The Graphic Designer from Russia who understands the value of asking again, and again and… again!
Tell us about why you decided to move to Sweden
Alexey: Before moving to Sweden I also lived one year in New Zeeland, and then I came back to Russia, lived in Moscow – it’s a huge city-, very hectic and chaotic. Sweden has this image of being very progressive and modern. It’s also, for many people, exotic. It’s a small country, where not so many people go, and the language sounds like something from another planet! But it’s a language that I love, that I speak and I like it a lot. And, I don’t know, I just wanted to try another country and I wanted to have a challenge. Personally, for me, the Swedish way of living and of thinking, like the liberal way, the snälla sättet…
…that translates to ”The kind way
…yes, the kind way! Of doing things to anybody. Like the openness in the society. It suits me really well. Also, that everything is so open, well, more transparent than open. There are no bribes, everything works correctly, and…yeah, I like it a lot. I actually like rules, because I myself am quite structured as a person, so I like it a lot. So I had this image of Sweden, and I wanted to live here. So I looked for jobs and then I came to Sweden.
And you said you went to New Zeeland first?
Yeah, but it wasn’t really my choice. I moved there because of work, and I experienced life there, in one year you pretty much understand how things work.
To me it sounds like you knew pretty early on that you wanted to live in a different country, and now you’re in Spain. You are kind of always an expat, is that the right impression?
Yeah, I think so. Actually, I don’t like defining my nationality, because nationalities are like gender or something that is given to you by someone else or society and it’s not your choice. So I would say that I am cosmopolitan, multicultural or something like this. There are many things that I like in different countries and cultures. Probably yes, I am an eternal expat. Maybe. Maybe not.
Tell us about your decision to move to Spain, because it had a little bit to do with what you were doing here in Sweden, right?
Yeah, I went there (Spain) to do a master’s degree. In Russia, I studied math and information science, that doesn’t have much to do with art or design. Here in Sweden, I went to Nyckelviksskolan, which is an art school where people usually go to get some introduction to art and to work on their portfolio in order to get into an art school or a design university. Here in Stockholm, there are, at least in my opinion, the best design and art schools in Sweden. But it’s very difficult to be accepted. If we talk about Konstfack (The University of Arts, Crafts and Design), people apply for it three or five times in a row, specifically in graphic design that I was interested in. And I thought “ oh my god, that’s too much time”, I just don’t have the patience, so what other options do I have? Well, I can move to Malmö, or Norrköping, or Barcelona. So I thought if I move from Stockholm to Malmö, I love Malmö, I like it a lot, but I don’t have any real connection to Malmö. If I move from Stockholm, it should be worth it. So between Malmö and Barcelona, I chose Barcelona.
Ok, cool! And now you are back in Stockholm visiting for the weekend?
Yes, exactly, I came here because one of my best friends here in Sweden got married yesterday.
What was different about moving to Sweden compared to your expectations?
Well, actually, everything went really smoothly, everything was really easy like applying for a personal number, applying for social security and everyday things that you need to do like going to a doctor or applying for a bank account. What surprised me was the housing situation, because it’s something that you would never expect. Even now in Barcelona, it’s quite expensive but it’s easy to find a place to live. In Sweden, it’s actually cheap to live if you have a job here, but it’s so hard to find something and it surprised me a lot.
And when you came here you already had a job?
So the housing situation, what did you end up doing? Where did you live?
I had a lot of luck, because before I moved here, I already knew some people. The first two weeks, I stayed with my friend Anna, who I had met in Moscow, and then I found a room in Gubbängen in Stockholm. I was asking people I knew: “What would be the best area to live?”, and they would say: “You take whatever you get!”. A couple months later, my landlord in Gubbängen decided to move in with his girlfriend and told me that I could either move out or rent the whole apartment. And, of course, I took the whole apartment. But I was lucky, because it was cheap, I only paid as much as the landlord paid for the apartment, he didn’t ask me to pay more, and I lived there for three years. After three years you know how things work, and it is easy to find something else.
Was there something else you wish you would have known before moving to Sweden, something you could have done to prepare yourself?
