Embracing cultural differences

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    Masa Lazarevics experiences in Sweden Photo: Masa Lazarevics

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    Masa Lazarevics experiences in Sweden Photo: Masa Lazarevics

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    Masa Lazarevics experiences in Sweden Photo: Masa Lazarevics

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    Masa Lazarevics experiences in Sweden Photo: Masa Lazarevics

Read about Masa Lazarevic, a master's student from Belgrade, who received a scholarship from the Swedish Institute to study at Lund University in Sweden. Here Masa writes about embracing cultural differences and how important it is to be aware of diversity in order to think and act tolerantly.

I have not written for a long time because I thought I had nothing interesting to say. But a few days ago my short Facebook post about Sweden got a lot of attention from my friends so I suppose there are still some people who are interested in reading about my experiences here.

During the winter months, starting with my school break in December, I had a lot of time to think about cultural differences. I spent two weeks with my cousins’ families in Borås and they inspired me to rethink how I look upon Swedish culture.  Three brothers, Serbians, moved to Sweden in 60s when Sweden needed work force, and have been married to their Swedish wives for almost 40 years. Until spending Christmas break with them I was struggling with my feelings about the Swedish culture.

I caught myself thinking how much better my culture is, how much smarter my people are and how much nicer life is in Serbia. That over emphasized positive attitude toward my country influenced how I behaved and interacted with people here.  I forgot to look for good things that Swedes can teach me. I was reserved, cold and I did not make any effort to make friends here, thinking “If they do not show any interest in me, why would I invest my energy in them”. So people around me did not get to know the real Masa and I do not know why I was expecting them to be eager to get to know me when I was behaving just like them. That approach was obviously entirely wrong.

Swedes actually appreciate culturally different people but sometimes they do not know exactly how to initiate and manage these relationships. They are not the best in showing their interest but I guarantee you that if you keep being the way you are in your home country (loud, generous and open hearted) and if you make a bit more effort in getting to know and meet them, Swedes will return twice. If they do not kiss you when you meet like your Serbian friends do, just teach them to do so! If they do not call you often enough, you tell them! If they do not organize gatherings, you should!

To conclude, the point is not to complain about differences, to give up on making friends or to conform to the local culture. The point is to be aware of diversity and to think and act tolerantly. This is hard in practice but I gave myself some time and I learnt how to take the best of one culture and to blend it with what I perceive is the most valuable of my culture. I wish my nation could learn how to embrace differences. But this is a matter of experience and a learning process that most Serbians have not had the opportunity to go through. That is a good part of the Swedish culture that I will bring back to Serbia - TOLERANCE.