While traveling around the diverse hustling and bustling city of Malmö, Sweden, our class has begun to pick up on a few cultural norms slightly different than the ones most of us Midwesterners are used to. For example, people do not say hello to each other on the street, in buildings, or in an elevator—quite the contrast from the friendly small town and school we are used to back home. Also, the amount of organized public transportation is unparalleled in its efficiency, a trait very valued by the Swedes. And to top it off, everyone is stunning… so it’s a good thing most of us have Scandinavian heritage!
Throughout our many conversations with the Swedish people about sustainability, parental leave, education, and more, immigration of refugees from war-torn countries have come up in almost all our conversations. And while anti-immigration rhetoric in America is clear in our legislation and politics, it seems that for most Swedes, concerns about immigration are secondary to the issue of compassion for their fellow humans.
Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, alone took over 130,000 Syrian refugees in 2015. This shows that the issue of immigration, especially with refugees, is not necessarily an issue of guilt or pity, but of humanity. To the average Swede, the right to live and thrive in a society is a human right. Every person in Sweden has the right to housing, a right to education, and a right to aide in society. Swedish language courses begin the first day of arrival in the country, and integration is part of the conversation from the very beginning.
“But why should I care?”
The question of a generation.
All people, especially young people, are passionate about something. Most have a cause, a driving force in their life which keeps passion alive. However, when it comes down to it, mobilizing passion into action is much harder than it might seem. Then comes the question: “Why should I care?” Indeed, why should we care about the millions of Syrian refugees fleeing their war torn country? “It’s not our fault there’s a war in Syria.” “Why should we change our lives, our culture, to help them?” And while there are political parties in Sweden who are aiming to drastically minimize this migration, the large consensus of the population believes immigrants, like any other ethnic Swede, deserve the chance and opportunity to create a future for themselves and their children. And it is children that build this successful future and foundation. Children are cared for and nurtured from the earliest age.
In Malmö, we sat down with a Swedish man who has been on paternity leave twice. There are 480 allotted days between two parents for each child, and they can be used until the age of six. This builds a strong relationship between the parent and child from the beginning. And once the child leaves the home, they enter pre-school and other public schools which, from an early age, cater to the individuality of the student. For example, we spoke with a sixth grade student who always had time to work on homework with her teacher and didn’t feel overwhelmed when she was home. Additionally, they do not have standardized testings, which allows teachers the freedom to teach in a way which does not cater to national standards of what it means to be “smart and successful.”
Between immigration and childcare, we have learned that Sweden is a country, that above all else, prioritizes the well-being of all its citizens, no matter their age, nationality, or religion. Their policies genuinely focus on their citizens, not the political gains of politicians. If change is wanted, the citizens will demand it. In this way, I believe our politicians have a lot to learn from Sweden and its citizens.
Now, onwards to Stockholm!