Virtual Internships Abroad Exploring Swedish Values

July 26, 2021
By Halla Elkhwad, Wharton '24

CORINNE - Stockholm, Sweden

Alongside my internship this summer, I found it important to take some time to explore the local culture I was being exposed to. As a supplement to our internship experience, Absolute Internship provided interns with instructive modules on the cities in which our companies are located. My internship is with Swedish fashion brand CORINNE based in Stockholm, so I completed the Stockholm module which taught me about major industries in Sweden and Swedish business etiquette, as well as a few Swedish phrases. The element of Swedish culture I have found most interesting, and that which I believe diverges most from US culture, is the work culture.

Through the Absolute Internship module and my own research and experiences, I’ve learned that a good work-life balance is central to Swedish corporate culture. Contrary to US corporate culture, employees at Swedish companies are not expected to work overtime, except under special circumstances. Additionally, weekends are respected as time off for employees, and they are not expected to be “on call,” unless they are specifically instructed to do so, and being compensated accordingly.

Two important phrases surrounding Swedish work culture, and their culture at large, are fika and lagom. While fika is often literally translated to mean "coffee and a snack," the concept of fika extends beyond the definition to capture the value of routine relaxation and socialization. Most Swedes will observe fika daily at a set time and use this time to socialize with their colleagues. Fika is an essential part of building workplace relationships and taking time to pause and relax in daily life. Similarly, lagom, which translates to "not too much, not too little," is another term Swedes have to emphasize balance.

The value placed on wellbeing is also evident in Swedish workplace policies and benefits. All Swedish employees enjoy a mandatory paid leave of 25 days annually, and many companies will offer an additional 5 as a perk to employees. New parents are allotted 480 days in parental leave, with each parent being required to use at least 90. Some companies will offer a wellness allowance of up to 5,000 SEK or $582 a year, which is tax-exempt money employees can use on non-healthcare, wellness-related expenses such as gym memberships, exercise classes, and spa visits. While not all companies offer this allowance, those that do have found that this offering results in employees taking fewer sick days.

My internship has taught me a lot beyond my assigned tasks, and Swedish culture is one of the topics I’ve been lucky to learn about as an international intern. This experience has made me more comfortable with working alongside teammates from a different culture, and working abroad or with an international team is something I am excited to do in the future.

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The Virtual Internships Abroad (VIA) program provides self-directed and motivated Penn undergraduate students the opportunity to gain a fully funded professional work experience over the summer with a global employer, with the added convenience of working remotely.