The Polish Travel Consultant and Venezuelan Engineer who fell in love at their Swedish course and tell us about preparing for your move and nerding out in Linköping
This is our first couple’s interview, so would you mind telling us how you met?
Carlos: We actually met in our Swedish course. We were studying Swedish for immigrants (SFI), back in 2015, I think…
Kaja: Yeah it was in 2015. And it lasted until now! We were in the same Swedish class, but still we don’t speak Swedish to each other.
You speak English to each other?
But you were just speaking Swedish with me a few minutes ago and it sounded amazing?
Carlos: We both speak Swedish in our jobs.
So you have a multilingual life?
Carlos: Actually, we don’t speak clean English to each other, it’s a mix. But yeah.
How long had you been in Sweden when you met?
Kaja: I started my course one and a half year after coming here. Because, when I came to Sweden, I lived outside of Stockholm in Nynäshamn. It was difficult to put together school and work. At this time, I was living with my brother. After about nine months I moved to Stockholm and started Swedish classes.
Carlos: It was the same for me, because I arrived in Sweden in the end of July in 2014, and I started Swedish classes in February of 2015. I came to Sweden to study, so I had my first semester without any Swedish to get a feel for it and when I started my second semester I decided to start studying Swedish as well.
Kaja, can you tell us about when you decided to move here?
Kaja: That’s a funny story! My brother has lived in Sweden for about ten years, and he called me one day and said “Would you like to come? We will find a job for you!”. My contract in Poland was over so I thought, OK, this could be something new, and so I came here. And I stayed.
And what about you Carlos, when did you decide?
I come from Venezuela, and I wanted to get a master’s degree. I studied Electric Power Engineering. For me the easiest option was North America, but the degrees they offered there were mostly in other fields than what I specialized in. So, I found a program at KTH that had the specific type of courses that I offered, and so I came here.
So Kaja, you came for work, and Carlos, you came for studies. What was different about coming here than what you expected?
Carlos: For me, pretty much everything about coming to Sweden was different. Because, this was the first time for me living alone, I used to live with my father before. So that was a whole new thing for me. Even if most people here speak English, there are still a few things you need to struggle with a little bit or deal with before you speak the language. I mean, coming from a place where you know exactly where to go when you need to do something, it was a little bit of a shock coming here and not knowing how to say a simple thing like “I need to buy chicken”. It’s not really something you ask someone about either. I mean you could but…
Carlos: Yes, it’s weird! And I mean, I could go with google translate and find my way around, but that was a bit shocking.
Kaja: Yeah, I think for me, I didn’t have any expectations coming here, but the big shock was also the language. And when I came here, I didn’t speak English either, just Polish. So, every time I had to go somewhere, it was exactly what Carlos said. I remember my brother’s wife sent me to Willys(a Swedish supermarket chain) to buy something and I had to google every single word to find what I needed to buy. So that was the big problem, and that I needed help with everything from my family. Of course, it was good that I had them and that they could help me, but that was also a good motivation to learn Swedish and English.
Yeah, you also speak English very well now! Did you start studying English here?
Kaja: I had studied English before coming to Sweden, but I never paid much attention to it before. So, I started communicating with Carlos in English and I learnt quickly, but later on I also needed to take English courses to be able to study in Sweden.
So, the language thing was a shock for you, but I guess you kind of knew that before coming, that you wouldn’t understand Swedish in the beginning. But is there anything else you wish you would have known before coming to Sweden?
Carlos: Something that I find very practical and that I like in Sweden, is the cashless thing. If I would have known that before coming here, it would have been an extra plus.
Kaja: I think, if I could go back, that I would have prepared myself a little bit, study a little Swedish before coming here.
Carlos: I knew the numbers, and how to say “hej” and “hej då”. But I didn’t go through the whole grocery store list. After I was accepted to KTH, I had a few months before coming here, so I tried preparing myself a little bit. For me, speaking Spanish and Swedish, the sounds are so different, so, whatever I imagined the Swedish words sounded like, it was completely wrong! I managed to prepare myself for reading and understanding but not to go out in the streets and hear Swedish and understand anything.
Even if you do study Swedish before coming here, if you never listen to any Swedish you might be learning everything completely wrong?
Kaja: That’s true.
What’s your favourite thing about Sweden?
Kaja: Fika*! It’s this amazing cultural thing, it’s not only coffee: it is accepted in workplaces that OK, I am going on a ten minute break and having fika. I think that is something very nice.
Carlos: I don’t know if this is something specific to Stockholm, but I really like the public transportation. It is easy to reach places and you have several ways to do it. And yeah, the fika is very nice too. Considering that even in the office, it is like almost a rule to take five and eat something together. That was completely new for me. Where I come from, maybe during lunch you will eat and then spend some minutes talking to your colleagues, but in the working time, it’s work and that’s it, no social time. That’s something I also like in Sweden, it is more laidback and relaxed.
Is that specifically in the workplace, or in general?
Carlos: I would dare to say in general. Even though you see some people running around stressed in the streets, I would say the quantity is higher of people who are relaxed and on their way to work like “if I am a little late, I am a little late”. I see people on the way to my office, like eight in the morning, they are out jogging and will just come a little later to the office. Or like föräldraledig*. People can just have their children and then have a break from working.
