It was our last exam of the first year two days ago and time did really fly in a blink of an eye.
Since I haven’t written anything this year, this is going to be a long blog post. It’s an opportunity for me to reflect on things that I have experienced and to share what I think are valuable learnings during my 10-month time in Sweden.
1. Winter and Spring
Yes, the weather is usually the first thing we talk about in conversations in Sweden. Even though last winter wasn’t as cold and long as I heard and imagined, it did hit me gently with the darkness and depression. The tip is to be out as much as you could. I took vitamin pills, filled my November and December with activities and exams of course, and played a bit with the snow. I was also with the Nobel after party the night of 10th December, when all the Nobel laurates received their prestigious awards at the City Hall and headed to Stockholm School of Economics for their great after party. It was the 40th time the party is organized and we were honored to be the host. I served 6 hours as a waitress and another 6 hours as a bartender, from 5p.m to 5a.m, didn’t manage to see any laurates yet totally enjoy this only-in-Stockholm experience.
Snow crawling, January
You would notice right away when the spring comes, even though snow missed the city and occasionally visited in April and May. Leaves growing, flowers blooming, birds chirping, and the bonfires are lit. Stockholm culture night was organized on a warm Saturday in April, when almost all the museums and cultural spots were opened from 6p.m to midnight with hundreds of events and activities. It was also the time cherry blossoms fully bloomed in Kungsträdgården and all over the city, making the night lovely and special.
Study for exams in the spring be like
The 30th of April is called Vaborg in Sweden, a night when people light up the bonfires to welcome the transition to spring/pre-summer. I spent it in Skansen, the oldest open-air museum in the world and were warmed up with the big bonfires and music.
2. Hackathon winner and the Silicon Valley awesome trip
As said, I got myself busy in the dark winter, and Siemens hackathon in November totally made me busy and happy. After 4 pitches in total, we were announced as the winner and awarded an awesome Silicon Valley trip. I skipped an evening class to come to the information session and met my team members by pure fate. It was brave of us to change our idea the last night and really “all or out” with this competition. That led us to Silicon Valley, Stanford and UC Berkerly, Google and Apple, Fisherman Wharf and Golden Gate Bridge. We spent most of our nights with meetups and events and felt the Silicon Valley from many perspectives. The meeting with Next 47, a venture capital backed by Siemens right in the heart of Palo Alto marked a very nice ending of the trip. I am thankful for the opportunity given and really encourage other students to join. Because as I once shared, it was literally nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Visiting Next 47 – Siemens’ Venture Capital in Silicon Valley
3. The ice and snow run
I felt lucky that I have been running outdoor for about a year before coming to Sweden. Without having done some long-distance runs in Vietnam and trained regularly, I would never be motivated enough to step out of my warm room for the runs in the cold outside. It was also great as the stamina I gained from the past trainings did really help in my first few months in Sweden, when there were a lot of changes in living environment and super heavy workload at school. So one of the useful preparations for studying in Europe would be to work out/ train often.
I’m happy to finish the Stockholm Marathon 2 days ago, in its 41st time together with thousands of runners from many parts of the world.
4. A little food business
I even thought about this idea before my departure to Sweden last year and was lucky enough to find a partner, who is one of the best chefs that I know, to open up our own very small food business. This idea has also been generated when I noticed that many of my Swedish friends haven’t tried Vietnamese food before and hence I really wanted to get it more well-known in Sweden.
It has turned out to be a very good hands-on experience for us so far, with which we were able to increase the supply chain planning accuracy, optimize the operations, and improve the profit margin. I’m very delighted seeing customers coming back to our stand every weekend and giving great feedback on the food. It’s also great that we fully adopted the “iteration” mindset – something I learnt by heart from the Innovation course at SSE – to keep experimenting new things and hence turn each day in the market to a brand new learning opportunity.
Running and selling Vietnamese food: two parts of my Sweden life
5. The corporate and the startup
To get a job in a corporate, I would say the tip is to never give up and be able to bring something to the table. I didn’t get the job the first time or even after 10 times applying, but the resilience brought me to a big tech company where I have had the opportunity to learn different tasks and perspectives. After two months in the Analytics team, I’m going to join the AI and Automation team this week and expecting to get my “brain-on” in AI and new technology concepts.
Getting into a corporate wasn’t my priority coming to Sweden though. I was planning to work in the startup for the first time and explore the ecosystem as well as the opportunities out there. Here it’s a lot about networking and my tip is to never underestimate the value of random meetups. I met one of the co-founders of a cool startup, imagiLabs, in the Sthlm Tech Meetup in January after she pitched on the stage and totally convinced me (and also the rest of the audience) about the idea and how it’s so commercially promising and socially impactful. At the same time my SSE mentor (she’s great!, and yes SSE provides lots of networks) also introduced me to some other startups but eventually I decided that I really wanted to join an early stage company and see how things go there.
And yes, it was a great decision of mine and my first feeling about the company has been strengthened after the last two months working with the 3 co-founders, who I found very capable in many aspects and would definitely drive the company far forward with their capabilities, determination, and warm hearts.
Joining in the product launching time, I was lucky to get my face featured in some marketing materials. Below is the draft of the Kickstarter page that we launched last week for product pre-orders. If you want to help me fulfill the job description stated in the picture, click this link to find out more why I’m so excited about this 3-people company.
Kickstarter page draft
6. Habits changed
Eat:I have almost never eaten sweet breakfast in Vietnam but I’m eating these foods everyday now. The discovery of musli & yogurt, avocado toast, overnight oat, and pancake (in this order) revolutionized my spaghetti breakfast and saved me tons of time. I also need to mention tacos – the best fast-making friend for lunch and dinner.
I once thought I could never live without meat but I’m eating much less meat now. May be because I’m selling the food and lots of Stockholm people ordered vegan/vegie option, or my colleagues are vegans, or all of the events in Stockholm serve vegan food. Eating habit changes in accordance of the surrounding environment, I think. I will definitely eat the delicious beef noodles and other tasty foods in Vietnam when I’m back, but for now I feel good mentally and physically with this ‘less meat’ diet.
Live with the nature: My priority last year was to find a room in the center and nearby school. Now even though the ‘nearby school’ part is still something I prefer, I’m not sure about the city center. Living just next to a little forest and so close to a lake now has changed my thinking a bit.
Some things that haven’t changed then and now: I love being in the nature, I hate throwing food, and I’m trying my best to reduce my plastic consumption as well as classifying the garbage. There’re some things that Vietnam can learn from Sweden, such as applying garbage classification and providing free paper bags for organic garbage. Supermarkets in Sweden may, as in some Asian countries, find ways to reduce plastic packaging. One example is to wrap vegetables (of course only certain types) with tree leaves (bananas’)!
Open to others’ ideas:I was pretty stubborn and tended to protect my ideas. Now I’m pretty opened, willing to listen and try out. That’s good! However, I might have come close to the other extreme (think that others’ ideas are always better than mine) and need to watch that out.
Multi-tasking: I’m not sure to label this multi-tasking or being greedy, but neither of the two is good if they are too extreme. The personal need to do more than one thing at a time hasn’t changed at all. Of course I will not continue with this work combination in a long time since the past week with different jobs, 2 exams, and 1 marathon in between wasn’t good to me nor the work at all. I felt anxious all the time!
Now the summer is coming for real and I’ve got some plans ahead. Hope all of this post’s readers have a great time in Sweden or preparing for studying in Sweden. I’ll be sharing about my summer when it ends : ).