First week lessons

A lesson in humility

In my public health classes, we learn about the distinction between cultural competence and cultural humility, mostly in regard to community-based research. Cultural competence, the older idea of the two, describes the process of understanding another culture in order to be sensitive and informed when interacting with its people. The implied end goal is the mastery of a culture other than your own, which, if you think about it, isn’t really possible. Culture is something you experience, not just something you study. Knowing the ins and outs of a city or region—the language, customs, geography, and so on—is different than growing up in a culture and it being a part of your identity. The notion of cultural humility was developed in reaction to this discrepancy. The meaning is in the name: when interacting with people of another culture, you will never know more than them, no matter how much you study, experience, or observe. The learning process never ends.


I thought about this a lot during my first few days in Sweden. I had prepared for my arrival by reading books and articles, memorizing geography and train routes, and watching endless Youtube videos (Let’s walk around Stockholm being my favorite). I put pressure on myself to know as much as possible so that I wouldn’t make mistakes or seem uninformed. Then, when I got to Stockholm, I felt even more pressure to immediately integrate myself into Swedish culture by learning, observing, and experiencing as much as I could. No wonder I got overwhelmed.

In those moments, although I certainly wasn’t conducting community-based participatory research, I tried to apply what I knew about cultural humility. I reminded myself that I was never going to master Swedish culture, so it was futile to try. Doing so would only make me feel more frustrated. So I tried (and am still trying!) to be okay with making mistakes, getting lost, and trying new things that come with a high probability of looking like an idiot.

A lesson in fika

Alex, Ceilidh, Meghan, Brooke’s hands, and my iced caramel latte at Espresso House

I had heard a lot about the Swedes’ love of fika, which usually consists of coffee, pastries, and socializing with friends, but I didn’t really get it. After walking around Sollentuna Centrum (like a mall but 1000x cooler) on one of our first days in Sweden, we ended up at Espresso House. We then proceeded to talk and get to know each other for a solid 1.5 hours without even realizing how long we had been sitting there. Albeit accidental, we’re claiming it as our first fika experience. I think I get it now.

A lesson in ice skating

I don’t know how it happened, but I was somehow roped into ice skating on our third day here. We made our way to Kungsträdgården, a park in Norrmalm, that has a massive ice rink each winter. As much as it pains me to admit, I am definitely not a natural on the ice. But with the help of some cool people in my Residential Community, I can now say that I sort of know how to ice skate. Yes, I was put to shame by Swedish toddlers, but I didn’t fall — not once.

A lesson in murder

Walking to Nordiska Kompaniet

Last Wednesday, we had our core course introduction and first field study. My Forensic Psychology professor began by overviewing the 2003 murder of Anna Lindh, a Swedish foreign minister who was stabbed in a Stockholm department store, Nordiska Kompaniet. Then, my professor announced that we would be going to the very mall that Lindh was assassinated in. A murder walk, she termed it. So, we walked to the store, stood where she was killed, and observed where the perpetrator made his escape. It was definitely a first class worth remembering.

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