The communicator from Indonesia who mastered the art of networking and loves the lagom way of life
Hi Laras! Tell us about when you decided to move to Sweden.
It was in 2012 that we decided to move to Sweden, and it was a family decision. My husband got a job offer from one of the telecom giants here in Stockholm, and as a family we were ready to experience a new adventure. So, we took the decision to move to this cold, cold country way up north.
So, your husband already had a job when you came here?
Yes, that’s right.
Did you also have a job?
I didn’t have any job. As we were living in Dubai at the time, I was doing what you guys here call “mammaledig”, I was on parental leave, taking care of my two small sons.
How did that work when you came to Sweden? Did the same rules apply to you as other people on maternity leave?
No, because I had never worked here in Sweden, so the parental leave that I got was the minimum amount. But I could still enjoy the benefit of parental leave in Sweden.
Ok, so if you work here for a while then you get a higher amount based on your salary?
Was anything different about moving to Sweden than what you expected?
Yes, because prior to our move to Sweden, we had been living in Dubai for six years, and before that we lived for a little while in Geneva. And both cities have a strong culture of expats. English is commonly used as a professional language and I thought that it would be, more or less, the same in Sweden, because I know that Swedes speak excellent English. But that is not the case, when one is looking to enter the Swedish job market, that is a different story. So that was something different for me, that I thought it would be easy to look for a job in English, which was not the case in reality.
That’s interesting. So, you already had a lot of expat experience from other countries too?
And then you came here, expecting it to be as easy as in these other countries, but it was not.
Exactly, it was not what I expected.
Could you go into that a little deeper?
Yes. I hadn’t been working myself in those two other cities, but when I was looking at job sites online in Dubai or in Geneva, I could easily find job ads that did not require the local language. Everything is usually in English, and it is easy to find jobs in international organisations. In Sweden, I experienced that there was not as many jobs like these. That was my experience.
And what did you end up doing? How did you solve this problem?
I could tell right away that I needed to learn Swedish. I got the benefit from my husband’s job to study Swedish in a private institution. So, it was more like an intensive language course. I think it was the same level as SFI (Swedish for immigrants) and it was in three months for the basic foundations of Swedish. After that, I took the next level in the municipality’s institutions (komvux*). I think it took me two years to learn Swedish from the basic level to the high school level. I was really investing my time and energy in building my Swedish language skills.
And you didn’t know any Swedish at all before that?
No. Just some words from IKEA. (laughing)
Wow, so two years, that is really fast to learn a completely new language.
Yes, but I wouldn’t say that I mastered the language in those two years. I experienced that you need to practice it more. You get all the knowledge about the language; the grammar, the conjugations, how you change the words and all that. But if you don’t use it in a daily context, in a professional context, it is going to be very hard for you to use the language.
Did you have the opportunity to use Swedish in a professional context during this time?
Yes, fortunately yes. I knew right away that I wanted to work in Sweden. I studied a master’s program in English at the same time as I was studying Swedish. The master’s program was in international and comparative education. I finished all the courses, but when I was writing my thesis, I realized this was not my calling. I don’t want to continue in the academic world, I want to go back to my first passion which is communication. So, I left the program after I had finished everything except for my thesis, and I decided to look for work. I knew from other people’s experience, my husband, my family, that the most important thing when looking for work was to get in first. Either as an intern, a trainee, or whatever. But you need that first step into the job market. So, I looked directly for internships, and I got one in a small NGO. It was in English, and not long after my internship they offered me a job there. Part time job, 50%, but it was really wonderful for me, it was my first job in Sweden! But in English. But I think, from what I know from many people, internships often lead to something, to employment. And from then on, it became easier for me to look for work. But the challenge, of course was to look for jobs in Swedish. I wanted to work within communication and there are not a lot of employers who can offer work in communication in English. I needed to broaden my opportunities. That is why I invested a lot in learning the language. And I also participated in a mentor-ship program. I got a mentor who taught me about social codes, knowledge you can’t get from just reading a book. Like “this is how it works in Sweden”. I did not know that a CV, for example, should not be longer than one or two pages. Where I come from, the longer CV you have, that reflects that you are experienced. But that’s not the way it is here in Sweden, and I did not know that.
Where do you come from?
I’m from Indonesia. So, it is something you can not just learn from reading books, you need to get that insight from insiders. From those who have succeeded entering the job market, from other Swedes. I think, also, the most important thing when it comes to looking for work is networking. I am not very excited when it comes to networking. I am not a very extrovert person, so it takes a lot of energy when I network. But I realized it is very important here in Sweden.
You need to able to present yourself, present your skills and competence, and let yourself be known by others. That is how you get into the job market, I think.
You seem to have mastered the skill of networking now. But this was a new skill for you, something you had to learn here?
Yes, absolutely, because I think when I was living in Indonesia, I didn’t have to use those skills because I knew where and who to approach directly.
And you had your fifteen-page CV?
Yeah (laughing). But here it is another story. You are completely new; you need to open yourself to all the information and the culture. And the Swedish job market culture is different from the Indonesian job market culture. You need to be open-minded and willing to learn.
If you think networking efforts are important here in Sweden, I would agree that it is, do you also think there are forums for networking out there? Is it easy to network? Can you actually do it?
I think so. When I googled networking events, I found something, so I think it is out there, you just have to look for it. Be open and invest energy in looking to network.
You already told us how important it was to learn the language when you came here. But looking back, is there something else, apart from the shorter CV and the language, that you wish you would have known before coming here?
I think language and networking, those two are the most important when you want to establish yourself in Sweden.
If you had known this before, do you think you would have started studying Swedish even outside of Sweden?
