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What?s up, UW?: A Scandinavian miracle (part 2)

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In the second part of our interview with Anna-Maria Balnožan, we asked her about recycling, a student lifestyle in both Poland and Sweden, the differences between education systems in these two countries and quite a few other interesting things.

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M.M: Let’s talk about recycling. Do you see any differences between how it works in Poland and in Sweden?
A.B: Oh, definitely! I have to say that?s it’s just dirty in here. For some reason people don?t feel that that?s their responsibility. We sort and we know that is right, that is our responsibility. For instance we have three garbage cans in my house: one for paper, another one for food wastes and the last one for everything else. What is more ? even though it might not be directly connected to recycling ? I have to say that in Sweden everybody picks up after a dog! Honestly, in Poland it?s not really working the same. A dog is not able to clean after itself, so? if you want to have a pet, you have to take care of it. However, I?ve been to other countries, so I know that this situation can be even worse. Here’s the difference: in Sweden people obey the rules, but they can also take advantage of them. As I’ve said before, I think that in Poland you don?t do it enough. In Sweden our government is for the people, here – rather for itself. To sum up: in Sweden the government exists for the people, while in Poland people exist for the government.

M.M: For that, we may blame the communism, which we still have in our minds. But we need to be braver, change things wisely. By the way, were you born in Poland?
A.B: No, I was born and raised in Sweden. However, my mom is from Poland.

M.M: So did you have a chance to follow any Polish traditions?
A.B: Mostly by having typical holidays. We are catholic, my family is really mixed but I appreciate it. From my father?s side we have Serbian roots, so it?s really a mixture of cultures. That taught me not to exclude any cultures, to respect the differences. That?s why I don?t want to criticize. I rather try to understand.

M.M: Well said! If everyone thought this way, we wouldn?t have so many conflicts based on different cultures etc? So it seems that Sweden is a perfect country, right?
A.B: No, I actually wouldn?t say so. It?s not ideal for sure. I like to think that in Sweden we have almost everything in moderation, even for example speaking of salaries. I think that everything in Poland is underpaid, but in comparison I believe that in Norway it is overpaid.

M.M: See, that?s what people from Poland do: very often they search for a job in Sweden just for the summer. It pays off!
A.B: Yes, I know that it might be a ?paradise?, an amazing opportunity. Something that starts with a seasonal job and ends up with opening a new business. But again, the more immigrants come, the more chaos spreads. You have to focus on the people already living in the country before taking care of people coming to the country. And let?s be honest, we all cost money, all human beings.

M.M: Changing a topic a little bit: do you feel more Polish or more Swedish?
A.B: Well, when I am surrounded by Polish people, I feel more Polish. And it goes the same way with Swedes. I think I can adjust quickly. To sum up, I think I am mixed. I am lucky as well, because I have a family in different parts of the world. Sometimes we meet at the family gatherings. It also teaches us how to respect other cultures.

M.M: For sure it does. Anna, how do you find a Polish lifestyle as a student?
A.B: I actually think that the lifestyle is better, in a specific way. Let?s take the shopping centers as an example. In Sweden they are open until 5 or 6 PM for example and during the weekend even just until 2 or 3 PM, which is really bothering us. Also worth noticing are the opening and closing hours in a club. Back home the clubs are opened pretty late and closed relatively early, so I have more fun in Poland. And the entrance… It?s a paradise for me! Sometimes I don?t have to pay for it or I pay just for the jacket. In Sweden I would have to pay around 60-70 zł.

M.M: Did I say that I want to move to Sweden? I withdraw it. What about standards of the education?
A.B: I think they are higher here. Even though it?s hard to get in in Sweden, when you become a student it turns out that the level is not that demanding. The educational system in Poland is also different. I mean that fir one subject you get from 3 to 6 ECTS, while in Sweden we get around 14 ECTS. As a consequence we have fewer subjects, but they are broader. What I prefer in Sweden is the fact that the subjects are much more worth and they are more specific to the studies program. Here I don?t even know why I am taking general courses, they are a waste of time. However, I would say that some of the courses within my studies program completely belong there, so I guess in some parts I prefer Swedish studies and in some parts Polish.

M.M: So which ones do you think are better: short subjects or the longer ones?
A.B: Let me think? Polish system reminds me of my high school. You have more subjects, which is quite good, but on the other hand when a semester is gone you don?t broaden them anymore. At the end of the semester an exam sessions comes and you have to pass exams from all of these subjects, which is hard and stressful. My point is that this session lasts only two weeks, so you are not able to absorb all of the knowledge out of all the subjects. So in my opinion I think that this is worse.

M.M: And you may have a feeling that you have to give up on something in order to pass something else. Does it make any sense?
A.B: Exactly, it does not! I would prefer if it was more similar to the system that we have in Sweden. It gives you more time to focus and even after an exam you can still continue studying a specific course, though at a higher level.

