Jullietta, the spontaneous Bulgarian photographer who shares her insights on how to network in Sweden, the perks of moving to a small town in Sweden and how she has picked up new work-place skills
When did you decide to move to Sweden?
I didn’t really decide. I was a student in Germany, doing my last year of my bachelor’s program in Media Psychology, and I was looking around for what to do in life. I had some ideas about moving to France for an internship because I knew I wanted to explore the world outside of Germany, but Sweden was not on my radar until I got invited to a conference in Barcelona where I met someone who I had met earlier. He told me that he got married and moved to Sweden and started working for a company called Pickit. He told me about the company and it sounded very interesting to me and fitting for me and my interests, since I am very passionate about photography. The company distributes photographs and pictures to companies and people in need of pictures. He told me they were hiring and that I could send him my CV. So, I did that and I got the job and ended up here!
What an international story! I think you mentioned four countries in just that story!
You were a student back in Germany, did you grow up there as well?
No, I was born in Bulgaria and finished my secondary education there, and moved from there when I was 19 to pursue my studies in Germany.
So, student in Germany, you meet this person in Barcelona, and you get a job in Sweden. Where in Sweden was this job?
I relocated to Visby, which was also an interesting part of the whole story, because at the time of the interview process, I was also doing my final exams at the university. I didn’t have the time to look up Visby and find out where I was going. I just looked up the company, and went with it.
Visby was just any Swedish city to you?
Yeah, exactly. And I didn’t know anything about Sweden at all. I knew it was cold and that the capital was called Stockholm. When I got the job my boss told me “I will book you a flight and send you the ticket”. That was the day before my final exam. The day after my exam, I take the plane to Stockholm and then the connecting flight to Visby. My boss picks me up at the airport and says “Hi Jullietta, welcome to the island!”.
You had no idea you were on an island?
No, I had no idea and I was like “What?! What do you mean? How big is this place? We have a bridge right?”. There is no bridge. The second shock I had was when we travelled through the inner city, through the wall, and it was like we traveled back in time. But it was a positive experience and it was very beautiful. The sea was everywhere to look at, the architecture was amazing, the sun was shining…so I thought “I can do this, I can live with this!”.
Wow. You sound like a very spontaneous-slash-brave person.
You ended up in Visby, Gotland, and you are still here now. I am guessing you like it!
How long have you been here?
I just celebrated five years in Visby last month.
Do you plan on staying?
I try not to plan too much. When I came here, I though “This is temporary, this is something I am going to do for a year, maybe two, maximum three. Then I am going to move on with life”. Five years later, I am still here, so I try not to plan too much. But I love it, I would love to stay. And I actually just applied for Swedish citizenship!
That’s amazing. Your move to Sweden was not planned at all, you just kind of did it. And when you actually came here, you realized it was an island and that surprised you. Everything was very spontaneous and happened pretty fast. Was there something else about the experience that was different to what you expected? Did you have time to expect anything?
I didn’t really have time to expect anything, but my expectations were based on my moving to Germany, where I was by myself, no place to move to, no community…it was hard to move there. So, I was prepared for this to be a very difficult journey. But it was not. People were amazing. My colleagues and my boss were so helpful and determined to help me find a place to live and settle in. That was amazing, since I didn’t know these people, but they did everything for me. Everyone was very welcoming and we hung out as friends every day after work, I felt so welcome.
That all sounds extremely good and helpful, especially since you were not only new in Visby, but also in the country. Do you think that had to do with the company being based in Visby, which is a small town? Do you think they help people a little extra because it is unusual for people to come to smaller towns for work?
In retrospect, yes, I do think so. People tend to stick together in a small town and are more open to meeting new people. When somebody new comes here, it is exciting, a new face, someone you want to get to know. Whereas, if you come to Stockholm, you are just one of a million faces and if you are new, nobody knows your story and nobody cares. Nobody has time to care! Which is also what happened in Germany, where I came to a big city. I definitely think the fact that this is an island, and that people who come here tend to stick around for a while, that helped the integration process a lot.
You moved to a big city in Germany?
Yes, to Cologne.
A lot of people moving to a new country might choose to move to a bigger city in the belief that it is easier in a big city, when in fact it might be easier in a smaller one?
In terms of work, of course it is easier finding a job in a big city. I was just lucky to end up here, and I am very happy that I did.
