NFGL Global Swede Profile: Soukaina Lamrani

Soukaina Lamrani, one of the few winners of the Global Swede award last year, came to Sweden to learn entrepreneurship. But she also learned to listen. Soukaina tells SI News about her experiences and her advice for other NFGL students.

NFGL Global Swede Profile: Soukaina Lamrani

Soukaina studied business in Morocco, her home country, and graduated in 2009.

“For four years I worked as a strategy and management consultant in Morocco,” Soukaina explained. “So I had been travelling around to many different countries and working on different projects.”

But one project wasn’t quite like the others. Soukaina received an assignment to work with the Moroccan Ministry of Youth, assessing the situation of young people and recommending strategies for 2020.

“During that project I discovered how young Moroccans were in a very vulnerable situation, and needed help,” Soukaina said. “The job market isn’t big enough to handle all of the young people.”

Read also: Interview with Galyna Kaplan, former NFGL student

One of the solutions which Soukaina’s company suggested be implemented was for more people to start their own companies. But entrepreneurship isn’t particularly popular in Morocco yet – a mindset which Soukaina is determined to change.

“At that point I thought, ‘I need to do something’. But my training wasn’t enough, I didn’t have the right tools.”

Soukaina decided to further her education, and when she started looking for programmes, one truly stood out:  the Master's programme in Strategic Entrepreneurship at Jönköping International Business School.

“It was natural for me to apply,” Soukaina said. “Sweden is one of the best places to be for innovation, development, and entrepreneurship.”

So Soukaina applied for the programme and the SI Scholarship – which changed her life.

“My first impression of Sweden was that everything was very relaxed,” she said. “In Morocco I lived in a big cosmopolitan city. Here everyone takes their time, and even Stockholm, which the Swedes think is a big city, is so much more relaxed.”

Of course, going from Morocco to Sweden had its challenges as well.

“The month of November was the hardest part,” Soukaina recalled. “It was very dark so early, and we had so much work in school too. The darkness was terrible. But in December, with the Santa Lucia holiday, everything gets better.”

At first it was also a challenge to make friends, Soukaina said.

“Swedes are very friendly and helpful, and yet it’s hard to really make friends with them,” she said. “I think that Swedish people are introverted. Or maybe I am too extroverted,” Soukaina laughed.

But eventually Soukaina adjusted to Swedish culture, and learned to take part of it with her.

“The most important thing I learned is just to listen,” she said. “In Moroccan culture people are quiete talkative, and if you don’t get interrupted then it means people don’t understand what you’re talking about – so you repeat it.”

The culture clash created a few awkward scenarios, of course.

“When I first I arrived I just kept talking and talking, and no one would ever interrupt me, even if I said the same thing ten times. They’re just so respectful. And then I reflected on this and I realized, ‘I’m wrong. I am missing so much.’ Other people also have interesting things to say, and I can learn so much just by listening.”

After completing her programme in Sweden, Soukaina went on to additional studies in Berkley, California – but she said she still misses Sweden.

“Oh, I do miss it,” she remarked. “I want to reconnect with Sweden. It was so wonderful. It was so easy to go everywhere. The public transportation was great. And it’s so much easier to be active. If you want to do sports you can just walk outside. Here, you need to take your car ten miles to a gym.”

Read also: "Sweden is a wide-open door"

Soukaina said it was difficult to choose the best part of her experience in Sweden, but that the day she received the Global Swede award was definitely a highlight.

“I had no idea! At my school you don’t apply for the award and nobody talks about it beforehand. It was a very rewarding day.”

As for current SI students studying in Sweden, Soukaina said it’s important to learn Swedish.

“I was so busy with school that I didn’t try to learn Swedish for a long time,” she said. “But it is important. Try to learn Swedish and try to get closer to the Swedish people. Just get closer to Sweden in general – there are only benefits to it.”

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‘When I leave Sweden, my fairy tale becomes fake’

Alexandra 'Austin' Muirhead, 31, is about to run her first ever music festival, in Gothenburg. It comes at a hectic time for the Canadian, who is sleeping in a rehearsal studio as her working holiday visa is close to expiring.

'When I leave Sweden, my fairy tale becomes fake'
Alexandra Muirhead is launching her own music festival in Gothenburg. Photo: Lovisa Wallin

This article is part of The Local's My Swedish Career series. Read more interviews with international professionals and entrepreneurs in Sweden here.

