Since arriving in September, Richardson says she has settled in well and is “really enjoying” the Scandinavian lifestyle.
She moved from near the British seaside town of Brighton to the decidedly less sunny climate of northern Sweden, after being offered a job as a postdoctoral researcher in the Umeå University.
Richardson had no previous connection to Sweden, other than a “long-standing interest in the culture and the language,” and her partner is still based in England, but she was excited by the opportunity to try something new.
Her work involves studying the impact of internet technologies on the field of archaeology. Richardson explains: “I'm looking into how use of social media, for example, can help the general public to understand developments in archaeology.”
Another area of her research looks at interactions between academics and the general public using modern technologies.
“It’s quite niche!” she says. “But it’s very interesting, and it could have wider implications.”
She has found huge differences between the working cultures at universities in Sweden and the UK, saying that Sweden is “incredible” by comparison.
“From the very beginning when I had my first induction, they made it clear that our health and well-being was a priority for the university. We get one hour each week to go to the gym within work hours, and they emphasized that we should not be working out of hours, which was a complete contrast to the UK.”
Richardson also praises the generous leave in Sweden, saying it is “very different from the UK, where this is simply not the case.”
She is also getting used to differences in the relationship between students and lecturers at the university, saying: “There seems to be less of a hierarchical relationship between the students and staff (in Sweden), and, from what I have seen, a more flattened and democratic landscape of interactions within the university overall. This is very different from the UK, as, for instance, it is still unusual to call your lecturer by their first name unless invited to do so!”
Before moving, she had been worried about meeting new people, but has found her academic department to be very sociable.
“Friends in southern Sweden and Stockholm said I’d never make friends and would be really lonely,” she explains.
“But I’ve met fantastic people at work, they’ve invited me to their houses and to parties. I have felt really welcomed, and I found that Swedes are keen to hang out and chat. It’s no different to moving anywhere new in England. Maybe it's not the same in other towns, but I’m pleased that the university – and the city – is such a friendly place. People say hello to you and smile.”
Richardson had visited Umeå in February, March and June prior to taking up her job in September, so she has seen the city in all its seasonal incarnations. But she says living there during the winter has still come as “shock to the system”.
“There is very deep snow and lots of ice, for a lot longer than I had expected. It’s now getting dark at half past two, whereas in the UK people grumble when it gets dark at 4:30pm!”
Umeå's City Hall in the snow. Photo: Blondinrikard Fröberg/Flickr
But she isn’t going to let the snow dampen her spirits. “I’m determined to enjoy it, by spending lots of time outside and getting as much lunchtime sun as possible.” She points out that this is another difference between working in Sweden and in the UK, where most people stay at their desks even during lunch breaks.
“I’ve spoken to colleagues and it seems that the coping mechanism is to light lots of candles, and get outdoors as much as possible during daylight. Winter seems like a peaceful time. The hardest bit will probably be after Christmas in January and February when everyone is bored of the cold and desperate for spring.”
As well as the cold, Richardson has found Swedish bureaucracy hard to get used to. “It’s very difficult to get the personal number and then you need it for everything. You have to quote it at the gym, at shops… I know that it’s not a surveillance thing but it feels really strange.”
One thing she hasn’t found difficult to adjust to is the language barrier. Richardson studied Swedish for two years during her PhD and is now taking a course in Swedish for academics, meaning she is immersed in the language at work.
Although she says she is still “very shy” about using her new language skills in public, Richardson says she didn't find it a struggle to pick up the basis.
“It’s a very similar language to English, and the grammar is easier to learn than French, for example – there are no terrible verb endings!” she explains.
“Because of the university, Umeå is very bilingual, but once you step out of the university not everyone speaks English. It’s nicer to be able to say hello and order a coffee in Swedish, I feel like I’m impressing Swedish people every time I’m able to have an interaction in Swedish!”
Richardson urges more of her fellow Brits to consider moving to Sweden, despite the fact it is not seen as an “obvious choice”.
“Not only is it a fantastic place to live and work – there are high taxes but enormous social benefit – but the language is also simple to pick up.”
“Overall I’m really enjoying it. Umeå's a wonderful place.. I’ve never experienced deep snow before so I’m looking forward to new experiences here, discovering new things – and finding new ways to fall over and make an idiot of myself!”