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Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm

If the world is your oyster, where do you choose to go and why? Today, many talented people decide by looking firstly for a city that fits their lifestyle – and then for the right job opportunities.

Why bright minds from across the world are choosing to live in Stockholm
Photo: Anna Hugosson/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

When it comes to achieving this balance, Stockholm offers a rare combination: it’s a global tech and start-up hub, a leader in sustainability, and big enough to make an international impact while remaining highly livable.

The Local spoke with two talented international residents – one with a family and one single – about why they’ve chosen to make the Swedish capital their long-term home.

Thinking of making a move? Check out Invest Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide

‘It’s small enough to get to know key players’ 

Martin Hennig is a senior digital transformation consultant for Stockholm-based NoA Connect. He lives with his wife and two children in Vaxholm – the picturesque, self-proclaimed capital of the Stockholm archipelago, from which the city centre is under an hour away by boat.

But he and his family could so easily be living a very different life. German-born Hennig previously lived in Dublin, briefly in London, and in Connecticut in the US, which he and his American wife Laureen left behind for Stockholm three years ago. 

“We chose Stockholm despite knowing we’d earn less money here,” he says. “We did not know the language – we’re still learning. We have no family ties to Sweden. And my wife had never set foot on Swedish soil before moving here.” 

Even by the standards of today’s mobile skilled workers, it would seem a brave move to have made. “We have no regrets and we’re happy with our decision,” he continues. “Our work-life balance was rather miserable, so while my wife's family in the US did not love the idea of us moving, they supported our decision in the end.

“Stockholm is a really interesting spot with lots of entrepreneurs, innovation and internationally significant companies in fintech, gaming and so on. It’s also small enough to get to know key players in a short matter of time.”

Photo: Martin Hennig and his wife Laureen in Vaxholm

‘We literally googled “best places to raise families”’

So, how did this all come about? Hennig’s only previous experience of Stockholm was on a brief Erasmus exchange programme in 2004. “I thought the city was gorgeous and felt very safe,” he says. When he and his wife began to imagine a different life, these positive memories came flooding back – after a little technological prompt.

“We literally googled ‘best places to raise families’ and Sweden was in the top results,” says Hennig. “I remembered how nice Stockholm is. We started looking for work via LinkedIn and realised that many jobs in our field don’t require you to speak Swedish.”

His wife, a business analyst, soon had an attractive offer. They decided to go for it and had just 12 weeks to sort out the move, with Hennig finding his job later that year. The couple are convinced Google put them on the right track – for family and much more.

Their first child was born in 2015 in the US – where there's no national statutory parental leave and the little you do get varies across states. Hennig says his wife was only entitled to six weeks of ‘short-term disability’ benefits, while as a father he got no parental leave.

Their second child was born after their move to Stockholm. “Needless to say that experience was completely different,” says Hennig – not least in terms of the generous parental leave and low childcare costs. “Our priority was a family-friendly society, a safe place that’s liberal, progressive, social. We love our community and we like our work and career outlook too. Home is a bit of a difficult concept for me – but this feels like home.”

Want to work in a global tech hub that values quality of life? Find out more about Stockholm

‘I was aware of the great energy in digital innovation’

Growing up as a digital native in the US, Erik Cativo knew from his mid-teens that Stockholm was a centre for cutting-edge technology. The invention of bluetooth at Ericsson’s Stockholm offices and early adoption of peer-to-peer file sharing both earned his attention. “I knew there was great energy in digital innovation in Stockholm,” he says.

Fast-forward to today and Cativo works at Ericsson in Stockholm himself as a senior UX designer. In September, he took a 28 percent pay cut to leave Washington DC for his new home. 

“I believe in the Nordic model,” says Cativo. “Salaries in US tech are high – but it comes at a price. To get the qualifications I needed, I took on US$40,000 in debt at four percent interest.” He could be paying off the cost for decades, he says.

So, what about the innovation that first made him aware of Stockholm? “I pay my rent digitally with Bank ID, I make payments with Swish – it really is a digitally advanced society,” he says. 

Photo: Erik Cativo in Stockholm

Cativo is an example of the highly talented people that a recent report on talent from Invest Stockholm says “call the shots” on who they work with and where. In a “hyper-connected” world, location still matters; the report cites evidence that “two thirds of highly talented individuals choose the city before they choose the company or the job”.

‘I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm’

Cativo visited Barcelona, Berlin and Paris in 2017 while studying in Scotland. But after he returned to the US, it was Stockholm that stood out as the place he most wanted to return to.

“There was something about Stockholm that felt very interesting to me,” he says. When he decided to look for new job opportunities, he ignored headhunters in the US and the appeal of Berlin to focus purely on Sweden.

