Tell us a bit about your background. How did you find out about SI and why did you choose to come to Sweden?
I am Daniel Ddiba and I come from Uganda – the Pearl of Africa! I am doing a masters programme in Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Infrastructure at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and this is my second and last year of the programme.
Before I came to Sweden, I was working as a research assistant on a couple of sustainable sanitation projects at Makerere University and I was starting to explore opportunities for graduate studies. One day, I came across an exhibition organized by the Swedish Embassy in Kampala and SI education opportunities in Sweden and research collaborations with Makerere University on one of the squares on the university campus. I got to know about the SI Study Scholarships and then did some further web-surfing about it and the rest is history. I was attracted to Sweden because of the prominent sustainability profile of the country, but frankly speaking, it was the intersection of a good masters program and a full scholarship opportunity that hit a home run with me.
What was your first impression of Sweden?
I found it to be quite a beautiful country with welcoming people who are quite reserved at first until they get to know you more before they can really open up to you. I also found that the people generally have a high awareness of environmental issues.
What is your impression of Sweden now?
Sweden is quite unique, even among industrialised countries. I have come to learn about the high emphasis on innovation, not only in the higher education sector but also in the private and public sector and I think this underscores the strength of the Swedish economy. I have also come to appreciate the social welfare system here over time. Of course many people are divided in opinion about this with the current immigration crisis and all that. However, I am personally inspired by the values of equality and livelihood security for all people upon which the welfare system is based and these are akin to the African principles of “Ubuntu”.
What is your favourite thing about Sweden?
I like the it that Swedish people are generally open-minded and have equality among all people as a strong value. The fact that I can call my professors by first name and not titles creates a friendly atmosphere that can help people open up and express themselves in the academic environment, and generally everywhere else. I'm a conversational person so I love fika too, especially the cinammon bun part of it!
How did you end up curating the @Sweden twitter account – how did it all happen?
So the official @Sweden account is run by a different person each week, under a project called “Curators of Sweden” run by SI. Anyone can nominate a Swedish citizen living in Sweden or abroad or a non-Swedish citizen living in Sweden, to curate the account.
I'm quite active on Twitter so when I learnt about the project, I asked a couple of Swedish friends some time last year to nominate me for the role but I didn't know if it would really ever happen because quite a number of people are interested in it. I think one of those two friends nominated me and the SI team that runs it liked my profile and they contacted me last month to ask if I was interested. I jumped at the opportunity and here we are.
Why did you decide to do it?
I have enjoyed my stay in Sweden so the opportunity to be an “ambassador” for the country on Twitter and to tell about my life and experiences here really appealed to me.
What has the experience been like? What did you expect and how did it end up? What does it feel like?
It has generally been a thrilling experience. At first I was scared because I didn't know what kind of content would have broad appeal to the over 90,000 followers of the account. But I relaxed afterwards because I realised that the reason they give the account to a new person every week is to show the diversity in the country so I made it as personal and reflective of me as possible. I was humbled by the response from the followers and I engaged in good conversations with many of them on a range of things.
What kind of feedback did you get?
I was overwhelmed by the support from the account's community/followers especially over the first few days. My personal account has about 1000 followers but no, 90,000 people were actively engaging with me 24/7!
Many people were welcoming and encouraged me throughout the week and engaged really well on the different topics I tweeted about. I think my introduction may also have surprised many because not everyone knows that non-Swedes can have the opportunity to run the account as long as they are currently residing in Sweden. So I also got quite a lot of hateful comments and personal attacks everyday from right wing extremists and people who are anti-immigration. This was the shocking part because I hadn't really expected it. I had to mute and ignore them though, at least so I could stay sane!
What is your advice to new SI NFGL students?
Immerse yourself as soon as possible into the academic/professional and social community around you. Engage in all the relevant seminars, mingles with companies, exhibitions and other such events at your university. Set some clear goals for what you really want to achieve out of your stay in Sweden and go straight for it. If you want something, go for it and don't hesitate. You will be surprised by how helpful many people are to students who approach them for advice, contacts and other professional needs.
What do you plan on doing after graduation?
I am aiming at a career in the area of water and sanitation specifically and environment/sustainability in general. So I am currently exploring opportunities for a PhD/research position or a posting with an engineering consultancy. Hopefully, a door will open soon within one of these areas.