The Italian, fika loving engineer who worked his way up

Interviews with expats: Matteo

How long have you been in Sweden now?

Soon it will be five years.

So you are celebrating a five year anniversary soon?

I guess so, I should!

Are you going to do something special?

I don’t know actually…well actually I booked a trip to Italy! (laughter)

Tell us about when you moved to Sweden.

Well, after my graduation, I have a degree in Chemical engineering, I tried to find a job in Italy. But I was not very lucky, because the market was very low and it was hard getting in the system.

Was this specific for engineering jobs or for jobs in general?

In general, but maybe especially for engineers. The market actually needed engineers, but everyone wanted experienced engineers. So I had some normal jobs for a while and then I decided to try going abroad. Learn better English, have an experience and try to change what you have. I had some Swedish friends in Sweden, and that’s why I chose Sweden.

How did you meet your Swedish friends?

I met them a long time ago, thirteen years ago in a vacation where you go abroad to learn English. This type of organized trip. We were in the same host family and we had the chance to become friends and then we stayed in contact over the years.

So you wanted to move somewhere where you could practice your English but also get job easier?

Yes. And in Sweden you can easily learn English, because they speak English like their second language, but it’s almost like it’s their first language. So that was also why Sweden was my choice. Everybody at that time were moving to London, but London now is, like, full and there’s no chance to develop easily. That was my thought at the time, but it’s not easy to develop yourself in Sweden either. To move here, get a good job, apartment…it requires time and contacts.

But your idea back then was that it was pretty easy and that you could do it?

Yes. I had been told that it was very easy to find a job here. Actually, it’s not. Not at all.

Tell us about your experience.

In my mind, and I also think this notion is spread abroad, you see the Nordic countries as a paradise and it’s very easy to find a job there and you have a lot of money…It’s not. You have to struggle a lot. It’s easier than, for example, Southern European countries, but it’s not easy. If you move here without any contacts through a company or a university, the companies tend to require Swedish first. That’s my experience. So, I sent a lot of CVs, but most of the replies were “Your profile is interesting, however, you don’t speak Swedish, so come back to us when you do”. And I mean, to learn Swedish from scratch is not very easy.


So I started studying Swedish at this school, and in the beginning it’s really tricky. When you speak you feel weird, it’s difficult to understand, there are a lot of new words…it’s not easy.

But when you moved here, were you prepared to start learning Swedish, was that in your plan?

Not really, no. In my head it was like, everybody speaks English very well so why should I be worried about learning Swedish? Actually, from what I have been told, this was how it worked many years ago.  Companies were so hungry for engineers for example, so they were willing to hire anybody even if they were not Swedish speakers. I can see this right now in the IT field, they are willing to hire anybody who speaks English if they have the right skills in programming. But maybe in a few years, this field of work will be full and they will start to require Swedish.

Kind of like what happened to you in your field of engineering?

I believe it works like that, yeah.

You already mentioned the language barrier and the fact that getting a job was harder than you expected, can you think of anything else that was harder about moving here than your expectations?

Well, generally, life. I moved here in November. And November is actually the word period to move to Sweden (laughter).

Yes, why would you choose November to move here?!

Yes this is a good question.

And you even knew people in Sweden, they should have warned you!

Yes, but they didn’t.

Why is it the worst time?

Because it’s dark. It’s cold. There’s not even snow. I like snow and it helps with the light, it makes everything brighter. So yes, it was a bad choice. I had been in Sweden several times before I decided to move, but every time was in summertime, so I couldn’t imagine how dark and sad it would be. I remember the first week I moved to Sweden, I had a headache that whole week, I think it was because it was so dark and cloudy. So probably I had a shock. It takes time to adapt to the weather.

You came here in November and you said life in general was different?

Yeah, you can feel that people are not that social. Even colleagues do not want to hang out that much. In the summertime it’s totally different and people are much more cheerful.

So the general attitude felt different than when you visited?

Yeah, in Italy, you work and let’s say you are playing soccer after work and you need some people to join. You ask around and they say “OK, let’s do it” and then it’s easy to organize something. In Sweden, people would say “Are you crazy? I am fully booked for the next two weeks!”.

So people are less spontaneous?

Less spontaneous and less social, I would say.

And if you look back now, do you wish that you would have done something else to prepare for moving here or are these just things you need to experience once you are here?

No, I think this is about culture. General culture. If you are in Southern European countries, we are more social. It’s not a secret. In Sweden, or Northern Europe in general, people are a bit more distant. But I am talking about this in general.

It was hard for you to find a qualified job that you wanted in Sweden without learning Swedish. Did you just start learning Swedish when you realized this and then you got your job or what did that journey look like?

I went through a lot of different jobs, and before I found a qualified job…well I am not talking about a good job. To find a good job I needed two and a half years, but it took me four years to find the qualified job that I studied for. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs this much time. If you have someone like a mentor, who can give you suggestions and some tips, you can easily find a qualified job.

Did you have a mentor?

No, that’s the point. Everybody wants to tell you their own opinion. My advice is to listen to everybody, but in the end follow your heart and follow yourself. Trust, but do not trust anyone. Trust qualified people. And by qualified people I mean people who are like you. Because if you trust someone who doesn’t have an experience like yours, he or she will always give you advice related to their own experience. And it doesn’t help at all. Everybody is willing to help, but they don’t always give you the right advice.

