When Christina Angelopoulou moved to Sweden from Greece, she quickly realised that Sweden’s free language course, Swedish for Immigrants (SFI), didn’t offer the industry-specific language she was looking for.
“I was at Komvux for one year studying at SFI but the others needed more help to understand the language, so I didn’t have the opportunity to develop my own language skills or to speak Swedish and have conversations with the other students,” she explains.
That’s when Christina, who has a degree in business administration from Greece and is currently studying Global Business Studies at Stockholm University, was referred to SFEJ (Swedish for Economists, Lawyers, Social, Human Resources and Systems Specialists).
“It’s a great experience because we study yrkespråk (industry language) and we also have the opportunity to meet people with the same background, like economists and journalists,” she says.
This is just one of the programmes that you can study if you have a previous qualification or professional competence from another country. SFX offers a variety of courses suited to educators, engineers, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs, craftspeople, truck and bus drivers.
The intensive Swedish courses complete with work-focused professional vocabulary are outperforming more general courses, with the overall level of employment or continued study around 25 percent higher for those studying SFX than those who completed SFI.
SFX, which has been operating since 2001, is a collaborative effort between all of Stockholm’s municipalities. According to Sam Yildirim, Head of Integration at Länsstyrelsen, the secret to its success is strength in numbers.
“When you have students from 26 municipalities, you can make better courses and groups,” he explains. “They have to travel a little longer but the education is a lot better. For example, all doctors from 26 municipalities have to travel to Södertälje and engineers travel to Stockholm.”
Scientist Daniel Hutchinson is one student attending the Swedish for Engineers and Architects programme. Originally from New Zealand, he moved to Sweden in May 2017 after his wife took up a position at Stockholm University.
Like Christina, Daniel also attended SFI courses to start with but was unsatisfied with the pace of the course and wanted to dig in deeper to the language.
“The teachers were good but I didn't find the course intensive enough. Having so much free time was frustrating as I wanted to learn the language and get a job as quickly as possible.”
His learning coordinator suggested that due to his academic background, SFINX (Swedish for Engineers) would be a better fit. He has been studying at the SFINX Jarfälla since January and on top of smaller class sizes allowing for more time for discussion between teachers and students, he is also enjoying the industry-specific education.
“In addition to the standard reading, writing, listening and speaking exercises, we focus on a theme related to technology. For the past two weeks we have focused on 'water.' Last week we visited the Norrvatten water treatment plant. Today we had to give presentations related to water to the rest of the class,” he says.
Daniel explains his class is always learning new words and grammatical concepts in the context of technology, which makes the learning feel more focused and relevant since everyone in the class has a background in some form of engineering, science or architecture.
This interconnectedness and shared background is something Christina also finds valuable in her course.
“I have a large network and all of us help each other. I work as a substitute mathematics teacher so I meet a lot of people. If I find out about a job, I ask my friends if they need work. Recently one of them has also started working as a substitute teacher,” she says.
Aside from language learning opportunities, Christina has also been provided with information regarding Swedish company rules and regulations as part of her education.
“We also receive a certificate to say we understand the way things work in the Swedish job market and this is really important because many companies ask me if I know the way things work in the Swedish system,” she explains.
While Christina has already taken part in a mentoring programme during her time at SFX, Daniel is looking forward to this opportunity.
“I have yet to find anyone that I can talk to about how I can find a job here in the science and industry sector,” he says. “It is difficult to even know what specific jobs I should be looking for since all my work experience has been at universities, so I think the mentorship programme offered in SFINX will be really helpful.”
Christina is adamant that the key to integrating successfully into life in Sweden is learning the language.
“Even if you don’t work with it, in the fikapaus or the interview, it’s important to speak Swedish”.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by SFX.