In our series profiling careers of foreigners who've moved to Sweden, The Local catches up with Australian Mel Todaro whose wanderlust saw him end up in Sweden and settle down at a job with Universal Pictures in Stockholm.
Published: 28 Jan 2013 16:32 CET
Like many of his fellow countrymen, Todaro left the shores of Australia to seek opportunity and challenges abroad.
A chance meeting with a Swedish woman in Scotland ended up with him moving to Stockholm on the tail end of a fine summer in 2001. He soon faced the task of surviving the upcoming winter without an income.
Now, 10 years later and employed by Universal Pictures as a financial controller for the Nordic region, Todaro reflects how a bit of networking, a dose of the Swedish language, and a lucky break landed him with his own Swedish career.
So you came to Sweden for love, but what did you actually know about the country before the move?
I didn’t know much at all, I’d been travelling a lot but it wasn’t on my hit list. But I thought: I’ve got nothing to lose, I’ll give it a go. It was another opportunity, something different.
I arrived during the summer and it was fantastic - the people seemed so relaxed. But as great as it was, Stockholm has a way of draining your cash if you're not careful and I quickly realized that I needed to find a job.
So what did you do?
Well, I had a strong CV but it wasn’t cutting the mustard. I was ringing a lot of agencies and chasing them down. It wasn’t at all like back in the UK where they chase you. It ended up with the agency telling me to work in a pub and come back after I’d picked up the language.
But after months of the same old thing, I thought: “Stuff this, I’m gonna do some chasing myself”. By chance, I found that Universal Pictures had a connection to the company where I worked in Glasgow.
I found a name and cold called them. As it happened, their finance director was an Englishman who was keen to see my CV. He appreciated it for what it was, and an interview was set up for soon after. Things just moved forward from there.
Ten years on at the same company, what can you say about working in Sweden?
Sweden has its own idiosyncrasies. The whole country shuts down in July. People simply take four weeks off. In Australia, you'd have to re-train people if they were gone for four weeks.
You have "vabbing" (where workers are paid to stay at home and look after their sick kids) and people are very flexible about working from home. It's definitely a good thing. The UK and Oz have a harder work environment, and are more work focused, but Sweden has a better balance with more holidays and a fantastic paternity leave system.
How about the actual differences at the workplace?
When I came here, one advantage for me was there was a lot of business English. The head office was in London, so my background was a bonus. But the language was a challenge. You don’t know all the tax laws and employment laws and statutory requirements, but you have to learn and sometimes it’s gotta be the hard way.
For example, in the UK, payments are based on reminders, but here, if you don't pay something in time you get blacklisted.
In the UK, you pay when someone screams the loudest. It's times like this when you need to get Swedified as quickly as possible.
Speaking of Swedification, how did you go about learning Swedish?
I did a Swedish for Foreigners course (SFI) and watched a lot of TV. I tried to speak with the family and my friends as often as I could. In the first year though, I was bloody hopeless.
I later learned that the best teachers are your own kids. You can bastardize Swedish as much as you want and they'll be forgiving. They'll always forgive you if you mix up your tenses and they don’t tend to switch to English.
And finally, what advice would you give someone who is about to embark on a Swedish career?
Try and get the language under your belt. Speak to people as much as you can and network. Get insider tips from other expats or the locals and bridge the gap as quickly as you can. Also, it's important to embrace the Swedish culture, it's a fun culture to be involved in.
From a non-business perspective, you need to work on a way to survive winter. Pick up skiing or ice-skating, or join the gym. Winters can be long and dark and it can drive you mental.
Socially, you've gotta keep your networking up. A lot of your friends who are also foreigners might not necessarily stay, they often go back to Australia or wherever they've come from.
You really need a group of Swedish people to knock around with, too. They'll usually stick around.
Interested in sharing the story of your Swedish career with The Local?
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