Sweden is a country that has more of a focus on individualism, much like the States. Conformity is found in many East Asian cultures, one of them being my own: Chinese. Rectifying the difference between the intense American self vs. the collective family social group was a personal struggle for a long period in my life. I haven’t found an answer to it yet, but it is certainly something I will have to make a choice in when the situation presents itself to me.
I find that Sweden also leans towards individualism, but without as much gusto as one does in America. America really has an emphasis on pulling yourself up on your own bootstraps, and achieving your own American Dream. To me, it’s a cold ideology, that suggests you should be able to do everything on your own and be proud of that fact. Although it’s definitely ‘the American’ ideology, it’s not necessarily prevalent in day-to-day life. Where I live in North Carolina, many people are friendly and are willing to lend a hand. There is also the famous Southern hospitality, which invites trust and kindness towards everyone. Sweden is one of the happiest countries in the world (ranked within top ten in 2019), although I think that is more attributed to the government system rather than the ideology between people. I think the degree of individualism can have a large effect on the difference between countries, which is interesting to see.
Either way, I think that people can best learn things from other people. In a study abroad program, one of the main selling points is to be able to learn and exchange viewpoints with people of a different cultural background than you. I chose a course that has to do with digitization, so at first I was worried we wouldn’t really have this opportunity since we would be working with hard facts and techniques; however the course wasn’t what I was expected, and most of it was group work, presentations, and discussions, which I think is the most fruitful thing we could have done. We have had discussions about technology, AI, sustainability, well-being, design, IT, and software development. Not only did we have students from countries from all over the world, but we also had a wide variety of majors and disciplines. Many were also studying their Master’s, so there were those who were older than me that had more experience and knowledge. I was able to listen to many different perspectives on sustainability, which was the central concept that the summer program was about. I learned a lot as Sweden—Gothenburg in particular—is one of the most sustainable destinations on the planet. Just something as simple as the recycling is much different here!
To live sustainability is to be aware of your impact on the planet. It is a way to live consciously for the current moment and for the future. Sustainability is a tough concept to tackle; it is both a mindset and a set of techniques to keep our world from heating up. We are the agents for change, but sitting in that classroom, there were some of us that wondered, what can we do right now? Was it even worth the carbon emissions from the plane to fly over to Sweden? What can we take back and use in our daily life within these five weeks? At the very least, I can say that this has already been a life-changing experience for me, one that soon the curtains will close on.