Kaja: I think the balance between working life and family life is really good in Sweden. It is not just work, work, work and then twenty days off, but you have a lot of days off and if you have an office job, you usually have flextid, like Carlos said, people can go jogging in the morning and come in a little late and just stay later. I think that is very good in Sweden.
Are you both working now? What are you doing?
Carlos: I am a Development Engineer at Xylem. I design motors and motor related things.
Kaja: I am a travel consultant and I work in the travel agency Ticket.
Ok! And Kaja, is that something new for you, career-wise?
Kaja: Not really, I finished a bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Recreation in Poland. I wanted to continue working in tourism here but not in hospitality which was my specialisation before. So, I finished a program at Yrkeshögskolan here.
Oh really? Like vocational college where you combine higher education with a lot of practical experience. You get a lot of internships throughout the program and a lot of the programs are shorter than at university.
Kaja: Yes, I finished Yrkeshögskolan in two years. I just graduated in May this year, so I am kind of new in this.
Did you know that you wanted to study that program when you came to Sweden?
Kaja: No. I didn’t think I would continue with tourism. But because I already had the base in my degree from Poland, I figured that this would be a good idea to get a better job with a proper salary. So I went finished the program here and I think that was my best decision after meeting Carlos.
Carlos: And that is why she has better Swedish than me, because she studied in Swedish! Whereas my master’s program was in English.
And your program, Kaja, was two years?
So a two year long program in higher education completely in Swedish. That is impressive. Have you guys made any mistakes in Sweden that you can share with us?
Carlos: I struggled a little bit with the Swedish style of looking for a job.
How would you describe the Swedish style of looking for a job?
Carlos: Well, like one and a half years ago when I was looking for a job full time, there were a lot of these recruiting companies. I personally do not like their style, because they are the ones hiring you for up to six months or something and then you get employed by the end customer, which is the actual company you are working with. In this type of recruiting companies, usually it is a type of informal application process. I am more used to a more formal recruitment process. You know, you have your interview, and then a follow-up, recommendation letters and so on…and here it was more like I was in a limbo. I was at one interview, and it was pretty much like a fika, and we would talk a little bit, and this was my first interviews in Swedish so, of course I was ultra sweaty and very nervous. After the interview, I would go home and I would not receive a call. And not necessarily because I didn’t get to the next step, but they didn’t think that there would be a follow-up. So, you had to assume that you were out of the process. Maybe I could call it a mistake going through those companies. My advice would be to go directly to the company you want to work for instead.
Kaja: But if I would comment on this, I have to say I found my job at Ticket through one of these companies. But it wasn’t like the recruitment company hired me, I just had my first interview through them and then they set me up for an interview with the manager at Ticket. The recruitment process from the first meeting to the signing of the contract took five days.
Kaja: I think it is about which company you apply for.
Carlos: And the field, I guess.
It is interesting that you have these different experiences from recruitment companies. Sometimes it is better to contact the companies directly, but for some people these recruitment companies are kind of the first step in because they can vouch for you. And in some fields, maybe the recruitment process is very formalized, and they have very specific requirements, and in other fields you might need more of a network to get hired and in these cases a recruitment company can help and be that “bridge”. But we do have tons of recruitment agencies out there today and probably some good ones as well as some worse ones.
Carlos: Yeah, actually, sometimes it’s overwhelming.
Yes, you kind of need to find the ones who are specific to your field of work or area of work. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to move here?
Carlos: I would say that, of course, if you have the chance, learn the language before coming here. But if not, learn English. Or have, at least some basic level of English. Be prepared to get rid of cash.
Kaja: Yeah it is even impossible to buy coffee with cash most of the time.
Carlos: I think my number one recommendation is as soon as you even put a foot in Sweden, get the personnummer*. I came to Sweden with a bunch of other students and some of us were doing a two year degree, and some of us a one year degree. Those of use with the two year degree would get the personnummer right away. Opening a bank account, getting into Swedish courses, everything is way more difficult without the personnummer.
Usually you can get around it, but it takes a lot of time and complicates things without one.
Kaja: The personnummer really opens doors. It is also a little bit more difficult when you come to work in Sweden instead of studying. So, prepare a little before coming, like reading the information in English at Skatteverket’s* website. And if you know someone here already, ask for help.
Carlos: yes, if you have contact with anyone in Sweden in any way, I would say ask a lot of questions and ask for information. For example, when it comes to accommodation, I had accommodation through the university, but I would imagine that if I had come here with no accommodation and not knowing anything about Sweden, I would probably be living in the streets. Because it is not easy, at least in Stockholm. You can go to Blocket (an advertising site), but end up paying a lot or ending up in a bad area. So, it is a good idea to try to get some information about accommodation before coming here, too.
Kaja: Basically, preparing yourself before coming. It is way easier and less stressful.
So, in general, use the information that’s out there?
Kaja: Yes, there is a lot of information available.
Do you know the word Smultronställe?
Kaja and Carlos: No?
