Ivanka Hristova, Senior research assistant at Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
What made you choose Umeå University as an employer?
I didn´t plan to move to Scandinavia. But when I saw the job posting I just had to apply – it was a perfect match, as if it was written just for me. So, it happened somehow naturally, following my dreams and the career opportunity. And thanks to my family, of course, that they supported me throughout that adventure.
What was your first impression of Umeå?
I came to Umeå for an interview in the spring and my impression of the city was very positive. I come from the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia and I really liked the idea of moving to a smaller city, especially since I have children. I walked around the city trying to imagine if I could live here, and I found it very organized, green, clean, and family friendly.
You came here with a family – is there something you would like to share regarding this experience?
Sweden is a lovely place for families and kids. We were impressed to see how much time children spend outside and that they walk alone from a very small age. I suppose it could be due to the fact that Umeå is comparatively small town and it feels quite safe.
It takes some time to get a Swedish id-number, register your child for pre-school and to open a bank account. Some of those you could do online, so check it. I would say that, it could be a good idea, if possible, to come for a short visit before you move, so even then you can start with sorting out the practical stuff like applying for personal number, etc.
Read the International Staff Support webpage, it helped me a lot and ask for help, if you need such. We received a lot of help from my colleagues and the International Staff Support before we arrived and at the very beginning of our stay for which I am very grateful.
Be prepared that settling down takes time, especially if you arrive with kids. You could also face some difficulties that take a lot of time and energy. Be patient and everything will sort itself out.
One of the main issues is to find accommodation. We rented a furnished apartment in the beginning which gave us time to look around for a while and register with other housing companies.
In Sweden we take pride in our system for parental leave – do you find it different compared to how it works in Bulgaria?
It is not that different. In Bulgaria you can be on parental leave for an even longer time, but the system is more flexible here.
My child was 5 years old when we arrived in Umeå, and it took a long time to get a place in a preschool. But once he started, he learnt Swedish very fast and started communicating with other kids. I think overall it has turned out very well.
What I don't like is that when you are on parental leave here, your bigger kids can only attend preschool and fritids (the time after the school classes) a few hours per week.
Have you learnt Swedish during your time here?
Yes, I attended Swedish for academics courses first and after that I took some courses with SFI and also Hermods. I would say that all of them develop different aspects of language skills but I think that SFI suited me best because it was more intense and interactive. I guess it depends also on how much time you put into it. I think that if you want to live in a country it is important to learn the language. But the hard part now is to practice, I find Swedish harder to learn than I thought, especially the pronunciation.
I use SVT språkplay as a learning platform and really recommend it. They have different programmes, and movies. Everything is with subtitles and have translation in many languages. Moreover you can adjust the speed, take a pause. It is very useful.
Have you experienced situations where cultural differences have affected your work or private life and how did you handle it?
Well a little bit. I have heard that Swedes are closed and do not talk to others but I find it the opposite. I have really nice and friendly colleagues and we always have nice talks during lunch and coffee breaks. And sometimes, I think, it is nice not to talk all the time and sit quiet, which is ok here, and I appreciate it and like it. I have learnt about the Swedish behaviors over time, and of course in the beginning I was a bit nervous. I expected it to be hard and difficult and then everything turned out nice so it feels very good. My advice is to be open and think positive, accept the opportunities that come along.
Can you recommend any places to visit or activities in Umeå that you like?
We like spending time in the nature. There are a lot of places in and around Umeå that are good for hiking, skiing, skating, and swimming. Take advantage of the long winters and learn skiing and skating, if you haven't practiced these sports before. The lakes around (for example Nydalasjön, Bäcksjön, Tavelsjön) are nice places both for winter and summer activities. There are also nice seaside beaches that could be a good destinations for the summer. One of our favorite places during spring/summer is Norrbyskär, which is a nice place for the whole family with beautiful play park for kids, nice museum and a pleasant restaurant.
Do you have any general or good advice to other newly arrived?
• Try to arrive a bit before your starting date, if possible
• Rent furnished place initially, even if it is for a short-term
• Sign up to all housing companies – even if you are not looking
• Learn Swedish
• And last but not least be positive and enjoy your stay