Five tips from an SI scholar for balancing studies and extracurricular activities

SI scholar Alina Veksler, who is completing her master’s degree in Entrepreneurship at Linnaeus University, shares her tips for juggling a challenging master's programme with extracurricular activities.

Five tips from an SI scholar for balancing studies and extracurricular activities

Without a doubt, achieving as a student can be a hard job that requires dedication, proactivity and prioritization of tasks. But what if a student aspires to be active in areas other than studies? How do you handle that in addition to passing pretty tough graduate-level courses?

This article, first of all, provides examples of possible extracurricular activities in Sweden and then elaborates on advice for students that aspire to be actively involved in similar projects.

My journey started back in September 2018, when I moved to Sweden to study. I was accepted on the Master’s in Entrepreneurship programme at Linnaeus University, fully covered by a prestigious scholarship from the Swedish Institute (SI). Being SI scholarship holder means that you and your fellow scholarship holders at the university have a privilege to establish a local Network for Future Global Leaders (NFGL). That was what we did. We brainstormed the activity plan, applied for funding, got approval and started organizing our events. Throughout the first year, we organized two study visits (SaltX and Suderbyn Ecovillage), two workshops (“Plastic Is Not Fantastic” and “Sustainable Saturday”) and the event (“Let’s Clean Our Campus”). I have also represented our network at the Social Innovation Summit, Anti-corruption workshop and study visits to UN City, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Science Park Mjärdevi. This year, I was invited to the annual kick-off event for SI scholarship holders in Stockholm as the motivational speaker and representative of our local NFGL. We were more than 400 professionals and future global leaders from about 50 countries at this prestigious event. 

A group of people posing for a photo in front of a crowdDescription automatically generatedSome events that were organized/attended while being a board member at SI NFGL Linnaeus University

In the meantime, our university offered a wide variety of activities for students. Just to mention a few, I was (and still am) involved in: the Friend Family Project (where local Swedish families are matched with international students to foster cultural exchange), the Buddy Program (where local Swedish students are matched with internationals for better cultural integration) and the Mentor Programme (where students are matched with company representatives with the purpose of boosting personal/professional development). I have also worked as the student ambassador during orientation week in August 2019. As the team of two, we were meeting incoming international students and providing accurate information about our university and its facilities.

What is more, we have a number of organizations to join in Växjö. Last year, I joined United Nations Association (UNA) Växjö as the board member. As the team of nine, we organized a number of activities (events, workshops and movie nights) that focused on raising awareness of the United Nations' (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. This year, I joined the student union at Linnaeus University – Linnéstudenterna – as a part-time board member. We, four full-time board members and six part-timers, work towards enriching students’ lives with various activities, events and offers (by constantly working on establishing partnerships/co-operations). I am truly proud of the “Teleborg Castle Reception” event that I organized in collaboration with Växjö Municipality for more than 200 students this October. 

Other events that were organized/attended

Notwithstanding countless events (those of Videum Science Park, Drivhuset Växjö, Talk Innovation and so many more) that were attended during my time in Sweden so far and academia/industry-related university projects, I would say that I am endlessly grateful for this opportunity to study at Linnaeus University with the scholarship from the Swedish Institute (SI).

Based on such vast experience, I elaborated on an action list for those who aspire to have an active student life in Sweden.

  1. Research all opportunities that are available in your city/university;

  2. Think about your interest areas and/or causes you wish to support;

  3. Limit options based on the interest areas/causes, taking into account limitations (some positions might require full-time commitment which is not in line with university studies);

  4. Show your interest in joining, be honest and truthful about your intentions. Do not do stuff just for the sake of building a CV. You will just waste your own and your team’s time;

  5. Once “on board”, make sure that activities do not overlap with studies, prioritize tasks and be a true team player! 

I truly hope that my experience and advice will be of value to the readers. Just remember: do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone! By now, you might not even have an idea of how many hidden talents you have! 

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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.