I think I was quite informed actually. I had this previous interest in Sweden, as I told you, I knew a lot of people and…actually I have a funny anecdote about this. My friend who just got married here, she didn’t want to go to Sweden particularly. But she is in love with Sweden now, she loves it and is so happy here. However, she was applying to a lot of different jobs in whatever country before coming here and then she came here to Sweden for an interview. When she landed, and left the airport, she was about to buy a train ticket or something. And the guy in the shop said “Hej!”, and my friend thought “How rude!”, like “Hey yourself!”. So I mean the level of ignorance in her, she didn’t even know the word for “hello” in Swedish. She didn’t know anything. I think there are many people like this, that come to Sweden without knowing anything. I think I was quite prepared, because also, there is quite a lot of information available online about how to do things, Sweden is really good in this sense. Another thing that surprised me, but I don’t know if it would have been better to know this beforehand, is that everyone is so good at English. But of course you need to know Swedish to integrate and to adjust, but everyone speaks English really well. I had no idea about this. When I am in Sweden I think my English sucks, when I go back to Spain it’s like I’m a pro and I can teach English.
Do you think you can live in Sweden and have a happy life even if you would just speak English?
I think so. I know a lot of people living in Sweden who only speak English. But I myself would not do that because I wouldn’t feel comfortable or part of the society. Also, I love languages, but there are people who just don’t care about them. And they’re fine, they’re happy.
And you also knew Swedish before coming here? You studied a little Swedish in Russia?
Yes, because I had this interest in Sweden.
What’s your absolute favorite thing in Sweden?
When you come back from a trip and you come home and you feel the air, the smell of the forest. The trees and the nature. I thought about this every time I came home from a trip. The smell, the oxygen.
Did you ever make any mistakes in Sweden that you would like to share with us?
The biggest mistake I made in the beginning was that when I heard a “no”, I thought it meant “no”. When I had a problem and had to go to an authority to get a paper or something, somebody told me “no” there and I thought “ok, I can’t do anything”. But what I learned is that you need to know your rights and if someone tells you they can’t help you, you need to say “look, I have a right, there is information somewhere that says I have this right, so please ask a colleague or call someone who can help me if you can’t”.
Do you think this is specific for Sweden?
Yes, I recently spoke to a friend from Italy who lives in Sweden about this. In Spain for example, if you go somewhere for help, they will give you something. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing, but they will make you happy, haha. I think their way of thinking is more “I don’t know what to do, but let me do something. Let’s see if it works!”. Whereas here in Sweden, and maybe it’s a positive thing, when people are not a hundred percent sure they say “no, you can’t do it”. I think they should say “No, I’m not sure, but let me check it”. But they just say no. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know, but I think it is specific for Sweden so my advice it to insist.
Maybe in general, people working at authorities here are afraid of giving out the wrong information so they are hesitant to give out any information at all if they are not sure? Interesting!
Any other advice that comes to mind for people moving to Sweden?
Do your research. Compared to other countries, finding information in Sweden is very transparent and very clear. You google, and you will find the right website with the right information and more or less step by step instructions on how to do things. So, do your research.
I have a question that you might not want to answer. Do you know the term Smultronställe* in Swedish?
Is it like your favorite place?
Kind of. Something that you discovered and something you really like and usually wouldn’t reveal to other people, because you want it for yourself!
I love the Drottningholm island in Stockholm. The castle, and all the space there, you can have a picnic. It’s not very central so a lot of people miss it, but I think it’s not just a place for the tourists but also really nice for people who live in Stockholm.
Do you have a favorite Swedish word?
Jordgubbe. It means strawberry. I love strawberries and to tell you the truth, I miss them in Spain because they taste like shit compared to the Swedish ones. I really love them. I am looking forward to coming back in June to eat a lot of strawberries. Jordgubbar!
Do you know the literal translation of the word?
Yes, “jord” means soil, and “gubbe” means an old man. So basically it means an old man in the soil. So funny.
Favorite Swedish food? Other than strawberries.
I think it is kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) or toscabulle (sticky bun with almonds and caramel). But it’s dangerous, because it makes you fat. But luckily going to a gym in Sweden is cheap.
We have a Spotify list at Moving to Sweden for people who visit the website and want to discover some Swedish music. Could you contribute with your favorite Swedish song?
The band Mando Diao has a few songs in Swedish, based on Gustaf Fröding’s poems that I really like. I’m not sure what the song is called.
I will find it for you and add it! Anything you would like to add before we wrap up the interview?
Well, anybody can move to Sweden, I think you learn a lot. I also think I became a better person from moving to Sweden. I discovered a lot about myself and about the world and other things. It’s a great country and I think everybody should live here at least once in their life and eat strawberries and go to Drottningholm. And eat toscabulle in the wintertime.
Thank you so much for joining us Alexey, and for sharing your experiences. Hej då!
Smultronställe* – literal meaning: a place (ställe) where wild strawberries (smultron) grow. Used to describe a place you love that not a lot of people know about.