Alumni stories: How to mentor and make friends

The learning process doesn't end after you graduate. Anna Kryvenda is an SI Alumn who stayed in Sweden after her programme - and found a way to continue her education while helping teenagers and making new friends. Anna tells SI News what it's like to be a mentor.

Alumni stories: How to mentor and make friends

They say learning is a life-long process. Moving to a new country for a Master’s programme and struggling to adapt to the culture and learn the language can be tough, but the benefits are innumerable.

And even when students graduate from the NFGL programme, the opportunities presented by the programme are endless.

Anna Kryvenda from Ukraine finished her studies in Sweden several years ago, but she stayed after the programme and today she lives and works in Gothenburg.  And in her freetime she’s still learning – and teaching.

“I am participating in a mentorship programme for teenagers, where kids between 13 and 17 can get an adult friend,” Anna says.

The aim of the programme is to help teenagers get through tough periods. Mentor Sweden is a Swedish NGO that was established in 1994 on the initiative of Queen Silvia of Sweden.  The programmes promote health and prevent drug abuse, while building confidence in young people and creating healthy inspirational relationships between adults and youth.

“I saw a poster in a café in central Gothenburg for the programme,” Anna says. “The poster asked, ‘Do you want to give a teenager the power to grow?’ And I thought, ‘Yes, I do!’”

At the time Anna unfortunately did not have the time. But she took a picture of the poster and kept it on her phone.

“And then the time came when I looked at it and thought, ‘Yes, now it is time’.”

A relay event organized by a mentor. Photo: Private

Adults who apply for the programme are interviewed and selected, and attend a half-day mentor education seminar before being matched with a kid based on background, family situation, hobbies, and personality.

“As a mentor, your main task is to be there for your mentee,” Anna says. “You should try to meet at least twice a month, but the rest is just guidelines.”

Once a month the staff also organize an activity for all mentor pairs. These can be bowling, laser dome, quiz evenings, game nights, or any other number of activities.

“You can meet for a walk or a fika in a café with a serious talk. You can go to the cinema, do go-carting… The list is endless,” Anna says.

She says it feels incredible to have the chance to take part in a teenager’s journey, at a time of life when they are changing all the time.

“At some points you feel like you are talking to a kid, but a minute later you are suddenly having a philosophical discussion about bullying, relationships, or career planning,” she remarks. “They never stop surprising!”

Anna and her mentee. Photo: Private

But the kids aren’t the only ones who benefit.

“Sometimes I wonder who mentors whom,” Anna laughs. “Having a close friend who can introduce you to the Swedish culture and life, and who challenges you to understand another point of view – those are just a few of the benefits for mentors.”

For Anna, the most memorable moment of the year-long mentorship was at its end, reflecting upon the experience.

“My mentee said that the best part of the year was getting to know me. She also said that she now knows that friendship has no age limit.”

Anna and her young friend now hope to share their experience with others, and encourage other students and alumni to get involved.

“I think the programme would give NFGL members a wonderful chance to get to know the Swedish culture and daily life better,” Anna says, “While also making it possible to have a positive impact in someone’s life. This kind of mentorship is very enriching for both parties.”

Movie night with

The programme does require that mentors can have a conversation in Swedish – but Anna notes that it’s a great motivating factor to learn the language and to practice it.

“It’s also great for alumni who have learned Swedish. And even if you don’t take part in the programme in Sweden, it could be inspiration to start a similar initiative back home,” Anna hopes.

In short, it was a life-changing experience that Anna would recommend to all of her fellow alumni.

“The year of mentorship has given me insights in the life of a Swedish family, a teenager, education system in this country,” she says.

“It has also given me a friend who will surely stay with me for long time. This experience is definitely worth some of my time and the consequences of it will stay with me for many years.”


For members


Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer