‘Things were going really well in India, but I wanted a taste of a foreign lifestyle’

'Things were going really well in India, but I wanted a taste of a foreign lifestyle'
Divya Sharma. Photo: Johnny Kappa
Living in one country and working in another isn't a conventional way of life, but Divya Sharma has made a habit of pursuing adventure. The Indian HR professional tells The Local about moving from city to city in Sweden, then taking a job where crossing the bridge into Denmark is a daily routine.

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“I have a mixed background even in India,” Sharma explains.

“I was born in the north-east close to China, was educated there, then in my late teens moved to Maharashtra state to study. When I completed my degree in computer sciences, I applied for an MBA in HR then moved to a big city called Pune, which is sort of the Gothenburg to Mumbai's Stockholm.”

We haven't even started talking about moving more than 6,000 kilometres to Sweden yet, and it's already apparent that this won't be a story about standing still.

“I was in Pune for seven years, did my MBA, got my first two jobs there and experience working for international companies. Then my parents retired and moved to a small state called Chhattisgarh where they're from, so I moved there and started working.”

Sharma started to consider the biggest move of all – to a different continent – in her mid-20s. Through family friends, she met her future husband who had relocated to Sweden. They dated for some time, but eventually a decision had to be made about where to live. It wasn't simple:

“At that point I was very happy. I had a really good job in India and I was flourishing. I want to point that out because there's a stereotype of people coming to Sweden to get a good job. But in my case, and in the case of many people like me, things were going really well in India, but I wanted to have a taste of a foreign lifestyle.”

“My sister was already based in the USA, and I didn't know what was out there. So we had a decision to make and my husband thought he would come to India at one point, but I decided to give it a try in Sweden. We were both young, why not?”

Divya Sharma. Photo: Personal

Even after taking the leap, things wouldn't be stable for too long:

“I was in Södertälje for six months, and as soon as I had formed my base there… we moved to Gothenburg.”

It was at that point when Sharma really started to find her feet in Sweden. After a year and a half in the country, she was offered a good job with one of the Nordic nation's biggest firms, Ericsson. So good in fact, that when her husband's working location again changed to the south of Sweden, she decided it was for the best to sit tight and make an impact in Gothenburg.

“His contract in Gothenburg expired and he was offered a permanent position with Sony in Lund. The timing wasn't good because I'd just been offered the position in Ericsson that I couldn't say no to. So I enjoyed the experience of living alone for a year and a half. It's not so far between Gothenburg and Lund, when it comes to the practical side of things, and we made it work by travelling every weekend.”

While the long-term plan was to once again move and reunite with her husband, she wasn't prepared to move for just any job – it had to be the right one. And even when the right one did come up, it involved an unusual quirk of life: living in Sweden and working in Denmark.

“I'm the kind of person who takes a lot of chances in their life. I got some advice from people, realized it was possible, and I just gave it a shot. The company I work for now called me about the second day after I applied. They had only called two people, and thankfully I have a profile that's very niche and worked with big international companies which helped. On top of that I spoke very good Swedish by Danish standards. Though I still don't speak great Danish, it's difficult to pronounce, and our workplace is very international,” she notes.

In the early days, temporary ID checks on the Swedish-Danish border didn't make life easy for her and other commuters across the Öresund Bridge.

“In the beginning the border controls meant it took more than an hour to get between work and home. But now it's a lot better, it takes around 45 minutes door-to-door, maximum.”

READ ALSO: Sweden to end ID checks at border with Denmark

Dividing life between countries sometimes creates a strange feeling, she admits.

“It's all about perception. There are days obviously where I feel a bit detached in many regards, especially with the language and social life. I live in Sweden but having an Indian passport means I have a special work visa my company applied for, which means I can live in Sweden and work in Denmark, but I can't live in Denmark.”

The Öresund Bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Being based in Sweden is financially beneficial however as it has a lower cost of living, and a travel card allowing the use of public transport in both Malmö and the Copenhagen region also eases the process. Though travelling is sometimes a burden, nonetheless.

“I do need to keep an eye on the time when it gets to 11pm or so. If you miss a train then it could be 20-25 minutes waiting, and you then need to get off in Malmö and catch a bus. Skåne local buses aren't quite as good as Gothenburg or Stockholm too – they're often late. That doesn't make things easier so I try to avoid the bus when I can,” she admits.

“Some of my colleagues in Copenhagen travel as much as I do. It's a fairly big city so you travel a lot, have to take the metro. On the flip side, I can't bike to work the way my colleagues do – Copenhagen is very famous for its cycling culture. I have to think of the logistics in that regard: I need to make sure my connecting trains are on time.”

And being a country-hopper also in some ways dampens the famous Scandinavian work-life balance.

“There's a special system where we're only allowed to work from home for one day a week, maximum two, back home in Sweden. We have to be present regularly. There are a few Swedes working with me here in HR, in senior positions, and I see them pretty much every day. My Danish colleagues on the other hand not so much, if they have kids. That could be a challenge if you have a kid and live across the bridge – I don't just now but it could condition your work-life balance in that regard.”

Those are the challenges, but the benefits are plenty, and often unique. For starters, there's the allure of a pan-Nordic experience.

“One big benefit is the overall Nordic experience you get. Even though you're working in Copenhagen, it's very international too and there's a lot of cross-Nordic cooperation, so I've had the pleasure of working with people in Finland, Norway, the Baltics and obviously Sweden. It's very good for your career in that regard.”

The pay is also good – as is the Danish love of a sweet treat or two… in moderation.

“In Denmark there's cake every second month,” Sharma laughs.

“Danes really like their cakes and someone brings one to the office fairly often. That's great, but you have to watch out!”

Copenhagen. Photo: John Anes/Flick Creative Commons

Passing between the two nations and coming into regular close contact with natives on both sides of the bridge also offers a privileged opportunity to compare and contrast.

“There are obvious differences. Midsummer is not as big as in Sweden, there's no semlor (a Swedish bun eaten at Easter) and though wienerbrød (known in English as a Danish pastry) is Danish, it's more popular in Sweden!”

“I also get to sample all of the festivals and celebrations in Copenhagen. And I've got to know a lot about Danish TV shows, which are really quite good and a few like The Killing have been exported to the UK and the US. I was unaware of a lot of them, but colleagues recommended some, and Norwegian colleagues have recommended things from Norway too.”

READ ALSO: Living life on both sides of the bridge

Sharma's travels across the bridge have featured prominently in her blog, and writing is a passion she tries to maintain despite a busy work schedule.

“I've been writing for so long, it's my creative outlet. I used to write a lot in India growing up, but being in Sweden and not having a job initially really forced me to put my thinking hat on, and I realized I could write about who I am, what I was doing and hopefully help others take inspiration from that and help them in their job search. It started from there.”

Soon she was being paid to have the writing published, which helped her connect to other people in similar situations, trying to form a new life in a new country. These days her job and commute doesn't leave a lot of free time, but the writing still continues whenever possible.

“It's much more restricted now due to travel time, but you have to keep your creative instincts alive – that's a bit part of who you are, I believe. I feel more complete when I've written things about my experiences, small things I've observed in Sweden and Copenhagen. But in a constructive manner – I never look to annoy anyone.”

Central Malmö. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

Those observations also beg a bigger question: which of the two countries would she prefer to live and work in?

“It's a question I ask myself every day. I couldn't imagine working in Sweden again after working here in Denmark because the set-up is so different, but it really depends on your life at the time. There's always the temptation to work in Sweden because you've spent more time in that country living there.”

“The commute is a big factor – if you're offered something 15 minutes from home that's good for your career, you'd probably take it,” she continues.

“Travelling 47 minutes each way is still something you notice. But though I love Sweden, I love Danes too, I love their directness. Then again in some ways I feel affinity with Sweden – the humbleness.”

Picking between the two isn't easy then. In closing, the HR worker also some advice for anyone considering making a similar move, be it to Sweden or Denmark.

“The thing I say to people who are looking for work here is that your attitude needs to be right, you need to make sure you're service-minded and not just a job hopper. I also advise all people if they're from non-EU countries that it really helps if you're based in Sweden or Denmark. It doesn't help if you're in India or China, looking for jobs here, because there are so many people already here in Scandinavia, and even they aren't getting jobs easily.”

“Not to dissuade them, I say: OK, it's nice you want to broaden your horizons, but it's tough. You have to be realistic. I emphasize that because I've been in HR for four years now in Scandinavia, and we get so many requests from people who want to come, especially from non-EU countries, and from India asking if I can help,” she points out.

“Of course I can, but you need to have either that exceptional Scandinavian level skill, or exceptional non-Scandinavian skills they can't get here. It could be as simple as your personality, or your attitude, but you need to have it.”

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