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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.

Alumni Mexico – Suecia kick-off on Friday!

Are you a Mexican who studied in Sweden and are back in Mexico? Then we have great news for you! The Alumni Mexico Sweden is just about to start! Don´t miss the kick-off event to discover how this initiative could enrich your life. Please see the details in the invitation below.