Sweden’s Mark on Me

After being home in the US for almost a week, the culture shock is still hitting me, from driving a car everywhere to the water level in the toilets! I can hardly believe my semester abroad has come to an end. This means it is time to bring this blog series to a close as well. I believe my international experience can be summed up with a couple of cultural perspectives that I picked up during my time in Sweden.

The first is the Swedish word lagom. The word itself translates to “just enough”, the Goldilocks concept of having neither too little nor too much. However, it is more than just a word; it reflects a greater cultural attitude towards self-restraint and balance based in a historical past of having very little to feed, clothe, and care for many. Taking only what is needed is not only fair, but also essential to ensuring everyone’s wellness. In Swedish society, as well as in my time abroad, this word has come to stretch into all aspects of life. It has encouraged me to find a balance between studying my academic work and exploring cultural insights, expanding my circle and keeping up with friends and family from home, traveling and enjoying time relaxing in Stockholm, and much more. I am excited to bring this personal growth back to my academic and professional endeavors at Pitt, focusing on my academics while adding to the community around me at Pitt Honors, in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, in my work at UPMC, and throughout Pittsburgh as a whole. In addition, I’ve discovered one of my biggest takeaways through lagom: making enough time to take care of myself mentally, emotionally, and physically is the foundation to a successful, curious, and dedicated pursuit of my academics and profession. 

The second is the concept of jantelagen, or “the law of jante”. Jantelagen is a code of conduct that is never strictly taught but is ever pervasive throughout life in Sweden. The code emphasizes humility and understanding that the success of the group is more important than the accomplishments of any individual. Boasting, vanity, and putting oneself above others are seen disfavorably. It is better to let your actions speak for themselves. Jantelagen encourages cooperation rather than competition, and it contributes to the more equal academic and work environments found in Sweden as compared to the US. A lower-level employee is no less respected than a higher-level employee – they are all equally as important to the success of the group. This anti-hierarchical mindset is helpful in any career, team, and organization, but I find it especially useful in my future career. I am planning to be a physician assistant, or PA. In response to hearing this, many people ask why I wouldn’t rather become a physician, gain the title of doctor, and be solely responsible for my practice. I answer this question in a way that is reminiscent of jantelagen: I am not seeking my profession for prestige, a decorated title, or the ability to make important decisions in isolation; I am pursuing it for the opportunity to make personal differences and support an integrated team. With a name for the mindset I have always had toward my career, I will bring jantelagen into my work, recognizing that my success is not reached without the contributions of all of my colleagues, my patients, and each of our communities.

My program and my experience in general will have a lasting impact on the way I approach my academic and professional work. I will also forever be grateful for the way it has expanded my cultural and social boundaries and strengthened my resiliency. Hejdå Sverige, och tack för allt!

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