Parents at Stockholm International School join an instant community

The older you get, the harder it is to make new friends. Throw moving to a new country into the mix and you can suddenly feel very lonely. Stockholm International School understands the challenges parents face when moving abroad and uses its tight-knit PTA to ease the relocation.

Parents at Stockholm International School join an instant community
Photo: PTA members enjoying curling together

Claude Kelly has only been in Stockholm for three months but already has a packed social calendar. The Texan relocated with her husband and six-year-old son in August, arriving just two weeks before the school term was due to start. She barely had time to recover from the jet lag before school was underway.

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“I didn’t even have time to process the move,” she tells The Local. Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of Stockholm International School’s parent-teacher association (PTA). The primary mission of the school-based organisation is to involve parents in the school’s activities from fundraising to sports events. It also welcomes newcomers to a ready-made community from the moment their child enrols at SIS.

And if Claude is anything to go by, it’s doing a pretty good job.

Photo: Claude Kelly (right)

“The community here is amazing! It’s helped me a lot. There are days when I’m not even home. The other day I went to running club, then book club and fika, then I picked up my son and took him to a playdate. It’s constant go, go, go!”, she laughs.

Co-President of the PTA Philip McCrae explains that in any given year there are around 25-30 parents who are actively involved with 200-250 more dipping in and out. Much of the activity centres around the school’s ongoing Nepal Project, a student-run (and parent-supported) project to raise funds for students at a Nepalese primary school. 

But there’s also the social element. Using an online tool called Classlist, parents can instantly share news and tips amongst themselves. There’s always someone to answer your question or invite you for fika, a real boon for families who are new to Sweden.

Photo: Phillip McCrae

Philip explains that the PTA sends out all comms to parents through a digital communications tool which is also where members can set up and join different clubs. There are currently 12 clubs including a book club, running club and ‘Stockholm Night Out’ for when parents need a child-free tipple.

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“We have been very focused on and consistently prioritising that there’s a big, broad range of activities for parents. I think it’s a great way to get them connected in some way to the broader SIS community,” says Philip.

Claude is a testament to the PTA’s success and has fully embraced the school’s community. While her son is taking part in activities like chess club and soccer, she has no shortage of things to do herself.

Photo: PTA members enjoying a fika together 

“I’ve basically signed up for everything! But it’s up to you. It’s just amazing to come somewhere new and have all this available,” she says.

Something Claude has found particularly useful is the PTA’s custom ‘Welcome to Sweden’ booklet. Developed by a long-standing member of SIS’s PTA with significant support from the school, the booklet helps with everything from getting a cellphone to opening a bank account. 

“It’s the perfect resource that’s helped me a lot. If I can’t find someone to ask during fika then I go through the book. I have a dog and didn’t know where to take him to the vet, it can be daunting. I’ll get texts from Telia and I can’t figure out what it says but everything’s in the book. There are so many avenues for help.”

The multitude of clubs and the Welcome to Sweden booklet are just a snapshot of the help that SIS provides new families. The school has every base covered to help newcomers settle in, including a buddy system that pairs incoming parents with an existing family as well as two information sessions at the start of the year.

Photo: PTA members 

It’s a welcome relief for many parents who gain confidence knowing that they won’t be alone following the relocation. The ready-made support network and social life make Stockholm feel like home from the moment you land. It’s certainly worked for Claude, who has enthusiastically thrown herself into school life.

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“There were some days when it was lonely and I just wanted to stay in but these activities force you to get out. I can’t express enough how much it’s helped.”

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Stockholm International School.



‘Everything is on hold’: The ups and downs of working in Sweden in summer

Office fruit disappears, trains and restaurants shut down, and it is impossible to get anything done if it involves a Swedish colleague. The Local's readers report from Sweden's deserted summer offices.

'Everything is on hold': The ups and downs of working in Sweden in summer

Many foreigners in Sweden end up deciding it’s best to do as the Swedes do and take at least three weeks off in July, as it’s almost impossible to get normal work done. But this doesn’t work for everyone.

Some would rather take time off when the climate is best for a trip back home. Others haven’t been working long enough to earn the holiday. Others are simply too new to understand what July in Swedish offices can be like. 

We asked readers who have worked through most of July to tell us about their experiences. 

READ ALSO: Why do Swedes take such long summer holidays? 

What’s it actually like in the office? 

“Life kind of stops, everything is on hold. You have no one to sign off, approve, help, assign or complete tasks,” reported Sebastian Perreira, an IT worker based in Stockholm. 

“The office is empty, chat is silent, the business is completely on pause,” agreed Sara, a marketing manager from Italy. Elie, a railway engineer from France, estimated that only a quarter of those who normally work in her office are present. 

It’s not just the human contact and the chitchat that disappears. Many workplaces put office cleaning and other basic services on pause. 

“There is a lack of sanitation in office spaces as everyone is out on vacation and also all maintenance work, such as building ventilation etc, is done during this time which makes it difficult to sit in the office space sometimes,” said one respondent, who preferred not to be identified. 

“They stopped the supply of bananas…” groaned Hongru, a statistician from China working at Linköping University. 

An engineer working in construction. Photo: Sara Winsnes/Imagebank Sweden

What about getting to the office and time off after work? 

It’s not just reduced services in offices themselves, but in the entire city. 

“Many restaurants I usually go for lunch are closed for five or more weeks during the summer,” reported José, a software engineer from Mexico, something Perreira agreed was “absolutely ridiculous”. 

