Something Swedish

2013-10-10 16.16.44


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Lessons Learned

If you’re wondering where I’ve been these last  two months, the answer is: LIVING LIFE! As terrible as I feel about not updating the blog, it feels great to be too busy to post!  When you first move to a new country you have so much free time because you have nothing to do: no job, no social life, no schedule. Now though, especially this past month, life has been filled with studying for tests, working here and there, fikas, writing papers, socializing, and everything in between.

In the spirit of enjoying working and studying a little bit more, I thought I would share some recent learning experiences since I’ve been away.

Lesson #1: “Det finns ingen dåligt väder, bara dåligt kläder.”

One of my part time/substitute jobs is at a daycare/preschool (2-6 year olds) a few times a month.  Working at a “dagis” in Sweden has opened up my eyes to many cultural differences about how we raise our children. A few weeks ago, one of these differences taught me a lesson that I will not soon forget.

Something we do with the kids everyday is go outside for an hour to a nearby clearing in the forest where the kids run around, play, and climb trees. It took me a while to adjust to this, but now it seems natural. What I didn’t think about is that we do this EVERYDAY, no matter the weather. Growing up, if the temperature is too cold or if it rains, or snows, or even looks like it might, we stayed indoors. A few weeks ago on a particularly cold, rainy, and windy winter day I went to work completely unprepared for this difference. While the kids were putting on their rain pants, rain boots, rain jackets, and rain hats, I realized that my jeans, sneakers, hat and jacket aren’t going to cut it here in Sweden.

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Another, sunnier, day outside with the kids.

For the next hour, I stood in the freezing rain – soaked – watching the kids splash in puddles and play in the mud and all I could think about was a well known Swedish saying to live by: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing

Lesson #2: You never know when, where, or how an opportunity can happen.

Moving to a new country often times means starting over. It also means a fresh slate. There are opportunities everywhere that you maybe wouldn’t have ever considered before because they aren’t in your interest or field. Moving can be a chance to expand.

Last month an opportunity was given to me that I never would have thought of pursuing on my own, offered by someone who I wouldn’t have suspected. One day I received an email from a classmate who, at the time, I’ve only spoken to once, who recommended me to a friend who was looking for an American voice for commercials. Sometimes opportunities are just that random and out of thin air.  I’ve recorded twice so far and it has been a lot of fun. It’s uplifting to know that new experiences are out there and that people try to help, even if they barely know you.

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Recording

Lesson #3: Volunteering is networking

Last week I went to a middle school to give some presentations to students aged 12-16 about my transition to Sweden, the differences between the two countries (size, population, animals, holidays, sports, food) and all about NYC. When my husband saw how many hours and how much work I put into my slideshow and found out that I committed to presenting for 5 hours without getting paid, he seemed concerned. Yes, it was a lot of work and I was exhausted afterwards, but I got to do something I love: teach. Best of all, I got to meet five wonderful classes of interested and curious students that were full of questions. I got to see how it is to teach this grade (I’m try to decide between pursuing middle school or high school) and got more of a feel for the school environment in Sweden. I met a lot of teachers and got a tour of the school. As a result of investing my own time into doing something for “free,” I’m now on the list of substitute teachers for that school. You have to put yourself out there to get something in return. Just the experience was rewarding enough, but you never know.

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Presenting

Lesson #4: Part time is okay

I can’t wait to get a steady full time job, but until then, I’m happy with what I have. It’s not easy getting started, and beggars can’t be choosers. Even if I only work once a week plus when someone is sick or on vacation, it is still experience and something to do. It’s still a way to stay in the loop and have a foot in the door. Nothing is too part time or too small when you relocate. For eight years I had the same job in NYC and this year alone I have: Tutored teenagers, prepped and served burritos, taught adult education classes, changed diapers, edited English research papers, done voice acting, helped kids with arts and crafts, spelling, puzzles and reading. I edit from home, tutor at the library, ride my bike 6 km/4 miles to get to the daycare/preschool,  walk to the office, and take the train to the next town over to teach – and sometimes a combination of those in one day. Even if it sounds chaotic and hectic – it’s better than last year when I had absolutely nothing to do. Part time jobs are a good start, especially if you are studying.

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Teaching

Read more about working in Sweden here.

Lesson #5: Don’t underestimate

Just because you have an education that doesn’t mean that starting school over again won’t be difficult. By the time I started my Swedish high school level adult education classes I was over the whole “back to school” thing and wanted no part of it. It felt repetitive, tedious and unnecessary to be back in school when I’ve gone to school my entire life. I just want to learn the language! Why do I have to do research and read books and hold speeches if I already know how to do these things? Because I don’t know how to do them in my new language. Little by little I’m learning to not underestimate how important these exercises are in order to improve my Swedish. Of course, I already understood this, but it’s about having the right attitude. Even if I feel like the assignments themselves are easy and below my level, it’s still good practice. Even if I am tired of studying and just want to start working, being in these classes are my best shot at getting a job. I complained of boredom when I first started my current classes, but in the end I had tons of challenging work to do. The level didn’t change, but I pushed myself harder – to read more difficult books and do deeper research to learn new words. It’s frustrating being back in school, especially high school, but it’s worth it.

