‘Foreigners like to whine about Sweden, don’t they?’

31-year-old Diego Planas Rego moved to Sweden to study, and after working at Spotify and Swedish startup Sqore, he's about to go freelance. He tells The Local why he's chosen to stay in Stockholm for his new venture.

'Foreigners like to whine about Sweden, don't they?'
Diego speaking at a conference. Photo: Private

Diego’s story mirrors that of many expats in Sweden: came to study, stayed for work, stayed even longer because it “just felt right”.

He first arrived in Västerås due to a chance meeting. While living in Spain and planning to continue his studies there, he bumped into his former high school teacher, who was Swedish.

“He said I should challenge myself and move to a different place – somewhere I didn’t know the system and the language. I thought ‘why not?’” remembers Diego.

When it came to choosing a university, he “just took a shot”, not knowing much about the geography, culture or history of the Scandinavian country, and settled on Västerås because it offered a Master’s in Entrepreneurship, a subject which appealed to him. And he was soon able to put his skills into practice – halfway through his studies, he was offered a job with Spotify.

Visiting Kiruna in northern Sweden. Photo: private

The music streaming service was unknown outside Sweden at the time and Diego began working part-time in marketing for the startup alongside his degree.

He admits that at first he was expecting it to go bust, and to move back to Mexico or Spain. “Every year something new came up – Google Music or iTunes Radio – and I wondered if it would be the end of Spotify. But it kept going.”

“The focus was on doing stuff, which I think is why they were successful. In the US and Mexico it’s more hierarchical and there is a lot of pressure on how you present things,” says the expat.

He enjoyed working at Spotify, and stayed there longer than at any job he has had before or since. “It was exciting, I learned a lot and was able to travel,” he explains.

But as the company grew, Diego eventually decided to look for a new challenge, and started working at recruitment startup Sqore (pronounced Score). “It’s a startup so you have to write it differently!” he jokes.

With 'industry friends' from Uber, iZettle, Mojang, Rebtel, King, Truecaller and Spotify. Photo: private

Working in marketing and growth for the company, he says the job reminds him of the early days of Spotify. “There are just 50 employees, and in startup life everyone does a lot of different things, so for example I'm working directly with the product interface as well as marketing. The company has changed so much in a year and has been very interesting.”

“Sqore has over 20 nationalities working there, including expats from smaller countries and not just the major European countries. The world is not Sweden or the US; it’s a mixture of opinions, so having different senses of humour and takes on things always enriches the environment – and the product itself. Everyone can bring their own skills and culture, whether they've been trained in sales at the best business schools, or are great at baking and bring buns into the office!”

The company measures talent for recruitment or awarding scholarships and prizes. People take tests on hard skills, which might include multiple choice questions or an essay, and then get a grade or ranking in that area.

One of the advantages of this is that it can remove bias from selection processes. “You get a score and it doesn’t matter what your gender or nationality is,” Diego explains.

But the ambitious expat has just embarked on a new challenge. “I’m opening my own mini agency, mixing the skills and knowledge I learned at Spotify and Sqore.”

He will be working as a consultant for Musixmatch, a company which provides song lyrics for companies including Spotify. But despite the fact that the company is based in Italy, he has decided to stay put in the Swedish capital.

“This is the right size of city, the right lifestyle and the right everything for me. I really wanted to stay here. At first I was staying for the job, but after Spotify I interviewed for jobs all over the world – but there was nowhere that felt as right as Stockholm.”

“It’s a great place to be based, with lots of tools and networking opportunities.”

“Sweden gives you freedom that you don’t get in other places. You have freedom of movement, of speech, and freedom of time. They have long parental leave, long vacations – compared to six days a year in Mexico! Sweden lets you choose what to do with your time.”

Although he is enthusiastic about the benefits Sweden offers, Diego admits some aspects of life here baffle foreigners. He collaborates on a Tumblr blog, An Immigrant in Sweden, where he posts gifs representing expat struggles from being unable to book a good laundry slot to being put on hold for ages by Skatteverket. A friend invited him to help on it when he was running out of ideas.

“We’re here because we love Sweden, it's not an attack at all – we just emphasize the things that are a bit different!”

Sailing in Stockholm's archipelago. Photo: private

But is there anything he found particularly hard to get used to in his new country?

“Foreigners usually like to whine about Sweden a bit, don’t they!” laughs Diego. “It's a cliche, but the darkness in winter is strange. You wake up from a nap and wonder ‘what year is it? Did I sleep all week?’ But if you keep yourself active in winter, just keep doing stuff, you don’t notice – you can also just buy an SAD lamp.”

“One thing I found strange was the fruit… Sweden’s in the EU but we don’t make the most of trade and import all the fruit we could. You see tiny pineapples!”

Diego has integrated into Stockholm, and has made friends with expats and Swedes through SFI classes, work, innebandy, and through other events. “I do miss the outdoor culture of Spain, where you always meet out, at a bar or cafe or party. Here you always meet at someone’s apartment, and that makes it harder to mix friendship groups and meet new people.”

“You need to know enough Swedish that if you’re at a party with only Swedes, they don’t have to switch to English for you.”

“I feel like I belong in Europe, rather than Sweden specifically, but Stockholm does have the right combination of everything for me.”

He has also travelled around the country from Umeå and Kiruna in the North to Smögen on the West Coast. “The best thing about Sweden are the lakes. You can grab a map, pick a lake, go there and it’s beautiful.”

But despite feeling totally at home in the city, Diego has stumbled across reminders of Mexico in unexpected places.

“You go to the supermarket and there’s a taco section – not a Mexican food section, but the American version of tacos; these hard shells and ground meat. They eat tacos in Sweden every Friday… I was not expecting that!”

And on a visit to Uppsala, he noticed something familiar about a map on display in the library museum. “I realized it was a big map of Mexico City, my hometown. It turned out it was the first map Spaniards had made of Mexico City – and it’s in Uppsala!”