‘Swedes respond well to people showing they want to integrate’

'Swedes respond well to people showing they want to integrate'
Georgina Varadi. Photo: Private
MY SWEDISH CAREER: For British communications professional Georgina Varadi, moving to Sweden has meant being more engaged and also having a more fulfilling work-life balance.

“In London I had a lot of acquaintances, whereas here in Sweden I have meaningful friendships,” Varadi reflects when asked about the differences in the social life in her old home London and current home Stockholm.

“That's what you get when you don't give up. If you spend time getting to know each other you have a friend for life here. It's something real and meaningful.”

Her experience of the Swedes has been different to  the stereotype of closed, cautious types. Taking the jump and moving to the Swedish capital in 2015 has paid off.

“I had naturally reached a point living down in London where I was a good place in my career and was doing a lot of the things I set out to do, and I started to think about getting older and what I wanted to do with my life. It was a natural discussion between me and my Swedish partner that led to the idea of moving to Stockholm,” she recalls.

“We had visited Stockholm a lot, so I got a really good idea of how it was. I'd also said that if I wanted to make the move, not knowing how easy it is to get a job in communications as an English speaker, I had to know about that. I started looking around about six to eight months before we made any move and discovered there was a whole eco-system of startups and an entrepreneurial world that I didn't know about from before.”

Pitching at Uppstart in Uppsala. Photo: Private

In fact the process went even better than Varadi had expected. Offered a job with tech startup Universal Avenue, she was in Sweden sooner than planned:

“I was asked to move over a bit earlier than I was ready to. My sambo wasn't finished yet with work and had to finish that off. So I ended up moving out here on my own for four months before he was ready to come over too. It was a blessing in disguise in hindsight as I was able to find out whether I liked it in Stockholm as an individual.”

Aside from financial security, moving with a job also had the added benefit of helping her to meet people quickly.

“I realized very quickly that in terms of meeting Swedes in the beginning you have to work a bit to get to know people and have a safety net you can go to if you're feeling lonely. I love talking to and meeting people, and I realized I wouldn't get much out of it unless I went all in and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to meet friends,” Varadi explains.

“Whenever I'd meet someone through a networking event, or get invited to something through work, I'd make sure to stay in contact with the people I was meeting, see if I could meet up with them at the weekend, have a coffee with them during work and so on.”

Though she knew Stockholm quite well before relocating, several aspects of the city have still been a surprise – not least in the professional sense.

“Something that surprised me is that the people are extremely creative, very innovative. I didn't expect that. The work-life balance you get living in Sweden helps: when Swedes take time off they go out to spend time in nature, which I've started doing too, being away from a phone – and when they come back to work they're much more refreshed and productive. People are very efficient as a result,” she argues.

At midsummer. Photo: Private

Adapting to the change of pace wasn't natural at first, but has resulted in a more fulfilling and efficient working life.

“I'm used to the London way of eating lunch at your desk, working late. I didn't realise until I left how much of a routine I was in – doing the same thing every day, every week. Here there was a bit of a teething period where I had to realize that I could take my hour lunch break, go for a walk, meet a friend, then come back and work better because of that.”

Varadi is now chief communications officer at travel startup Triple, and has also thrown herself into networks for women working in Sweden, which she said have been invaluable.

“I joined a group called HER Network – an amazing initiative set up by two girls, where you connect with like-minded women of different backgrounds and nationalities, and come together and support each other. They host regular events where you go and meet other people, which has really helped me to integrate.”

“It inspires you to help others as well. If I know someone is new to the country I try to support them, and I've helped other friends to get involved in the group. It has been really instrumental in helping me feel like I'm part of this community and the life I have here. Without it I'd feel quite alienated,” she adds.

Though the comms head says she would never close the door on new opportunities, she sums up her life in Sweden as a positive one with an enviable amount of flexibility that would be difficult to match.

For anyone that sounds tempting to, she has a final piece of advice when considering whether to move to the Nordic nation:

“Don't give up on meeting new people if you don't have initial success. Keep trying, you'll definitely get a lot out of it. It takes a while, but you'll get a lot back. Swedes respond well to people showing they want to have a friendship and integrate.”

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