Hoping for a career in Sweden

“I’m happy to have been given the opportunity to be here, and hope that this internship will help me get a job in my field,” says Maryam Khoshdel, one of the University of Gothenburg’s newly-arrived interns.

It’s been three and a half years since Khoshdel, her husband and their daughter were forced to flee to Sweden from Iran. Khoshdel explains that her husband was involved in politics and that they had no other choice than to leave the country.

“It was difficult for us to leave our homeland. Our whole family is back in Iran and we miss them.”

Khoshdel is a chemist with a four-year university degree who worked as head of quality control at a paint factory in Iran. For the last three months she has been an intern at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology. There she has participated in a research project concerning paint used on boat hulls.

“We chose to take on an intern because we wanted to help new immigrants arriving in Sweden,” explains Hans Elwing, professor emeritus and head of the research project.

Among other tasks, Khoshdel has worked to produce a gradient rod with different levels of copper oxide, which will later be tested directly in seawater. The rod is first coated with paint containing different concentrations of copper oxide. It is then cut into pieces, and each part is placed in the sea. After a few months, results can be obtained that show exactly how much copper oxide is needed to stop acorn barnacles from attaching themselves to the surface.

“By doing this, in the long run we hope to be able to optimise levels and so reduce copper emissions from paint on boat hulls,” Elwing explains.

Khoshdel is grateful for the internship and for the chance to work in a calm, safe environment where her expertise can be put to use. She wants to work as a chemist, though she also dreams of being a teacher.

“I’d very much like to work as a chemistry teacher, but I think it’s important for teachers to be able to speak proper Swedish. So, perhaps sometime in the future,” she says.

Learning Swedish is one of the biggest challenges involved in moving to Sweden, Khoshdel feels, but she also realises how very important it is. Although the university is an international environment where many people speak English, Khoshdel has focused on learning Swedish and is taking the Swedish for Immigrants course in parallel with her work.

“I’m trying to focus on Swedish now, so I can learn the language and become properly integrated into the community. That’s important for us.”

Khoshdel is now doing the last week of her internship, but hopes she will have the opportunity to stay on for an additional period. Hans Elwing shares her hope: “I hope that the Swedish Public Employment Service can see how valuable her internship here is,” he says.

Internships to newly-arrived refugees with academic background

The University of Gothenburg is one of the first Swedish public authority offering internships to newly-arrived refugees. The internship initiative is being conducted in cooperation with the Swedish Public Employment Service, Folkuniversitetet’s Korta Vägen programme and the Swedish Migration Agency. The university is offering just over 100 internships, around 40 of which are within the Faculty of Science.

“Twelve individuals are doing internships right now, but more are on their way,” says Elin Fagerberg, who coordinates the internships. “We’re concentrating mainly on people with academic backgrounds, and oftentimes the interns are trained in the discipline to which they are assigned. In other cases, just having an interest in the field is enough.”