Katerina Koulla, from Cyprus, had worked in Sweden for eight years before she decided to seriously study Swedish.
“I moved to Sweden because of my studies. I’d trained to be a preschool teacher in Greece, then I did my thesis on Scandinavian education. After that, I worked for a couple of years in an international preschool in Stockholm.
“I had wanted to learn Swedish from the very beginning but couldn’t between working and studying. After I bought my house here, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, now I really need to learn Swedish!’
“Even after years of living here, I was still taking my phone to the supermarket to get translations for food names, and ingredients. It was time!”
These courses are free of charge, and applications can be made by those with a university degree across several key fields, such as law, engineering, architecture or teaching.
Hitting the ground running
Within weeks Katerina was part of a close group of students, that met for four hours of intensive Swedish each weekday in Södermalm.
Not only did she find herself rapidly learning the language as the weeks progressed, but she also found herself receiving a unique and in-depth introduction to Swedish culture. For the first time, she was seeing new meaning and nuance behind familiar words.
“As a teacher, I understand how people learn – and this course really does work. Within our class, everyone is placed at the same level, and we all have a similar background, making it easy to work together.
“The classes use a wide variety of techniques to motivate you. It’s really interactive, and we use a lot of technology to learn. We have regular tests, and I always know how I’m progressing.
“I also get time with my teacher regularly, both individually and in a group setting, That means I get the time and attention that I need to learn in-depth.
“Importantly, if you’re learning a language, you need to understand the culture behind the words. We get to see how people express themselves and their opinions, and learn a lot about Sweden from how our teachers talk about their experiences. It’s not just ‘Let’s learn the grammar.'”
Working the Swedish way
Katerina is not simply improving her spoken Swedish, however. The SIFA course she is taking – Intensive Swedish for educators (SFP) – is specifically designed to give her a comprehensive overview of the education system in Sweden, delivered in several nine-week courses over 18 months.
Her course sits alongside two other SFX profession-focused courses, Intensive Swedish for engineers and architects (SFINX), and Intensive Swedish for economists, lawyers and other social scientists (SFEJ). Each of these course gives students the kind of workplace understanding it may take years to accumulate otherwise, and classes are taught at the adult education hub, Campus Åsö.
Two more courses – Intensive studies in Swedish – classroom and Intensive Swedish – distance learning – are designed for those without a vocational need, but who want an immersive Swedish language learning experience.
“There’s also a practical component later in the programme. You have the opportunity to go into schools and observe how lessons are taught, both in English and Swedish. It’s really great teacher training.”
Building connections and confidence
Being able to visit workplaces as part of her SFP course – with similar opportunities in the SFINX and SFEJ courses – is also a great opportunity to network and build the connections needed to thrive in Swedish careers.
“It’s hard when you come from another country and you try to build your own network. That’s why my course is so great. When I got here, I didn’t know anybody. Now I know more than ten other preschool teachers. Soon we’ll all be out in the workplace in different schools, and I’ll be able to connect with them.
“This gives me so many more options when I go for my teaching licence, where I work and where I can choose to live.”
As for now, Katerina is already extremely pleased with her SIFA experience – and thinks it has already made a big difference on a personal level.
“Learning a language is great personal development, and through SIFA I’m already feeling more comfortable and able to communicate with other people. I feel involved here because everyone at SIFA makes me feel like I’m part of this country, Sweden.
“If I had to sum it up in one word: It’s been incredible!”