“To get out of devastation, I just do stuff, I just do more,” she explains to The Local. We meet her at a Gothenburg art gallery  a few hours before a cozy acoustic concert she has organized herself.

While we talk backstage about her work and experiences in Sweden, her friends cut in to tease Muirhead about how little she sleeps.

An Arts & Entertainment Management graduate, she has co-organized multiple film and music festivals before but always hoped to run her own.

Muirhead's work and love of travel have taken her around the world and she has lived in Vancouver, Galiano Island, Montreal, Toronto, London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Glasgow – but it’s Gothenburg where she first felt able to fulfil this dream.

“I don’t think I could have done this outside Sweden,” Muirhead says. She feels that very few major bands play in Gothenburg, only passing through it between tour dates in Oslo and Stockholm, but at the same time local musicians have limited access to the stages, so they don't perform often either.  

It’s that untapped potential that inspired Muirhead to implement her ideas here one year ago.

Before arriving in Gothenburg in August 2017, she contacted the newly created local team for Sofar Sounds, an international startup that runs secret concerts in unconventional places ranging from living rooms to retail shops. She was only the third member of the team, which in two months set up the first show in Gothenburg. Now the events take place regularly.

In March Muirhead becaume part of a production group, Flocken Media, and decided to organize her first festival, called Waves Rolling.

Included in the lineup are bands from Gothenburg, Oslo, Stockholm and even Canada, which she warns “may not play here on another occasion”.

The musicians will also be part of the audience, which is unique, she says, but admits: “I’m scared of whether the people will show up and whether it will sound good”.

Flocken Media. Photo: Achen Jim Liu

Muirhead has always thrown herself into establishing new projects when she has moved to a new area. “If there’s a local problem that you could contribute to fixing, it’s very rewarding,” she explains.

And it's a two-way street: she also believes that staying active helps to solve the problems most expats find themselves facing, from loneliness to trouble adjusting to a new culture. 

“When I feel sad, I make a video. Or start a new project. I would probably recommend the same approach to others, especially if their sadness is because of finances. Some of that stuff will get you money.”

She arrived to Gothenburg without a solid plan as she believed it would be possible to find a job within two weeks, like in other places she had moved to. Today Muirhead says that was a crazy idea.

“It was pretty hard when I came here. Nobody tells you there’s a housing crisis and you won’t get a job. And please bring 2000 dollars that should cover you for three months,” she says, highlighting the high living cost and shortage of affordable housing in Sweden's major cities.

Photo: Ana Paula Lafaire

Like many new arrivals in Sweden, finding accommodation was another challenge. After staying with a couchsurfer when she first arrived, she found her first accommodation for a one-month period, then another that was similarly short-term. The third one was available for five months. In between contracts, she stayed on couches, took bands on tours, and at one point worked at a music festival in Norway. She now lives in a rehearsal studio because it’s the cheapest option.

Despite getting involved in a mix of cultural initiatives, Muirhead has struggled when it comes to finding a stable job in Gothenburg. Alongside her creative projects, she has worked in substitute positions including as a restaurant assistant, a babysitter, and an English teacher at a summer camp

“I’m still trying to get a job in Sweden,” says the Canadian, who estimates she has sent out “hundreds” of application emails as well as knocking on doors.

Each time the effort doesn't pay off, “you get a big heartbreak, it’s devastating and terrible”, she explains. The creative has now applied for a working holiday visa in Denmark as a way to stay in Scandinavia while she continues to hunt for the right role. 

But for her, it's worth it. The region has everything she wants to do, her favourite bands, and friendships that she says are stronger than anywhere else.

“When I go anywhere else, all my friends from here become a story, a fairy tale. No one else gets to touch it or see it – they only hear about it. When I live here, it’s real but when I leave – this fairy tale becomes fake,” is how she sums it up.

Something about the area has kept her coming back, ever since she first travelled to Norway for a concert in 2013. After that, she began to visit every six months, and that soon became every three months. Eventually, she moved to the UK to be closer to Scandinavia, and when that visa ran out,  she moved to Gothenburg and “fell completely in love all over again”.

Despite the challenges she's facing, Muirhead is sure her future is in Scandinavia. She says: “It’s not my style to give up so I probably have to die here trying. I’ve chosen to.”