2022 Spring Alexandra Reyes Culture Daily Life DIS External Programs Food Mental Health Reflection Sweden

The Swedish work-life balance

Like most students at the end of last semester, I felt so burnt out from balancing school, jobs, extracurriculars, and my social life. I remember feeling so overwhelmed, unmotivated, and utterly exhausted from constantly rushing from one thing to another. While I knew that my course load for my semester abroad wouldn’t be as rigorous as it was in the fall, I was still bracing myself for the usual end of semester burn-out. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the way that my classes were structured and the lax culture surrounding work and school here in Sweden.

A sign hanging up in a local art school we visited for my Scandinavian Textiles class

Since getting here, I learned that the epitome of the work-life balance is the Swedish practice of fika. In a literal sense, fika is an afternoon coffee and pastry break that Swedes make time for in the afternoons. People typically have fika at a cafe after work or school with a friend or two, but the most important thing about fika is that it is meant to be relaxing. It is an unspoken rule that you cannot speak about work, do work on your laptop, or be at your desk while doing fika. While it is normal in the U.S. to bring your laptop to a cafe to get work done, it is actually frowned upon in most cafes in Sweden. My friends and I learned this the hard way when we all brought out backpacks and laptops to a cafe near DIS and were told we weren’t allowed to use them at all.  

A sign in a local cafe emphasizing the importance of using fika as a break from work

After that experience, I quickly learned that fika is more than just going to a cafe and eating a pastry; it is more of a ritual, reminding everyone to slow down and take the time to relax during the day. Seeing how taking breaks and relaxing is prioritized in Sweden really led me to reflect on how the work-life balance is in the U.S. Especially as a college student, it’s almost glamorized to have a jam-packed schedule where you’re constantly multi-tasking between studying, applying to jobs, and going out with friends. Being here in Stockholm has really taught me to relax and take a deep breath, and prioritize down time.

Traditional Swedish pastries at a cafe in Göteborg

I’ve learned to redefine my relationship with work and the things that I enjoy doing on my own time. I feel like it is so ingrained in American culture, and especially in college, to work constantly, and if you’re not spending every minute being productive, you’re doing something wrong. It’s been so refreshing to be in an environment where I don’t feel the same pressure; in some of my classes, my professors have even given me assignments telling me to go on a walk and explore nature rather than turning in a worksheet. The idea of fika and making the time to stop and pause during the day is a Swedish value that I’m definitely going to implement into my routine when I get back to the U.S. I truly think that it’s so important to prioritize the things that serve you, whether it’s going to a cafe with a friend, going on a walk, or binging a Netflix series. For me, pausing and doing things like this has helped me feel more refreshed, feel more at peace within myself, and be a better student, friend, and daughter. 

A pastry from my new favorite cafe near DIS to get fika

Read more about other students’ reflections on mental health abroad!

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