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Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm

If the world is your oyster, where do you choose to go and why? Today, many talented people decide by looking firstly for a city that fits their lifestyle – and then for the right job opportunities.

Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm
Photo: Anna Hugosson/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

When it comes to achieving this balance, Stockholm offers a rare combination: it’s a global tech and start-up hub, a leader in sustainability, and big enough to make an international impact while remaining highly livable.

The Local spoke with two talented international residents – one with a family and one single – about why they’ve chosen to make the Swedish capital their long-term home.

Thinking of making a move? Check out Invest Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide

‘It’s small enough to get to know key players’ 

Martin Hennig is a senior digital transformation consultant for Stockholm-based NoA Connect. He lives with his wife and two children in Vaxholm – the picturesque, self-proclaimed capital of the Stockholm archipelago, from which the city centre is under an hour away by boat.

But he and his family could so easily be living a very different life. German-born Hennig previously lived in Dublin, briefly in London, and in Connecticut in the US, which he and his American wife Laureen left behind for Stockholm three years ago. 

“We chose Stockholm despite knowing we’d earn less money here,” he says. “We did not know the language – we’re still learning. We have no family ties to Sweden. And my wife had never set foot on Swedish soil before moving here.” 

Even by the standards of today’s mobile skilled workers, it would seem a brave move to have made. “We have no regrets and we’re happy with our decision,” he continues. “Our work-life balance was rather miserable, so while my wife's family in the US did not love the idea of us moving, they supported our decision in the end.

“Stockholm is a really interesting spot with lots of entrepreneurs, innovation and internationally significant companies in fintech, gaming and so on. It’s also small enough to get to know key players in a short matter of time.”

Photo: Martin Hennig and his wife Laureen in Vaxholm

‘We literally googled “best places to raise families”’

So, how did this all come about? Hennig’s only previous experience of Stockholm was on a brief Erasmus exchange programme in 2004. “I thought the city was gorgeous and felt very safe,” he says. When he and his wife began to imagine a different life, these positive memories came flooding back – after a little technological prompt.

“We literally googled ‘best places to raise families’ and Sweden was in the top results,” says Hennig. “I remembered how nice Stockholm is. We started looking for work via LinkedIn and realised that many jobs in our field don’t require you to speak Swedish.”

His wife, a business analyst, soon had an attractive offer. They decided to go for it and had just 12 weeks to sort out the move, with Hennig finding his job later that year. The couple are convinced Google put them on the right track – for family and much more.

Their first child was born in 2015 in the US – where there's no national statutory parental leave and the little you do get varies across states. Hennig says his wife was only entitled to six weeks of ‘short-term disability’ benefits, while as a father he got no parental leave.

Their second child was born after their move to Stockholm. “Needless to say that experience was completely different,” says Hennig – not least in terms of the generous parental leave and low childcare costs. “Our priority was a family-friendly society, a safe place that’s liberal, progressive, social. We love our community and we like our work and career outlook too. Home is a bit of a difficult concept for me – but this feels like home.”

Want to work in a global tech hub that values quality of life? Find out more about Stockholm

‘I was aware of the great energy in digital innovation’

Growing up as a digital native in the US, Erik Cativo knew from his mid-teens that Stockholm was a centre for cutting-edge technology. The invention of bluetooth at Ericsson’s Stockholm offices and early adoption of peer-to-peer file sharing both earned his attention. “I knew there was great energy in digital innovation in Stockholm,” he says.

Fast-forward to today and Cativo works at Ericsson in Stockholm himself as a senior UX designer. In September, he took a 28 percent pay cut to leave Washington DC for his new home. 

“I believe in the Nordic model,” says Cativo. “Salaries in US tech are high – but it comes at a price. To get the qualifications I needed, I took on US$40,000 in debt at four percent interest.” He could be paying off the cost for decades, he says.

So, what about the innovation that first made him aware of Stockholm? “I pay my rent digitally with Bank ID, I make payments with Swish – it really is a digitally advanced society,” he says. 

Photo: Erik Cativo in Stockholm

Cativo is an example of the highly talented people that a recent report on talent from Invest Stockholm says “call the shots” on who they work with and where. In a “hyper-connected” world, location still matters; the report cites evidence that “two thirds of highly talented individuals choose the city before they choose the company or the job”.

‘I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm’

Cativo visited Barcelona, Berlin and Paris in 2017 while studying in Scotland. But after he returned to the US, it was Stockholm that stood out as the place he most wanted to return to.

“There was something about Stockholm that felt very interesting to me,” he says. When he decided to look for new job opportunities, he ignored headhunters in the US and the appeal of Berlin to focus purely on Sweden.

“I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm,” he says. “The level of English proficiency in Berlin didn’t seem to be as high as here.”

He visited several Swedish cities and soon realised that Stockholm was the natural fit for his talent. His appreciation of his new home extends far beyond its tech scene, however.

“Stockholm is incredibly beautiful,” he says. “They do a great job of balancing modern design with older architectural styles. I’m also in awe of how quick and easy it is to get around – by foot, by bus or on the tunnelbana (subway). I can get across the entire city in 20 minutes.”

Cativo was also attracted by the potential for a relatively quick path to citizenship, which you can apply after five years in Sweden. “I believe that long-term I’ll have a better life here,” he says. “For myself and my future children.”

