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'I moved to Sweden after dreaming about it, and haven't looked back'

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'I moved to Sweden after dreaming about it, and haven't looked back'
Nuraan Arnold says there are surprising similarities between Stockholm and South Africa. Photo: Daniel Ahlberg
07:33 CET+01:00
MY SWEDISH CAREER: "I meet so many new people all the time in Sweden, and I'm genuinely interested in learning about everyone I meet," says Nuraan Arnold. "I love to find out what makes them tick, learn about their peculiarities - I love peculiarities!"

And with a CV including jobs such as singer, radio show host, consultant, cupcake and body positivity blogger, plus-size model, events manager, and sales assistant, it's no surprise to hear the South African say she thrives in jobs that offer new challenges each day. It's this combination of skills that makes her well suited to her current job, as community manager for a building run by coworking and office marketplace Workaround.

"One of the nicest things is being here over lunchtime and seeing people talking together, but one of the biggest challenges is actually making that happen," explains Arnold, who moved to Stockholm from Munich two years ago. "I probably get away with this because of my personality and international background, but when I see people in the kitchen and not talking – typical Swedes! – I'll introduce them to each other. They might look uncomfortable, so I can suggest things they have in common.

"In the end it pays off; people have become good friends. They invite each other to private birthday parties, if someone isn't in the office one day they'll ask where they are, and when people reach a milestone, getting investment or signing their first client, we celebrate together. People often don't talk about their successes there, but it's part of my job to knock on doors and find out what's going on." 

This is one reason Arnold believes coworking is so popular in the Scandinavian country: it gives typically reserved Swedes a way to meet other people that has some structure, as well as offering networking opportunities.

Her building is home to a mix of companies, including energy AI Watty and Voi, an electric scooter-share company. "It's been amazing to watch them grow!" says Arnold. "They came to us as a super small team, maybe eight to ten people and now they have one and a half floors with around 60 people."

The mixture of different people and companies keeps things from getting boring, but can also lead to conflicts when people have cultural clashes or conflicting expectations from the shared work environment, Arnold says. 

When asked if she has dealt with any strange problems as part of her job, she laughs. "I only deal with weird and unexpected problems! We've had a lot of people stuck in lifts, a few conflicts between tenants – silly things like whose turn it is to clean out the dishwasher. It's my job to work out the common ground, the best outcome, and balance out people's different energies."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Workaround currently uses short-term leases, often in buildings which are set to be knocked down or are currently being renovated, making them unsuitable for many tenants and allowing Workaround to offer cheap rents. The company is still in the startup phase, with plans to expand across Sweden and Europe, and the fact that it is constantly evolving presents a challenge Arnold relishes.

This involves planning and hosting imaginative events once a month, ranging from after-work drinks to business talks and big parties for summer and Christmas. Growing up in a household that was the social hub for both her parents' friendship groups, Arnold says organizing events is "in her blood" and she enjoys bringing people together.

"I love change and having options and being able to have creative ideas. I have a lot of freedom here to express my ideas, and often if I have a new concept, I'm allowed to do it," she explains. 

This is in contrast to some of her previous jobs and particularly to the often rigid business hierarchies she experienced in Munich.

Arnold got her first taste of living abroad when she was 18 and got a recording contract with a German record label, which led to two years' travelling between South Africa and Germany, recording and performing.  "It was a great time to be alive!" she says, and the opportunity led to her settling in Munich long-term, where she first started working in radio and later as an event management consultant.

"I wasn't doing anything creative. I flew around the world setting up the training, after parties, and trade shows. We got spoilt a lot, with great hotels and cars driving you to the airport – it was a fun time, until it wasn't. It became a chore and I felt like I was playing dress-up in a business suit every day," she explains. "In Germany, business etiquette is super strict. You have to address the person as 'Herr Doktor Professor' and so on, if they have three doctor titles you have to mention them all every time you speak to them, and there are strict hierarchies which affect whose hand you shake first when you enter a room. People can take offence if you don't get it right."

Eventually, the high-stress role led to Arnold experiencing burnout and leaving the company. 

Keen to exercise her creative muscles again and to find a way to relax, she took up baking: specifically, baking cupcakes at midnight, and more cupcakes, and blogging about it. "I did a course on cupcakes, I started a blog about cupcakes, I was obsessed with cupcakes!" she laughs. 

Her blog eventually landed her a role with a catering and events company in Munich, but although she enjoyed the experience, she was still uncertain about her long-term plan – until one night she had a dream about Stockholm and decided to book tickets to visit the city on a whim.

"I visited Stockholm and fell in love with the city. I knew nothing about Scandinavia before, but within one year I flew back eight times. My soul was happy here – I can't really describe it," she says. "Sweden is similar to South Africa on many levels. Both are surrounded by water and I find that people who live by water are more easygoing and calmer. The sky in both places is amazing. And the people are a bit wacky – I like that! I don't miss anything besides my family."

After several return trips, she decided to take the leap and move for good, but admits that the first year was much tougher than she had anticipated: "I was honestly expecting to get a job super easily. I expected Sweden to be waiting for me, in a way. It wasn't like that!"

Just five days after arriving, she landed a volunteer job as event manager for Scandinavia's biggest Halloween event: the Shockholm parade. This led not only to meeting many of the people who would become her close friends in her new city, but also to an invitation to help organize the after party of the Nobel Prize banquet.

But after this initial flurry of activity, Arnold says she went into "a career drought".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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She lived off savings for six months, by which time she had sent out 177 job applications and received only two invitations to interview. She applied for jobs that were completely different to anything she had done before, from cleaning to being a personal assistant to a man with disabilities.

Meanwhile, despite moving permanently in August 2016, another area Arnold has struggled with is the slow-moving Swedish bureaucracy. She still doesn't have a personal number, despite repeated efforts from both her and her employer, meaning she has no health insurance in Sweden.

"I was at my very lowest point in winter 2016. Moving back to Germany would have been easy, I had my network there and the money is good there, but something was telling me don't do it," she says.

In fact, the seeds for her future career had already been sown: while volunteering with Shockholm, Arnold had set up a kickoff party in one of Workaround's locations, converting their common area into a Halloween-themed party space. She met the manager of the building, who kept in touch, and a few months later he called to say Workaround was opening a new building and he wondered if Arnold would be interested in a community manager role.

"I haven't looked back since," she says.

Her main advice to foreigners looking for work in Sweden is to be aware that many jobs are connection-based. "Swedes are very open to foreigners, but if you apply as a totally random, unknown person, there may be a bit of distance," Arnold explains. "But don't give up, and be more open to trying out new things. If someone will recommend you or will meet with you to talk about the job, that helps a lot." 

And unlike many internationals, one area Arnold hasn't struggled with is meeting new people.

"I loved how smiley and happy the people are. When I say that to other expats, they're like 'who, what, where, Sweden?!' But I'd sit in a coffee shop for a few hours and end up with new best friends," she says. "If you are extroverted and keep asking questions, soon you'll be getting into conversations, although it might take longer to get there than in other countries. Just keep at it."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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