SOSJobs! Alumni4Students: Felicitas Rabiger’s Experience as an International in the Swedish Labour Market

Felicitas comes originally from Nuremberg, Germany, but she has always been a real globetrotter eager to explore her surroundings. When she was 15, she spent a few months in Limerick, Ireland and that set the start to wanting to move abroad and trying out different things. Since then, she has lived in Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and since 2010, Sweden. She joined the Euroculture programme in 2009 starting off in Groningen. After graduating in 2011, she started a career in the education management business in Sweden, but has worked for both Swedish and American employers. Felicitas lives together with Saga (2.5 years), her partner Linus and her dog Mio.

Interview by Carolina Reyes Chávez

Euroculturer Magazine (EM): How long ago did you graduate from Euroculture and what are you working with now?

Felicitas Rabiger

Felicitas Rabiger (FR): I graduated 10 years ago and now I work at Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan. It’s a very Swedish organization. In Scandinavia there’s a long tradition of enabling people – normal people, with no education, to get more knowledge. The concept is called Folkbildning, it comes from the civil society and it’s built on associations. So a lot of people in Sweden, almost everyone is basically part of a group focused on some kind of topic, like football for example, or if I have a sickness, for example cancer, I can go and join the cancer association, or if I’m interested in painting I can go and join my local painting association, you know? That’s how they establish a lot of small associations that are part of the democratic tradition in Sweden. 

So Studieförbundet is basically here for this small associations to give them structure and to help them with administrative processes, also we organize all kinds of activities together with them, we can give them access to free education… It’s like a consultant, but not for business but for organizations in order to help them to get the work better and to get more organized. We also help them to get more members, with branding for example, also they can use our space and get money from us for materials.

My position is called Organizational developer and it’s about having contact with a certain amount of associations and helping them with all kinds of stuff, like finding ways for them to get funding for new projects. We also provide courses to the general public, like languages, painting, astronomics, anything that’s not university education. So it’s a really broad job.

EM: What do you see as your role or contribution as a non-Swede in this very Swedish organization?

FR: Well, actually we are discussing right now that I’ll have more focus on integration in general, because that’s my focus. Not being a Swede, I have been working a lot with people like me that need to get into the Swedish job market, and I’ve been trying to provide educational programs for them, to help them also to get better Swedish for example, to finding funds… So it’s a very creative and outgoing job, I have to talk to people all the time. I’m teaching some courses and I actually held a seminar in Swedish Work Culture for the Uppsala International Hub.

EM: Is this Studieförbundet an organization funded by the State?

FR: Yes, and that’s super interesting, you know? You could say that the Studieförbundet is the Swedish biggest cultural organization. And there are different goals with this Folkbildning concept, that’s actually to secure democracy so that people can meet, discuss and get more ideas and knowledge. The goal is also to integrate people that don’t have a voice into the society, for instance we focus a lot on handicapped people, or I work a lot with women that don’t have a job nor speak Swedish, or that are analphabetic. We want to give them a chance to get into the Swedish job market, so to give these groups a voice.

EM: That’s awesome

FR: Yes! And it’s something very, very Swedish. I don’t know anything like that in any other country. It’s like the education system in the university here which is about this concept of having your own power, seeking knowledge on your own, and that’s not only for the elite but is part of this idea that everybody should have access, even if you are handicapped, or if you come from a very distant country, you still should be able to take part in the society. So being State funded…it’s basically a way to enhance democratic processes, supporting the people and actually helping them to get power.  

EM: How was the way to get where you are now since you graduated from Euroculture?

FR: The first job I got after the programme was here in Uppsala for the Student Union. It was not super well paid but it was a really interesting job, I had a role called International Officer and I organized the orientation week and the buddy program – which is a buddy matching service for all international students coming to Uppsala. So I worked for one year with international students’ rights, I had a lot of contact with different departments of the university so I learnt a lot, and specially my Swedish got better and also I got contacts through that.

Then I applied for different jobs and I got one at the International Office in the university at Linköping, which is like three hours from here. But I really didn’t like the job that much so I quit after a year.

Then I got a new job here, and actually that was through my contacts at the Student Union. One day there was an ad on my desk for a job, it was super thick, I think seven or eight pages, so many responsibilities, and it was called something like “Resident director”. So I called them but they said that I had not enough experience, that they wanted someone with a PhD, like ten years of experience, you know? And some time later they called me and said “Are you actually interested? We are not finding anyone”. But I already had the job at Linköping. Then a year later they called me again and said “Please apply, we are not finding anyone”, because it was this American organization and they didn’t know how to find people in Sweden, so I got the job. 

I was the director for this American company called CIEE. It’s a really big exchange provider and I was in charge of their study center here, which was…only me! I was the only full time employee and I was supposed to basically run the whole operations for them in Sweden. It was, on the one hand, super interesting but on the other hand really a lot of work. I worked with students, with the whole administration of the university getting them into the courses, I taught a course, I had to have all the time available for them… Then we also went on excursions to Lappland, Gotland… We provided them with housing, everything. And I also got to travel a lot outside of Sweden. I was also running the budget, management, developing the whole center, you know? Running the whole thing. It was like a 10 person job, and that’s why I quit as well. I was there for 4 years actually. It’s the longest that I’ve been in a job.

And I really loved the job, you know? It was really fun and I travelled to America like 5 times or so, and to Mexico, Istanbul, Berlin…, and I had to be super independent because there was nobody here who I could ask so I learnt a lot. That was 2 years after Euroculture and it was a big challenge. 

EM: And do you think Euroculture prepared you for that experience?

FR: Well, I have a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Intercultural Communication, so that was perfect for the job, and then Euroculture helped me a lot because I knew much about different education systems and the Swedish student culture. 

EM: What happened after that job?

FR: I quit because the workload got too crazy and ended up working in Stockholm for a Swedish study abroad firm, but I only did that for 3 months because I didn’t really like it. Then I applied for Medborgarskolan, they focus a lot on selling courses to the general public, languages, music, dance, theatre, even navigation. So, you know? Going from CIEE and International Education to selling courses, so diverse, and that was interesting. But I worked there just one year because then I got pregnant, but also I didn’t want to work selling courses, however I learnt a lot about the system of Folkbildning and now I work at Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan which is non for profit driven, so we really want to get to the core of the society and help.

And now I want to work with these questions that I’ve worked with before, like International Education, because I think the organization is lacking that kind of perspective that international people like you and me have. They want to work with inclusion but they can’t reach at you because they don’t have a website in English. So that’s what I’ve been working for some time, trying to open up that fantastic civil society movement to people that come from outside of Sweden and have no idea about it. I think that’s the perspective that I can bring into this very Swedish organization and that’s what I’m trying to use my background for, which is very Euroculture, right? 

Actually I think my career is very Euroculture until now. Very diverse, very different cultures involved, different countries, work places, work cultures, I mean, American work culture, Swedish work culture, German work culture during my internship, and having to balance it, and also working with all kind of international people.

EM: How could you describe the Swedish working culture? 

FR: Is very hands-off, like the university system. You are supposed to work a lot on your own, and then there’s a lot of meetings. It’s a lot about consensus. Is not like the boss says “this is how we do it”. An American manager for example would say “ok, I’m the boss, here you go”, but in Sweden the boss asks everyone what they think about how the things should be done, and whatever the majority decides is done. It can be quite awful haha, because you spend so much time in meetings.

EM: Is the Swedish working culture helping you in this process of being a mother? Is it supportive?

FR: Yes, very much. This job I have is part of a goal orientated working time model, so I can work whenever I want basically, I can choose my working hours and I try to adapt them to the goals I have, which I really like. But it also means that sometimes I have to work a lot, and overtime is not compensated. But it really helps me because I can pick my child up from daycare, when she’s sick…they are really supportive.

EM: Is that a common thing in Sweden?

FR: Yeah, it’s common but that’s because of the kind of work. You can have a very “normal” job in Sweden as well. When I worked in Medborgarskolan I used to have the 9 am to 5 pm model, but I’m not this kind of person so I don’t want that. 

