‘What I learned from challenging stereotypes’

‘What I learned from challenging stereotypes’
Photo: Tatsiana Milach
SI Scholar Tatsiana Milach reflects on what she learned by challenging stereotypes in Sweden.

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.