The German teacher from Poland who now teaches Swedish for immigrants, and has something to say about the stereotype of Swedes being hard to get to know

Interviews with expats: Alicja

Tell us about when you moved to Sweden.

The first time I came to Sweden was in 2010, and I was in Växjö as an exchange student. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to come back. I got a summer job and came and worked in Sweden for three months. Then, in 2012, I got the same summer job again and I decided to stay. I thought I would look for a job, and so I got a one-way ticket and was looking at different job seeking websites during my summer job. When I was looking at this, I got some new ideas. I wanted to work at a school, and I got lucky and found a job as a modersmålslärare*, teaching students their mother tongue.  I worked as a modersmålslärare for one year. After that, I had to change because another lady, who had worked in the district for a longer time than I had, was out of a job and they had to give the job to her. I was really sad, looking for other jobs, and then I got an offer to start working as a German teacher. I studied German at the university, and I am a German teacher in Poland, so I got that job and it was a great experience.

The first mother tongue teaching job was for Polish?

Yes. It was just because I knew Polish and I studied Polish at the university as well, but it was not the real job that I wanted to continue with. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to work more with teaching Swedish and the German teaching job gave me that opportunity. Because the children around the age of eleven that I was working with did not know a lot of German and needed a lot of help with speaking German. So, I gave them help in Swedish, and explained German in Swedish, which made me learn a lot. It was a great experience. So I worked at that school until 2017, and then I started working as an SFI* teacher!

If we backtrack a little, this first summer job that you got…First, you came to Sweden as an exchange student in Växjö…

…yeah, I studied German in Växjö.

…you studied German in Växjö. And then this summer job you got..?

It was in Nynäshamn, at a ferry going between Poland and Sweden. I did not work on the ferry, I worked in the harbour. I was selling tickets, taking care of customers, etc.

Was that a Polish company in Sweden?

I am not sure if it is a Polish company or if it is both Polish and Swedish.

And how did you find that job?

On the internet! I had an interview on Skype, and they wanted to hire me, so I came to Nynäshamn! I was very lucky.

You wanted to work in Sweden and come back to Sweden and they wanted someone who wanted to work in Sweden but who could also speak Polish?

Yes. They needed someone with both languages.

How much Swedish did you know back in Växjö?

I studied Swedish in Poland, at the university, and when I came to Växjö, I hoped that I would practice more Swedish. But I was mostly speaking to other exchange students, in English. That was good, because before coming to Sweden I wasn’t comfortable speaking English. It was a great experienced but at the same time a big disappointment as I could not study Swedish as much. I had Swedish classes at the university but only twice a week. But the next year, during the summer job, I spoke a lot of Polish, but I got to practice English and Swedish as well.

Wow! What a multilingual experience!

Yeah. It was really fun.

Is it common in Poland to study Swedish?

No. No, no no. I think we have only two or three universities where you can study Swedish. I think it is more common to study Norwegian, actually. Especially at the medical schools. Because people want to go to Norway and work there as doctors. But I started to study Swedish because I wanted to read books in the original language.  That’s why I started studying German at first, because I was very interested in German literature! As a child, my parents read a lot of Astrid Lindgren books to me, and I wanted to read them in the original language. If you know both English and German, it is much easier to learn Swedish.

Literature brought you to Swedish, and Swedish brought you to Sweden.


What a story! What was different about moving to Sweden, compared to your expectations?

Before I moved to Sweden, everyone warned me that it would not be the same, I would not make friends because Swedish people are really cold, that I would only be in contact with other Polish people and that I would feel lonely. But nothing of that happened. In the beginning, I rented a room in the house of an older Swedish couple.

In Nynäshamn?

Yeah. And we became close friends. They loved literature too, so I borrowed books from them. I also made a lot of friends at work, because some Swedish people worked there as well. When I started working at the school, I met new friends, so I was not lonely at all. When people told me I would be, they were telling me about their own experiences. That made me think “maybe they are right?”, because my experience was as an exchange student in Växjö, where I had no Swedish friends. But in Nynäshamn and Stockholm it is easier, completely different.

Do you think you know why it’s different? Why is it easier?

I don’t know. I think because I was in an exchange program, we had classes only with exchange students. And I was in a very small group in my German course with people mostly from Germany and Austria who I could make friends with. We had only one or two Swedish students in the group. We lived together, the exchange students. So, probably that is why it was more difficult to make friends with Swedes. But when I moved to Sweden and started working here, I met Swedish people every day.

It was more the exchange studies context that made it difficult than Sweden per se, or Växjö compared to Nynäshamn or Stockholm?


You are describing a very positive experience from your move to Sweden. Was there anything you wish you would have known before coming here so you could have better prepared yourself?

I got a lot of help with all the practical things. Skatteverket and so on. I knew what I had to do and I think this is the most important step before making the decision to move.

How did you get that help?

The first step was because of the job, because they needed…not personnummer*, but samordningsnummer*, which is something different, so they helped me with this. And, maybe I would do something different when it comes to apartments. I didn’t know about the queue system and registered in the queue too late and it took too long to get an apartment. So, I would do that earlier. If you are considering moving to Sweden, get in the queue earlier.

Because it can take several years to get an apartment.

Yes. And you don’t always need a personnummer to open an account and get in the queue*.

Before getting your own apartment, did you get sublet contracts, like with this couple you mentioned?


