Studying in Gothenburg as a family

​Do you wonder if having a family can be a limiting factor in studying at Chalmers? In this article, we interviewed an international family who chose to pursue their master's in Gothenburg.
Picture of Alberto, Citlalli and their daughter Isabella in the city center.

This is the story of Alberto, 35 (master's in Production engineering at Chalmers), Citlalli, 33 (master's in Communication, Gothenburg University), and their daughter Isabella, 3. Alberto was born in Toluca (Mexico); he met Citlalli in her natal Monterrey (Mexico) in 2009 when he moved there to study his first master's degree in automation. Ever since they got married in 2014, they started talking about moving abroad. Alberto was very interested in pursuing his dream to work in virtual commissioning and simulation of processes, and he found Chalmers as a great opportunity. That's how they started planning their next adventure.

What has it been like combining your studies with having a child?

Citlalli: As a mom, I think the most challenging thing is dividing my attention. I'm in lectures when Isabella is in school, and in the afternoon when she comes back from school, I want to be with her. This means that I wait for her to go to bed to do my homework and study, which can be pretty hard as I'm tired by then. If you already know how to work late, it should be easy, especially because she goes to bed early.

Alberto: Isabella is in school during the day, which is when Citlalli has lectures. As I'm already working on my thesis, I don't have scheduled lectures anymore. Still, I remember team meetings were complicated (they both laugh) as Isabella would be very noisy when she played.

Citlalli: I think the difficult part is not having a space designed to study. This has been even more difficult since the pandemic started because both of us had to study from home. Whenever Alberto had a team meeting, I had to be with Isabella, but she obviously wanted to play when it should be quiet. Her school schedule is very flexible, which has made it easier for us to organize if both of us are busy. The number of hours that the daycare will look after her can be easily planned with a few weeks of notice.

Alberto: Thankfully, it was just one semester when we had to go through this. Now that I have more flexibility, if Citlalli can't pick her up or needs to go to school, I can work from home and adapt to the situation. Regardless, we have had a lot of flexibility here: there are not many restrictions in Sweden, which has played in our favor. It has been complicated but compared to others' situation, we haven't had to struggle as much because daycare is still open and running here, unlike in other countries due to the pandemic. 

Citlalli: I ran out of ideas to keep her entertained! (laughs) After a couple of days, I didn't know what to do next. Sometimes she can be quiet for 5 minutes, but then she has to go back to playing.

On the flip side, what have been the benefits of being here together as a family?

Alberto: A lot of things, I think. Sweden is a wonderful country.

Citlalli: There have been many good things. Everything about Isabella's education is excellent. Although we don't have every benefit that the Swedish citizens have, we still get many of them. She gets called up for revisions every 6 months to inquire about her language skills, socializing, etc. as soon as she turned 3, she started going to the dentist for free. All of this is entirely new for us, and she hasn't been sick as frequently as she was back home. In those cases, we had to pay for a private doctor and her medicines, which is entirely different over here where it's tax reduced. Also, we always have a sense of safety here. We were shocked when we saw children riding the bus to school by themselves!

Alberto: Sweden is one of the best countries to live in as a woman or child. Here, you can just walk a few meters, and you'll find a park where a kid can play, and they're given a lot of attention from the government. Additionally, we used to live in a big city where the air was very polluted. When we came here, even breathing was different. I used to get sick at least twice a year (perhaps because of the pollution), and I haven't been ill once here. We have been treated well, and we haven't experienced any kind of rejection. We also get to come home to family, which has also been great during the pandemic. 

How do you manage your finances?

Alberto: I have been working for a while, so we have savings. We have also requested some loans, and we have the support of our parents and siblings. We also try to save a lot of money by buying our groceries in markets instead of big stores, where prices can be high. We also avoid eating in restaurants. At the same time, it's easy because we don't have as much opportunity to go out now that Isabella is here with us. I also made sure to get credit cards from Mexico that have lots of promotions abroad, which helps us. I'm mostly done with my degree, so I hope to find a job soon. In Sweden, it's common to have recycling rooms where people leave the things they don't need anymore and find others they can use. I think that's an excellent way to stock up on items without having to spend any money. 

What would you say has been the most significant adjustment you've had to go through now that you live in Sweden?

