Älmhult is described as “the heart of the IKEA world. This is where it all began, and continues to happen.” And I am here for six months, working at IKEA of Sweden AB for my second backpacker assignment.
What in the world is an IKEA Backpacker? Aside from it being a fun job title, it’s a leadership development program for high potentials that sends selected people to work for one year in two different countries on two different projects in order to grow professionally and personally. In addition, it helps us Backpackers to gain a better understanding of the global ways of working and the company culture. The program, from what I am told, is ending after the next term and those of us who have been lucky enough to participate are doing our best to make the last of it really count.
Here in Älmhult, there are 13 of us coming from the US, Canada, Belgium, UK, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. Over the course of such a short two months, we have already grown so close. It takes a certain spirit to go on this journey, leaving home, work, friends and family behind for the sake of growth, and we all share it. The hardest part for me so far about this experience is leaving friends and family to move to a location for six months, where you just start to get settled and then have to move again and start over. Leave the friends and family you just made, make new friends, find your comfort zone again and learn how to just be. It’s hard being mobile and never really feeling like you have a home. You miss the comforts of being with your closest friends and talking and laughing over good food and a couple of beers. Just being.
Last night we went out for dinner to one of the eight restaurants you can choose from here. Yes, eight restaurants in the entire town. Jake from the UK had a fellow Backpacker from Milan visiting that he shared his first assignment in San Diego with last summer and invited all of us to dinner. Brasserie Goaroije a blend of French and Swedish food with some other European influences. Not a restaurant to go to every night with its prices, but the perfect place for a special occasion, or a once in a while dinner with friends.
The room was private and the wall paper reminded me of the dining room in my childhood friend’s house back in New Jersey. The atmosphere was light and lovely and comfortable. We sat around the table and talked about our projects and how we were progressing. What would our next steps be after the Backpacker journey? Would we return to our home country and look for an elevated position? Would we interview for jobs in other countries? Would we stay in Sweden?
And as almost every conversation we have begins and ends, we talked about travelling. Where is the best place to drink and be merry and see the fireworks on New Years Eve in Amsterdam this year? Have we all booked our trains to Stockholm? Who wants to go to Venice for Carnevale in February? Will we see the Northern Lights? Where else will this journey take us?
We talked over burgers, mussels and frites, charcuterie and risotto. The food was nice. We recognized how lucky we were to be in Älmhult together in this experience and to get along so well with one another. We laughed about embarrassing, but endearing moments that have happened to us that have brought us closer. We made plans to explore together. We promised to have fun. We ordered another round of prosecco and Jämtlands IPA and for the first time here in Älmhult, I felt like I was home.