Coming to Sweden: African Edition

Coming to Sweden: African Edition Part I

I’ve been tackling how to best write about this topic. How it feels to a black African international student is Sweden.

I have considered everything from doing a meme collage to a video story. However,to start with I thought it would be nice to share a few reflections and experiences.

I get emails asking me questions on everything from how to survive the weather. How to maintain natural hair. If racism exists in Sweden. Or, what to do when you’re craving food from home. So, this post is for you. As well as those who want to get some insight into being a black African international student in Sweden.

Coming to Sweden: The African Edition Part 1

Coming to Sweden: African Edition

source: google.com

Culture

First, let’s just say that I’m realizing that when it comes to Swedish culture, we do things a little ‘say different’. For example saying sorry. Recently, I bumped into a fellow digital ambassador from India and said sorry. I expected a weird response but we both laughed when we realized that we both do it.

Growing up, we were taught that if you bumped into someone, someone dropped something, tripped or fell, you say sorry to kind of convey your empathy. It comes as a gut reaction. I quickly found that in Sweden, people find this odd and keep asking why I say sorry when I didn’t do anything.

Coming to Sweden: African Edition

source: giphy.com

Weather

Second, the weather will always be a topic of discussion until the day that I leave Sweden. No seriously. I once overheard some students on a bus discussing a classmate of theirs from Ghana (I think) and how he would go on and on about how the weather was terrible. They couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just get over it. One thing I can say is that when you are used to sunshine (sometimes rain) and warmth for almost 365 days of the year it’s hard to (just get over it). Yes, it does get cold back home but not like Swedish ‘cold’ or ‘rain’.

Coming to Sweden: African edition

source: giphy.com

Speaking from experiencing my first Swedish winter and -6˚C, I doubt anyone just gets accustomed to it. Even for the second or the third or even the fourth time round. I’ve met other African students who have been here for years and even Swedes who say sometimes even they find it hard to cope. You get accustomed to it but it never becomes ‘normal’, you sort of just build tolerance. So, my advice for experienced winter students is to offer up some tips on how best to cope i.e. layering, exercise etc. when you find someone struggling.

Coming to Sweden: African Edition

Winter in Gothenburg

Generalizations

Third, I was kind of expecting this one. All the jokes about being asked how you arrived here? Is it your first time in Europe etc. Funny enough I haven’t encountered too many of these. On the odd occasion at afterwork a random girl will ask me what country I’m from and tell me that I’m making Africa proud. It used to get to me when even my lecturers would say ‘in Africa’. In my head I’d think there are 54 countries each with different stories, histories, cultures, geographies etc. so for me that’s like saying ‘in Europe’. But I take it in stride now and mention that it would be nice to know which specific country. I tended to get defensive in the beginning but now I’m quickly learning to:

‘Share our similarities, Celebrate our differences’

M. Scott Peck

Coming to Sweden: African Edition

source: memegenerator.net

Hair

Finally, I knew coming to Sweden meant less flexibility in terms of hair. I knew I would not be able to get the products I needed or it would be too expensive to get it done in a salon. Thus, I decided to learn how to care for my hair courtesy of YouTube. I did crotchet braids knowing they would last a few months before I decided what to do next. From day 1, I got asked whether it was my real hair or how I dry it when I wash it. At first I enjoyed answering all the questions even from random people who would walk up to me and touch my hair. However, encounters including hair sniffing and unwarranted touching quickly made me draw some boundaries. It’s great to be curious but it’s also good to ask before you touch or approach someone especially if its a stranger.

Coming to Sweden: African Edition

source: giphy.com

Take Away and Tips

Take it in stride. Before leaving home,past students from the Swedish Alumni Network in Kenya (SIANK) told us that when we come to Sweden we would not only be representing Kenya but the African continent on the whole. I am beginning to understand that being from a country so far away from Sweden is an opportunity to educate people about a culture, country and continent that is a world away.

The same way I am learning about Sweden and Europe is the same way I’d want Swedes as well as everyone else to know about my home country and Africa.

Here is a post I previously wrote about my study abroad experience coming from Kenya.

Keep reading for Coming to Sweden: African Edition Part II where I will discuss food, music and language.

Follow Study in Sweden on Snapchat for more updates

From Sweden with Love

NB: Disclaimer: This post is based on my perspective and experiences. It is not meant to generalize all African students in Sweden perspectives.

 

Anita avatar

25 Comments

  • Thulani Gushman • 14 Apr 2017 at 3.48 pm Reply

    Hi Anita
    My name is Thulani Gushman, from South Africa. Recently received the SI study scholarship for masters at Stockholm University. So as been suggested to me, I’m trying to get ahead of the curve and start looking for Accommodation in Stockholm now already, presumably you live Gothenburg but I was just wondering if you have any suggestions for good student areas in Stockholm or point me in the direction of someone who would know.
    Thank you 🙂

    • Anita
      Anita • 17 Apr 2017 at 1.43 pm Reply

      Dear Thulani,

      Congratulations on your acceptance. Feel free to email the bloggers who are based in Stockholm, Supritha and Elke should be of help. It’s great that you have started looking for accommodation now!