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Learning

That was a little taste of what has been keeping me away from updating, more details to come!


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Lately & Two Swedish Words That Explain Why I’ve Been Missing

Remember when Something Swedish was updated all the time? Those were the days. I’m not complaining though – I’m finally more settled into my Swedish life with things to do, places to go and people to see.

I always have things to write about Sweden, because everyday is still an adventure. I read the newspaper more and learn more interesting things that I want to share. I have tons of ideas about posts, some half written, some scribbled in a notebook. Some time sensitive ones that slip between my fingers.

Then why have I been missing?  I’ll describe it with two Swedish words:

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“Hinner” & “Orkar”.

These words don”t have direct word to word translations from English to Swedish, but are easy to understand and explain.

Hinner = to have time.
Orka =to have energy to/to be able to/to manage to

So, when “hinner” or “orkar” are negated (inte) it means that I can’t find the time or the energy.

“Förlåt, jag hinner inte. Jag orkar inte att skriva idag.”
(Sorry, I don’t have time. I don’t have the energy to write today)

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Lately life has been centered around studying, working, and socializing – the way life should be!

Firstly, St. Patty’s day. Last year (here) I pointed out that it’s important to hold onto traditions even in a new country that doesn’t do things the same way. I started to create St. Patty’s day instead of just celebrating it. This year I extended our celebration and made a bigger dinner and celebrated with friends. A St. Patty’s Day care package from family arrived, we drank green beer, ate corn beef and cabbage, soda bread, colcannon, stekfläsk, and a chocolate Guiness cake! (Click photos to enlarge)

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Secondly, this month was Bokrea – which I wrote all about last year: here. Basically, it’s a country wide book sale. We picked up a mix of books, some English, some Swedish – not that I’ve had time (Jag har inte hunnit) to open any of them yet. We found Swedish graphic novels of Dracula and Tom Sawyer, a pile of Swedish audio books, and a young adult novel by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, translated to Swedish. Once I’m done with Svenska som Andra Språk (which is going smoothly – I’ve stared the third level) I’ll make sure that my “studying” consists more of leisurely reading of the Swedish books I’ve bought.

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This month has been filled with new friends and a lot of fikas! Both at cafes and at home with the hubby:

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Life is good. I promise to share it more often again. I was being greedy.


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All About Working in Sweden

A few weeks ago I managed to find two part time jobs (Actually, one found me)! Not only are they in a new country with me speaking a new language, but also in fields where I have little to no experience – a restaurant and a preschool. Read about my job hunt Here.

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Snack Time (Mellanmål) with Name Tags

Lärare Vikarie (Substitute Teacher): I’ve taught children before as an English tutor, but never ages 2-5, and certainly never in Swedish. It’s fun to play with the kids, help them build and figure out puzzles and read to them in Swedish, even if I sometimes struggle to understand (sometimes it’s simply baby talk). It’s great practice for the language, I pick up a few new words each time I am there.

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Hair up. Rings off. Hat, Apron, and Smile On!

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             Språk Praktik (Language Practice):

More often I am at my other part time job, which is more like an internship to train my Swedish in a workplace. (Explained below) While I do a lot of what a normal worker would in the restaurant such as working the cash register, serving and preparing food and cleaning, I work less hours each shift and focus on improving my language by interacting with customers and co-workers in Swedish. This helps me become more comfortable with conversations and descriptions.

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          About Working in Sweden

It feels great to finally be part of the work force again, socializing with new people, doing different things, and learning something new every day. Expats tend to get in a funk somewhere along the way, but once working is back in the equation it helps a lot.

When you start looking for work in a new country you have to be open to try new jobs or career paths; even if you have experience, education, and comfort doing something else. It’s about adapting to a new environment, training your new language, getting your foot in the door, networking, and picking up new skills along the way.

Remember:

You never know what you will find, so just go out there and try.
Don’t be picky – Any Experience is Good Experience.
Don’t expect to (or count on) finding a job within your first six months – learning the language is priority and makes everything easier.
Don’t get easily discouraged, it’s hard for everyone.
Networking is super important, especially when you don’t have any experience or references in your new country.
Be competitive – Take initiative and be persistent.

So, What are Some Differences of Working in Sweden?

