Voices – Reaction to Sweden’s Learning Curve
Some of you may be familiar with a post I wrote entitled, “Sweden’s Learning Curve.” This post was picked up by my editor at The Local – Sweden and published on their news website on February 11th, 2014 under the title “Sweden’s foreign professionals suffer a multicultural learning curve“. The resulting responses were overwhelming. Since that time, hundreds of comments, emails, and private messages from expats and Swedes were received across social media platforms. Nearly all of the stories were the same and the outpouring of frustration was resounding.
In my attempt to relate a variety of challenges which face foreign professionals seeking employment in Sweden – such as economy, networking issues, multicultural acceptance, and learning curves – the conversation quickly turned to one centering around the requirement of having to learn the Swedish language in order to obtain work in Sweden … any kind of work. Even the lowest paid jobs in Sweden, such as dish washing, appear to require fluent Swedish.
Much like myself, none of the respondents disputed the need to learn Swedish. Nearly all agreed that learning the language of your new country is just plain good manners as well as the avenue to integration. In fact, many explained that they were taking SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) and/or had completed a solid education in the language. Some of the respondents wrote that they were either fluent in Swedish, or very nearly fluent. Still they have not been able to obtain work, or even an interview, after months (and in many cases – years) of attempts and hundreds of CVs submitted.
Many immigrants have come to Sweden by choice. They explained that they were not looking for handouts but that in some way, they seem to have been swept under rug. A visit to Arbetsförmedlingen’s website, “Are you new in Sweden” serves as one example of this. The information contained in this link does not apply to those who have come to Sweden by choice. It is for refugees, and their families, only. What is an expat to do?
Foreign born professionals offer their education, experience, and skill set; many are confused as to why their post graduate college education, fluency in several languages, or years of job experience doesn’t seem to satisfy Sweden’s hiring recruiters. They additionally find that they are not eligible for unemployment, and despite the humanitarian reputation of Sweden, nor are they eligible any type of social help. They wonder how they are supposed to support themselves … Many can’t. As such, some of the respondents reported that they left Sweden, taking their Swedish spouses with them, for other countries where they have found employment almost immediately.
After having read the comments and responses to my article, it seems that I have been extremely fortunate in Sweden. While I have worked very hard at building my own business here, I can’t deny the cries of the expats who struggle and now deal with feelings of decreased self worth, career dissatisfaction, and even fear for survival. I have felt it too. There is a huge disconnect in those looking for work and those providing it. Those providing it don’t see a problem.
I have pulled together some selected comments and responses which highlight the hopes, thoughts, and frustrations of foreign college-educated professionals seeking work in Sweden.
Iain Howatson: Well I have lived here for thirteen years and this young lady has hit the nail on the head. I have so many foreign friends from UK, USA, Aust, Iran, Eritrea, that have qualifications and experience but can’t get a job in Sweden.
Jenny Rydén: My partner moved here from Germany several years ago and this is exactly how it has been, and still is, for him too. If lucky, he’ll get short temp jobs here and there, but nothing longer and nothing that he is not heavily overqualified for.
It’s really sad that we keep wasting talent like this for vague and obscure reasons. Makes me embarrassed being a Swede. Before this I thought we were more open minded and appreciated the opportunity to get non-swedes views. That alone is very valuable for progress. Since we also rely heavily on export, you’d think we also would value the opportunity to get someone from the other side on the inside, so to say. Someone who knows the culture, language, and so on. It just doesn’t add up to me.
Karen Rowland: Ohhh!! Many of the “older” crowd here knows I left Sweden for the UK in a state of sheer frustration over this issue, and my inability to find a “real” job was the motivation for my Swedish husband to take an opportunity with his firm to leave his own native country to a country where I at least had a chance (and immediately succeeded) in securing employment.
Jenna Lee Iwanchuk: We are not refugees. We came here for love. We are independent individuals that are trying our best to make it. We came from countries where we flourished and grew as individuals. The fact that we are so self-reliant and independent is what leads us to feeling disappointed when we can’t find a job. We deserve to be treated nicely too, because we’re also trying. We’re not looking for free handouts, we’re looking for that one little outlet which will allow us to become part of the community, to grow with the community, and to help it grow.