Yes absolutely. And especially now. There are so many apps and tools that can help you learn the language from a distance. You don’t need to be here to get the basics, just to equip you with the basic knowledge of Swedish before you come here. I would suggest searching for Swedish language apps.
There is even a really good beginner’s course from the Swedish Institute, that is available online for anyone. It is very professional and from a professional source; the Swedish Institute.
What is your favorite thing about Sweden?
Oh…I like that the air and water is so clean here. And that the environment and sustainability is always on top of the agenda. I like it that taking care of the environment and living sustainably is so well-integrated in daily life and taught from an early age and becoming a part of the culture. I think that my country, for example, Indonesia can learn a lot from that. And I can learn from that and teach my children. To be able to live more sustainably.
Have you made any mistakes in Sweden?
Yeah, it is actually very embarrassing, but I think it is really important. It’s actually connected to sustainable living. We didn’t have any recycling facility in Indonesia or when we were living in Dubai. So, we didn’t really know how to sort the trash. It might be something that is natural for you Swedes because you have done this for your whole lives, but it’s not for us who just recently came to Sweden. When we moved to an apartment in Sweden, we had cardboard boxes with all our things. Naively, we thought we could throw them away in one of the big garbage cans in the garbage room downstairs in the apartment building. So, we just put it there and were happy because we thought we threw it away in the right place. But then the next day, when we passed by our post box, we saw a piece of the thrash returned in our post box!
Angry neighbors. They knew it was us because our name was on the moving boxes.
That’s a mean way of telling you!
But I think also, it is a fast way to learn. We had to learn it the hard way, but then we knew, there is a specific recycling station close to the building where you can sort cardboard boxes, bottles, cans and so on.
They could have told you in a nicer way. But it is probably not uncommon that people get upset when you don’t do your recycling in the proper way. You have already told us a few things but, do you have any more advice for people planning to move to Sweden?
Aside from networking and learning the language, I think it is important to manage your expectations. In my previous job, I worked with helping people with a foreign background and higher education to get into the Swedish job market. Many of them would like to have the exact same role and position when they move here. And sometimes, I think you need to be open-minded about the fact that it might not be realistic when you are in a new country. Maybe you need to go backwards a little bit and then you can always move forwards later. But I think that you need to manage your expectations so you don’t get disappointed.
From your personal perspective, when you needed to take a few steps back and work your way up again, do you see any positive sides to that or was it just a struggle?
There is always a positive side to it. There are so many new things that you learn from another country and another culture. Also in work situations, it is never the same and you learn something new every day here. And that’s OK. I think you develop yourself personally too, not just professionally when you live in a new culture.
Do you know the word smultronställe?
Yes, it is one of the first words that my Swedish teacher taught me! It is really cute, we don’t have that word in Indonesia.
Can you explain smultronställe to us?
It is like a secret place that only you know, and where you are really happy when you are in that place.
Do you know there is actually a Swedish movie called Smultronstället?
Yes, but I haven’t seen it.
It’s very good, it’s by Ingmar Bergman and a very beautiful movie, I can really recommend it. But can you recommend a smultronställe?
Hm. It’s not really a smultronställe because it is open to the public and everyone knows, but I really love the Swedish countryside in the summer or the spring. I have been to Dalarna and Småland, and it is just so lovely there. It is so different from the big cities, so different from Stockholm. When you live in a big city like Stockholm, coming out to the countryside is just so refreshing. It is so green and peaceful and calm. I think anyone who is new to Sweden should visit the countryside.
How did you end up going to Dalarna and Småland?
Dalarna was because I wanted to visit the place where they produce the Dala horses (laughing). I know it’s a bit of a touristy thing to do but it is so lovely!
Every time I see a Dala horse I think about how expensive they are. Even a tiny horse!
I know! But if you go there and see how they make it, it will justify the price. Have you been there?
No I haven’t. But maybe I will go now! And how about Småland?
Småland was actually not in the summer, it was closer to autumn. We visited the moose park and the theme park Astrid Lindgren’s World because I thinks she is a great author.
So Moose park, Dala horse factory and Astrid Lindgren’s world. That’s like the most Swedish smultronställen ever! Do you have a favorite Swedish word?
Can I say two words?
The first one is Lagom and the second on is Annorlunda.
Very different words!
Yes. I like Lagom because if what it means. I think it suits my personal way of life.
That nothing should be too much, but not too little either. Everything should be just the right amount. And Annorlunda, I just love how it sounds. I don’t know! It sounds lovely and it means “different”. I just like how it sounds.
Do you think a person or a thing can be Lagom and Annorlunda at the same time?
I think so, yes.
Do you have a favorite Swedish food?
I don’t know if it’s actually Swedish, but I have this favorite fish soup place in Hötorgshallen. It’s very famous with tourists actually. It’s super good. The place is always packed!
Would you like to add a Swedish song to our Spotify list?
Absolutely. To me, it’s nice when you can connect a song to an event. I heard this particular song a lot when we first came to Sweden in 2012. It was “Dansa, pausa” with Panetoz. I can’t help but dance a little every time a hear that song. It’s so happy!
Great! Anything else that you would like to add?
No, not specifically.
Come to Sweden?
Yeah, come to Sweden!
Thank you so much for telling us your story, and I will go to the Dala horse factory.
Laras now works at Tekniksprånget and Jobbsprånget, two internship programs run by the Swedish Government helping expats in Sweden with an academic background to get connected with employers. Check it out!
*Komvux is short for “kommunal vuxenutbildning” which means adult education provided by the municipalities.
*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.
Make sure to listen to Laras’ add to our playlist!