Sweden had never featured in Ghosh's life plan; her move to the country in 2017 came from a place of pragmatism.
“Like most Indians, my husband works with computers,” she jokes. “When he was offered a job in Sweden we decided I would come and join him.”
Despite moving over to Helsingborg with a ready-made support group in the form of her husband, the initial transition for Ghosh wasn't an easy one.
“I remember my first visit here was in November 2016. It was dark, cold, and I had my first experience of feeling out of my depth in a new country when I started applying for my visa, which was a really long and difficult process.”
Indian Parul Ghosh found the Swedish winters tough at first – but soon learned to embrace them. Photo: Private
Growing up in Delhi, the disability rights advocate had been exposed to certain ideas of what Sweden was about before she set up home here.
“In India a lot of people think of Sweden as Lapland. I don't want to disappoint anyone, but for those in southern Sweden, you're not going to see any Northern Lights or mountains. There are lots of farms, though!”
Lack of auroras aside, Ghosh's first worry was that she wouldn't find work in Helsingborg to match her CV. In India, she had spent 10 years working as a disability consultant, advising the government on policy around making society more accessible to all and liaising with high profile bodies like the UN. Ghosh was concerned that she wouldn't find similar roles in her new home.
“I felt that the kind of work that I was experienced in would only exist in bigger places like Copenhagen or Stockholm, particularly without speaking Swedish fluently.”
But, keen to make connections, Ghosh started visiting Mindpark, a co-working space in Helsingborg, and came across a startup called Peers Bridge. She and the team hit it off from their first meeting.
“Peers Bridge works in supporting cultural integration in Sweden, with a focus on asylum seekers. Immediately we clicked; my background matched theirs and naturally we started working together.”
“One of the courses I lead for Peers Bridge is around the Swedish work environment. The cultural differences between Sweden and their home country are, for lots of immigrants, huge. I've come from an office set-up where I'd be in the office until 10pm or 11pm. You wouldn't leave until your work is finished.”
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Another thing that struck Ghosh when she first started working in Sweden was the flat hierarchy. “In India you'd refer to your manager as 'sir' or 'madam'. But here there are no bosses, really. There's a huge onus on teamwork and consensus. It's actively encouraged to take a break and go for fika with your colleagues. I love that sense of camaraderie.”
“Even as a freelancer, when I go to my co-working space I don't feel isolated. You're always with others in the co-working space, going for lunch together. You feel part of something.”
Ghosh tells us that the city's thriving co-working scene is testament the idea that, when it comes to Helsingborg, small doesn't mean lacking in opportunities – for work or play.
“Whether you want to get into nature by cycling or hiking in the forest, or do something a bit more 'urban' – like meet a friend for a coffee in town – there are options.”
To feel like you've entered a magical forest – This is how I feel each time I go to PålsjöSkog. This has to be my favorite place in the city. Just the fact that there is a forest in the city is so amazing. There are walking, cycling and riding routes marked through the forest. These are pictures from the summer but check out my stories to know what it looks like now and to know how it is when you enter the tree tunnel in the last picture! /Parul @prooly #TheLocalSweden #MySweden #Helsingborg #HBGCity #VisitHelsingborg #HBG #Skåne #VisitSkåne #Europe #Sweden #Scandinavia #Sverige #Pålsjö #Forest #Nature #Green #City #IG_Europe #Europe_IG #Instagram #igers #Hiking #VisitSweden #Travel #instagood
“Professionally, I can see the startup scene taking off here. There are lots of opportunities for those from other countries to try something new. You can almost breathe that here now. It's happening in Helsingborg, you can see it transforming. There's more to Sweden than just the big cities.”
While the Delhi native has been in Sweden for two years, she says she still has 'lost in translation' moments. It was this feeling of being outside of her comfort zone and not knowing where to turn for day-to-day concerns that inspired her own business idea, which has just been given funding from the Helsingborg local authority.
“My husband broke his leg playing cricket in my first few days in Sweden. My parents-in-law were visiting, and we were waiting for my him to come home when he hobbled through the door two hours late. Immediately I started researching where I could find crutches locally – which was a challenge, as I didn't have any friends here and couldn't drive.”
“It was the first time that I remember thinking really clearly, 'it would be so nice to know someone here and know where to turn'.”
Luckily, a Facebook group for expats in Sweden and a helpful stranger led Ghosh to a pair of crutches for her husband – and the beginnings of a business proposal.
“It got me thinking that social media provides us with so much 'content' – but what about those day-to-day questions? Like 'where can I get a passport photo taken?' The simple but really necessary things.”
This gap in the market inspired Ghosh to set up This is HBH, a platform with community-sourced information, personal stories and questions. It's launching in September 2019 and is designed as a place for expats, temporary residents or even people who are passing through Helsingborg to share knowledge and experiences.”
Ghosh explains that she's still discovering new things about local culture that take her by surprise – not least, the level of trust people show others in Sweden.
“When I applied for funding for This is HBG, the board who decides had never met me. And yet they had faith in my idea. I was so fascinated in this idea that they had trusted me enough to give me money without knowing me.”
She tells us about the tables she often sees set up in public places, laden with sweets, chocolates and a Swish number for payment, with no one manning the table. “There's a baseline assumption that people will be honest in Sweden,” she says. “It's a beautiful thing.”