So you’re looking to study or work in Sweden?

I came to Sweden around five years ago. This country has given me immense opportunities to build myself into what I have become and I am immensely grateful to the country, its people and most importantly to God. One thing that I am disappointed about myself a lot is that by now, I really should have learned the language and be fluent in it but I haven’t. I am an intermediate level speaker of the language for now. From my short experience here, I have few thoughts to share to those thinking of studying and working abroad specifically in Scandinavia.

For you who wants to study abroad: 
  • Learn. The. Language. 

If you want to get a job here the first task is to learn the language. I have been to a couple of interviews at which not being fluent at the language has decidedly worked against me. One painful one was a couple of years ago when I was interviewing for an analyst position at Swedbank and I was in the final stages of the interview and it was just me and someone else left. I did well at the interview from the feedback I received but when it came down to it, the other guy could speak Swedish better than I ever could and the pendulum swung his way. Nobody usually tells you this directly but let me shoot straight: Learn the language and your chances will multiply. Have your CV and cover letter in Swedish too.

Proficiency in the host country language is vital for the economic and social integration of immigrants. It raises productivity by improving access to higher-paying jobs, and
facilitating interactions with the native-born population.

-Isphording, I. E. in his paper “What drives the language proficiency of immigrants?”

Some jobs advertise that they do not need Swedish and definitely you should apply for those. Truth though is you may not need the language at work but for networking and climbing the ladder, you will hit the ceiling at some point on how far you can go without perfecting Swedish. Check out this quote from research on language and unemployment in Iceland:

“No, it doesn’t bother me at all [that my staff does not speak Icelandic]. But in a sense, you can sometimes notice it, in the coffee breaks and things like that; they are not really in the conversation, and that can be a difficult thing. I did part of my masters [abroad], and I experienced myself how awful it is sometimes to be the minority and not be able to understand or say a joke or be spontaneous.”

  • Keep banging on those doors until they open

A couple of years ago, during my final year of my masters and unsure of what to do next, I was helping a friend with some accounting question from her class. She had been struggling with the questions and after teaching her I asked her for the email address of her teacher. I emailed the teacher and asked to help him in his classes for free. He gave me the opportunity to teach 8 hours of teaching. I studied like crazy for those classes and gave those students the best I had. And they loved it. The feedback was amazing to the extent, I was given an extension of the contract and have worked there since as a lecturer here.  Never. Give. Up.

A bit of a reality check: The unemployment rate among foreigners in Sweden is higher than that of Swedes. This just means the barrier to getting a job here for a foreigner is higher so perhaps don’t give up too soon.

Source: Segendorf and Theobald (2019)
For you who is looking to hire: Give Immigrants a chance

Give the international student and immigrant a chance to work with you. I have been teaching accounting at Mälardalen University and I have been privileged to meet students from every part of the world. I can tell you they are hungry for success and are some of the most hardworking people I have met. They just lack someone to help them get a foot at the door. They lack someone to believe in them enough to give them a chance. Give us a chance and we won’t disappoint you.

In the meantime:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

-Martin Luther King, Jr

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