Archive for sialumniteam

Happy New Year!

2016 was a great year for the Swedish Institute Alumni Network. SI supported about 70 events around the world. The Swedish Institute wishes you all wonderful holidays and a Happy and Prosperous New Year. We look forward to continue to work with you in 2017.

SI Alumni Network 2016 from Swedish Institute on Vimeo.

Språkcafé in Ukraine

Ukraine now has an establihed Swedish Langugae Club. Co-founder Anastasiya Borenkova has shared her experience with us, telling us the story of how everything started.

“The idea came to our mind 2 years ago. Me and the other two founders, Alina and Anna, did not know each other by that time but we shared a big passion for Sweden. After a year of amazing volunteer experience in Sweden, Alina came back to Ukraine and extremely missed “Swedishness” and Swedish language. She started looking for people who would like to meet and speak Swedish in Kyiv. Through Couchsurfing she found Anna who never learnt Swedish but frequently visited her friends in Sweden, travelled around Sweden and simply fell in love with the country. They started weekly Swedish speaking meetings, being one of the few enthusiasts looking for ways how to involve more Swedish speakers to the group. Thanks to a recommendation of their friends, they got in touch with the SI alumni community. I was one of the SI alumni who liked their idea and joined the club. I began learning Swedish during my studies in Östersund and finished A2 level. After I returned to Ukraine, I wanted to keep practicing Swedish with native speakers and those who also study Swedish in Kyiv. Together we named our speaking club “Språkcafé i Kyiv” and in short this is how our project began.

In the very beginning, there were onlike about 2 or 3 of us at the meetings – choosing discussion topics, playing table games and of course, speaking Swedish. The challenge was to find native speakers but we managed by going through our personal networks, friends of friends, Facebook announcements on SI alumni group, Couchsurfing etc. We used all available communication channels to attract more people to join us. We held our first Språkcafe meetings with Swedes from Ericsson, Beetroot and Tobii (Swedish companies in Ukraine) who supported our initiative. We were really building a little community.

Now there are more than 250 people in our Facebook group  and more and more of them join us every week. It means that there is a growing interest in Sweden and Swedish in Ukraine. We even meet people who learn other Scandinavian languages but they come to us because there is no similar Norwegian or Danish club in Kyiv. There is “Språkcafé i Lviv” which was established by our example a year ago and we plan to organize such clubs in other Ukrainian cities as well. It is great to know that people heard about us in Sweden or even on a plane on the way to Kyiv. Therefore, we expand our borders.

Traditional group selfie at the weekly meeting

We organize general weekly meetings once in one or two weeks in different cozy places in Kyiv. Sometimes we have special thematic meetings e.g. köttbullar evening when we cook Swedish meals or watch Swedish movies together. We always try to organize small celebrations of Swedish holidays as well. One of the most memorable holidays, which we celebrated this year, was Midsummer.

Midsummer celebration 2016

We had almost 80 guests including Swedes who live in Kyiv or arrived specially for the holiday. We spent three days in nature outside of the city. We had so much fun! We followed all holiday traditions – danced around a maypole, wove wreaths, sang Midsummer songs, cooked traditional dishes, played Swedish games, swam in the Kyiv sea. In addition, this autumn we organized Swedish picnic in collaboration with the Scandinavian house “Stockholm Studios” in Irpen. We cooked köttbullar and Swedish desserts for the guests and gave presentations on the Swedish Embassy in Ukraine, Swedish business in Kyiv, and travelling in Sweden. I think the most impressive was the final part of the event when we opened a can of surströmming.

Swedish picnic at Stockholm Studios. October 2016

Beetroot founders who were our first Swedish guests at Språkcafe meetings played a crucial role in development of the project. This year Beetroot kindly created a logo for our club, and, most importantly, a website. Everything was free of charge as Beetroot charity initiative. Thanks to Swedish Institute financial contribution, we bought a domain and paid for hosting for the website. We feel a lot of support and very thankful for that. We hope our Språkcafe group will be growing, strengthening bonds and inspiring SI alumni from other countries to create their Swedish language clubs.

Do you have a story that you want to share with your fellow SI Alumni? Get in contact with the SI Alumni team!

SI Alumni Profile: Ezekiel Wafula Wepundi, Kenya

When, where & what did you study in Sweden?

Studied master’s program in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, from August 2014 to June 2015.

Where are you now?

Currently living in Nairobi, Kenya.

What’s your plan now?

The excitement of contributing to a socially sounder and environmentally wealthier society made me study a sustainability related masters. After graduation, I have been (and still plan to continue) strategically partnering with willing individuals, organizations, and communities that are keen on socio-ecological sustainability. I’m actively involved as a member of the Swedish Institute Alumni Network in Kenya (SiANK) which encapsulates a think-tank on Sustainable development in the region. I also participate as an associate sustainability consultant with Inborn Energy−an energy efficiency and Management Company in Nairobi. More so, I engage with a social enterprise, SALAMI, which finds creative ways to crowd-fund towards providing lasting healthcare solutions to children in children’s homes. My plan is to elevate involvement in such engagements, neither as a strenuous career nor burdensome toil, but as an exciting societal input that connects me with like-minded people and enables me to ENJOY making a difference. My role in these organizations is mostly as a sustainability advisor.

Tell us about your experience as an SI Alumni.

Most notable of my SI alumni experience is the interactions that I share with both fellow alumni and the Swedish embassy in Kenya. Having a formally registered SiANK meant that I have a local community to associate with both in social gatherings and specific projects. It is seldom easy to reintegrate back in to the society after being away for months. However, having gone through the same experiences, the SiANK community has provided and intends to continue providing a moral support platform for these re-integrations to be easier for members.

The Swedish embassy in Kenya has been instrumental in facilitating various SiANK activities as well as extending invitation for SiANK’s participation in some of its activities. I cannot emphasize enough on how much this collaboration has added meaning to both SiANK and its individual active participants. The beauty about this partnership is its two−way symbiotic relationship in some both relatively formal and social activities.

What are your hopes for the SI Alumni Network in Kenya for the future?

SiANK, regardless of being a few months old, has managed to organize a couple of projects and events, and, participate in various other engagements with invitation from the Swedish embassy. I think that there’s potential to widen scope in sustainability initiatives and collaborations. I hope that in the near future SiANK will get to team up with other Alumni Networks from across the globe for impactful initiatives, ideas-exchange, as well as networking. We recently collaborated with a Swedish NGO − Global Playground Stockholm − for an impactful sustainability project−#IchangeKenya. This is a positive indication that we’re on the right track.

Anything else you’d like to share with the SI Alumni Network?

I have seen the immeasurable potential that collaboration between alumni from different countries can have. Whilst participating in a CSR and sustainability workshop in Umeå just before my graduation, I networked with the President of a Swedish NGO that promotes sustainable lifestyles who also happens to be a SI alumnus. Two years later, his NGO got to partner with SiANK for a sustainability project in Nairobi. By virtue of having networked and kept communication going intermittently, I got to work with him as the project coordinator on the ground. I believe that such is the magnitude of collaborative opportunities that a member of the Si Alumni Network is exposed to.

Please describe what impact the SI scholarship has had on your life.

The SI scholarship gave me a platform to network and exchange ideas with likeminded-people from across the globe. Thankfully, I had a diversity of classmates representing many countries from across the globe. We therefore all got exposed to cross-cultural collaborations. The same opportunities were presented to me from my activities in the Si network for future global leaders and, currently the SI Alumni Network.

What you’ll miss about Sweden?

I will miss Karlskrona, its expanse of the Baltic Sea, and my hopelessly crazy attempts at the once-in-a-while winter swims.

What you won’t miss about Sweden?

Winter was more or less bearable, but the almost ear-drilling winds in Karlskrona, I will not miss.

What’s your best recommendation to new students?

This is not only an opportunity to study but also a chance to see and connect with the rest of the world. Go for it!


Future of Food

How can we feed 9 billion people a healthy and sustainable diet?

…was one of the many questions a group of 35 SI alumni and current scholarship holders tried figuring out the answer to last week during the Nobel Week Dialogue on the theme “The Future of Food”. Apart from the actual event at the Stockholm City Conference Center, the group met for a one day workshop at the Swedish Institute Office with EAT Foundation and Dedicated Institute on challenges and opportunities in the debate around climate change and food. Together we discussed how we can change the world by changing how we eat. Because we have to.

Interested in hearing what the nobel laureates and other experts within the field had to say on the Nobel Week Dialogue? You can watch the whole program online here.

See photos from the event in our photo album on facebook


Studying in Sweden 30 years on: A mother’s experience and her daughter’s expectations

Read the interview of a mother (Carmen Ortega) who studied in Sweden 30 years ago and how she inspired her daughter (Viveka Guzman) to study in Sweden now.

Interview with Carmen Ortega (the mother): 

Please describe to us, as you would describe to your daughter, what Viveka has to look forward to as she moves to Sweden? 

I would say to her that she has a unique opportunity to be in a country, which is one of the best in the world—not only in terms of its high level of science, but also in terms of its advances with respect to human rights.

What did you study and how did it affect where you ended up today?

I studied my Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Stockholm, and it has been one of the best experiences in my life. Currently, I work as a lecturer at the University of Guadalajara and I try to do my best to contribute in the training of Chemistry professionals and to help students learn and love chemistry.

I was very lucky to have studied at Laboratory of Arrehenius, where pioneering work in Organic Chemistry and Carbohydrates research took place. I learned through this experience about the interdisciplinary ways, in which science can be developed. In my thesis, for example, publications involved researchers from different countries, specialized in different fields. Each one of us was focused on doing a specific part and after putting all the parts together we were able to solve a specific and important problem. From this experience I learned that we need to exchange knowledge and experience. At the time I was in Arrehenius, Professor Bengt Lindberg transmitted to us the importance of our work. Thus we tried to do our best and work hard to get our results as soon as possible.

It was a very competitive research group and it happened that another group published before us but Professor Lindberg encouraged us by saying “it shows that we are working in the right direction”.

During my current work at the University of Guadalajara I try to transmit these important learning experiences to my students and to encourage them to go abroad if they have the chance.

What do you think could be different in Sweden today, compared to when you studied in Stockholm?

I returned to Mexico more than 30 years ago. However, last year I had the opportunity to visit Stockholm and I realised that it is much more diverse than when I lived there. I think this is a very positive change!

I believe that to have the opportunity of knowing other cultures helps you to grow as a human being and that it helps you to become aware and appreciate what you have, as well as to develop your empathy towards the people whom are around you.

What was the biggest mistake you made while in Sweden?

That I did not travel to different states in Sweden’s northern part. I went to Uppsala, Gotland and Öland. It should be great to know how the people in the north live. I also regret that I did not participate in community work. But I was very involved in my Ph.D. studies, as I early on experienced the difference in education levels between Mexico and Sweden.

I wanted to get my degree, return to Mexico and be part in changing the education system. I have always believed that the only way that my country can improve is having better education in all the levels starting from elementary school to University. When I started my studies, I already had a Master’s degree from one of the best research centres in Mexico. Nevertheless, it was still very hard to keep track of the theoretical part of my Ph.D. studies. On the other hand I really enjoyed working in the lab; I had everything I needed, and if I asked for the reactants that I needed for my research I got them as soon as possible. I could work until very late if I needed and I could go to the lab during weekends as I had free access to the building, to the library, so I always felt that my success depended on me and my own efforts. So I got the feeling that we in Mexico are behind of developed countries due to the fact that we have difficulty to get financial support to do research, so we need work hard in order to change our education system and to learn to work as a team. Something that I truly believe is that it is very important to do interdisciplinary work.

I also learned very much besides science during my stay in Sweden, for example, I learned to swim, to ride a bicycle and to appreciate going to the forest to pick up mushrooms. I learned that is possible to have friends despite language barriers and keep them in spite of distance.

What is the most important thing that your daughter should do while in Sweden?

To learn Swedish as soon as possible without losing focus from her studies (Master’s degree), because it will award her more knowledge of what Swedish society is and how it functions. That knowledge will help her to grow as human being.

What is the most important thing that she needs to avoid while in Sweden?

To have relationships with people solely because they share the same native language, as this could lead to her becoming isolated from the Swedish community.

What is your relationship to Sweden look like today?

I have good friends that I met while I was in Sweden during my studies. They have been to Mexico and I have visited them. We keep I touch through the Internet, and before that through traditional mail. I consider them part of my family. They are very important for me!!

Do you think that you’ll ever arrange an alumni event? And if so, what do you think the topic and format will be?

I think that the alumni network is a great way to keep in touch with people who have been in Sweden or will be going to Sweden. It will be a pleasure to participate in events organised by the Swedish Institute. I would appreciate if I could be informed about the program of the events and would be delighted if I can contribute in some way. It would be great if we can organize a group in Guadalajara.  Please let me know if I contribute in some way from here!!

A topic suggestion: “Counseling to build a new firm”. I suggest this topic because when I returned to México, I started working at a research center and nobody was working in Carbohydrates so it was very hard to work in a team. Nowadays, the Mexican government tries to encourage people to set up small firms with relatives or friends, but we do not have enough information about how to do it. I think this kind of information would be very valuable. In the last event organized by the Swedish Institute they presented us how the people do it in Sweden. So I think it would be great to land these ideas in our reality.

Interview with Viveka Guzman (the daughter): 

What will you study and where?

I will study a 2 year master program in Global Health at the University of Gothenburg.

Having heard your mother’s stories from Sweden, what are your expectations? Nervous? Excited?

I am thrilled with the opportunity to be part of a society with higher gender equality, excellent work-life balance, advanced social welfare system and sustainable development. I am really looking forward to participate in an interdisciplinary and international education environment, a space where students and professors share their creativity, experiences and way of thinking to come up with better research and adequate solutions.

I am also really excited about the opportunity to eat a massive amount of delicious lax, to be able to bike to school and get away from traffic jams, to come across very dark long winters vs enjoying all-day-long sunny summers. There is also the expectation for lots of fikas and life lasting friendships; lots of archipelagos and boats and wonderful nature. I am just a little bit nervous about learning Swedish, which I consider an important goal and another bit nervous of assembling Ikea furniture by myself!

What do you think will be the biggest difference between what you will experience in Sweden during the coming two years compared to your mother’s experience?

I would say that in the period of time in between my mother and my experience, Sweden continued getting a more diverse population where more cultures are represented, new social challenges have emerged and new technology is making everything move faster than ever before. This means I might get the opportunity to get to know, appreciate and face cultural differences, while also having the chance to remain close to my family and friends through the internet.

How do you think the time in Sweden affected your mother?

I think my mom left Sweden, but Sweden never left my mom. Some part of her became definitely Swedish both in her way of thinking and in her everyday life. When I was a kid it went from wishing good night with “natti natti”, and having kottbullar at lunch every now and then, to realizing that, that language my parents used when they didn’t want to be understood by others was the Swedish they fought so hard to master, the main reason why they were so happy to be able to communicate with those tall, blond foreigners we got to encounter in a trip.

I believe my mom is a very intelligent person and that Sweden provided to her specific skills to enhance her professional development, while also building on her confidence. After her experience in Sweden, my mother became an advocate for social justice and education improvement in Mexico, and also an honorary lifetime ambassador for everything swedish.

Through my mother sharing her experience in Sweden, from an early age, I learned how far one can get by mastering different languages, working hard at school and having the determination and will to push yourself to reach your goals.

How do you think you’ll be affected?

I believe this will be an overall life changing experience. It will open a whole new professional field for me, also giving me the opportunity to challenge myself and get to grow in many personal aspects.

In a few years, you’ll be part of the same alumni network. Do you think that you’ll ever arrange an alumni event? And if so, what do you think the topic and format will be?

I think we would both like very much to be involved in an alumni event! I believe the “Counselling to build a new firm” suggested by my mother is a good idea. In the process of obtaining my medical doctor degree, I realized most of my colleagues considered the only way to successfully continue their professional career was with further specializing in a very specific field of medicine, in Mexico there are very few opportunities to follow this path and competition is fierce, so many young doctors feel despair as they are left behind on jobs they are not passionate about, that usually have very poor working conditions with limited or no impact in improving the health of the population.

In between this group, knowledge of the ways of building a new firm is almost non existing, so it would be interesting to organize conferences and talks with successful health related professionals and Swedish enterprises to get to know what they do, how they got to do it and what does it actually mean (what are their current and future perspectives).

It would be great to include medical/laboratory equipment and pharmaceutical enterprises, universities and institutions developing research related to health, specialized medical doctors and NGO’s. Maybe someone could talk about some statistics and the differences between both countries health systems, and also highlight the fact that with globalization diseases are transcending physical boarders making an urgent call of action and international cooperation.