Smultron is the tiny wild strawberries and ställe means “place”. Smultronställe is a term to describe a place that you really love and that is special to you but is also a little bit of a hidden gem. Some place where not everyone goes. You are supposed to keep these places a secret, so it is bad of me to ask you, but do you have a place like this in Sweden that you can share with us?
Carlos: I would say Linköping. We like board games…
Kaja: …we are nerds.
Carlos: I didn’t want to put it like that.
Kaja: We are nerds.
Carlos: …and there is a yearly convention in Linköping. We have been to higher end conventions in Stockholm, and in Linköping there is a perfect balance between having fun and experiencing a social thing. Sometimes when we go to the bigger conventions, there is a lot of focus on selling products, but in Linköping you can chill, relax…
Kaja: …yes, every May we pack our bags and go to Linköping to play board games.
Carlos: But not only for that! We have been there, for example, with my father just to visit. We find the town very pretty and it is easy to move around. I don’t know, there is something to it. We go there and we feel relaxed.
Kaja: Even if Sweden is a relaxed country in general, but when you go to a smaller town, you feel that it is completely different, a slower life.
Carlos: I think Linköping is our happy place outside of Stockholm.
Kaja: They have a very good university there too with a very pretty campus.
So they have a board game convention there every May?
Kaja: Yes, at the university.
Do you have a favourite Swedish word?
Carlos: To be honest, I have to say Fika*. As a verb and as a noun (laughing). I cannot think of a nicer word. It means taking a break and having some sweets!
And what do you like about lagom?
Kaja: I don’t know. It is a difficult word to translate. Not too much, not too little. I think the way you use it in Sweden is nice, it is a way to live as well. Like we talked about before, the balance between life and work…it’s like lagom.
Do you have word like that in Polish or Spanish?
Kaja and Carlos: no.
Do you have a favourite Swedish food?
Carlos: I don’t like the raw fish. Or the surströmming*.
Kaja: I have never tried it.
Carlos: I never tried it either, but I can say that I don’t like it. I think lingonberries is my favourite. The first time I tried them or saw them was in Sweden. I like how you have them here with meatballs or something. It is like a sweet treat in a salty dish that makes it very tasty.
Kaja: The thing I really like it köttbullar*. Carlos doesn’t like it.
Carlos: I think the thing you really like is kötttbullemacka*.
Kaja: Yeah, with beets.
Carlos: Maybe also crawfish. But not because of the food, because of the party, having fun and making a mess. But I like the taste!
We have a Moving to Sweden playlist and we ask everyone we interview to tell us a Swedish song they would like us to add to it. Could you think of some Swedish music?
Kaja: I would say Sabaton. That’s metal music.
Great! We don’t have any metal on the playlist yet!
Carlos: …and At the Gates. Even harder metal!
Some Swedish metal. Perfect, we will add it to the playlist. Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Carlos: As I said before, my key advice is, before coming to Sweden be sure that you have a way of getting your personnummer. Have your paperwork in order and be aware of the steps you have to take so that you can get in the system as soon as possible.
Kaja: In the beginning it’s not easy.
Carlos: As soon as you are in the system, everything gets way easier.
Kaja: And don’t give up, even if it is difficult in the beginning.
If you prepare yourself before, and you have a goal, like you want to go to a certain program or get a certain job, and you know at least some of the steps you need to take to reach that goal, it is easier to stay motivated in the beginning even if it is difficult and you might have a job you don’t like or you don’t understand Swedish yet. If you have that goal.
Kaja: It’s easier, yeah. And also, do not be afraid to ask. I went to a studie- och yrkesvägledare* in Hermods( a school), and got information about the program at Yrkeshögskolan that I ended up going to. If I wouldn’t have asked, I would have been completely confused about higher education in Sweden.
There are so many study opportunities in Sweden that it is hard to navigate without some help, even if you are from here. So, that is great advice!
Carlos: It’s a very useful tool to just ask. Maybe there is a program that you don’t even know about and when you learn about it, it might be perfect for you. Also, I would say dare to speak Swedish. Don’t care about making mistakes. You need to practice it in real life to really learn. Every person is different, but in my case, what helped was that I got a language partner. I started meeting with a friend of a friend who wanted to practice Spanish, and after that I started speaking more Swedish.
Both of you have mentioned this x factor to use Swedish in a real context, not just in Swedish class.
Kaja: Yes, everyday language is different than the Swedish you learn in school, like in all languages.
Thank you so much! Our first couple’s interview!
Kaja also has a travel blog with some great travel tips and stories! Go check it out for inspiration and maybe your next trip?
*Fika means to have coffee or tea and usually with a sweet snack. It also involves taking a break and chatting about everyday life.
*Föräldraledig means to be on parental leave
*Skatteverket is the Swedish Tax Agency
*Lagom is an adjective that translates to “just right” or “not too much or too little” and is very often used to describe parts of the Swedish mentality and culture too.
*Surströmming means fermented herring
*Köttbullar means meatballs and *köttbullemacka a meatball sandwich
*Studie- och yrkesvägledare is the title for a guidance counselor providing study and career guidance (like we do!)
Be sure to follow our playlist and listen to Kaja and Carlos’ favourite Swedish music, Sabaton and At the Gates.