Sweden’s model of innovative education is known worldwide and Swedish universities are some of the best in the world. But no matter your background, studying in Sweden teaches you more than your degree requires. Below are five things that I learned during my time in Sweden above and beyond my M.S. degree.
A love of the outdoors and nature
Before moving to Sweden, I had a complicated relationship with nature. In a manner of speaking, I admired ecosystems and the living world but wasn’t really comfortable with spending considerable time alone in nature. After spending two years in Sweden, however, and traveling to all of the Scandinavian countries, now I know the true value of nature and the outdoors. Nothing can calm my mind and help me focus like spending time in nature. From what I have observed, the care and love for nature is truly special to Swedish people.
If it’s not sustainable, it’s not viable
Environmental awareness and sustainable development have a high priority in Sweden. Even though I was aware of environmental issues such as deforestation, climate change, and the extinction crisis before living in Sweden, I had no idea about the magnitude, urgency, and complexity of these issues. In the Swedish education system, the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) program plays a vital role, the goal being to not only change our behavior but to prepare us for sustainable decision-making in the future. I think that these are the main reasons why Sweden has been named the most sustainable country in the world.
I remember attending a public lecture on the deficit of dialogue and diplomacy in the world by diplomat and former UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, where he raised something that piqued my interest. He said, “It is important to see international solutions as national interests.” In fact, many of the problems we face today go beyond our national borders as the world is becoming more complex than it has been ever before. Often along with critical thinking, Swedes employ systems thinking to see the bigger picture by analyzing how all the individual parts fit together and form a greater whole.
Lagom: Less is more
In most places around the world today, people aim to excel and boost their social status and stand out. In Sweden, however, the Swedish concept of “lagom,” which can be translated to “just right,” is very prevalent. While living in Sweden and experiencing “lagom” as it manifests in everyday life, I got a strong flavor of what it means. Growing up as an only child, I definitely felt like I was expected to strive for some kind of excellence. But “lagom” has taught me to strike a balance between different aspects of my life to find happiness and mindfulness. Nowadays, whenever I feel like there is something I have to do, I take a step back and ask myself if I want to do it and whether I really need to. It is liberating to strive for a balance in life.
Gender neutrality is cool
To encounter gender-neutral bathrooms wasn’t strange to me, but being introduced to the Swedisg gender-neutral pronoun “hen” definitely was. It took me a while to grasp how problematic gender stereotypes and certain expectations in our societies can be. I learned that Sweden practices gender-neutral pedagogy to use less “gender.” For instance, in Sweden, it is normal for teachers to not make a big deal of students’ gender. I think it’s a cool and healthy way to challenge traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes. In my experience, it makes students more free to explore the spectrum of gender without being labeled.