The reason why I started my first degree in Russia was the fact that Russian school education is only 11 years. At that time it was necessary to finish at least 2 years of Russian university before you could apply for the bachelor program in Germany. So, I started studying International Management in St.Petersburg and then was accepted to the Berlin School of Economics and Law. I still had a year left of my degree in Russia and it was a pity to be leaving it. So I flew back to pass all the exams and finished with a merit award.
Living abroad has been my dream since middle school. I went to a German gymnasium in St. Petersburg and visited a few German cities during our exchanges.
My degree in Germany allowed me to go abroad for a year and then get a double diploma. An amazing opportunity for someone like me who loves travelling and learning about new cultures. So, after three years in Germany I moved to Spain and studied there. When I finished, I got two diplomas - one from Berlin and the other from Madrid.
At the beginning of my German student life I only had about 680 euros per month to spend. But I absolutely love travelling. So I was saving all the money I had for another trip. Once we went for a three week adventure across Germany, France and Spain with only 500€ for everything - accommodation, transportation and food! We used couchsurfing to sleep, blablacar to move around and ate so much spaghetti - I couldn’t even look at it the year after but it was such a fun time, definitely something to remember!
I speak 5 languages - English, Spanish, German, Swedish and Russian. Well, fluently 4, my Swedish is still a work in progress. I learnt Spanish myself without going to school - and it was the quickest language to learn for me because it was fun, I loved living in Spain and that gave me a lot of motivation. So my advice would be to study based on your motivations, to make the process fun for you. Imagine what you will gain once you speak the language - maybe you will go on an amazing trip and will be talking to natives or maybe you’ll be able to get a scholarship in that country.
In Volvo I work in the finance department. I started as an accountant in the Madrid office, after one year I was offered a permanent position at the head office in Gothenburg, Sweden. That was a good promotion and I agreed. This year I have been promoted again and now I work as a Senior Financial Controller. My main tasks are to analyse and control the costs of future car programs that Volvo is developing. Everyday I analyse different types of R&D costs - and I’m talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s very exciting because you can feel the mark your making. I also love the feeling of working with lots of different people, all with different backgrounds. As a controller I communicate with the engineers, purchasers, designers and other finance colleagues.
Working with Swedes is very nice. They are polite but honest. They value work life balance but love their work too. The Swedish society embraces equality and importance of everyone. So it doesn’t matter if you are a junior or a top manager, you call always say your opinion and be heard. It is also true that sometimes making a decision might take more time, as everyone has to agree first. Being Russian you’re likely to be known as “tough” I don’t like waiting and always tell my opinion straight away. But I have had to learn to be more patient.
There are many foreigners working at Volvo and the official language of the company is English. That gives the advantage of being accepted even if you are different and you can also learn from each other.
My advice is to start with a deep analysis of what you want, your abilities & skills and the market needs. If you identify the area where those 3 factors meet, you have 50% of the job done. The next step is to create a CV and a cover letter that would impress the recruiter and get you invited to the interview. I have an Instagram account @asya_levin where I share my knowledge and insights about studying abroad and building an international career. There are plenty of free materials and I also do private consultations for those who would like to get a personal approach.
Was it difficult to adapt to a new culture and find friends? What’s your favourite funny story about it?
I have been living abroad for 8 years. Sweden is the 4th country that I’ve lived in. So now it is not that hard anymore. Finding friends is actually quite easy when you go to study or for a student exchange. When you move for work it might be harder. But then don’t just sit down and cry - get out, go to different expat events, choose a hobby and you’ll find friends :)
I have a funny story about when I used to live in Spain. Once I decided to make an international dinner at my place. Knowing Erasmus students and their forever changing plans I invited 15 people but only counting on 10 to show up. So you can imagine my surprise when all 15 showed up and brought more people with them! So we were about 25 people in a 10 square meter room. People were spread around the kitchen, corridor, balcony. We were definitely lacking space but not food or fun conversations.
I love Swedish nature, the beautiful peaceful sceneries and of course people. The atmosphere of mutual respect and care means a lot to me. And I mean living in Sweden is kind of a treat itself - you are surrounded by tall handsome Vikings.
I miss pelmeni! And syrniki. Russian food in general. And of course my family but I see them quite often. The most difficult part of being an expat to me is being on your own in emergency situations. And the most exciting - to explore new cultures and learn new things every day!
We hope you feel more inspired after the story of Asya to continue your journey as an expat.
Don’t be afraid to explore new opportunities and check what kind of job you can get with the languages that you speak. We wish you a bright future in all your adventures!