On Saturday, October 27th, I attended the Rotary District 2350 conference. Attending this conference was a great experience. I enjoyed listening to presentations on Rotary’s vision for the future, spending time with my friends from Rotaract, visiting with Rotary exchange students and Peace Fellows, and meeting Rotarians from clubs throughout the Stockholm area and Uppsala. It was very nice to meet with Rotary members and share my experience from living in Sweden with them.
At the conference, I had many interesting discussions about the differences I have encountered between American and Swedish society during my stay here, particularly regarding gender equality, economics, and attitudes towards the international community. These conversations sparked my curiosity and made me think about all the things I am learning about my own nation through this experience. I talked with one Rotary member, Wilhelm von Warnstedt, who was a diplomat for many years in Africa and other places around the world. We discussed how amazing it is that Sweden’s economy is doing quite well compared to Norway’s, despite the fact that Norway has oil and Sweden doesn’t. Wilhelm thought that Sweden had succeeded mainly because it did not have to deal with the impacts of WWII and because it invested in its people through a strong social support system.
In my first Global Health course, we learned about how nations develop. The relevant literature argues countries should invest in their people (through improved education and healthcare) if they do not have lots of lucrative natural resources. This is precisely what Sweden does. I greatly respect Sweden because through this strategy the country has advanced in Europe and the world as a place of innovation and a high quality of life. The Swedish government’s investment is evident in its focus on universal access to education and healthcare.
I believe both healthcare and education are crucially important to a society’s advancement, and worry about the United States’ shortcomings in providing access to these services. It is hopeful that the inequity of the American healthcare system will improve with the implementation of the new healthcare law, which allows all Americans to get access to insurance. I could go on for hours about the differences between the American and Swedish healthcare systems. As someone who hopes to enter into the medical profession, I have always been interested in the problems of our healthcare system and comparing it to the standards of other OECD countries.
However, through the time I’ve spent in Europe, the problems of the American educational system are becoming increasingly apparent to me. In particular, I think the fact that we have to pay so much for higher education contributes to the social immobility and injustice in our nation. As I have been anxiously spending tons of money attending a private college, taking the MCAT, and submitting expensive medical school applications, it has become apparent to me that it would be extremely difficult to apply to medical school if I had come from a financially disadvantaged background. Such realities lead me to question whether “the American dream” is still possible, and if it is not, what can we do to improve it? In Sweden, Swedish citizens attend all levels of schooling for free–high school, college, medical school, etc… I think this policy really reduces the limitations imposed by poverty and fosters the natural intelligences of people. Sure, Swedes pay WAY higher taxes than us to pay for such educational fairness. But should the richest country in the world really be limiting opportunity by making higher education most readily available to the advantaged? I don’t have any statistics about the inequity that the American educational system produces. I simply have noticed, through personal experiences talking with friends across America, that it is difficult for a middle class family to pay for the best higher education (as many middle-income families don’t qualify for federal grants) for their children.
In summary, I have been learning a lot about American society by living in Sweden as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Meeting with great leaders in Rotary (both students and professionals) has encouraged me to think about these issues and I am so grateful for this experience!