Looking for new opportunities and a better quality of life? Click here to find out more about moving to Stockholm – and follow these links for Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide.

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Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Are you raising children in Sweden? Here are a few very personal tips for what not to do from Alex Rodallec, who was raised in Sweden by a French Breton mother.

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Raising children is hard enough as it is without having to do it in another country. The added difficulties of being a foreigner can be taxing: grappling with the language, the cultural differences, not being well acquainted with how the system works.

So how do you get advice from someone who knows a bit about the issues your child might face growing up as the child of an immigrant in Sweden? One way is to ask someone who was raised by an immigrant parent in Sweden.  Someone like me.

I am no expert in child rearing, and have no children of my own. I can, however, tell you a few things that you should try to avoid. Here are a few of my best tips for what not to do.

Do not reject your adopted country’s culture

This does not mean that you should assimilate completely. It is, however, a good idea to try to embrace your adopted country’s culture as a positive, rather than a negative, for the sake of your children.

Why? Because your children will not have your cultural identity, at least not entirely. And this will be true no matter what you do to prevent it. They will in part become Swedish, imbued with many of the values and customs of Swedish society, with the behaviour and norms.

This might not sound so serious, but if you are someone who is resentful of Sweden, or if you ever become resentful of it, it might become a serious problem.

My mother, who was French, first came to Sweden as a tourist and then later to work, but with no plans of staying. Then she met my father, a Bolivian man, whom she would eventually divorce when I was around two years old. After that my mother went to live in France with my big sister and me, and with the intention of staying.

The next part I am not so sure about, but I believe my father might have threatened legal action if she did not return with us to Sweden. Whatever the reason for her involuntary return, I do know that my mother’s dislike of Sweden grew with her resentment of having to stay there. And sad as that may be, because of our Swedishness she eventually began seeing us children – though only intermittently – as physical manifestations of the country she hated. Or perhaps we were a constant reminder of the fact that she could not leave. Why could she not leave? Because she loved us. How complicated the twists and turns of life sometimes play out.

Growing up, my mother would often tell us that it was our fault that she was “stuck in this country”, and her most common use of the word ‘Swedish’ was as a profanity directed at us, her children. Naturally this created a dissociation with Sweden and Swedishness, primarily in myself and my big sister, and to a lesser degree in my little sister.

And even though my mother had put my big sister and I in private schools with other children of immigrants (The Catholic and English Schools in Gothenburg), coupled with the fact that we went to preschool in France, we had still committed the cardinal sin of absorbing ‘Swedishness’. My little sister had it the worst when it came to this. She went to a Swedish public school, and never had the experience of going to preschool in France, and so was the most ‘Swedish’ of us all.

To this day, the subject of Swedishness and the like or dislike of Sweden is still a topic of conversation whenever I talk to or meet my sisters. My little sister has accepted her Swedishness, and lives in Gothenburg where we grew up. But my big sister and I both live abroad, and to varying degrees have issues with the country we grew up in. I am slowly learning to love and accept my Swedishness while living in France, but my big sister lives in London and baulks at the thought of ever moving back to Sweden. We are a separated family, in part due to our varying degrees of acceptance of Swedishness.

Perhaps I should stress that my mother was not a horrible person, but she suffered greatly from the circumstances of her life.

So, do not fill your children with your resentment of the country they will grow up in, it may very well be detrimental to their well being and their integration into the society they grew up in.

Do not ignore the complexity of cultural identity

Even though cultural identity can become symbolic of underlying issues, as was the case with my mother, it can also be a great resource, albeit one that might need some help along the way.

Being half French, half Bolivian, born and raised in a Swedish multiethnic suburb, had me untangling the threads that make up my cultural identity for decades. An experience common among multi-ethnic children. Your children might eventually need your support in this, I know I could have used some help.

My advice is to promote the idea that one can be many things all at once. And that to a certain degree these things are contextual. I myself am Bolivian to a greater degree when I spend time with the Bolivian side of the family, and more French when I spend time with the French side.

Having multiple cultural backgrounds also has benefits. Your reference points are multiplied compared to someone who has only one cultural background. You can act as a sort of cultural bridge, much like Commander Spock in Star Trek, for the Trekkies out there. Beyond that, having multiple languages is an asset, children who grow up speaking multiple languages struggle a bit at first, but then tend to outdo their peers in language mastery.

Do not be intimidated by how well your children adapt to Swedish society

This one might be slightly odd, but is an experience that many of my friends of immigrant background have shared with me.

Because your children will grow up as cultural insiders they will master the ins and outs of Swedish society much better than you. Most parents want their children to outdo them, but a parent also wants to feel useful and capable in front of their children. You might have a hard time coping with the fact that your children at a certain point, and perhaps much quicker than they would if you were in your home country, will outdo you. On top of that, in many cultures there is also a more authoritarian parent role, where children ought to know their place as children, and let the parent lead and decide.

My advice is: if you have an issue with your children making you feel inadequate, try to think of yourselves as a family unit. If your children can help you do better, that is good for all of you, try to embrace that. And why not look at it as a great opportunity to learn?

What are your best tips for parents raising children in Sweden? Share your experiences of parenting in Sweden with The Local by emailing us at [email protected] 

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