How to succeed in Sweden: five tips for international residents

From the unwritten social rules to the dramatic seasonal differences, there’s a lot to adjust to when you move to Sweden.

How to succeed in Sweden: five tips for international residents
Photo: Getty Images

Here, in partnership with Stockholm University, and by drawing on some of its world class research, The Local looks at five ways you can make your new life a little easier.

New in Sweden? Take a look at Stockholm University’s information page for new arrivals, covering visas, residence permits, insurance and more

1. Get out in the sunlight to protect your health

Summer is finally here and it’s not just the warmer weather that brings a welcome change if you live in Sweden. After the darkness of winter, the long hours of daylight also mean you can spend evenings outside, topping up your vitamin D through sun exposure.

Vitamin D deficiency can leave you feeling tired, lacking in energy, and even with symptoms of depression. It has also been linked with various chronic diseases.

One 2015 study found that up to half the Swedish population may suffer from a lack of vitamin D in the winter months. More recent research involving Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute and the Karolinska Institute found that people born outside Europe are far more likely to lack vitamin D than European-born Swedish residents.

You really do need to make the most of the Swedish summer while it lasts – just be careful not to burn!

2. Never give people a reason to gossip about you!

Around one in five residents of Sweden were born abroad. But don’t be fooled into thinking the country doesn’t have its own distinct social rules. A recent international study, led by Kimmo Eriksson at Stockholm University’s Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, looked at how different countries treat people who break social norms.

More than 20,000 people in 57 countries were asked how they would respond to incidents such as someone taking too much of a group resource or listening to music on headphones at a funeral.

So, how will Swedes treat you if they consider you a norm-breaker? Simple: they’ll gossip about you behind your back. Other studies have already found that gossip can be highly effective in upholding social norms.

But Swedes view physical confrontation or completely avoiding the person in question (which gain wide support in countries such as Algeria and Indonesia) as inappropriate, according to the new research.

So, now you’ve been warned: observing Swedish social rules could help ensure you aren’t the subject of gossip that might do lasting harm to your reputation.

World class research in an international environment: find out more about life at Stockholm University

Photo: Getty Images

3. Job hunting: embrace informality and cut that CV

Finding a job in Sweden proves a major challenge for many newcomers, including the partners of international people who move for work. It’s important to adjust your approach to match Swedish business culture, which is more informal than in many countries. Job applications should reflect the local culture. 

For example, you may just open an email with ‘Hej’ and the first name of the person you’re applying to, if you know it. Be sure to also keep your CV short – one page if you can, two at the most – if you want a Swedish hiring manager’s attention.

If you have solid Swedish skills, doing an application and interview in Swedish could be a real advantage. But well-written English is more likely to make a positive first impression than Swedish that’s full of errors.

Not sure where to start? Look out for mentorship programmes for newcomers, such as the City of Stockholm’s Stockholmsmentor

4. Enjoy some guilt-free weekend lie-ins 

Are you constantly tired? Well, here’s some good news. If you just can’t get enough sleep during the week, you should know that sleeping longer at the weekend to compensate is good for you!

That was the conclusion of a study by Torbjörn Åkerstedt, professor emeritus at Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute, involving data from more than 40,000 people in Sweden. 

He says people who sleep less on weekdays but longer at weekends have lower mortality than people who sleep for either shorter or longer spells every night of the week. 

“Possibly, long weekend sleep may compensate for short weekday sleep,” says Professor Åkerstedt.

5. Just forget about small talk

Do you like talking with strangers in a queue? Or at bus stops? Besides the pandemic, you now have another reason not to bother: you live in Sweden and the locals are really not so keen on small talk.

Don’t worry, they’re friendly enough once you know them. But many Swedes just see no point in chatting with strangers. Perhaps you can spend the time you’ll save working out how to cut down your CV?

If avoiding small talk remains totally foreign to you, maybe you need to study more about Swedish society and everyday life to understand the roots of the country’s culture.

Stockholm University is one of the world’s top 100 universities: find out more about its study programmes including many in English

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.