You started off moving to Nynäshamn. A lot of people in the Stockholm area talk about how hard it is to find housing. Is it the same in Nynäshamn or would you say it is easier?

It was easier. When I move to Nynäshamn it took me two years in the queue system. That might sound like a long time, but it’s not. Now, in Nynäshamn, you have to wait for five or six years to get a rental apartment.

What is your favourite thing about Sweden?

Nature. And Allemansrätten*; you are allowed to be anywhere you want to, you can enjoy nature without thinking about any boundaries.

Have you made any mistakes in Sweden that you can tell us about?

Maybe not in Sweden, but in Swedish! A lot of mistakes! There are some words that, depending on how you pronounce them, they mean very different things. For example: trasa* and trosa*! (laughing). There was a situation at school, when I was substituting for another teacher in this class that needed a lot of attention. Probably, they would have needed two teachers. And one of the students threw a trasa at me. And after class I told his teacher that he threw a trosa at me (laughing).

The vowels are hard! But, yes, having a student throw a trosa at you would be a problem. On the topic of language: now, you are a teacher of Swedish for immigrants (SFI). Did you know before that you wanted to teach beginner’s Swedish or was this something you thought of here in Sweden?

It was here in Sweden. Before coming, I wanted to teach German. But during my stay, I found that I was more in love with Swedish and I wanted to teach it. I took courses at the university in teaching Swedish as a second language and I worked as a substitute teacher a few hours a week at SFI. I enjoyed it and wanted to start working with it.

You told us you already had your teaching degree since before coming to Sweden. Was it hard getting your teaching certificate here in Sweden?

In the beginning it was pretty hard. I waited for almost two years. They needed a lot of documents from my university, and it took extra long time because they had a lot of applications during this time for the lärarlegitimation*. That was difficult for me because it meant I couldn’t get a permanent contract.

So, you could work as a substitute teacher?

Yes, and get short-time contracts.

You were missing a sense of stability?


But now you have the certificate? 


I know you need to have a certain level of Swedish to get the teaching certificate, but did you need to study anything else or was that enough?

It was enough. But I had to wait for their assessment.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to move here?

First of all, if you have a degree, read about how you can work with your degree in Sweden. Find out if you need to do anything to be able to work with your degree or certificate from your country. You can send your documents before coming here. If you wait, it gets harder because normally you get here and start working and it is hard to find the time to send all the papers and go to different offices to ask for help.

Maybe it is hard to summon up the energy to do all these things while you are busy settling in to a new society, and instead you can prepare and do these things and fill out the applications before you are here. Basically, prepare.


Do you have a smultronställe* that you can tell us about?

That would be a place called Knappelskär in Nynäshamn. I would really recommend it. It is a place in the archipelago, and it is very nice. There is not a lot of people there, because you have to walk for about five kilometres. It is a place to just sit, enjoy the summertime and feel the wind in your hair.

That’s a great smultronställe, I think a lot of people only go to Nynäshamn to catch the ferry to Gotland and they are not aware of the nice places in Nynäshamn and the archipelago there. You still live in Nynäshamn, is it a good place to live?

I think so. It’s close to Stockholm and there is a lot of nature, very calm and peaceful.

Do you have a favourite Swedish word?

Yes! Hälsofrämjande!

Can you explain the term?

You want to avoid people getting burnt-out at work. So, you focus on avoiding getting burnt-out, not on getting rid of the problems but on avoiding the problem. I think it is very important and I love that in Sweden. They want to be prepared.

Hälso means health, and främjande is something that supports something, so it means supporting health. Instead of thinking “Now, you’re sick, what can we do about it?”, it is more about thinking “What can we do to stay healthy?”. What is your favourite hälsofrämjande thing to do?

I like running, and we have a “running lunch” once a week at my job. We go running together, have a shower, and then we have lunch together.

Do you have a favourite Swedish food?

It is not very healthy, but I would say semlor!

That’s funny, because just a couple of days after we are doing this interview, we have “Fettisdagen” in Sweden, or Fat Tuesday, when we eat semlor! We actually have a tiny semla here right now, I already had mine…

…I will have mine soon!

We have a playlist called The moving to Sweden playlist. Do you have a song we can add do it?

I like Abba, so, I will say The winner takes it all. My husband loves it. He sings it in the car during our trips.

Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t talked about?

Maybe that if you are moving to Sweden, don’t listen too much to what people warn you about, try to experience it on your own instead.

Interesting. I guess that is a stereotype, that it is hard to get to know Swedish people and so on. Sometimes, those types of stereotypes only add to the problem. You feel like you are prepared when people warn you about this, but maybe that also influences how you behave when you get here.

Definitely. If you think that other people are cold, you start to be cold as well.

Is your husband from Sweden?

No. He is from Chile but has been in Sweden since 2006.  We met here.

Great! Thank you for sharing your ideas, advice and your experiences from moving to Sweden! Now, it’s time for you to have a semla!


*Modersmålslärare means teacher of mother tongue 

*SFI stands for Svenska för invandrare, meaning Swedish for Immigrants

*Personnummer is the personal identity number given to you by the Swedish Tax Agency

*Samordningsnummer is a temporary personal identity number you can get from a public authority while you wait for your personnummer

*Trasa means rag or cleaning cloth

*Trosa means ladie’s underwear/panties

*Lärarlegitimation means teaching certificate

*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.

Make sure to listen to Alicja’s add to our playlist!

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