Was there something you wish you would have known before moving here?
I don’t think so, I am very happy with my experience and the way I discovered things. It was interesting, like being a child again and discovering the world. The person to person dynamic in Sweden and the way people behave in Sweden is very different compared to other countries I have been to. It was very interesting exploring this and finding the right balance. What is tolerable for people? Where are their boundaries?
How would you describe that behavior and culture?
I think Swedes are very open-minded people who are interested in other places in the world. They are open in terms of food, there are restaurants from all corners of the world in any place in Sweden. Something that is interesting about Sweden is that you shouldn’t go over the top with how you give feedback. They seem to tone down their feelings and opinions. When you share an opinion, you should try to be smoother and calmer, maybe not just put it out there. Find a nice way to sneak it in. That is very different from my own culture where we are very straight forward and put things on the table immediately.
You just described some type of general behavior. How would you describe the Swedish work culture? You have been working here since day one.
What is good about the Swedish work culture is that there is no real hierarchy. You are free to go and talk to the CEO if there is something bothering you and there is nothing weird about that, which is not the case in many other countries I have been to and worked in. Also, people tend to try their best to be a team player. There are not so many clear leadership roles in Swedish work culture. Everyone tries to chip in and find a way to work that is good for everyone.
Focus on teamwork and not a very hierarchal organisation?
Yes. Which is very good, but sometimes I feel that there could be clearer leadership.
Can that be a challenge?
I think so. Trying to make everything work for everyone is not always the best approach. It is often the best approach, but sometimes it ends up in endless discussions and no clear decision-making process. I think it is good with an authority that can put their foot down and make decisions so things don’t take too much time.
There is also this layer of culture, where, as an immigrant, you kind of need to decide if you want to completely adapt or if you want to bring in your own cultural style to it. In this case, the straight-forwardness that you mentioned earlier, is that something you can bring into the work culture here?
Yes, I did that in the beginning and noticed it wasn’t very well-received. I tried to balance it out and adapt. I still have my own personality, and I do have a straight-forward approach, but I try to do it in a way that is acceptable here. That is a balance that every person who moved here, who I have met, have had to find. How does your own personality fit into the big picture and what can you do in order to fit in better? But I think that a lot of my straight-forwardness has been appreciated in a lot of contexts in my workplace. I am happy about that.
I can imagine that it is appreciated in organisations with this lack of clear leadership, that someone is clear and straight forward about how to move on with different job tasks.
It is a bit shocking, but in the end it is appreciated.
You have described a lot of positive things. What has been difficult for you in your Swedish experience?
It has been very interesting to find out what Sweden is like from a political perspective as a country. In some aspects, Sweden is very regulated but in other aspects it is very liberal. It doesn’t feel like there is a nice balance, but either all the way in one direction or all the way in the other direction. And it is very hard to figure out which issues are the liberal ones and which ones are the more restrictive ones, and why! That has been a bit of a challenge to navigate.
You are coming back to this balance idea. Sometimes Sweden is described as an extreme country. That seems to be what you are describing, since Sweden can also be extreme in its more calm ways. I can imagine that that is hard to pinpoint. What is your favourite thing about Sweden?
I love Swedish nature, it is so beautiful, especially in the summer. Wonderful beaches, wonderful forests, the sun is up 20 hours a day…I love it.
What do you usually do in nature?
I love going to the beach, maybe just for a bit of sunbathing or reading…I also like taking walks in the forest. I love going out with my camera and taking pictures.
Do you speak Swedish?
Yes, I do.
What is your experience from learning Swedish?
The corporate language at the company where I work is English, so I never thought I would learn Swedish, since I didn’t play to stay long in the country. But after a year, I realized I actually liked it here and decided to stay longer. So, I signed up for SFI (Swedish for immigrants), which was a very positive experience for me. I learned the language really quickly, I think I was fluent in 15 months. I went from my first SFI lesson to my last SVA 3 lesson in 15 months (learn more about the levels here).
I met so many wonderful people there. I met like-minded people, who also moved here like me and were also trying to navigate in the Swedish landscape. Some of us were the same age and in the same situation in life. I have to say I met a lot of friends for life at SFI.
So studying Swedish has been important for you not only language-wise but also socially?
