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Making the most of spousal support for a big move

This content was paid for by an advertiser and produced by The Local's Creative Studio

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Making the most of spousal support for a big move
This content was paid for by an advertiser and produced by The Local's Creative Studio
13:05 CET+01:00
Moving to a new country is daunting for any couple. The challenges in a job-related relocation to Sweden are especially difficult since on the surface, the country appears to be easy to settle into given the widespread use of English.

However, for a longer stay, the lack of local language fluency is a barrier for the accompanying spouse in making friends and looking for a job. In addition, cultural differences in a country such as Sweden are subtle.

Sweden comes across as an easily adaptable country given its international outlook, but this perception may be misleading. Often when couples and families relocate for a spouse's job, the employee receives support services, but not the partner.

"It's the whole family that is travelling, not just the employee. What we do is help spouses find new direction in work, a social network with Swedes and get into Sweden," explains Anna-Karin Härensjö, manager of the intercultural communication department at Human Entrance, a relocation company.

Accompanying spouses in Sweden are overwhelmingly female. Of every 100 spouses, only two to three are men, Härensjö says. Many are highly educated and have left behind professional careers and jobs. As a result, frustration builds after resolving practical issues and settling the children into their new lives.

"Companies sometimes forget the family. In the beginning, the spouses say they say they want to focus on the children and practical issues, but after one to one and a half years, some are frustrated because they want to work," she says.

Language is an obvious barrier to finding employment. Härensjö has noticed other cultural differences for those looking for work. For example, Sweden has fewer volunteer opportunities than the US.

For spouses coming from cultures where many women become housewives, such as Japan, they are accustomed to being the homemaker and are not used to working outside the home, so they do not feel any pressure to work.

"They come and ask where the Swedish mums are. In their own country, they have their social networks of stay-at-home mums," says Härensjö.

Although the younger generation speaks English well, Härensjö has met Japanese wives who communicate with her with the help of a small dictionary. Those who study a language in Sweden improve their English, not Swedish.

As for other wives, few study Swedish before they arrive, but Härensjö recommends they do. Some are well informed about Sweden because they have read about the history of the country and the social life.

Some wives know up to a year in advance about the move and are able to better prepare, but typically, most families learn about six months ahead of time. In addition, 20 to 30 percent have been on the move for a long time, but there are many who are first-timers.

About 80 to 85 percent of relocating expats, who generally range in age from 35 to 50, bring school-age children to Sweden, so for the first half year or so the families are fully occupied by the business of settling in and helping their children adjust to their new lives.

Some ambitious women start afresh when they arrive in Sweden. Härensjö knows of one woman who took control of her situation and started her own company.

Others study at university to find a new direction in work, obtain a master's degree or change professions. For example, one woman studied massage, while another studied intercultural communication at university.

"We ask them, 'What if you stay here 10 years? What are your expectations?' We provide intercultural training, as well as knowledge about Swedish culture and give them opportunities to interact with local families," says Härensjö.

"We help them learn more about Sweden, provide them a network and the opportunity to see Sweden through excursions," she adds.

Härensjö hopes to give them the opportunity to grow, develop and use their time in Sweden to form many fond memories when they return.

Based in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, Human Entrance is the largest relocation company in the Nordic countries with 33 employees. It works with many companies and employees from around the world, including Japan, China, India, the US, Portugal, Spain, France, Russia and Finland.

With such a diverse mix, Härensjö notes that all of her clients have the same curiosity and stereotypes about Sweden. They are also prepared for culture shock, especially those from countries that are farther away, such as India or Japan.

Those whose companies provide them with Human Entrance's intercultural package get a one-day orientation in which they meet families to discuss cultural similarities and differences and their expectations. Many say this day is important to them as they start to think about their goals and what they want to do.

"Sometimes they think they will have more time with the family, but it's often the opposite because the employee works a lot. I start during cultural training to give them tools. For many of them, they are so occupied during the adjustment process, they start relatively late," says Härensjö.

Some companies take the whole package, which comprises training and five hours of coaching support over the next one to three years.

Härensjö coaches, advises and helps spouses by looking at their resumes and connecting them with recruiting companies, but she deals mostly with their cultural and life situations, expectations and how to express themselves.

"A social network, you can find that on your own, but cultural training and support, intercultural coaching, a professional advisor in intercultural communication can help you adjust better to your family situation," she says.

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