‘I can help Swedes deal with the dark winter’

Italian lighting designer Chiara Carucci, 36, is spreading her rays in Stockholm, where she scored her dream job at an energy and engineering consulting firm after giving a lecture in the city eight months ago.

'I can help Swedes deal with the dark winter'
Chiara Carucci in Stockholm. Photo: Private
Struggling with the short, dark winter days in Sweden? Chiara Carucci's job revolves around projects designed to give people optimum exposure to artificial lighting – which can play a huge role in boosting our moods.
She works alongside architects, engineers, physicists and city planners to design outdoor lights and glowing facades around buildings or on squares, bridges or stairways, designed to create the perfect atmosphere for each location.
“I can really feel that people get sick and depressed because of the lack of daylight here in Sweden. So I know I can make a difference, my work is important here,” Carucci explains.
“Lighting design is my profession, my passion and my lifestyle (…) it's about arranging the layers of light people are exposed to and how that affects their wellbeing,” the Italian adds.

ÅF, where Chiara Carucci works, designed some of the lighting in the new Mall of Scandinavia in Solna. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT
The 36-year-old – who hails from sunny southern Italy – first heard about Swedish consulting firm ÅF during a lighting conference in Copenhagen.
An expert in her field, she then ended up meeting the company's managers while she was in Stockholm giving a talk about her role in the International Year of Light. The initiative – coordinated by the United Nations – is designed to raise awareness about the functions that lighting technologies can play in improving lifes across the planet.
“ÅF didn't have any open positions but a manager approached me after my lecture and then they asked me to join them (…) Four weeks later I was working in Stockholm!” the designer says, laughing.

Carucci's company worked on this staircase for Hudiksvall municipality in northern Sweden. Photo: Mikael Silkeberg
While ÅF is a large Nordic company with some 8,000 staff, Carucci is among just 35 lighting designers in the Swedish capital. One of the team's most recent projects involved the lighting for the brand new giant Mall of Scandinavia in Solna, north of the city, which opened earlier this month.
In December, the colleagues will be lighting up Swedish heritage sites in the small historic wooden town of Eksjö in southern Sweden, as part of a locally organized light festival there. The idea is to bring the buildings to life during the darkest months of the year by giving them a given a fresh glow.
“It's about deciding how all the lights are put together and the general effect they give (…) having the right lighting just exactly when and where you need it,” argues Carucci.

A lighting project Chiara Carucci is working on in Eksjö. Photo: ÅF
The new Swedish resident describes her close-knit team “very talented and brilliant” and says her co-workers have also helped her overcome some of the “culture shock” she's experienced since relocating to northern Europe.
“I am an Italian and so of course we talk a lot and we also have a very important body language with our hands and facial expressions. But I am a bit blind to people in Sweden! I cannot read their facial expressions as they are not as clear as mine,” she laughs.
“So, especially with my clients, it is not always so easy to see if they are happy or not. But I am learning. My colleagues are giving me feedback and also trying to make me understand how I can adapt my own energy and convey it in the best possible way to our customers.”

Fristadstorget, a square in Eskilstuna, west of Stockholm, where ÅF also designed the lighting. Photo: Sten Jansin
Despite knowing no one in Stockholm when she accepted her post in the city, Carucci describes her social life as “absolutely great” thanks to throwing herself into a range of activities organised by members of the online community network Meetup.
“It gave me the chance to meet many, many expats, and most of my friends here from abroad…Greece, Canada, Morocco. I also have some Swedish friends too. I actually met them at an English debate club that is part of Meetup!” she giggles.
For Carucci, living in Stockholm also fulfils a lifelong dream to live closer to nature.
“I moved in the spring so I got to see the city come alive. I just love the water here and the fact I can be near so many parts even though I am in the city. Since I also enjoy walking and hiking and camping – for me this is the perfect location.”
But Carucci has some advice for any fellow Italians making the move north: don't expect the same kind of flirting as you find back home.
“You could really be the most beautiful woman in the world and not be noticed!…Not that I am saying I am the most beautiful!” she laughs.
“Dating is a bit difficult but of course there are nice guys in Sweden. They are very tall. They are like Vikings. It's amazing!”
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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”