​​The fast-growing Swedish city where international families feel at home

“People ask me whether I’m getting restless about staying in the same city for so long,” says Amy Loutfi, Professor in Information Technology at Örebro University. “But I tell them it’s not the same city – so much has changed.”

​​The fast-growing Swedish city where international families feel at home
Photo: Getty

As an expert in AI and robotics, she knows more than most about rapid changes. Nonetheless, she says the transformation in Örebro since she arrived from her native Canada 20 years ago has been profound.

Firstly, Örebro University itself has been a huge catalyst for the city’s development since opening in 1999. Then there’s the exciting part that a city known for its magnificent 13th century castle is playing in Sweden’s 21st century startup scene, thanks to the entrepreneurial hub Creative House

Furthermore, parents say it’s an ideal place to raise a family for a host of reasons. The Local spoke to Professor Loutfi, and another even longer-standing international resident of the city, to find out more.

Can’t pronounce Örebro or place it on a map? Discover the opportunities for internationals in this exciting city

A region of young talent

Maybe you’ve seen the name Örebro but have no idea how to say it? Or where to locate it on the map? The city is the sixth largest in Sweden and has an enviable location in the heart of the country, just a little closer to Stockholm than Gothenburg. But anyone thinking of it as simply a stopping point between bigger cities is sorely mistaken. Professor Loutfi says the sense of opportunity in Örebro today is palpable. 

“I came from a town on Canada’s east coast that was in decline with a shrinking population,” she says. “The city of Örebro, on the other hand, has a pulse and you feel it in the bone marrow of the place. There are people coming, new restaurants opening and new initiatives starting.”

The university offers Sweden’s most modern medical training programme, ranks third nationally for scientific excellence, and is an important node in the national AI network. Professor Loutfi has a strategic role in developing the university’s role in Swedish and European AI initiatives through the Wallenberg Foundation’s WASP programme.

“We have a strong university and that means a fantastic pool of young people,” she says. “If you’re interested in establishing a startup or relocating your current business, you’ll get access to a generation with solid knowledge who are often interested in staying and contributing to the region’s growth.” 

Little wonder that local startups making innovative use of technology are flourishing. “It was all about skor [shoes] and kex [cookies] when I arrived,” recalls Professor Loutfi. “Now, a wide diversity of businesses keep the city vibrant.” 

Want to make a smart move? Find out about the opportunities for international people in Örebro

Professor Amy Loutfi. Photo: Supplied

Location and lifestyle: ‘everything is possible here’ 

Richard Kennett, who grew up in Brighton in England, moved to Örebro in 1987 as a love-struck teenager who had fallen for a Swedish au pair. The city now has an international appeal and level of self-confidence he could not have imagined in the early days after his move. 

“At first, Swedes would ask me ‘Are you mad?’” he remembers. “The entire personality of the city has been transformed. I’ve seen a metamorphosis over 15 or 20 years – and today everything is possible here.”

Having raised three children who were born in the city, he says: “I think Örebro has been the perfect place for them to grow up. We’ve had a great system from kindergarten through school and all their sports clubs and activities. It doesn’t take long to get anywhere.

“The geographic location of this city is phenomenal – and so is the choice of lifestyle. You can live in the middle of nowhere, in a country village close to the city, or in the city itself.” 

Following the university’s opening, Richard cites the local hospital becoming involved in research as another key milestone (it’s now rated Sweden’s best university hospital). He credits “a generation of politicians who focused on vision and possibility”, as well as the city’s location, which means over 70 percent of Sweden’s population lives within a radius of 300km.

 Photo: Business Region Örebro

A home for families

Professor Loutfi, who has two daughters aged 11 and nine, also greatly values the family-friendly environment. As well as a sense of security and community, local residents enjoy easy access to outdoor activities and unspoilt nature.

“It’s beautiful here. You can hop on your bike and after 20 minutes you’re really out in nature and I think that’s different from Stockholm,” she says. “There are fantastic hiking trails nearby, like the Bergslagen hill range, where you can just go for a couple of hours or for a day.”

With the pace of developments in AI, has she ever thought about leaving? Even after a spell as a researcher in Spain, she knew she wanted to return to her adopted home. “I turn every stone and weigh all the pros and cons, which is what Canadians do,” she says. “I always come up with more pros [for staying].” 

In Örebro, the list of pros for talented international people and their families keeps on growing.

Looking for a vibrant smaller city with a high quality of life? Find out more about opportunities for international people in Örebro

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Why summer in Sweden can be lonely for foreigners – and what you can do about it

Sweden’s summer holidays are long, but for people who haven’t made friends here yet, time off work without daily contact with colleagues can also be lonely.

Why summer in Sweden can be lonely for foreigners - and what you can do about it

A survey by national statistics agency Statistics Sweden showed earlier this year that hundreds of thousands of people in Sweden don’t have a close friend.

For those born outside Sweden, the figure was more than twice as high than for native-born Swedes, regardless of whether they have foreign or Swedish parents.

Sweden regularly tops international lists of the worst places in the world for immigrants to make friends, which is often put down to the local culture which respects privacy and values individual independence.

During the summer, this can become even more obvious, as Swedes log out of their work computers and head off on holiday for four weeks starting in July. For new arrivals to the country, the loss of this daily contact with colleagues – as well as the fact that friends and family often live in a different country – can make summer feel rather lonely, especially if their social media feeds are filled with idyllic pictures of Swedes spending their time at family summer houses in the countryside.

“It can be very noticeable,” psychologist Anette Utterbäck told the TT newswire. “Especially when you can see everyone else having fun on holiday, it can feel very obvious that you maybe don’t have that many people you can spend time with.”

It’s not always easy to find friends in Sweden, especially during the summer when people are often on holiday.

“The problem isn’t necessarily that people are too afraid [to try and make friends], but it can also be the case that they try to reach out a hand, and no one reaches back.”

Utterbäck said that it’s a good idea to try as much as possible to build relationships during the rest of the year.

“There don’t need to be many of these, but building a network around you which you value all year round, rather than forgetting about it during the winter when you’re busy,” she said.

For immigrants, making friends in Sweden may look different than it did back home, although a classic tip for making friends with Swedes which often comes up in surveys with our readers on the topic is to join some sort of club or society, whether this is a sports club, interest organisation or even the board of your housing association.

READ ALSO: How to make friends in Sweden – seven things I wish someone had told me 

Many of these clubs or societies take a break during the summer, but why not try a summer course or activity instead? 

You could take a university course, with the added benefit of improving your job prospects in Sweden, an intensive course with a provider like Folkuniversitetet, ABF or Medborgarskolan in a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, or even a class at your local sports club or society. You could even use the summer as an opportunity to improve your Swedish.

READ ALSO: ‘We all cheer each other on’: How we made friends in Sweden

There are also clubs, apps and other online groups which can be useful for meeting new people.

“Facebook’s popularity isn’t what it used to be, but there are still some thriving, friendly Facebook communities, like Girl Gone International and International Meetup Sweden,” The Local’s contributor Gemma Casey-Swift wrote in a recent article on making friends in Sweden.

“I met one of my closest friends in a hiking group. Some of us went away to a cabin, which was completely out of my comfort zone, but as well as an award-winning hangover and an appreciation for public transport in Gävleborg, I came back with a new friendship.”

There are also apps like Gofrendly, Citypolarna and Meetup, which offer all sorts of events up and down the country where you can meet new people.