Anyone for shrimp sandwiches? American-born but of Scandinavian descent, twenty-something Solveig Rundquist returns to the shores of her ancestors to join the work force of the Swedish capital.
On May 2nd, 2013, I donned a tent-like gown and a hat reminiscent of a squished pizza box attached to a suction cup. I dutifully listened to the inspirational speeches about my future and I sauntered across the stage when my name was read. The coffee and stress of three years led up to the moment of my graduation.
On May 30th I moved to Sweden.
Being a (remarkably lucky) 20-year-old with two Bachelor degrees and no student debt gave me the freedom to toss common sense to the wind. Like every other humanities major with an obtuse sense of optimism, I was going to change the world and nothing could stop me. So with my university diploma and my pastel pink piggy-bank in hand – could the picture be any more poignant? – I boarded the plane to my future.
I had previously spent a year in Stockholm as an exchange student and I wasn’t afraid to return to my old job as a baby-sitter. The nanny agency liked me and I had no doubt they would want me back. It wasn’t the most glamorous job for a graduate, but it would start the flow of cash I would so desperately need. I sent out a few emails and soon I was meeting potential families. Familes who lived in luxury at Östermalmstorg or Karlaplan. Families who were accustomed to summer vacations in Turkey and Thailand. Families who needed babysitters when they returned…in August.
I hadn’t thought the whole thing through very well. It was the beginning of June, and I had all but secured a basic part-time job that wouldn’t even start for another ten weeks or so. It wasn’t enough to live on, and even if it were…I had to feed myself in the meantime. And put a roof on my head. And go out now and then. (Hey, I’m 20!)
So that’s when the rose-colored film on my oversized glasses started to peel. I had joined the A-list – that is, the arbetslösa. Sweden’s unemployed.
There was only one thing to do. I went to Arbetsförmedlingen, the cold conrete block near Hötorget where the ranks of the unemployed stand in line to receive assistance on their hunt for a paycheck. Even getting a meeting with a case worker at Arbetsförmedlingen can be a challenge. The first time around I had neglected to register all my information online and was sent away shamefaced. The second time I stood in line for an hour and was granted a five-minute meeting in which another meeting was scheduled. And three weeks later I finallly went for my kartläggningsmöte, a sort of ”mapping meeting” where an advisor looks at all of your information and helps you plan your next step.
The advisor informed me that, as a recent immigrant to Sweden, two of my options would be a nystartsjobb (New Start job) or an instegsjobb (Step-in job). Since I am under 25 I also fall into the category of youth, which means I am also impacted by the jobbgaranti (job guarantee) for youth.
Oh, the glory of options! It sounded promising. Until he mentioned that I had to be registered at Arbetsförmedlingen – and jobless – for at least three months before I could take advantage of the youth job guaranty, and an entire six months for New Start.
So that left me with the sole option of a Step-in job. Newcomers to Sweden get their wages subsidized, making it easier to find work, while they attend SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) language classes. It’s a brilliant system, really. The classes are free and you can get a stipend for finishing the course. As an immigrant you are basically handed an opportunity to learn Swedish and simultaneously dip your toes into the workforce.
As the Swedes would say, you can glide in on a shrimp sandwich (glida in på en räkmacka)!
But I had one question. What if I had already eaten my shrimp sandwich? Enough with the metaphors – what if you already speak Swedish? The amiable advisor gave me a big sunny smile as he said the words that dashed my hopes of an easy way out.
”SFI would turn you away, there’s no doubt about that.”
It was meant as a compliment. Despite my occasional Swenglish stammers my speech is smooth, unmarred by the yankee slang and valley-girl twang of my Southern Utah upbringing. Still, as I sat on the blue-and-yellow subway headed home, part of me couldn’t help but think that I should have spoken English.
The resource I did still have was Arbetsförmedlingen’s website. Hundreds of companies and agencies advertise their openings on Platsbanken. I would have to sort through them myself and compete with Swedish applicants, convincing some company to pay little ol’ inexperienced me full wages.
I logged on to Platsbanken. Open positions: 36,568.
I never liked shrimp anyway.
Solveig is a recently-graduated American cactus who plucked up her ancient Scandinavian roots and transplanted them back to snowy Stockholm soil. When not writing for YLC she can be found cantering about town in search of culture, cheer and a career.