Stone computer course before I moved here, which I think gives a really nice basis for (Stockholm) pronunciation. I enrolled in two Swedish courses with Malmö Högskola as soon as I arrived, which was also useful. I never managed to get into SFI until I had already been here a few years, so by that point I was only there a month or so before completing the final exam. For my teaching qualification here, I took the TISUS exam in order to avoid taking the full Svenska B/Svenska 3 course. On reflection, I would definitely have benefited from taking a full course, but time was a factor and I just wanted to get the required qualification.
Starting a job in Sweden (where you’re required to speak Swedish) before finishing a formal course is interesting as you end up with a large vocabulary of very specific words, but struggle with basic conversation. I can talk about åtgärdsprogram för elever med beteendesvårigheter but if you say ’hur är läget?’ I’ll just stare blankly.
What advice would you give to someone (in similar circumstances, moving for love) who is moving to Sweden?
If you’re moving to live with a Swedish person, try to be understanding and aware that a lot of the paperwork and bureaucratic rigmarole is just as new and frustrating for them as it is for you. Understanding the language only makes it marginally more comprehensible!
Be prepared mentally and financially to be unemployed for much, much longer than you’d expect.
Get stuck into SFI or similar courses as soon as possible. Find something you’re interested in and watch/read about that in Swedish. Finally, dare to speak Swedish!