Molecular Life Sciences alum Olivia Gallegos. Photo: Anna Niva
Molecular Life Sciences alum Olivia Gallegos. Photo: Anna Niva

Olivia’s first encounter with Sweden was when she went to Uppsala University for an exchange semester. At the time, she was studying for a Bachelor in Biotechnology Engineering in Tec de Monterrey in her home town Monterrey in Mexico. One of her first memories of Sweden was seeing men at supermarkets, grocery shopping with their babies. She thought “I love this!”. Olivia says she was so pleasantly surprised by Sweden, not only because of the equality people enjoyed, but also because of the entrepreneurial vibe and the fact that biotech is such a strong industry here.

After finishing her Bachelor’s, she worked in Mexico for two years, but she always knew she wanted to study further. Even though she had enjoyed her time in Uppsala, she wanted to move to the capital and Stockholm had was she was looking for.

In 2011, Olivia returned to Sweden to embark on the Master’s programme in Molecular Life Sciences. She says the programme made her think outside of the box and be more independent. She also learned a lot when it came to lab work.

The programme helped me define what road I wanted to take. My professors were really helpful and they also became my references when looking for jobs.

“English is a blessing and a curse in Sweden”

While Olivia considered going back to Mexico after finishing her Master’s, she had gotten used to the lifestyle in Stockholm and it began to feel like home. Also, she had made some really good friends at the University. She decided to look for a job in Stockholm and started to study Swedish.

The language really is the struggle. When you’re in an international programme, you speak English all of the time. English is a blessing and a curse in Sweden, since everyone speaks English it’s hard to learn Swedish. But if you want to find a job in Sweden speaking the language gives you an advantage. Also, it makes you stand out internationally if you know Swedish, Olivia says.

Olivia set up a deadline for herself and started applying for a lot of jobs. She landed an interview, and eventually a job, at the pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca.

–The first two days I was so tired, because it was my first encounter with Swedish in a professional environment. Meetings at work are in Swedish, so it’s important to learn the language, and I’m happy my Swedish has improved. 

Supportive work environment

Olivia finds the working conditions really good in Sweden. She says that most members of the leadership team in the department she worked in at Astra Zeneca were women who had both their careers and were mothers at the same time. Olivia was happy to find out that men in general help out to make it work.

After working for Astra Zeneca for 2.5 years she got a job at another pharmaceutical company.

–The company I work for now, Valneva, is a vaccine company. It’s smaller, so I get the chance to see the whole manufacturing and supply chain of the product. The people are very experienced and supportive, and I feel they have really helped me integrate. Overall, the Swedish companies I’ve been in touch with have been very embracing. They value what you can bring to the table.

Olivia has a Swedish boyfriend and is planning to stay in Sweden. She says her family back home also loves Sweden, and it’s important for her to have their support. Her siblings also live outside of Mexico.

–I’ll always be Mexican at heart, but Sweden is my second home. My education gave me the fundaments to understand my job, and my door in was my degree from a Swedish university. I would like to stay in this industry as long as I can, and Sweden is the perfect country for that. And Stockholm the perfect city!