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Parents at Stockholm International School join an instant community

The older you get, the harder it is to make new friends. Throw moving to a new country into the mix and you can suddenly feel very lonely. Stockholm International School understands the challenges parents face when moving abroad and uses its tight-knit PTA to ease the relocation.

Parents at Stockholm International School join an instant community
Photo: PTA members enjoying curling together

Claude Kelly has only been in Stockholm for three months but already has a packed social calendar. The Texan relocated with her husband and six-year-old son in August, arriving just two weeks before the school term was due to start. She barely had time to recover from the jet lag before school was underway.

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“I didn’t even have time to process the move,” she tells The Local. Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of Stockholm International School’s parent-teacher association (PTA). The primary mission of the school-based organisation is to involve parents in the school’s activities from fundraising to sports events. It also welcomes newcomers to a ready-made community from the moment their child enrols at SIS.

And if Claude is anything to go by, it’s doing a pretty good job.

Photo: Claude Kelly (right)

“The community here is amazing! It’s helped me a lot. There are days when I’m not even home. The other day I went to running club, then book club and fika, then I picked up my son and took him to a playdate. It’s constant go, go, go!”, she laughs.

Co-President of the PTA Philip McCrae explains that in any given year there are around 25-30 parents who are actively involved with 200-250 more dipping in and out. Much of the activity centres around the school’s ongoing Nepal Project, a student-run (and parent-supported) project to raise funds for students at a Nepalese primary school. 

But there’s also the social element. Using an online tool called Classlist, parents can instantly share news and tips amongst themselves. There’s always someone to answer your question or invite you for fika, a real boon for families who are new to Sweden.

Photo: Philip McCrae, Co-President of the PTA

Philip explains that the PTA sends out all comms to parents through a digital communications tool which is also where members can set up and join different clubs. There are currently 12 clubs including a book club, running club and ‘Stockholm Night Out’ for when parents need a child-free tipple.

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“We have been very focused on and consistently prioritising that there’s a big, broad range of activities for parents. I think it’s a great way to get them connected in some way to the broader SIS community,” says Philip.

Claude is a testament to the PTA’s success and has fully embraced the school’s community. While her son is taking part in activities like chess club and soccer, she has no shortage of things to do herself.

Photo: PTA members enjoying a fika together 

“I’ve basically signed up for everything! But it’s up to you. It’s just amazing to come somewhere new and have all this available,” she says.

Something Claude has found particularly useful is the PTA’s custom ‘Welcome to Sweden’ booklet. Developed by a long-standing member of SIS’s PTA with significant support from the school, the booklet helps with everything from getting a cellphone to opening a bank account. 

“It’s the perfect resource that’s helped me a lot. If I can’t find someone to ask during fika then I go through the book. I have a dog and didn’t know where to take him to the vet, it can be daunting. I’ll get texts from Telia and I can’t figure out what it says but everything’s in the book. There are so many avenues for help.”

The multitude of clubs and the Welcome to Sweden booklet are just a snapshot of the help that SIS provides new families. The school has every base covered to help newcomers settle in, including a buddy system that pairs incoming parents with an existing family as well as two information sessions at the start of the year.

Photo: PTA members 

It’s a welcome relief for many parents who gain confidence knowing that they won’t be alone following the relocation. The ready-made support network and social life make Stockholm feel like home from the moment you land. It’s certainly worked for Claude, who has enthusiastically thrown herself into school life.

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“There were some days when it was lonely and I just wanted to stay in but these activities force you to get out. I can’t express enough how much it’s helped.”

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Stockholm International School.

 

EDUCATION

‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”

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At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.” 

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