Swedish Resume: Swedes are very humble and modest, especially when it comes to work experience, responsibilities and achievements on a resume. Unlike in the USA it is considered rude and pushy if you start to list every one of your responsibilities and show off that you were the best at everything. The Swedish resume is much simpler with fewer and shorter bullet points for each job description.  Most important thing about your resume is the cover letter and when you get called in for an interview remember that being punctual in Sweden is a must.

Payday (Lönedag): Instead of weekly or bi weekly paychecks, Sweden revolves around it’s monthly payday – The 25th. This method really shapes the way things function from paying bills to going to the movies. A lot of people are pretty much broke by the 20th and life seems to slow down, it’s especially noticeable in restaurants when less people spend money to eat out. It’s a whole different way of budgeting and handling money, after the bills are paid off by the 27th, anything goes for a couple of weeks – it’s like the town comes back to life. I’ve heard very positive things from Swedish workers who love being paid a bigger sum on one day instead of a little at a time, they say it is easier to budget and save. Payday is a big deal here in Sweden, something to adjust to – it does feel like more of a celebration!

Language Competence: One of the big complaints about Sweden and finding a job here is that your expected to have very good Swedish to do anything at all. Even if you are applying to a cleaning or maintenance job where speaking, reading, and writing is not required, your Swedish has to be much better than what most people can manage within their first year or two of studying. The thing that aggravates people about this is that Sweden has the best English fluency in Europe, but being able to speak English doesn’t help in most cases. Great Swedish is usually required. In fact, it means very little that you are fluent in English in Sweden since so many people are, meaning English is not the huge asset that many people think it will be when they move here.

Breaks: Something that many non-Swedes notice and need to adjust to is how often the Swedish workplace allows/expects breaks. Fika is a very strong tradition here, and is not only limited to after work, but during it as well. Several times. When I volunteered at a school last year I couldn’t wrap my head around the staff and kids having 15 minute fika breaks other than lunch time. When I am in Svenska Som Andra Språk a two hour class has a 15 minute break, which seems unnecessary to me since I’ve never had such breaks unless the class was four hours long.

Minimum Wage: There is no national minimum wage in Sweden, but it is instead agreed upon between the different unions (Fackit…pronounced like “fuck it”), which are very important and active in the Swedish Labor market. Wage is often dependent on age brackets, experience, and what time the shift is (Night/Weekend vs Daytime/Weekday).

Paid Vacations: After being employed for a full year  at one location all employees are entitled to five-weeks of paid vacation, by law. July has always been a very popular and expected time for this vacation leave, and many businesses close during the month. Lately, vacation weeks have been more spread out over the year to decrease downtime of companies. Vacation time can also be accumulated for every year you work at a company for a total of ten weeks. In comparison: The U.S. has  ZERO paid vacation time on a legal federal level – any paid vacation you receive is directly from your employer/Union agreement.

Paid Sick Leave: Your employer must pay about 80% of your salary for 13 days sick leave a year after the first sick day which doesn’t count (no payment) because it is considered to be a “waiting period.” You must show a doctors note if you are on sick leave for more than seven consecutive days.

Paid Parental Leave: Stay home with your newborn child for 480 paid workdays without worrying about losing your job. This time is offered to both parents and is often split between both mother and father for better equality. Must be employed for at least one year. In comparison:

Paid Home with Sick Child: There’s even a special verb for this which comes from “Vård av barn” which means care of child, which is “Vab.” Where is Inga? Hon vabbar idag = Shes home with her sick kid today. If your sick child is under 12 years old and you take off of work to take care of them, there is also a type of paid “Temporary Parental Leave” that can be applied for which is paid by your employer and the state.

Arbetsförmedlingen (Job Center): This is a really helpful tool for anyone new to Sweden (with a personnummer) who doesn’t know how to get started. It could be compared to the U.S.Unemployment Office, but with a lot more to offer, easier to maneuver, and no negative connotation. It is considered to be a “Placement service” centered around helping you find a way into the workforce through meetings, workshops, or classes. You are given a case worker, can schedule a translator if needed, can place your resume on their website, search though jobs according to location or career, print helpful resources and forms, attend vocational training programs, receive help to set up your own business, go to nationwide recruitment meetings and job fairs, translate documents such as school degrees into Swedish equivalents, find information about what level of education is needed for which careers, research which careers have a good future prognosis all around Sweden, and more. Website Here. Remember that only 1/3 of available jobs are listed on Arbetsförmelingen, so use other means such as handing out resumes and trying different job searching websites.

Praktik, Step In Jobs, New Start Jobs: These are the best ways to get your foot in the door. Set up by Arbetsförmedlingen for people who are new to the country or have just graduated high school, been unemployed, or have been in prison.These ease you into a job by providing a percentage of your paycheck or a stipend which increases the chances of getting a job with a business that is unsure of your skills, language, or if they can afford another worker.

