Something Swedish


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Transcript Headache

It seems that every time I disappear for a while it’s due to being busy with school. This time the difference is that I’m finally done with studying Swedish, and am finally studying for a future career in Sweden…in Swedish.

After four years of being here I’ve finally reached higher education and while I’m excited to share my experiences and explain how it all works,  I want to tell the story (from a year ago, that I never got around to posting) of my pre-application process to help someone from making my mistakes:

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photo(7).JPGApplying to certain college (högskolan) or university (universitet) programs, vocational/trade school  (yrkesutbildning), or specific job positions requires verifying your transcripts to make sure you’re qualified. If you have foreign transcripts because you aren’t from Sweden, there’s an extra step that can make this messy: simply sending them in isn’t enough. Your transcripts will  need to be translated (if not in English), reviewed, and converted to their equivalents acceptable in Sweden schools.

The problem is that this process can take anywhere from 6 – 10 months (to compare with my own personal experiences of getting things sorted in Sweden: marriage paperwork= 1 month, Permission to move to Sweden= 2 months, Swedish citizenship approval= 2 weeks, Swedish passport= 4 days Read about it here)

This means that it’s really important to do this as early as possible because this wait time can really delay your plans if you miss an application deadline while waiting for your transcripts to be evaluated.

Thankfully, I knew about the wait time so I got the process started almost 2 years before I needed to – which was good because everything that could go wrong, did.

Lesson one: You always need paperwork

The first thing I did was go to the “guidance center” that assists with adult education: vägledningscentrum (works together with the unemployment services arbetsförmedlingen in certain towns)

They were very helpful in answering all of my questions, told me that UHR (Universitets- och högskolerådet or “Swedish Council for Higher Education”) is where my transcripts need to be sent to get verified and gave me the address. Most importantly they made official copies (vidimerade kopior) of my transcripts; each page stamped, signed, and dated.

Knowing it could take up to 10 months, and not yet being in a rush because I was still studying Swedish, it wasn’t until almost a year later I decided to call for an update. UHR had no record of ever receiving my transcripts. At this point, I knew I would be applying to an education within the year so the pressure was on.

I went back to the guidance center to resend my transcripts and explain what happened. It wasn’t until I was handed a form I had never seen before  that I understood why my transcripts were never processed: I sent them with no paperwork. This form was not only something to fill out, but a checklist of everything you need to send ASIDE from your transcripts, like an official print out of Swedish grades and a personbevis (“civic registration certificate” – ordered online from skatteverket “tax agency”). This time I did it properly. Or so I thought.

Lesson Two: Read the fine print

A few days later I got a mail confirming that they received and are processing my transcripts. My deadline  was in 8 months, so I was relieved and worried at the same time. It should make it in time.

About a month later I get another mail: my transcripts are incomplete.

How!? It turns out that certain countries (USA included) require all transcripts to be sent officially aka directly from old school to new (UHR in this case). This means that the transcripts that I sent were invalid. I should have learned my lesson from the first mistake. I should have read the fine print – myself.

The good news was that my application is on file, so I didn’t have to do anymore paperwork. The bad news is that it is no easy task to get transcripts quickly sent to another country, from another country. While UHR was willing to receive everything electronically, my old schools were not so hip to the times. This involved needing to snail-mail an addressed envelope  with American stamps, a form filled out with my signature, and a money order from an American bank. Getting all of this sorted could take weeks, thankfully my brother helped as a middle man to speed up the process. The high school didn’t charge extra for sending internationally, but the college insisted on using Fed-Ex which costs an extra 60 bucks.

A few weeks later I received another letter confirming that everything was complete and ready to be processed. About 6 months later – the same week of the application deadline – it was finally done. I had proof of attending high school and having all the English and math prerequisites I needed to apply to the Certified Dental Assisting Program (Tandsköterskeutbildning). Phew.

Tips:

  •  The application itself available online – this saves a lot of time (and is an option I was unaware of at the time): https://utbildningsbedomning.uhr.se/
  • If you have the ability to scan your files (that don’t need to be mailed directly)and save them as PDFs they can also be sent in online.
  • For additional information: https://www.uhr.se/bedomning-av-utlandska-utbildningar/
  • Make sure that you actually need to have your transcripts/diplomas evaluated.  This depends on the education you are applying to or if you are applying to a job that has specific requirements.
  • For certain educations, this step is unnecessary or done by a different agency, such as:  https://www.antagning.se/se/start


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Celebrating St. Lucia with the kiddies

While everyone in the states is “celebrating” (or at least posting on facebook about) Friday the 13th, the atmosphere here in Sweden is very different. December the 13th (no matter what day it falls on) is St. Lucia – a day of candlelight and song when the winter nights are so dark and long.

Last year was my first St. Lucia and I celebrated by going to the church to see the traditional luciatåg – which was breathtakingly beautiful and magical. If you missed the post about it, see the photos and read all about the history and how it is celebrated here.

This year was a little different, this year it was a kiddie Lucia for me. Instead of going to the church after sunset, we gathered at “folkets hus” (The peoples house) before sunrise.