Citlalli: With or without the pandemic? (laughs). Being away from my family as I had never been away for so long.

Alberto: It was a bit easier for me, as I already lived far away from my family before coming to Sweden. 

Citlalli: I was concerned about where Isabella was going to attend school. Kids can adapt very quickly, but moms are always worried. Especially about the language, how she was going to make friends. Fortunately, the process went very well for us with the school, the teachers, etc. So, in the end, the obstacle wasn't very much the school, but the worries that came with it. There was a slight miscommunication issue once; most teachers speak English, but there was a meeting I wasn't able to attend because they didn't have a translator. Still, they sent over a letter in Swedish with what they talked about, which I could translate using Google Translate (laughs).

Can you tell me a bit more about Isabella's school?

Citlalli: I'm sure that all parents who come here with their kids think a lot about that. I'm pleased with her school because the schools here are great. She's super happy; she loves her school. Back then, she cried before going to school; now, she cries because we pick her up from school (laughs). 
There are several options in schools depending on orientation (some focus on music, others in maths, etc.). Montessori schools are obviously the ones that are the most in-demand. Still, we were really looking for whatever came first. There are both communal and private schools, and the applying process is different between both kinds of schools. We chose to focus on finding a communal (or public) school and on the government webpage. We were pretty lucky because we found a school within walking distance of where we're living, and as it is a new school, there was plenty of vacancies.

How about tuition for Isabella's school?

Alberto: It's completely different here. Tuitions are calculated off your salary, and as we are both master's students, we actually don't have to pay for her school. At first, we were paying a monthly fee because we didn't know better, and we were reimbursed when we clarified that we were students.

What are you planning to do once you both finish your degrees?

Citlalli: Right now, many things could change, so we don't have a clear answer. It depends on how our job situation looks like a year from now.

Alberto: What I'm specializing in is significantly developed in Sweden. The project I'm working on for my thesis is exactly what I came here for. Setting education aside (as I already had a Master's degree and experience), I like that I'm becoming proficient in the exact topic I was interested in. Studying at Chalmers has brought me closer to the employment opportunities I was looking for.

Would you like to add anything else to the parents who are thinking of coming to Sweden to study their masters?

Citlalli: I would say that it's worth it. I know people who are still back home while they wait for remote education to be over but being here early gave us a longer period of adjustment. It's better to be here as soon as possible because you don't have to worry about too many things when you start doing schoolwork.

Alberto: It's also helpful to start socializing and getting to know people here. Coming here, we met a group of people from Mexico who, like me, dance Mexican folkloric ballet. With them, we had weekend plans, they taught us about the culture in Sweden as a lot of them have been here for years already, and it was an excellent start to our adaptation here.

Citlalli: I would have also liked to have started learning Swedish before coming here. Additionally, being here has many opportunities like the many conversational clubs with all fluidity levels that give you the confidence to start learning. I think sometimes we try to postpone the change instead of facing it head-on. I think it's good to get out of your comfort zone as long as you have the opportunity.

Alberto: At first, I felt very lazy to start learning Swedish, but once you're here, it's necessary. Sure, you can get along in English, but Swedish helps you integrate into the Swedish culture and understand what you learn riding the bus and what the road signs mean. I also like that there are many opportunities to study.

Citlalli: For example, in SFI (Swedish for Immigrants). It is a free Swedish course that you can take. When youPicture of the Citlalli and Alberto and their daughter together in front of a wall.
graduate, you're able to start doing "community service" in jobs where you're not paid, but you're starting to be integrated into a community where you can develop your use of the language better, as well as an ability. I also think that it's excellent that Isabella has the opportunity to speak learn languages from a young age. 

Alberto: I'd like to add that families have tons of flexibility. Assistance to lectures is seldom mandatory, and as a parent, you're granted more flexibility to turn in homework and for exams. When there are compulsory lectures, you can switch the date or time if your kid has health problems or other family-related issues.

Isabella: In our house, we speak Spanish, in school, we speak Swedish and my friends speak Persian. 

Author's note:
The accommodation needs are as unique as every family is, which is why we recommend you look for the information that the Gothenburg Municipality provides. In the links below you will find more information about accommodation. 

Picture of Abril

Author: Abril

Page manager Published: Tue 08 Feb 2022.