Instegsjobb: Arbetsförmedlingen can pay up to 80% of your paycheck. Only available if you arrived in Sweden less than three years ago from a non-EU country and currently studying SFI (NOT SAS).  If you work less than 51% this set up can last up to two years, if more than 50% then only 6 months.

Nystartsjobb: Arbetsförmedlingen pays 32% or 64% of your your paycheck depending on age. If you arrived to Sweden less than three years ago, have been unemployed for 6-15 months (depending on age), or were in prison for at least one year. Can last 1 – 5 years depending on age and other factors.

Praktik: If you are unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits Arbetsförmedlingen can set you up with an obligatory praktik that they find for you or you can find one on your own. A praktik lasts 3 to 6 months and provides a daily stipend instead of a hourly wage, ranging from 100kr/day ($15) to 680kr/day ($100) depending on full time or part time hours and weather or not you are collecting unemployment benefits. Suggesting that you are looking for a praktik when our job searching is a great way to get started since the business owner is getting extra help for free.


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Job Hunting: “Jobbsökande”

The search has officially begun. For the last year I have applied online to a couple of jobs here and there, but I haven’t put too much emphasis on working since I was still learning basic Swedish. Today, that changed.

I decided to finally get going and make it happen for myself – after all, my word for 2013 isSuccess.” Let’s start by getting my foot in the door, training my Swedish, and networking.

Going around and handing out resume’s has never been my strong suit,  as I had the same job for 8 years and found all side jobs online.  So, not only have I only done it once in my life, now I had to do it in Swedish. 

After tinkering with my CV to make it as Swedified as possible -  including a photo, my date and city of birth, my personnummer (SS#), and my hobbies  – I headed out to town. If you read a lot of forums or expat articles/blogs like I do, such as The Local, you’ll know it is hard to get a job in Sweden if you are new here and still learning the language. The  amount of negativity and horror stories overshadows the successful ones; so, naturally I was terrified and expecting the worst.

I practiced what I would say, repeating it every step along the way. It’s only an opening sentence, but it helps. I went into my first target, a book store, walked around, and left too scared to talk. I’ll come back, I promised myself – it was too crowded anyway. Second store – same thing. Third store – success! I introduced myself, gave my resume, and told her to call me if they need anyone. Short and simple. I can do that! Next up is another book store – short and sweet again! This is getting easy!

I handed out 10 resume’s today and spoke to everyone (but one fellow American) in 100% Swedish! Not only that, the resume drop off’s started getting longer and longer – like 5 minute mini interviews – as I got more comfortable! I started “revealing” that I am new to Sweden and would  like to get a Praktik (similar to a paid internship) to train my Swedish more and the responses were completely positive with many complements to my Swedish! I even went back to the stores I was too scared to go into at first!

It’s only a first step, but I couldn’t have asked for it to go better. Maybe I will find something sooner than I thought? What a great day, and perfect way to start the year.

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Potluck dinner (Knytkalas) with some friends last night – was delish and a blast! Pasta, pasta, noodles, rice, and salad. Next time we’ll plan a bit better!


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First Job Interview In Sweden

Two weeks ago I went on my first job interview here in Sweden at an international school called Vittra! While I have applied to many jobs over the years I have only been on nine interviews my whole life, this one in Sweden makes 10. But this time I didn’t hand over a resume like usual, I gave my newly created CV, “curriculum vitae.”  The first thing I had to do before my interview was make some adjustments. The format and over all vibe of the CV is much different than my beloved resume:

  • I stuck to English for now, because it is an international school and I was applying for an English speaking position.
  • I was surprised to have to include my personnummer (Equivalent to SS#, but used very differently and more public), and my date of birth and age. I’ve read that it is not uncommon to include personal information, such as marital status, kids, hobbies, and a photo. I decided to stay clear from that.
  • Less bragging. Unlike my resume, this CV was not a break down of every task, responsibility, and achievement. Only  the very basics and a brief outline of job description is needed/wanted. Anything more than that is bad form.
  • I also handed in a cover letter, which is somewhat common in New York but usually for larger firms and professional positions. I have dozens of cover letters for publishing houses I have applied to, but wouldn’t need one for any of my dental assistant or receptionist applications. In Sweden it seems like a cover letter is just as important as the CV, for any job.

Getting ready for my first interview in Sweden!

The interview was with the “Rektor” of the school, which is the headmaster/principal. The actual interview lasted about 45 minutes and was very relaxed and friendly. More of a talk than an interview. We spoke about the differences in private and public schools, between schools in New York and schools in Sweden, between tutoring and teaching. She told me more about Vittra: Continue reading

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