“I found it easier to get by with English in Stockholm,” he says. “The level of English proficiency in Berlin didn’t seem to be as high as here.”

He visited several Swedish cities and soon realised that Stockholm was the natural fit for his talent. His appreciation of his new home extends far beyond its tech scene, however.

“Stockholm is incredibly beautiful,” he says. “They do a great job of balancing modern design with older architectural styles. I’m also in awe of how quick and easy it is to get around – by foot, by bus or on the tunnelbana (subway). I can get across the entire city in 20 minutes.”

Cativo was also attracted by the potential for a relatively quick path to citizenship, which you can apply after five years in Sweden. “I believe that long-term I’ll have a better life here,” he says. “For myself and my future children.”

Looking for new opportunities and a better quality of life? Click here to find out more about moving to Stockholm – and follow these links for Stockholm's Talent Guide and Entrepreneur's Guide.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: If there’s one thing Switzerland gets right, it’s primary schools

When it comes to primary schools Switzerland has found a winning formula, writes Clare O'Dea although there are a few areas that could be improved upon.

OPINION: If there’s one thing Switzerland gets right, it’s primary schools

In a few weeks, my youngest child will finish primary school, marking the end of our 11-year connection with the local school, one of four German-language primary schools in Fribourg city. Looking back in a slightly rose-tinted way, this is my school report for the local public school system: mostly excellent with just a few points where it could do better. 

First of all, we as parents never faced any dilemma about where our children were going to attend school. No research was required, no application process, not a single anxious conversation. Because the children were registered in the commune, they were automatically granted places in the nearest school when they reached kindergarten age.

We knew that the allocated school would have the same standard of teaching and facilities as any other school in the canton, that the teachers would be paid the same and that we would get the same treatment as any other family. That is not a given in every country.

The fact that almost all children in Switzerland go to the local public school for their catchment area adds greatly to the sense of community here, and automatically connects the children of the locality to each other. 

The two kindergarten or école enfantine years offer a gentle introduction to school life. In our school, older children were nominated as ‘godparents’ to the newcomers. Education wise, the ethos in Swiss schools is not to jump into literacy as soon as possible but to spend those first two years working on pre-literacy skills. By the time reading and writing is taught, Swiss children quickly catch up with their peers who learned the alphabet as tiny tots. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

The sheer variety and richness of the weekly school experience at no extra cost is impressive. For instance, Swiss schools have embraced the trend of outdoor teaching with younger children. In the early years my children spend one morning a week in the forest with their teachers in all weathers. Good for the soul and the senses. 

The other activities built into the curriculum are sports, music, swimming lessons, in our case once every three weeks, a monthly visit to the local library where all the children come home laden with books, and monthly ice-skating afternoons in winter. 

They also have specialised teachers for arts and crafts, including skills like woodwork, sewing, knitting, pottery, the works. The only possible downside to this is the mountains of objects brought home to keep forever.

In Fribourg, there is free transport to and from school and parents are discouraged from driving their children to primary school. Children from the age of five or six go to school independently on foot, by bicycle, by bus as if it were the most normal thing in the world, which it is to them.

Our school arranged a summer camp every three years so that all children got to experience it twice in their school career. They did the same thing with ski camps, with financial support and equipment offered to families on low incomes.

 

The school holds an annual autumn hike for the pupils and various events for the whole family to attend – a Christmas market, end-of-year party and other open days. The children always had something to look forward to. It takes a special commitment from the staff to make the school such an entertaining and positive place. 

VERDICT: How to save money when raising children in Switzerland

A wide range of free therapies are also offered in the school building, including speech therapy, help with dyslexia and dyscalculia and motor skills, for instance. Additional classes of German as a second language are also provided for those who needed it.

Of course the school is not paradise. Any large group of humans will have complications. Over the years, I knew of two families who moved their children out of the school to private schools because they were not happy and also a small number of children who were moved to special schools because the school couldn’t manage them. 

And inevitably, all good things come to an end. In general in Switzerland, the education system includes a streaming framework for children at the end of primary school to decide what type of class the children will join in secondary school. 

This selection system on Fribourg is based on continuous assessment, the teacher’s opinion and a special exam. It has its critics and causes stress to some families who feel there is a lot at stake. This is where reality intrudes on the idyll. How the transition goes depends a lot on the atmosphere created by the teacher and the parents’ attitude. 

Overall, our local primary school succeeded in creating a safe space for our children to grow, learn, gain independence and a sense of responsibility. As parents, we appreciated that our children spent their days in a loving supportive atmosphere. It’s what every child should have.

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