Sweden – a cold country with a warm culture

This week, Yaroslava Zahoruiko, a Visby Scholarship holder who graduated from Uppsala University in June 2019 (LLM in Investment Treaty Arbitration), shares her experiences of how Swedes keep their spirits up during the darker and coldest months of the year.

Sweden – a cold country with a warm culture

Before I came to Sweden, I heard people complaining about how dark and cold it was. To be honest, I did not expect this to be a big problem for me, but I was still preparing for it emotionally. However, after having lived in Sweden for a year, I should admit that I am yet to experience any really dark and cold days. For sure, there have been plenty of them, but being actively involved in student life and exploring Swedish culture, I just haven’t had the time to worry about it.

In my experience, both Swedish student life and culture has a lot to offer. I was lucky enough to study in Uppsala, which, in my opinion, is a perfect place for students. It was very easy to make friends at the so-called student nations (student organizations) and I have participated in their wide range of activities, including quidditch, salsa, and formal balls. However, the gasks (or gasques), a kind of of Swedish student party which involves a long formal dinner, which made the strongest impression on me. There were some “normal” ones and some really crazy ones, like the lamb skull gasque (during which everybody got a real lamb skull!) or the crayfish gasque. What is common to all of them, however, is that there is lots of singing. It seems like Swedes have found a good way to relax, socialize, and forget about any problems by way of singing.

I have found that the Swedes’ love of singing goes beyond occasional singing at events. Choir culture is very developed, too, and in addition to student and church choirs, many companies also have their own choirs. I definitely recommend experiencing this choir culture either by singing in them or by attending choir performances. I especially enjoyed the ones during Christmas time, including the amazing Lucia concert at Uppsala Cathedral and later a big Christmas concert at Uppsala Castle. During the last one, the choir even performed several Ukrainian songs! It was amazing to be immersed in the Christmas atmosphere by listening to some familiar and unfamiliar songs. Such passion for singing was a good way to remedy any winter depression.

However, it is not only through singing that Swedes bring happiness and comfort into their lives. For example, I really like that there are holidays devoted to Swedish cinnamon buns (“kanelbulle”) and traditional sweet rolls (“semla”). Why not to gather together and enjoy delicious pastries with a cup of coffee either during such holidays or simply everyday?


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.