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What?s up, UW?: A Scandinavian miracle (part 1)

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For those who think that winter has become an unwanted guest – let me tell you something. Not so far away from cold Warsaw lays Malmö, a Swedish city. Coldness over there is nothing surprising, as you may suppose, so it won?t be the main issue of our interview. This time you?ll be able to get to know Poland from a Polish-Swedish point of view. Why? Anna-Maria Balnožan has Polish roots. Even though she?s been to our country previously and she’s been studying in Warsaw since 2011, she managed to discover something new that I personally haven?t been aware of. If you are keen on getting to know what I mean, take a seat and let?s start a journey to Sweden together.

(After couple of minutes, since it turned out that Anna speaks Polish)

Maja Maciejska: Which one do you prefer better: Polish or English?
Anna-Maria Balnožan : My studies are in English so it?s not a big deal to avoid speaking in Polish.

M.M: Great! So how come did you decide to study here? You are not on Erasmus, right?
A.B: No, I am not. Basically I signed up for a spot at a university in Sweden, but it?s really hard to get in for International Psychology. The other thing is that they changed the recrutation system just after I had graduated from high school. In that university the average of your degrees is taken into account, not only the score of the final exams and both of them need to be relevantly high. What is interesting, you can improve the result of your finals if you want to, even though you’ve finished high school. You are able to do it twice per year and the highest score counts. Obviously you are obliged to pay for it but, honestly, it?s really cheap (more or less about 75zł). I didn?t want to take my exams all over again and then a friend of mine told me that there was an opportunity to study International Psychology in Poland. I?ve had my Polish background, so I made my decision easily.

M.M: And you don?t regret it, do you?
A.B: Not at all! I?ve become more independent for sure. I am grateful for that.

M.M: I?m happy to hear that! I?ve read a lot about your social care system back in Sweden. Probably you are already more or less familiar with our system in Poland. Can you tell some more about it? How is it possible that it works so perfectly?
A.B: Actually, during the time I am a student, I?m still under the insurance. It?s worth noticing that we have something that we call ?student?s loan? (it covers also the social care). You get money from your government and you are obligated to pay it back when you are done with your studies. However, the amount that you have to pay back depends on your future income. You don?t have to pay the whole amount of money at once.

M.M: Whereas in Poland, studying is free, right?
A.B: Exactly! I mean, you have to pay for all of the stuff that is needed. My studies are not free, since they are International Studies in Psychology. I pay 3,000 euros for my studies (that’s the fee).

M.M: But you have this ?student?s loan? to pay for that.
A.B: Again, it depends on you. Either you apply for loan or they will give you that amount of money (kind of like support for this educational period). You can keep it or spend it and then return it. It basically depends on whether you just require the contribution (money you get which you don?t have to pay back) or both the contribution and loan (you return loan gradually). It’s not possible to just get a loan.

M.M: Why do you think the system works like that? Do they want to encourage more people to study or just simply make it easier for them?

A.B: We even get this kind of support during our education in high school – obviously without applying for a loan, but still around 1100 krones (550 zł) per month. It stays like this until you become an adult (18 years), or even longer, if you for example happen to repeat some years in high school. In that case, even if you’re over 18, you can still get this form of social support. In our system young people under age of 18 aren’t generally encouraged to get regular, full-time jobs, but to take summer jobs, get to know the market and try how all of this stuff works before they turn adult. That’s why our system secures you some form of an ?income?.

M.M: I am moving to Sweden! But before I do that, let me ask you something: according to some journalists, Sweden is like a giraffe: ?an animal like that shouldn?t exist?. Sweden has an unbelievably wide social care, the country has been working great and it doesn’t participate in any conflicts. Can you tell me how did Sweden maintain such a success?

A.B: Once again, I will use the example of our social care. It is considered in our country to play a role of civilizing the citizens, giving you the feeling that you are a part of your country, attaching you to the system, giving you support. However, the problem is that some people have started overusing the social care.

M.M: Unfortunately, when you give a cookie to a mouse, it?ll ask for some more. Does your government have any solution o that problem?

A.B: Social care has its boundaries. The problem has started to become visible when people from other countries started to migrate to my country. I remember that when I was a kid, there were more Swedes in Sweden than now. For Swedish people a system equal for everyone is extremely important. They are aware of the fact that they get a lot from the state, but simultaneously they give everything back by respecting and following the rules. So just imagine yourself: immigrants coming to our country usually have had a different background, their culture is totally different than ours. If they don?t assimilate, we start being in trouble. Sometimes they don?t even learn the language and work illegally, so obviously our government is trying to tackle the obstacles, but it?s not as easy as it seems. The country is for the people and all of them want freedom. I get it, but when some people want it too much, they quickly forget to pay back what they’ve received.

M.M: I see? What you said about equality in Sweden really interests me. Is it true that your king drives a car by himself?

A.B: See, here’s the deal: our monarchy is, as I’d say, modern and based on mutual respect. Getting back to your question, king is a regular person, so actually why not? One thing is him representing the country, another is that we should all be aware that our monarchy is totally different than it used to be, let?s say, in XIX century. Especially the younger generation considers the king a really normal human. Maybe an older generation has a different point of view. That?s why I think Sweden is getting more and more modern, laid-back.

M.M: That?s what I meant when I said that I am impressed with how everything works so perfectly in your country. Equality and respect.

A.B: Yes, but it wouldn?t be like this if people didn?t have a feeling that this is the right thing to do. It is really important for us to give everybody the same rights. A status doesn’t matter. Maybe that?s why people don?t tend to think: ?oh my God, you are a king?. No! You are just a person who has the same rights that I do.

M.M: That?s what we would call here in Poland ?a Scandinavian miracle?. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that in my country a similar situation is out of reach, at least for now. We admire what you have done, but we have no clue how to achieve that!

A.B: I agree, especially because I know Polish culture. But, personally, I don?t think that you are lazy or anything like that. In Poland the biggest issue is that the people give country a lot, but don?t get that much back. Maybe that?s the answer to why so many Poles are so frustrated. They don?t feel secure.

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Come back soon for the second part of the interview with Anna!

Autor: Maja Maciejska

Zauroczona kulturą brazylijską. Ciekawa wszystkiego i wszystkich. Małymi kroczkami odkrywa świat. Uwielbia podróże.

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