An American in Sweden: Emily

Prelude

As a part of the learning process and exploration of cross-cultural analysis; that is, learning about other cultures, it is important to practice perspective taking. And through the Global Leadership Study Abroad Program here in Sweden, that is being accomplished. But taking the time to explore the experiences of others is also perspective taking. Whereas the former is social awareness in the context of culture, the latter is social awareness in the context of relationships. Much of what has been discussed here in Urban Dynamics is about Sweden from the perspective of the culture compared to the culture of the United States. In addition, some writings have been about the personal experience, or what is sometimes referred to as self-awareness, of the author. But there has been no exploration of another American’s experience here in Sweden, nor has there been an exploration of or a conversation with a native Swede, at least not in interview form.

Iowa State University student, Emily
Iowa State University student, Emily

In this piece, Emily will be sharing her experiences, and thoughts and feelings. She views herself as an independent with conservative leanings. And this is important, because the perception by many Americans is that different people with different ideas and different views of the world cannot sit down and have a critical and productive conversation without leading to some sort of ridciulous exchange that may or may not lead to character assassination of one person or both people. This interview is also important because it provides the readers of Urban Dynamics with a different perspective than the author. It is the opinion of this author that this enriches the experience and enriches the dialogue of what it means to be an American and what the American experience is like in the United States and what the American experience is like abroad, which in this case is Sweden.

Emily is an undergraduate at Iowa State University and is one of twenty American students participating in the study abroad program. She is also blogging about her experiences, which can be found through the links embedded throughout this interview. Her experience is salient and it is similar to many of the other students in the study abroad program, although there are differences. But it is the differences that make her experience unique and hers. Remember, perspective taking is a component of systems thinking and thus is way of viewing the world in a complex way.

Matt Johnson, Author of Urban Dynamics and Systems scientist
Matt Johnson, Author of Urban Dynamics and Systems scientist

The Interview

Here we are at exactly two weeks into our trip. You’ve had some time to take in Sweden and its culture. Overall, what do you think so far?

It’s very fun. It’s been a fun experience. Culture shock is something everyone should experience.

Culture shock? Could you elaborate a bit more on that?

[Well] we blend in…I didn’t expect to…No, I didn’t think we wouldn’t stand out in the way we look. But we are [somewhat] loud. We stand out because of language. But there are lots of immigrants.

You and I have chatted before about politics. You mentioned that you tend to be more conservative in your political leanings. As an independent with conservative leanings, what has Sweden been like for you?

It is an eye opener because it is a bit different, different from my beliefs and point of view. Leaning more towards a conservative point of view, people in Sweden pay more taxes [but] get more in theory. [So] why would a person work harder when they already get it? It is a rhetorical question – food for thought. Everyone has a different work ethic and abilities.

What has the experience been like as a woman? How is it different than the United States?

You don’t realize what your missing until its in front of your nose. America is great. Everyone wants to come to America. But America doesn’t have it figured out. We are the only industrialized country that doesn’t have [paternity] leave. I don’t understand how that happens.

From your persepective, have you found that women have more opportunity here in Sweden? Or do women have more opportunity in the United States?

Based off of paternity leave, yes, women have more opportunities in Sweden. Because ultimately you choose between being a present mother or focusing on your career, or advancing in your career. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in the United States, they are. [It] doesn’t seem like a big deal, but having paternity leave could be one of the greatest factors of a woman moving up in her field or not.

We’ve see more equal dissemination of child caring responsibilities here in Sweden. We’re observed a good amount of men pushing strollers and carrying babies. What are your thoughts on American men taking greater responsibility in raising children?

I think it is a positive thing and hope to see more of it. [But] it is still their [choice]. They are fifty percent the parent. And so I hope they want to take part in parenting. What I also hope to see is that women who want to be the homemaker are not demonized or viewed negatively because of that choice.

Turning to more specifics, you did mention in your Women’s Family Responsibility in America article that America should institute part-time paternity leave and “more flexible hours,” but not together. Why not implement both applications at the same time? And by America do you mean the private sector, government, or a combination of both sectors?

The reason I said not at the same time is because that would be to extreme for America. There would be a lot of backlash on it instead of focusing on American families. I mean a combination of the two. What I mean by that is that I don’t think it will happen without government help. But the American people also have to want it and demand it.

We have talked discussed in class the concept and use of “woman marine”; that is, gender identification followed by the noun and how it is prominent in the United States and across all industries. Americans don’t refer to gender identifiers followed by the noun when it comes to men. From your point of view, is Sweden different in this regard and how so?

In some ways it is human fault because we make those assumptions about who should be in that role. So things such as ‘woman marine’ refer or reaffirm that that person is less capable or just lower in status than the other gender. So in Sweden to combat that issue, they have taken away formal titles out of everyday life; for instance, Dr., Mr., and Mrs. This signifies equality among parties.

I must admit, I am guilty of using the gender identifier followed by the noun. In fact, I originally titled this blog series “An American Woman in Sweden.” But I recognized the unequal language and changed it. As an American, who happens to be a woman, is that little change important for you? Is it important for you that men recognize such dichotomies?

Being a woman is a part of my identity and so it wouldn’t have bothered me. But am I socialized to think that way? I don’t know. But I am not offended by that [original title].

Do you think it is going away any time soon in the United States? That is, the gender identifier followed by the noun?

Oh no! Because people like rank.

You stated in your My Top 5 blog, “As I think about how much I’ve learned in this past week and how fast it has gone by, I can only [imagine] my personal growth and expansion of cultural competence when I leave Sweden and head back home to the states in June.” After a bit more time here in Sweden, do you think your initial thought and sentiment, assertion, is still true? How do you think the experience will change you and your personal and political beliefs? Or do you think those personal and political beliefs will be reenforced?

Yes it is. Not that I will be culturally competent in every way but it is a step forward. I don’t know if it will reenforce or change my positions, but I am learning.

Final Thoughts

Eric Sundstrom and the Iowa State University Global Leadership Study Abroad students
Eric Sundstrom and the Iowa State University Global Leadership Study Abroad students

Perhaps Swedish socialism, and American conservatism and liberalism are not so different? Eric Sundström, political strategist for Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, mentioned in a visit by Iowa State students to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “One of [America’s] greatest weaknesses” is the lack of paternity leave. He delved into some of the reasons for why paternity leave works. For example, he mentioned that paternity leave increases opportunity for women, because the man stays home and is able to care for the child or children in a more profound way. As a consequence, the number of women in the work force increases. He also mentioned that such a policy increases leadership opportunities for women. This happens because women obtain more experience both in skills and leadership. From this premise, it is easy to see how women can move up the ladder of success and into leadership positions.

Emily agrees the premise makes sense. However, when Emily was asked if she thought paternity leave like that of Sweden could work in the United States she responded with a confident “no.” She believes this because of the differences between the American system of politics and the Swedish system of politics. As Emily stated, “We don’t have the socialist society. We have the capitalist society so that makes a difference.” This is an important distinction. The United States economy is capitalistic and its social norms are much different from that of Sweden. The body politics of both countries are just on different planes from one another and so it would be difficult to implement such a policy at this time in the United States.

However, Emily’s point can be extended to a “what if?” scenario. Speculating about what America’s system would need to look like in order to support a fully functional paternity leave system like that of Sweden’s is an exerices in creativity. It proposes at least two questions. First, what modifications would be necessary to facilitate and support a paternity leave system in the United States? And second, what would the finished product look like?

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