‘Sweden is not the paradise society everyone imagines: it’s more real’

'Sweden is not the paradise society everyone imagines: it's more real'
Niels Back. Photo: Private
Dutch student Niels Back came to Stockholm for an internship at the Dutch embassy in August this year. He chatted to The Local about what made him decide on Sweden and what he's learned in four months here.

“I was studying International Relations and Swedish when I heard about the internship at the embassy,” the 22-year-old tells The Local. “There’s only one intern at a time, so I was very happy to get the spot!”

His work focuses on political affairs between Sweden and the Netherlands, but it's a varied role and Back also assists with economic and consular affairs and organizes events, for example networking opportunities for Dutch and international young professionals.

Back started his internship and moved to Stockholm in August 2018. He has a long-standing interest in the Nordics and had hoped to spend time in Sweden since quite early on in his studies. 

“I’ve been on holidays in the Scandinavian countries many times and always loved the culture and the economic situation here,” he explains.

Of those countries, Sweden excited him the most. “From the Dutch perspective, Sweden is one of the few countries that we see as an example,” he says, but adds that actually spending an extended period of time here has helped to put the often idealized image of Sweden into perspective.

“Social services, the emancipation of women and the parental leave are things that are really good in Sweden, but at the same time it’s not just the paradise society that everyone imagines. It’s much more real, and of course problems exist.”

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Back says he has learned a lot in the months since his arrival, and recommends that other students consider looking overseas for work experience: “I think it’s so interesting to dive into a country and to get to know it better through living there.”

He started learning Swedish at university back in the Netherlands and says that language skills are a crucial aspect of living here.

“Learning Swedish at university was a good start for the basics, but living here helped me to 'professionalize' it. When I came here I stopped talking to Swedish people in English. They are really open when it comes to English, but if you push yourself not to speak English, the people are usually really helpful when it comes to teaching you Swedish.”

Sweden and the Netherlands show a lot of similarities, says Back, explaining: “I feel like the people in both countries love their freedom and focus on the individual person.” He also calls both countries “modern” and “progressive”.

He has also noticed differences between the two, though, including the emphasis on nature in Swedish lifestyle.

Another discrepancy is the different approach in handling conflicts.

“Swedes seem to be a bit more reserved, while the people are usually quite direct in the Netherlands. This directness can be seen as impolite by the Swedes,” the student explains.

“It’s also quite hard to get in touch with Swedes, as it’s not really common to just talk to strangers at a bar, for example.”

His advice for new arrivals to the country is simply to persevere: “When you get to the talking eventually, people are really friendly. So my advice would be: Make an effort, it’s worth it.”

To get to know local people better, he suggests doing various activities around the city, like joining a choir or other activity group. His other advice is simple: “This is such a millennial answer, but I would also advise people to never stop exploring the city. Stay curious and open to the language and the culture.”

As to what he has liked least about Sweden so far, Back hesitates. “I don’t see any disadvantages yet. Maybe that your normal contacts aren’t that close, but I think that’s a general problem with living abroad,” he says.

All in all, Stockholm turned out to be the perfect spot for Back, he says. “I love the Swedish nature a lot. He thing with Stockholm is that you got the beautiful nature and quietness very close around it – but at the same time it is a big city with lots of culture.”

His internship ends in February next year, which is when he will return to the Netherlands for his master’s degree.

“I am happy to go back on the one hand,”he says. “On the other hand, I can definitely imagine coming back and living here permanently.”

FOR MEMBERS: What makes exchange students come back to Sweden?





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