M.M: Please, tell me: are you planning on staying here till the end of your studies?
A.B: Yes, that?s my goal. My studies lead to a master’s degree and I am grateful for that. The faculty is in English and it?s called international, so it gives me a chance to travel and work in different parts of the world. I love traveling and I truly enjoy my faculty. For me, that’s a perfect combination!

M.M: Congratulations! I wish you good luck with that. Was it hard for you to move and study in a different part of the world?
A.B: Maybe at the beginning. I knew that I will be living on my own. During the first year I shared a room with Polish girls that I haven?t known before. It was a bit hard to adjust. When you live with your family you know their strengths, weaknesses. That situation was a great lesson for me to learn independency. Good thing is that I visit my family quite often, so it?s not that hard. And since October I?ve been living by myself. I love it!

M.M: Do you do something extra in Poland apart from studying?
A.B: Yes, I will start working at the hospice as a volunteer. I?ve been missing it. I was involved in charity, working with people with different diseases. That?s why I decided to study psychology. I am curious how it?s going to be. Of course I will be speaking Polish. I don?t have difficulties with speaking in Polish, but I still might need some special vocabulary. I know specific words in English and sometimes there is a hole when it comes to Polish. However, I am optimistic about it. It?s a great challenge for me.

M.M: I am sure that it will help you a lot with your studies. You will go deeply into the problem.
A.B: That?s what I meant. Working in different situations and understanding the inner, not only the outer. In my opinion the contact with other people is the clue. I would like to learn psychoanalysis, so I will be working directly with one individual person. That might help to understand what?s not visible to the eye, but what might be an answer to the problem that a specific person is fighting with.

M.M: Anna, after almost two years in Poland, have you changed?
A.B: I definitely have grown as a person. I am more aware of everything. For sure my studies have had a huge impact on that. I was able to understand myself, discover something new. The other thing is that I can still find some different parts of Polish culture, for example that you are traditionalists. Even when it comes to the new generation. I think it plays an important role in a lifestyle. I reminded myself right now about this doll? You know, spring is coming?

M.M: Marzanna!
A.B: Right! And you burn it to say goodbye to winter. I didn?t know about it even though I was raised among people of Polish culture. I heard that it is really old-fashioned, but some people still practice it.

M.M: Actually, from my personal point of view I think that we do it more often as a kid. However, I might be wrong. Speaking of traditions: what about the food? Do you miss it?
A.B: Well, I would call out national flavour sweet-salty. I know that it might sound weird, but it?s good. For instance, something really Swedish: meatballs. You eat them with potatoes and jam. We have a different combination for dinner ? mostly something sweet is being included.

M.M: Wait, let me ask you something. I’ve read about a Swedish pickled herring (kiszony śledź). Some people call it a Swedish weapon, they say that it stinks! Is it true?
A.B: Well, it smells terrible! I?ve eaten it, but I am not a huge fan of it. The smell stays with you. Even if you brush your teeth couple of times, you can still feel it.

M.M: I can?t even imagine the taste. It’s like our Polish cabbage or pickled cucumbers. Differences of other cultures – I love them! Last question: a stereotype exists that Swedes are reserved. Is it true?
A.B: I think that it is true with some extent. They are very private people and very aware of themselves and their actions, which is a good thing. It?s hard for me because I have Polish and Serbian roots, but generally speaking, it’s true. For example if we meet someone for the first time, we just shake his hand. We don?t kiss on the cheek. Even to our friends we say ?hi?, we may hug, but we never kiss on the cheek. For us it?s too personal. We are really aware of our space. Since I am here, I?ve noticed how people are open to each other. In Sweden it takes time to open us up.

Speaking of stereotypes I also noticed some difference as far as the church is considered. I go to the church and I think that I like it even better here. I feel that I am becoming more catholic since I came to Poland. However, one thing bothers me. It has happened once, so I don?t want to generalize, but I didn?t like it when this place became a space to advertising politic. I don?t think it?s a right thing to do in the church. I don?t blame the religion of course, because what can the religion do? Nothing! It?s because of the people who practice it. In Sweden I haven’t been in such a situation where the church became a place to bring up politics. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that it occurs quite often in Poland. However, I hope I am mistaken.

M.M: I definitely agree with you. It might be a subject for another interview. I have a feeling that we could talk and talk and… Just look how the time has flown by!
A.B: Oh, you?re right!

M.M: Thank you so much for the conversation! I hope that this interview will force at least some of our readers to think about recycling and that it would teach them to take care of everything that they?ve got and to treat each other respectfully.
A.B: I hope so too!

Autor: Maja Maciejska

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

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