Published: Tue 27 Oct 2015.

Raghavendra Selvan

My Swedish Tale

It is admittedly a difficult task to try and leave a post that can encapsulate experiences from the last two years in Sweden. The gist of my experiences, if I were to contain them within a few words, would have to be: I have become some parts a Swede myself, and I say that in the best sense.

One of the first books I read about Sweden, before moving there (it feels weird to be referring Sweden as there, and not here), was titled "Fishing in Utopia". The book was a melancholic tale of the writer in Sweden, but the only lesson that I seemed to have gathered from that book was that Sweden was the closest you could get to being a Utopia. And it is with this awe that I have spent my 26 months in Sweden. On a daily basis, I have been amazed by the many different traits, that I will try to point out, which amalgamate into the expression "Swedishness".

To begin with, I recollect the last incident that I witnessed in Sweden, just before getting onto my bus to Copenhagen. As I entered the Nils Ericsson bus terminal, one advertisement caught my eye - one of the billboards inside the train station had familiar logo - a logo that had been etched into my head, when I was  obsessively checking their website. I'm talking of the Swedish Migration Agency, Migrationsverket. I was stalking their website incessantly, hoping to receive an extension to my residence permit. But, this time, it was nothing negative. The billboard carried a sign "Are you seeking asylum?". And in the next slide, it urged the asylum seekers to contact Migrationsverket. I was impressed. Just recently, I saw a clip where Denmark had posted a migration related ad; it was published in a Muslim country, in their local tongue, asking them not to arrive at Denmark's doors. And then it hit me - why I will miss Sweden. Not just the ad in the bus station, Migrationsverket had put up a make-shift office and there were some good Samaritans providing food and other basic amenities to several other people, who I assume were seeking asylum. It is not easy to gain asylum even in Sweden, but they are at least not unwelcoming!

The immigration policies apart, Sweden technically has been my second home: I have never 'lived' anywhere but Bangalore before I moved to Sweden. So I will have a fond longing for Sweden. And I believe that homes mold us. Fitting this hypothesis, I have changed a lot in Sweden. I can only hope it is for the better.

One major change I have undergone, after my time in Sweden, is that I have become less assertive. I don't say this in negative light, but in admiration of the openness that I have gotten so used to in Sweden. Let me explain. By less assertive, I also mean less opinionated and far more receptive. Giving heed to others, genuinely, is an important learning. Maybe I used to do it, but I must have gotten better. Or maybe, I wasn't genuine about it, now I will try hard not to impose my opinions on to others. This also has a direct link to the much spoken about flat organizational structure in Sweden.

Another positive trait, I am trying to inculcate now is self-discipline. It might not even seem like a trait one must learn from others. But when I talk of Swedish self-discipline, it is a class apart. It encompasses all aspects of one's life. And to get disciplined at work is something many of us struggle with. But the most impressive aspect of this self-discipline can be witnessed in people well beyond their work - at homes, when on the streets or in the bus. For instance, the diligence with which people would stop their work, in order to make time for family and to pursue their hobbies or sports is remarkable. This self-discipline is part of the Swedish culture. The usual anecdote I mention with this regard is that, whenever I would be working over the weekends, I would rarely spot a Swede; the campus would be infested with us Asians. It is a stark cultural difference, partly also due to the affluence of the nation.

Lastly, the Nordic coldness, which is far more typical of Sweden, has also affected me. From being a stereotypical outgoing Indian, I have become far too comfortable being in the solace of having to deal with fewer people. This is one aspect I am not particularly fond or proud of, if I have assimilated it into me.

In all, my Swedish tale culminated with a valuable Master's degree, travels to tens of countries, meeting hundreds of new people, innumerable precious experiences. This pause in my Swedish tale, I hope will resume someday.

I will miss Sweden, and I say that in the most earnest, or equivalently, the Swedish way possible.


Written by: Raghavendra Selvan
Edited by: Abhilash Ram
Images: Private

About the author:
Raghavendra Selvan was the Challenge Yourself India winner in 2013, who had the opportunity to pursue his MS in Communication Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology from 2013 to 2015. He is currently pursuing his PhD in the University of Copenhagen.

Published: Tue 27 Oct 2015.