A (Mid)summer in Sweden

By Valentino Grbavac
When I found out back in February that I had been selected as one of three Wallenberg Fellows from Georgetown University, I jumped up and down for joy. Ever since I had heard about this amazing fellowship, I had dreamed of becoming a fellow. After the first few moments of complete euphoria and sheer happiness, I started wondering and asking questions. What will the summer be like? Where will I intern and what will I do there? What places will I visit during those three months? What will my first Midsummer celebration look like? I had so many questions, and later on as I packed my suitcase and left DC for Stockholm, so much planning and so many expectations.
Now, after more than half of my summer in Stockholm is over, I have to say that this experience has surpassed even my wildest expectations. It has been full of fun, adventure and above all, learning. I could have not imagined a better experience, and I am eternally grateful to the Wallenberg family, and everyone else involved, for this unique opportunity.
Becoming a Wallenberg Fellow has helped to influence my career goals. Just one year ago, I was certain that I would serve as a Croatian or a Bosnian-Herzegovinian diplomat upon completing graduate school. Since then, I have learned so much more about myself and realized that I really do not want to be a diplomat, but that I would much rather have a career in international business. The problem was that for the past few years, everything I have done in my life, including all my internships and work experience, has been done with the goal of having a career in diplomacy in mind. In the past, I have gained experience at think tanks, government organizations and in academia. I did not have much experience in the private sector. This fellowship offered me an opportunity to gain experience in the private sector and allowed me to expand my horizons and decide what I want to do in life.
In May, I started working at Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products unit in Kista, a suburb of Stockholm often called “Sweden’s Silicon Valley.” Most of Ericsson’s R&D facilities are in Kista, and it has been exciting to work with the brilliant people who are developing 5G technology. When I began my work, I had some a trouble communicating with my co-workers, to be completely honest. I have no background in engineering, and almost everyone around me has an engineering degree and speaks mostly in technical abbreviations and industry-specific lingo. Every second or third word I heard was an industry-specific acronym. During some meetings, I wondered if the person presenting was indeed speaking English. Still, step by step, and with great help from my gracious co-workers (who gave me a crash course in radios, hardware development, lean engineering and agile development) I learned so much. In what seemed like no time at all, I was able to speak the secret language of the ITC engineers.
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Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products Office Building in Kista where I spent most of my days this summer.
After getting acquainted with PDU Radio Products, I began to work on projects. My first big task was to provide outsider feedback and help the unit transition to Ericcson’s new business model which is based on lean engineering. Another project I was tasked with was to find a better way to measure the efficiency of hardware development and the overall productivity of the R&D unit. Both projects, together with day-to-day operations, made me realize that I really enjoy operations consulting and thanks to this experience I may pursue a career in this field.
What I have enjoyed most about the experience, apart from it being an immense learning opportunity, is how open and accommodating the company is and how kind and interesting my co-workers are. I have not been treated like an intern, but rather, as an equal. In the US, it is unlikely that an intern would end up in a meeting with senior management to discuss strategy and trajectory. This is exactly what happened to me here in Sweden. Another great thing about working at Ericsson are my co-workers. They were not only a source of information about the technical side of the job, but also great guides to Swedish culture.
When we were not taking about UEFA European Championship, they were telling me all about their favorite museums, the must-see places in Stockholm, about Swedish cuisine and culture, and about the best places to celebrate Midsummer. I took their advice and explored much more of Stockholm than I would have by just following guidebooks. For Midsummer, I took the advice of one of my colleagues to be adventurous and see how Danes celebrate the holiday (even though, he reassured me, Swedish Midsummer festivities are the best ones in all of Scandinavia). I spent my Midsummer in the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, somewhat sad about Croatia being eliminated from the Euro Cup by Portugal, but nonetheless enjoying my first Midsummer festivities.
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The historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen was not only gorgeous, but also a great place to celebrate Midsummer in a traditional Scandinavian way.
In July, it seems like all of Sweden migrates to the sunny beaches of Southern Europe. Most of my coworkers took a month-long vacation, so I also had some time off. I managed to visit some of my closest friends from my high school in Italy. I visited Turkey, Macedonia and Romania and caught up with my friends in their home countries. It feels good to be back in Europe. Rested from this trip, I returned to (a still mostly empty) office to wrap up my projects and get ready to leave for home in middle of August. I know that I will miss Stockholm once I am back in DC. It has truly been a fulfilling experience. I hope to make the most out of the few weeks I have left here. It has been an incredible summer filled with learning, fun and both personal and professional growth. All that happiness and excitement I felt back in February has been more than justified by my experience thus far.
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A view of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia taken during my summer vacation.