The job culture here is also very family friendly, and that’s why I’m considering staying as long as I have small children, and I’m trying to have a career but I’m not doing very big career movements at the moment because right now I need to balance. So at the moment I really like this balanced work model I have. And this culture of “finding a balance” is very Swedish as well. 

EM: How would you describe the job hunt here? Do you have any advice for international students considering to stay here?

FR: Actually right now we have this Career Workshop going on from Uppsala commune, that’s for internationals. There’s a lot of international people that have difficulty finding jobs here because of the language. Usually when you are studying you may think that speaking Swedish is not too important because at the university everything is in English, but it’s really important to know the language, and then you need a network, knowing people because it’s all about references, especially in our field. It’s very important to have people that recommend you, and Swedish bosses prefer to have the contact of a former Swedish boss. Also they pay much attention to what impressions you give in the interview and how you fit into the group and the organization. 

EM: So that part of the references could be considered the tricky part for an international student to stay in Sweden?

FR: It could be, yes, but there’s a lot of help as well, you have a lot of programs to get you into jobs, and there’s also the Swedish Public Employment Service, they can provide you with coaching. But I mean, it is hard for a lot of international people to get into the job market.

EM: What would you say have been the advantages and disadvantages for you of pursuing a career in Sweden?

FR: Disadvantages, I would say that in the Swedish system it is not that valued that you have a Master’s degree. Because of this whole relationship-based work culture, it is not that your education gives you an advantage. Sometimes it happens that someone with much less experience than you gets a higher position, and I’m struggling with it because I didn’t grow up like that. But at the same time is also an advantage because it makes you meet different people and also opens up doors in other ways. It’s interesting because, for the job in CIEE for example, they wanted “PhD preferred but Master’s required”. And for the job I have now, they don’t want you to have any previous education because it’s Folkbildning and it should be inclusive, thus someone with a PhD or someone without university education could work at the same job. That also makes it interesting because then you have different perspectives than if you only were with people with your similar background, so it’s really diverse and it also has taught me this whole equality thing, which sometimes can be difficult as well because in here is not that popular to say that you want to advance in your career, because of this consensus culture, no one is supposed to stick out.

EM: So now in perspective, what has Euroculture meant for your career and life?  

FR: I think my whole life is Euroculture. Without it I wouldn’t be where I am, maybe I would live in southern Germany and I would have no idea about Swedish Folkbildning, this kind of democracy… you know? It means everything and I’m really glad that I got the opportunity. 

EM: Any advice you would like to give to current students?

FR: To be curious about life, you know? And don’t be afraid, I mean, this is the whole thing about Euroculture. All the people that do this programme are brave people that dive into something new, new cultures, new adventures. And I mean, it’s the same with career choices, I think you should try out different employers, different countries maybe, if possible. And I would continue building a career that is not…normal, right? Where I can get new perspectives. I mean, I don’t want to be the person that works for the same employer for 40 years, that’s not me. Many people like that but that’s not the way I want to live. 

EM: And maybe that’s the print of Euroculture as well, right? Because then you are quite open to switch between cultures and to be in new environments, and now you do know what that is like and how to do that. 

FR: Yes, exactly, and to be able to survive, even if it is tough, you know? I can’t say that the whole history here has been red roses all the time, I mean, I’m still struggling with fitting in, because even with friends, if you have international friends they move…I think that’s just the way it is, because if you are living a life like that you need to know that you can’t have like a social network that is the same as if you had stayed at home. But that makes you grow as well. That’s tough. And that’s why I really want to work with it because I want to help others in the same situation, you know? To fit in and get like a place where they belong.

EM: Finally, is there something you wish you had known before starting this programme?

FR: Well… there were some classmates that weren’t that happy with the programme because they thought like “I’m not learning enough,” “where is this leading?,” “I can’t go as deep as I would like.” I think nobody prepared them to know that they were going to face such different education systems. Because if you are used to studying in your country, with people from your country, and suddenly you switch to this, it’s a completely different experience of learning. 

I think that was challenging in a way, so I thought “What is this for, what did I learn?” I wanted to learn facts, you know? But at least the Swedish way is not that concrete. In other countries the education system is different. The thing is that Euroculture is about facing different systems, and at that time I didn’t really understand that experience was really valuable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.