Santhan, a PhD student at Umeå University, said that he had struggled with “being alone at the end of the day instead of doing evening sports or activities”. 

“Rail maintenance works are planned when the majority of Swedish people take time off,” said an electrical engineer from Ireland. 

Karan, a cyber security consultant from India, said he had been struggling with the “reduced frequency of public transport”, but Shubham, a mobile app developer, said that he actually liked the fact that public transport was “not too crowded”. 

So could anyone get anyone work done?

“It’s definitely challenging,” reported Mia from the UK, saying she felt “totally uncomfortable” with all the decisions and deadlines that “no one will really remember after their five to six weeks off”.

“Honestly, getting anything done is a struggle, so I focus on individual projects and self-development that I can do by myself. Also, even Swedes who are working aren’t really doing anything.”

“At our company, all of the developers or engineers are Swedish, so they naturally tend to go on vacation all at the same time, sometimes for up to eight weeks,” said Danny, a software developer, also from the UK. “When something goes wrong and a fix is needed urgently, we either have to hack something together without them or use the on-call engineer, which costs a lot of money.” 

One foreigner spending her first summer in Sweden working for a German multinational said she had found the main task assigned her impossible to complete.

“I am supposed to organise a board visit for the end of September. I was only able to book the hotel rooms, but not able to discuss the catering as the responsible person was on holiday. I also need to book restaurants for two evenings. But the restaurants which could fit the requirements of this important meeting are closed, I was not able to visit them, discuss the menu or complete the booking. Next time, I will start the process in March!” 

Foreigners dealing with colleagues in other countries often faced the biggest problems, as few of the their overseas colleagues understood the situation they were in. 

“Foreign clients don’t understand Swedish culture. Or worse, think the Swedes should change their culture,” said James, a construction industry manager from Scotland, who said he was struggling because “the support we need is not there and the team is struggling” and “nobody cares.”

Another foreigner who worked in software development said the big issues came when changes needed to made to another team’s software, as there were “usually no people to go to”. He expected more problems come after the summer. 

“Most of the work done during summers, or even a few weeks before summer, needs to be reexplained again and again after vacationing colleagues return back with vacation brain fog.”

Perreira said that foreigners stuck alone in offices were often left with “boredom and a feeling of guilt”. 

“You either have nothing to do, because things are very slow, or you need to feel peer pressure but there is none, since everyone is off. So you end up accomplishing very little and feel guilty afterwards.”

Some work better

Some respondents, however, said they found summer an unusually productive time. 

“I can get a lot done without the usual meetings being necessary,” said Danny. “Swedes tend to get upset if they are not invited to a meeting, but I’ve found that they don’t mind at all if you take a decision yourself over the summer.” 

Nayane, a Brazilian business intelligence manager, agreed that the best thing about the summer was “no meetings”.

“I’m working with some very specific things that require no interaction with other people, so it has been great!”  

One software tester from eastern Europe said she had benefited from “a lot of focus, way less distractions with meetings and interactions and the possibility of dedicating most of the time to technical tasks not involving communication”.

“Without being bothered, you can actually accomplish a lot of things from the backlog,” Perreira added. 

Alice, who works in delivery and analytics, agreed that summer offered an opportunity to tick items off the to-do list that she never usually had a chance of getting to.

“You get the time to do things you’re not getting to in usual circumstances, like time-consuming projects that are not top priority,” she said. 

Some find it hard to work but don’t care

Several respondents agreed that it was hard to get much done, but didn’t seem too concerned.

Charan, a data manager from India, said that despite a “slightly higher workload”, the long days meant he could both work and feel like he was on holiday. 

“It is very much possible to enjoy the Swedish summer and work simultaneously,” he said. “The long, sunny days and relatively warm weather makes it easy to work and during times of less work to do, it is also possible to connect from a holiday destination and keep working.”

Steve, a UX designer based in Stockholm, who is not using his real name took this to approach to an even greater extreme.

“It’s the best country to work during summer, especially in a corporate environment,” he said. “Since everyone else was gone and workload amounted to almost nothing, I ‘worked’, but really was just taking vacation.” 

He didn’t even stay in Stockholm during his working weeks, he said, instead enjoying “a normal travel-filled vacation”. 

A summer cottage. Photo: Fotograferna Holmberg/TT

How many will take the summer off next time like a Swede? 

Nearly two thirds of our 42 respondents had worked throughout the summer, with most of the rest taking only two weeks off. 

Several said their experiences of working this summer had convinced then to take a Swedish approach next summer. 

“I will take four weeks off next year and not feel any guilt,” said James, the Scottish construction manager. “I will take time off during the summer at the same time as the Swedish people in my office,” agreed the Irish electrical engineer. 

But others, particularly those from India, felt that as summer was the best time to be in Sweden, they wanted to save their travel months for January and February, and the post-Monsoon months in October and November, when the weather is cooler in India.

“It is the best time to be in Sweden, and the worst to be almost anywhere else in Europe,” explained Perreira. “So why waste vacation days now when you can go to Southern Europe in autumn or spring, and to Southeast Asia during the winter?” 

He said he didn’t plan to take the summer off Swedish-style unless absolutely forced to by future family circumstances. 

“Unless I start dating a Swede and end up being forced to spend half of my summer in a cottage in Skåne, nothing will change.”