Business Sweden's
Trainee Blog

Follow our trainees on their exciting journey around the world with Talent Accelerator
Aug
19

Ma’a salama!

Hi from Stockholm everyone,

I have missed my hometown so much. I was here just two weeks ago for my summer vacation, but I still spent the entire car ride from Arlanda on Friday night with my head out the window enjoying the fresh air. Life in Saudi is still really rewarding though, even with the sandstorms and +40 degree weather. I know it is getting old, but I like it so much that I will be staying around.

As I left this time the passport officer said "welcome back home soon"

As I left this time the passport officer said “welcome back home soon”

More about that in a little while. As for my summer vacation, it was fantastic. I spent three weeks in Sweden with friends and family. Since the weather was more like summer in Spain I spent a substantial number of days swimming and I also became an aunt to the cutest baby girl ever.

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I also visited Måns who did an internship at the embassy this spring. We ate äggakaka and slept under the stars in Skåne just as we did in Wadi Rum, Jordan

I also visited Måns who did an internship at the embassy this spring. We ate äggakaka and slept under the stars in Skåne just as we did in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Peter, Måns and I with our beduin guide, Ali, in Wadi Rum

After the vacation I went back to the region for 10 days, prepping for the fall in both Riyadh and Dubai. We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline so I am looking forward to getting started. There will be continued heavy focus on the health care sector and we are stepping up our engagement in multilateral development banking and UN procurement as well. Although I am not a fan of Dubai as a city, it was also really nice to spend two days with the team there, both working and socializing. I said last time that I would summarize some of the projects that we have been working on during the spring, but I think André did a good job summarizing some of the types of assignments we do in his last post. I would perhaps say that the Saudi office is a bit different from The Hague in the sense that a lot of our consultancy work incorporates public affairs development, including stakeholder mapping and management. We have had several projects focusing on this during the spring.

One of our projects culminated with the visit of the Minister of Health, H.E. Dr. Tawfig Rabiah to Sweden, here being received by Annika Strandhäll, Minister for Health and Social Affairs.

One of our projects culminated with the visit of the Minister of Health, H.E. Dr. Tawfig Rabiah to Sweden, here being received by Annika Strandhäll, Minister for Health and Social Affairs.

The delegation took place the same week as female driving was introduced in Saudi Arabia. Fitting therefore that the program included a visit to Volvo!

The delegation took place the same week as female driving was introduced in Saudi Arabia. Fitting therefore that the program included a visit to Volvo!

Instead of focusing on the projects we have had I figured I would take a shot at reflecting upon my trainee experience, especially as this will be the last time I write.

I have of course failed miserably when it comes to rotating to new markets, but I have managed to visit 11 new countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. I can somewhat (only somewhat) understand that people are not interested in living here, but I highly recommend at least traveling the region. There is so much to see and do and WOW LEBANON.

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Endless driving through this landscape

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Our trusted Nissan Sunny

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Roman ruins in Baalbek and the Syrian border in the background 

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Some of the famous cedar forests

Magical being able to swim in the morning and see snow in the afternoon

I have also learnt countless new things this past year and I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Business Sweden team. Realizing how much I have learnt I am also very humbled embarking on my second year. The MEA region is quite small in terms of offices and people, but the people I have worked with have been hugely inspirational. The same goes for everyone at the HQ, the embassy staff, all the Swedish companies and the driven and knowledgeable people from the region (so yes, basically everyone). It is getting cheesy, but I could not end this paragraph without mentioning Ali, the now former Trade Commissioner in Saudi and my boss for the past year. Almost everything I have learnt is thanks to him. He has just left Business Sweden after almost 10 years, and while I am more than sad to not have him in the office, I feel very lucky to have gained him as my friend.

About to fly out of Baghdad, at the Swedish Embassy

At the Swedish Embassy, about to fly out of Baghdad

The best trio, right before Måns went back home

The number one thing I have gained this past year is the friendship of these two

I have spent endless hours of drinking coffee and working in the airport and on planes with Ali. Traveling to Riyadh, Jeddah, Muscat, Dubai, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman, Kuwait City, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Baghdad together. Because we have always wanted to squeeze as many working hours out of every day, we have flown the WORST flights. To Baghdad we flew all night straight after work, with one overlay, directly started working when we arrived in the morning and kept going until 10 pm, then we went to bed, did another full day, went straight to the airport and flew all night back to Riyadh. Working with Ali has been so rewarding that I would gladly sacrifice sleep or my spare time any day. 

I have loved the trainee experience, however, the past year has not only been a walk through the park. The most difficult thing has been resource management. Our team has been very small and we have covered seven countries. This has inevitably left me wishing there were more hours in the day. André discussed working hours in his post and although I worked less during the spring, I have still been doing a lot of overtime this semester. I know I am biased, I unabashedly think we cover the most important countries in the world, but there is so much untapped potential for Sweden and Swedish companies in the Middle East. So from a personal perspective, I do not mind working a lot because I love it, but as an incredibly stubborn person with a mentality of always wanting to exceed expectations, the size of the office compared to its potential has occasionally been quite challenging.

On a less serious note, mustering up the strength to endure the endless stream of national day activities in the Diplomatic Quarter has been quite a different challenge, but almost as difficult…

The Swedish National Day was however pretty amazing at the embassy

The Swedish National Day was however pretty amazing (also because I singlehandedly ate a good chunk of the chocolate dipped strawberries before the event even began)

There are so many things that could be said about this past year. I knew at the onset that I loved the Middle East, so I am not surprised that I see myself in the region for the foreseeable future. The biggest realization has probably been that I love working with our large Swedish companies, providing support in public affairs strategy development. I did not think I could feel so passionate about bridging the gap between private and public through our consultancy services, but I love working on long term positioning. Also, the health care sector; wow. It is super complex, but also so interesting.

If you are a prospective trainee, considering whether to apply, I say do it! It is magical, sometimes chaotic, but above all an adventure.

If you have questions about the trainee experience, please do not hesitate to get in touch (linnea.strand@business-sweden.se). Now I am going to enjoy my Sunday evening in Stockholm and continue to look forward to much more of this:

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Ma’a salama and see you in Riyadh! To the new group of trainees taking over this blog, Good Luck!
Linnéa

Linnéa Strand