      Find their emails here: http://blogs.studyinsweden.se/about-our-bloggers/

      Regards,

      Anita

  • FESTUS • 7 Apr 2017 at 9.58 pm Reply

    Anita sharing your experience with people like me is so motivating and encouraging. keep it up.

    • Anita
      Anita • 17 Apr 2017 at 1.40 pm Reply

      Thankyou for the feedback Festus.

  • Musika Carol Nina • 5 Apr 2017 at 8.28 am Reply

    This is one of the best i have read, i must say it strikes every question i had, i was quite anxious seeing that am starting my studies in Autumn 2017, but this has totally nailed most of the questions, Nice work Anita, Nina from Uganda.

    • Anita
      Anita • 7 Apr 2017 at 7.43 am Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Nina. Glad to be of help Nina! All the best with your studies in Autumn! Feel free to email me on anita.studyinsweden@gmail.com with any more questions.

  • Angela • 4 Apr 2017 at 4.36 pm Reply

    This is great stuff Anita. People always appreciate hearing things from the horses mouth. Keep writing and inspiring. 😚

    • Anita
      Anita • 7 Apr 2017 at 7.42 am Reply

      Thank you Angela :)!!

  • Anita Nielsen • 18 Mar 2017 at 6.18 pm Reply

    Very true and straight to the point ! Enjoy the experiences and learn from everything:-) all the best !

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.21 pm Reply

      Thanks Anita. I appreciate the support. Looking forward to more experiences :*

  • Albert • 18 Mar 2017 at 10.07 am Reply

    Sharing your experience with the world is just incredible. Keep up the good work!!

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.22 pm Reply

      Thank you Albert for reading the post and your kind words!

  • Ali • 18 Mar 2017 at 12.33 am Reply

    How about other African nationalities

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.21 pm Reply

      Hi Ali,
      I want to write a series of blogs. I will definitely feature students from all over Africa in the next ones! Keep checking in!

  • Nolwandle Made • 17 Mar 2017 at 10.28 pm Reply

    Having travelled around a bit, the Africa thing, still kinda irritates. Thank you for this wonderful read. Here I am complaining about the heat in Durban and wishing I can immigrate to Alaska or perhaps Greenland to escape it and you guys have the opposite side of the coin.

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.23 pm Reply

      Hi Nolwandle,
      Thanks for the feedback. It’s great to know that others relate out there. Enjoy the Durban heat. I miss summer like crazy! Lol..the Africa thing I think is what happens here alot.

  • Francesco
    Francesco • 17 Mar 2017 at 8.49 pm Reply

    I could not agree more with Justine – I loved it! 🙂 Great post!

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.20 pm Reply

      Grazie Francesco!!

  • Janet moraa • 17 Mar 2017 at 7.47 pm Reply

    Hey Anita ,what an an article… I am also from Kenya and I did my exchange programe as an undergraduate at linköping university and my experience was amazing just as you put it.I hope to do my masters there Autumn of 2018.Have a great time there

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.24 pm Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Janet. All the best with your masters application. Hoping to see you soon! Karibu sana. Thanks. Looking forward to Spring!

  • janet • 17 Mar 2017 at 7.42 pm Reply

    Hi Anita .what an article…I am also from Kenya and I did my exchange program as an undergraduate in Sweden linköping universitet and the experience was amazing just as you put it.I hope I will get to do my Master there Autumn of 2018.Have a lovely time there.

  • Margareta • 17 Mar 2017 at 6.44 pm Reply

    Hi Anita, I’ve lived in Africa (Ethiopia, Nigeria and a few months in Cameroon) for many years. I’ve experienced some of the things you have, the hair thing, sitting on a bus and people feeling your hair, and coming back, I feel so surprised at how people never say sorry, and how cold it is! We all need to understand each other better!

    • Anita
      Anita • 20 Mar 2017 at 12.27 pm Reply

      Hi Margareta,

      That is so true! I think its upon us to appreciate diversity and learn from each others cultures. Of course in a respectful manner. lol. I think its amazing when someone is able to ask questions or learn from new encounters. Here’s to sharing each others experiences. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Justine
    Justine • 17 Mar 2017 at 10.29 am Reply

    So nice that you write about this Anita and let other students know about your experiences and thoughts! I really enjoyed reading this 🙂

    • Anita
      Anita • 7 Apr 2017 at 7.56 am Reply

      Thanks Justine 🙂

Reply or comment