Exactly. Also, my teachers were really good. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that we are on an island, and we are a small group of people here, but the teachers were really helpful. They knew each one of us and what worked for every single student and adapted their teaching to that.
That is probably also another positive side of moving to a smaller town. Usually, the groups at Swedish schools will be smaller as well.
What is your number one advice for people looking for work in Sweden? You applied from outside of Sweden, but I would be interested in hearing your advice both on finding work in Sweden from outside of Sweden and when you are already in Sweden.
My number one advice for job seekers everywhere is: network! Meet people, go out there, try to find out what kind of companies are out there, what their values are, what kind of people they need, what kind of people are in their team. Find a place where you can apply where you feel that your personality and you profile will be appreciated and will contribute. Meeting people is really important. Even if you don’t get a certain job when you meet a certain person, just the experience of knowing more people will be helpful in the long run.
You are encouraging people to do networking. For a few different reasons; it might lead to a job that you want and that aligns with your values as a person and a professional person, but you also mention the part about branching out. That once you start networking, even if that doesn’t lead to a job, you might meet somebody that leads to something that leads to something else…and meanwhile you will be meeting people and expanding your social network as well.
Yes, which is also very important. When you move to a new country, regardless of which country it is, you need to find your social group. You will not be able to adapt or integrate if you don’t know people. You need to communicate.
How do you network?
I signed up for a lot of events. Free conferences, paid conferences that had to do with my workfield…just going there to learn from the professionals is valuable, but also to meet other people who were there to learn from the professionals is valuable. The chance is high that you meet people who are like-minded and in the same boat as you.
SFI is also a good place to network, because you will meet people who have come here for work or for personal reasons, but who are also new in the country and you can help each other navigate the landscape.
You were talking about researching companies and finding out what type of company it is and if you are interested in it. What are actual ways of doing this?
One very easy way to do that is social media. Most companies, if not all, have presence on social media. You can follow them and look at their profile but also who is following and commenting, what type of people they are, what kind of network that company has. What kind of conversation is going on, who are the people you will be dealing with if you end up at that company? LinkedIn is a really good social media for professionals that I would recommend. Have an updated profile there , because people look at profiles on LinkedIn.
Yes, it is widely used in Sweden actually. I think a lot of people confuse LinkedIn with a place where you just apply to jobs, but what you mention is that it is a place for networking and where you can do your extended research on companies. You sound like a career coach! Very good advice. A lot of big companies are very present on LinkedIn nowadays and share articles, events, and so on.
Exactly, and if you really want to be part of what the company stands for, you can engage in the conversation. It’s a social network! You can comment, like, share…Get yourself out there and build your own timeline and your own profile based on your values and the person you want to be viewed as.
We have a playlist called The Moving to Sweden Playlist, where we add music from Swedish artists only. Do you have a favourite Swedish song?
I listen to a lot of rock music. I really like Royal Republic. Let me get back to you on which song…A fun story about Royal Republic; the week before I was moving to Sweden it was also the big rock festival Rock Am Ring in Germany. I was frontline, 90 000 people behind me, Royal Republic was on the stage screaming “We are Royal Republic from Sweden” and I screamed “I’m moving to Sweden!!”, and then the guitar player came down and handed his guitar pick to me!
That’s a perfect add to our playlist! To sum up our interview; your moving to Sweden story started with a spontaneous meeting that ended up with you moving to the biggest island in Sweden, living in a pretty remote place in Sweden. But you have a lot of positive experience from here, you got a lot of help from your employer, but it also sounds like this is a place where you enjoy living.
You have described this balance in the Swedish workplace, but also in Swedish society, between engaging in work and being a team-player but at the same time not being too straight-forward with your opinions, and trying to ease in your opinions more. That is something you have learned how to do.
You also gave some excellent advice on networking and that that is the most important thing to build your career here in Sweden.
Yes I think so.
And you have had a cool interaction with Royal Republic
Is there anything else you would like to add before we end the interview?
I want to wish good luck to anyone moving here, it is a great place to be, people are very welcoming and I am sure you will love it here. Just move to Sweden!
Thank you so much for doing an interview with us today!
Thank you for having me!
Jullieta contacted us again with her favourite Royal Republic song, check it out on our playlist!
Make sure to listen to Jullietta’s add to our playlist!