How do you find a qualified person?

I spent so much time finding the right job. At a certain point I decided to just find it myself and not listen to anybody. Because I noticed that listening to many different people giving you advice was not getting me anywhere. I was so close to leave Sweden and go back to Italy. I got this job and then I was approached by other employers from similar jobs.

So it is this idea that once you get a job you start building a network and that is going to pay off in other ways?

Yes, for example, people can follow you on Linkedin now and they can see that I had a good trend. I was working in a spare part shop for cars, and after a few years I managed to get a job at a pharmaceutical company. I started as an operator and after a few months I moved to quality control and after a few more months I got a job in the engineering department.

You are an example of a person who “worked their way up”. You put in the effort.

Yes, a lot of effort. A lot.

What’s your favorite thing about Sweden?

I would say, especially about Stockholm, nature. Because Stockholm has more or less two million people. So a lot of people. Stockholm is very green, it is a very green city. Also, transportation, Sweden is very efficient. Anytime you don’t want to feel the stress of the city, so crowded and a lot of people, you can just walk around in some places in Stockholm or just outside, and you can feel in peace. It’s just nature, you have the chance to walk around and not meet anyone.

Yes, nature is very accessible in most places, probably all places in Sweden. Maybe too accessible in some places, where it is just nature.

Well, for example, Stockholm is the biggest city in Sweden, but it is so easy, so accessible. If you need to be alone and think about your stuff, you just walk somewhere and you will find yourself.

You will find a forest, somewhere.

Yeah, yeah.

Do you have anything else, like a top recommendation or top advice for someone moving here?

Learn Swedish.

From the beginning? Or before coming here?

Maybe have an approach before coming here. There are many apps now, working pretty well. I would say this is a first step, unless you are a developer. Then you don’t need it (laughter).

But who knows in five years, right?

Who knows! Second, be tough.

How can you be tough?

You have to have an objective. Your aim. You have to look at your aim, all the time.

How did you manage to build a network here? Social connections, and feeling at home?

The interesting thing is that this is connected to learning Swedish. SFI, which is the school where you learn Swedish at the basic level…

Swedish For Immigrants

…yes. You meet people from all over the world, and it is amazing, one of the best experiences. You meet people from Asia, South America, other European countries, Africa. I met people from all over the world, except Antarctica.

So learning Swedish could be a way of building a network and meeting people as well?


Do you have any hidden gems, like a place you really like or a thing you really like that you don’t really want to share, but I am going to ask you to share it anyways?

I did something last summer, that was, for me, one of the best summers. It was 30 degrees Celsius and up every day. Very warm, a lot of sun. I decided to just take off four days from work and rent a car. And then I drove, by myself, up to the north, all the way to Kiruna.

Oh, wow! That is almost as far up north as you can go!

Yes almost, it is the last important city in Sweden that far up. I didn’t even drive straight to Kiruna, I drove randomly. In three days, I drove 3000 kilometers. But it was amazing. I enjoyed the nature, I enjoyed the 24 hour sun. I enjoyed all the lakes you can find. Small little towns by the water. It was so beautiful, one of the best trips of my life. I would seriously recommend it.

Do you have a favorite Swedish word?

The first word is Fika, which is like a coffee break basically. Generally, your coffee is accompanied by a bun or something like that. Kanelbullar.

Yeah we are obsessed. You know tomorrow, October 4th, is the national kanelbulle day?

Ok, I have lived here for five years and I never noticed.

Yes, so it is mandatory to eat a cinnamon roll, kanelbulle, tomorrow.

Good to know. The second word is Lönespecifikation. It is your salary specification.

Ah, lönespecifikation, how many hours you have worked and how much money you are getting.

Yes exactly.

Why do you like Fika?

It is essential.

Yes, it is very important in Sweden. Which is interesting, since you mentioned earlier that we are not the most social people here in Scandinavia? But still fika is so important to us.

Yes, I would say, for example at my workplace and in companies in general, you can have a fika and nobody will argue with that. That basically means that in Sweden, there is still a good work environment. It’s not so stressful. I come from Italy, and even though a lot of people have this idea that Italians are lazy and that they do not work hard, that is not true. We have very tough work environment, always short with people in the companies. In Sweden, I can see that people can work their hours, but they can also find time to have a coffee break, hang out a bit, relax. And then go back to work. But let me say that it is also good to be productive.

Do you have a favorite Swedish food?

The first one is Pitepalt.


Yes. The second is Sill. I like when you go, especially over Christmas, to this smorgasbord, you find the sill which is…

…pickled herring.

…yes, in these different flavors and spices and it is very nice, I like it. And it is very typical.

Yes, you really picked super traditional Swedish food! I also ask everyone for a favorite Swedish song for our Spotify list, do you have one?

Yes, I have a song called “Lyckliga gatan”* and it is basically taken from an Italian song. It is copy and paste pretty much. And it is an Italian song that I really love. It is the same music, and pretty much the same text.

And you understand it now, in Swedish?

Yes, now I understand it!

Thank you so much for telling us your story! And good luck with your new cool job, and your fika breaks!

Thank you too!



*Lyckliga gatan translates to The Happy Street, follow our Spotify list to listen to it!

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