‘What I learned from challenging stereotypes’

SI Scholar Tatsiana Milach reflects on what she learned by challenging stereotypes in Sweden.

‘What I learned from challenging stereotypes’
Photo: Tatsiana Milach

Stereotypes seem to exist everywhere. The Germans are supposed to love beer but are never late for meetings, Brits are a little stiff and drink tea while sticking their little finger out and the French cannot live without their daily consumption of baguettes. Stereotypes die hard, but sometimes you might end up being surprised. 

One notorious stereotype I had in mind when I moved to Sweden was how unfriendly and closed off Swedes can be. However, this stereotype proved not to be true in my experience. I have been greeted on the street by strangers. I have met great, like-minded people when volunteering and created a bond with them around shared values. Meeting these people has helped me try things I had never thought about before and made it possible for me to discover new areas of knowledge. 

And yes, overcoming the language barrier and the fear of exclusion has been difficult. I worried that I would not be able to integrate myself when everyone already knew each other. 

I have learned that the main solution is to confront your fears head-on, so I just started talking to people. I searched for groups and events on social media that I could be a part of. I asked local students about programs and opportunities here. This is what helped me find many volunteering groups to join. And the exclusion issue? Well, it turned out to not be an issue at all. Everyone welcomed me and included me from the start. The most significant I learned has to be that to integrate, you need to have a desire to learn new things and discover what is going on around you. 

Another stereotype, which this time turns out to be true, is the concern and responsibility Swedes feel towards sustainability. I had never seen such a complex recycling system. Plastics in one container, paper in another and so on. But here, I quickly got into the habit of separating waste. Recycling containers are everywhere in Sweden, which makes it incredibly easy to recycle correctly. Recycling is beneficial not only to society as a whole, but also to the nature around me and to achieve a more sustainable future.

Moving to Sweden helped me acquire new useful habits and skills through experiencing the Swedish lifestyle and learning from others. My wish for the future is to promote these habits in my home country and university. You see, sometimes stereotypes need to be challenged, and maybe you’ll learn from it. 


Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

Ronoh Philip, who is studying for his masters degree in Infectious Disease Control at Södertörn University, explains why he thinks the Swedish concept of 'lagom' is the best way to achieve good social health.

Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

During my one week orientation program on August 2019 at Södertörn University, we were presented with many aspects of Swedish culture and practices. One of the new aspects that I learnt was the “lagom culture”, As I quote one of the presenters about applying lagom to our studies, he said: ”Lagom will reduce your stressful burdens of hectic lecture schedules and ensure that you spend equal time of working and socializing in the university.”

So being a student with a background in public health and society, I got interested and searched for the deeper meaning of lagom, and how it can  apply to society and health. I found out that it is a Swedish way of life, it is a concept which means not too much and not too little, just enough. I learnt that it came from a Viking tradition laget om which means 'around the group' and was allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group.

If this concept is applied to achieve social health goals, it would really fit well. So, what is social health at first? Social health is how you interact with other people and adapt in different situations, it deals with how people in society deal with each other. It is important to note that there is a close link between good social health and improvement of the other aspects of human health, this can lead to the achievement of SDG goal of good health and wellbeing. It also leads to self-satisfaction and happiness; no wonder Sweden is ranked as one the happiest countries in the world. It is ranked 7th in 2019, according to world happiness report. I believe lagom has a big role in this achievement.

In the country where I come from, Kenya, one of the greatest challenges we face in our society, is the ability for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to interact and form positive and cohesive relationships with each other. From my perspective, when I finish my studies and return, lagom will be worth implementing in the workplace, the place where I live and the society as whole, as it is the best way of finding simple, attainable solutions to our everyday worries like stress, eating better, having downtime and achieving happiness. It’s a balance of work and life, so everything is in sustainable existence with each other.

My goal during my entire university studies at Södertörn, will be to learn more about the lagom principle and also be able to apply it on our SI NFGL Local Network platform, because it is surely one of the best ways to achieve a good  work-life balance, reaching consensus with my colleagues and adapting a team minded approach in dealing with issues in an organization and the society.