Warren Green: On Valentines day, I sent it (the article) to my wife and said ‘Read this! Someone knows the truth’, and I feel at least I am understood after three very difficult years.
Guest: Yep, I was under-employed for a good 18 months in Gothenburg. And I was fluent in Swedish! Eventually I gave up and applied abroad. I was offered 3 jobs within a week. I now live in Singapore.
Pepijn Janssens: To listen to the endless repetition of how mastering the Swedish language is crucial to successfully finding a job in Sweden doesn’t make it more true, but I have to admit it does take the attention away of the real barriers, obstacles and problems, not to mention the roads to possible solutions.
I attended the West Sweden Chamber of Commerce get-together on this issue a couple of months back. More than anything, I believe that the solution lies in the hands of the Swedish companies. I sadly didn’t see them present during that meeting, but firmly believe that bringing all concerned parties together would be a valuable action.
Margarita Testa: Lisa, I think you’ve given all of us in this situation a voice as well as a feeling of belonging. For me, at least, it gives me some relief to know that I am not the only one banging her frustrated head against the seemingly impenetrable Swedish wall. Thank you!!!
WB: Thank you for putting words on my feelings. I am a “non-ethnic” Swede, have lived here for years, speak the language, five languages for that matter, have university degrees from HERE and still don’t get the chance to prove what I am worth. Every time I apply for a job I don’t get it. I don’t even get called for an interview. This mutlicultural veneer is just another PR-trick of theirs. Better to go somewhere else!!!!!
skogsbo: the author complains about stereotypes whilst conforming to one, namely an immigrant complaining they don’t get a job, despite willingly coming to Sweden and not speaking the language.
I just fail to see why people expect a country to bend over backwards, just because an individual hasn’t, can’t or won’t commit to learning Swedish.
It’s always people who speak English as a first language, who expect the world to conform for them. Sweden is littered with immigrants, found work quickly and work in precisely the field they are qualified for, many have advanced their careers in Sweden, but they have one thing in common, they speak Swedish, they can communicate with their colleagues, their customers, clients etc..
If the author of this piece had spent the time it took to write it, working on her Swedish, she would be one very tiny step nearer her goal of employment.
MBS > skogsbo: So what? Just because you have a pigeon hole ready made to stuff the author into doesn’t make what she says any less true.
What she writes about is accurate, and Swedish people need to know about it because Sweden really needs to get its head out of its a** and find ways to attract top talent — which includes not giving the spouses of said talent the run-around with SFI and Arbetsförmedlingen, where unmotivated teachers and hapless bureaucrats trained on a diet of asylum seekers and refugees deal with the husbands and wives of hi-tech workers and academics.
Incidentally, quite a few of these asylum seekers and refugees are academics too, who suddenly find themselves in cleaning jobs and clerical occupations. It’s a huge waste of potential.
BackpackerKev: Its no longer about working in Sweden, if anyone is unfortunate to be on a Arbetsformedlingen program, it is all about working in Europe or Norway (if you have membership) or Finland on the Ferries. It is a sad state of affairs when your handledare, knowing full well that you have commitments, and a young family, tells you that your best chance is ***anywhere but Sweden.***
cosmo smalls: For good or for bad, Sweden signed up to be a member of the EU. That means abiding to rules of employment set out by the member countries. One of those rules is that employers are not allowed to discriminate against potential candidates in terms of language abilities unless not having those abilities makes it impossible for you to do the job. As most people in Sweden speak English this is rarely the case. There are also many jobs where a basic understanding of Swedish would suffice. Sweden uses its language as a means of discrimination because it can get away with it. But it should be challenged.
Kritisk mot DDR 2.0: I am swedish and well qualified in my profession. Working for a British company since then 10 years. I can’t get a job in Sweden either. Jobs I have applied for have been given to much less qualified people, so your racist theory doesn’t hold. I think Sweden like elsewhere has become a country where you must have good contacts to get a job. It is who you know, not what you know, that counts.
Luis de Miranda: I am French, I have the best possible diplomas and experiences, both academic and business, I have written books, and I have tried for one year to find an opening in the Swedish university or at qualified creative jobs in Stockholm – I only met with the law of silence and the habit of rudeness. So one day, two month ago, as a test, I sent my CV to the UK, to compare the reactions. And I got many amazing opportunities. As a result I am moving soon to the UK, where I feel respected for what I have done and what I can do.
Giorgos P. : We keep on forgetting a factor of great significance. Sweden has become a victim of its immigration policy. The openness towards immigrants has created a riddle that is not easy to be solved. What happens when you end up as a minority in your own country? It is widely accepted that just a passport does not make you a Swede. It is also accepted that the vast majority of the immigrants here in Sweden has very low or non existent knowledge of the language. That seems to be no problem on lower working levels,as long as these immigrants are a cheap labour capital for the Swedish economy. What happens though on the upper levels of the industry?
If we take a look at the Eurostat statistics we will realise that only 7% of the Swedes are interested to attend higher education studies (Bachelor, Master or even PhD). On the other hand, Swedish universities made a strategic choice to “recruit” people, mostly from countries outside the EU, with the sham that these people will find a job on top level in the country. These students, along with those from other EU countries, created a significant capital for the universities and helped a lot on their economic growth and on their ranking. The reality is that the knowledge of Swedish language is only a good excuse against the highly educated immigrants. These people are called to work in a multi-cultural environment where, whether we like it or not, the dominant language is English. Swedish language is only used in minor levels of organisations and mostly in small scale local projects. Even in the Swedish universities English language has mastered and there is an actual thought of teaching all university programs entirely in English (cause it’s the language of global market).
So instead of telling beautiful stories that have no dragons, is better for Swedes to be at least honest with themselves on this subject. Whether we like it or not today’s world is a world of high technology and efficiency and as long as a vast majority of Swedes is not willing to follow this on an educational level, that will cause even bigger inflow of foreign professionals, of high educated immigrants, and things will have to change.
Ravee: At last a topic to express my suffering in sweden.I did my masters here but alas ended up in a dish job!Its like a mirage here. You think you got it but you wont. Of course, quite a very VERY FEW non-swedish are lucky though.
You might ask me why are you still here? The answer is simple, I’m from a third world (night mare) who came here for a betterment of my life, but the night mares still haunts you. It’s the same, we get exploited there becoz of bad politics, corruption, environment pollution and we get exploited here just to fill the scrap (left over) jobs here. Though I’m upset about it, sometimes I feel happy at least for the quality of life, for the safe drinking water, for the transparency of the system, least corruption, and good health care. These are the basic things needed for any human being which i feel is must in this planet and that is why I feel like to stay back though I’m upset about the dish job (becoz i’m worth more than it..)
I thought a country like Sweden would encourage talent, but i’m wrong. So, either way I’m being exploited, but I chose Sweden over the third world. Finally what I felt is “Hey, u third world dude, welcome to Sweden, finish your masters, do the dish job or go back to your country.” So, we people have to sit silently and get compromised with our lives whether it is Sweden or third world.
Alex March: Some very interesting topics were raised in this article.
Firstly the language problem, Swedish employers are open to employing foreigners but if you can’t speak Swedish (or at least try) there’s a good chance that you’ll be overlooked, unless you’re lucky 🙂
Delayed response to applications is a reality, it just seems to be the way that this country works. Employers place an ad and will receive applications over the coming few months, sometimes even a whole year will pass before they contact you. It’s their way of making an informed decision.
Sweden as a multicultural country? Sweden may have a high immigrant population but it is far from integrating other cultures into its own, but then who am I to judge?
What I’m thinking is that I’m not sure if multiculturalism can be achieved more that it’s a learning process for a society. Based on the reactions to this article (and my own experience) multiculturalism in Sweden definitely has some work to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s not trying. Let’s just hope that things get better in time.
These are just a hand full of the responses from “Sweden’s foreign professionals suffer a multicultural learning curve” published at The Local – Sweden. The above comments have been pulled together from several social media sources. You can continue reading comments on The Local – Sweden here.
Writer/photographer Lisa Mikulski. Available for print or online publications and business in the Nordic region, Europe, and the U.S. Editorial, features, marketing copy, and public relations. Contact me here or at lisa @ 2sweden4love.com