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photo from: http://fruerlandsson.blogspot.se/2010/04/sondrums-fokets-hus.html As I never got to see it during day time.

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The bulletin board invite

At 7:30am the kiddies started showing up dressed with their Lucia outfits on, ready to sing – at least most of them, naturally there were some tears and screaming when it was time to go on stage. If the traditional church Lucia I went to last year was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, this was the cutest. The outfits that kids wear for St.Lucia are adorable! Of course, the girls all dress up as Lucia with a crown of (electronic) candles on their heads and a red belt, while the boys all want to be tomte (santa), leaving my two favorites ignored: stjärngossar (Star boys – which look like little magicians with star wands and pointy wizard hats) and Peperkaksgubbar/pepperkaksgummar (gingerbread boys and girls).

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Gingerbread outfit – so cute you can eat it up!

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stjärngossar hat and star

And then of course there are tärnor, Lucia’s “handmaidens,” dressed in long white robes to match Lucia but without the crown of candles, but strings of silver garland around the head and waist. This is the best way to “dress up” for Lucia without really dressing up. All of us teachers sported our garland crowns as we walked with the kids and helped them muster up the courage to sing  on stage for so many parents.

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Celebrating St. Lucia

The kids did great! They were able to sing all the songs and had a great time. (and now I’ve learned some more Swedish songs myself!) I wasn’t able to get any good photos, but did record a little bit for your listening pleasure (Yes, it was very dark and yes, I cut away any parts where I was singing along.): 

After the songs everyone sat down and had fika that all the families brought from home. It was still dark out, so the room was still dim – illuminated with candles on the long tables. At the “teacher table” we enjoyed lussekatter (holiday saffron buns), ginger bread cookies, and clementines. Similar to a “lussefika” we had last Sunday to socialize outside of work and celebrate the holidays with a special secret santa game:

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Photo from afterwork fika, not Lucia.

After fika one of the parents made a speech to thank the school and teachers and then, with the help of the kids, handed out beautiful flowers and cookie tins with cards for each of us.

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And to think I was hesitant about having to wake up at 6am. So worth it to see this other, adorable, side of Lucia.


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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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Teaching English in Sweden

2013-04-03 08.31.44This month I was hired by Folkuniversitetet to teach an English class. Folkuniveritetet (The Peoples University) is an adult education foundation with over 100 locations all throughout Sweden. They offer tons of classes ranging from psychology to photography, but are probably best known for their language courses. The classes aren’t free like most education in Sweden, but they are more convenient. It’s specifically a great place to learn Swedish if you don’t have a personnummer and aren’t qualified to go to SFI.

I applied to Folkuniversitetet a few months ago, and while they were interested in having me onboard, my classes didn’t get any student sign ups. This time around they had a class with no teacher and called me. I was offered two other classes, but neither worked out for other reasons, but its nice to have my foot in the door and be requested.

My class is a 90 minute conversational English class three times a week and it has been a blast! I love helping people improve their English and seeing my students build confidence. It’s fun creating lesson plans and coming up with fun and interactive ways to use the English language. It’s very different teaching adults, but I am enjoying it just as much as teaching kids.

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I’ve decided to take my TESOLS certificate class this year and continue my education towards a pedagogy degree in January, which means a lot more Swedish studies this year so that I am on a High School level. Right now, it feels great to be teaching and putting my English degree to use. Hopefully I will get more classes, or even a job at a school eventually.

Another part of me is torn. It feels a bit like cheating to be working in English instead of Swedish. I want to use my Swedish skills and continue to improve them. Right now I appreciate the balance between teaching English, having a language internship at a restaurant, and substituting at a preschool all in Swedish.

All this temp work is coming to an end soon though, so we will see where life takes me! All I can say is moving to a new country means starting over again, being sent back to a 5th grade learning level, working hard to prove yourself, being busy studying your way up to an understandable level, trying new things, never turning down an opportunity, not being over qualified for anything, needing to make a lot of connections, enjoying new experiences, and going with the flow. Oh, and holding your thumbs. (Swedish way of saying crossing your fingers)


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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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Playtime Needs No Translation: “Tid för Lek Behöver Ingen Översättning”

Ages 1-5 is where language development is strongest and that’s where I would have to start. I’ve never worked with toddlers before, especially ones who couldn’t understand me. I didn’t know what to expect and I haven’t changed a diaper in years (and not many, at that).

I received a phone call asking if I could substitute for two days. Yes! Excited and nervous, I was given a full tour and introductions. The teachers were very nice and helpful. I met a couple of parents who were excited that there could be a native English speaker with their kids.

Playtime needs no translation, and neither do personalities. I didn’t learn many names but I learned which kids like to do what. I quickly picked up on which ones had a lot of energy and loved to dance, which ones liked to build, which ones played a little rougher and you had to keep an eye on, which ones loved to be picked up and held and never wanted to touch the floor. And which ones always had a runny nose.

Actions speak louder than words. Even if the kids couldn’t understand what I was saying, they understood what I was doing. When I start jumping Continue reading