The scariest and most developing time of my life

Sandra at Dubai Miracle Garden. Photo: Private

Sandra Johansson works and lives in Stockholm. The last three months, however, she’s spent in Dubai as part of the Pernod Ricard Group exchange program Talent 4 Talent. The program has been dubbed ‘a Tinder for your career’ because of its simple design: two colleagues in two different countries find a match within the group – basically it’s two people who are willing to give each other’s jobs a try. This way, they get the experience of working abroad early on in their career and can share best-practices.

Sandra found her match in Dubai, but she knew little about what to expect when arriving at her new desk three months ago. We managed to get hold of Sandra on a Friday afternoon, to learn more about her experience.

Today is Friday. Why aren’t you at work?

“Actually, here in Dubai the working week starts Sunday and ends Thursday, so Fridays are off. That felt weird at first, but I’m used to it now. It’s still a bit disheartening scrolling through Instagram on a Saturday night, though. You see all your friends back home in Sweden out having fun and you know you have to get up early the next day and go to work.” 

Speaking about your job – What are you working with in Dubai?

“I work as a Customer Service Executive for Pernod Ricard Gulf. I basically handle the order process to make sure I satisfy my customers’ needs.
In Stockholm, I handle only intercompany customers, so a big part of why I wanted to make an exchange specifically with one of the Market Companies within the group is because I wanted to get a better grip on what it’s like working closer to the end-customers.”

Was Dubai your first choice?

“I actually had no first choice, but I knew I wanted to work in a country whose culture differs quite a lot from the Swedish, so Europe was excluded from my wish-list at least.

Anyway, the exchange program Talent 4 Talent works in such a way that it tries to match two persons’ preferences. And when I found out I had a match with someone in Dubai, I was a bit hesitant at first. I thought it would be a more conservative place than it turned out to be. But it’s been a superb match – the job is challenging in a good way, and it’s really exciting to live here with so many cultures in one place. For example, with our office of only 35 employees I think we are from 10 or 12 different countries.

What’s different in Dubai?

“The first thing that comes in mind is the climate, when I arrived here in August it was 50-55 degrees Celsius, which was a chock for me. The first two weeks I had to just try to figure out how to survive outside longer than ten seconds and I have never in my life longed so much for November as this year (everyone is trying to convince me it will be manageable by then). I think no Swede has ever longed for November. 

With the knowledge of the region having stricter laws and regulations of alcohol than Sweden I must say moving here and going out for dinner has been different, since many of the restaurants are not allowed to serve alcohol. But my perception of that has only been positive, as they serve great juices and innovative mocktails instead. At the same time, in places serving alcohol you can really see and taste the quality and crafts behind the drinks you order, which makes me feel proud working within the industry, and I think many places in Sweden could follow their example.

Personally, it’s been the scariest – and at the same time most developing – time of my life. When I got here, it quickly hit me that my family and friends are miles away and I had to quickly make new friends in order to not get homesick. And being more of an introvert person, I had to challenge myself and reach out to people via different channels.”

Dubai is famous for being a melting pot of different cultures. Has that been a positive or a negative?

“For me it’s definitely been positive. Besides learning more about the culture here in Dubai, I have had some of the most intense and interesting discussions with people from all over the world whilst living here. As an example, I started hanging out with a group of South American friends, which also gave me an opportunity to practice my Spanish. I also have a few colleagues from India, and during our lunches we’ve had some deep conversations on topics such as religion, life and culture – some which have been really eye-opening, but also some where we have agreed to disagree. And I have never eaten as much Indian food as often as I do now, since moving here. 

Would you recommend this program to colleagues?

Definitely! It benefits both the companies, the people exchanging jobs and the people they meet. I recommend more companies to take after this program.