05 October 2019

Sarah Mitchell from South Africa and Ahmed Azeez from Iraq came to Linköping University to take a master’s programme. They liked it so much that they stayed, and are today both doctoral students at LiU.

Portrait of Sarah Mithcell.
Sarah Mitchell Magnus Johansson

Sarah Mitchell arrived at LiU from South Africa in September 2014 to take the master’s programme in child studies. She is now writing her doctoral thesis on how Sweden markets itself internationally with images of equality-certified dad.

“A Swedish friend was helping me move into my current apartment. We found out that the lift wasn’t working. I was prepared to carry everything upstairs, but my friend said that there was a telephone number we could ring to get someone to come and fix the lift. She phoned, and an engineer came and fixed it.”

Sarah Mitchell uses this event to explain the difference she sees between South Africa and Sweden. There is often a safety net in Sweden, sometimes in the form of a number you can ring if you need help.

South Africa is a country with deep inequalities, and one of the reasons she chose to study in Sweden was the high value placed on equality here.

“Maybe I have a romantic image of Sweden, even after having lived here so long, but I see here a wish to defend the most vulnerable. I know that many people complain that it is less strong now than it used to be, but I’m still surprised by it.”

She is now writing her thesis in the Department of Thematic Studies – Child Studies, examining how Johan Bävman’s photography exhibition “Swedish Dads” is used to market Sweden and to promote gender equality. The photographs depict fathers on parental leave with their children, and have been exhibited in many countries by the Swedish Institute.

While it may be easy to discuss gender equality in Sweden, Sarah Mitchell finds it difficult to bring up other types of inequality. 

“We talk about race a lot in South Africa. I know that the word has other connotations in Sweden and Europe, and it’s use is rather sensitive. But for me, ‘race’ is not the same as ‘ethnicity’. Sometimes I think that people in Sweden find it difficult to talk about other types of inequality than gender inequality. Here, class is not supposed to exist, and there’s no such thing as race, which means that we can’t talk about these two dividers.”


Photo credit Magnus Johansson

Ahmed Azeez


Ahmed Azeez is from Baghdad in Iraq and describes his first meeting with Sweden at Arlanda Airport as something of a shock.

“Of course, I’d read up on Sweden and heard that the Swedes live close to nature. But the airplane landed in the middle of the forest! Where I come from, we don’t have so many trees”, he laughs.

He arrived in Sweden and Linköping in 2016 to take a master’s programme.

“It’s difficult to find an education abroad. KTH is more well-known, and this was initially my first choice. But while I was looking for a programme, I came across the LiU master’s programme in mechanical engineering. This was exactly what I was looking for; I’m perfectly satisfied.” 

He says that right from the start he had his sights set on a doctorate. And now he’s working on his thesis at the Department of Management and Engineering.

“My research project concerns the mechanical properties of heat-resistant steels. I’m looking at a type of turbine that has a steel casing of this type. It is exposed to high temperatures and this means that we must understand and predict how the material behaves.”

When asked to describe cultural differences, he says that at his previous universities on Northern Cyprus and in Iraq a supervisor selects the courses you take, whereas at LiU you choose these yourself.

“It’s a bit scary at first. I mean – your future depends on the courses you choose. But it’s a good idea to make your own choices because then you have to read up on them.” 

Another difference is the lack of distance between students and the professors and other researchers in the department.
“Where I come from, such contacts are formal. But here, I can even eat lunch with my supervisor. The first time it happened, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Ahmed Azeez feels at home in Sweden now. Everything that was initially exotic and strange has become normal.

He got married last year, and his wife is taking the LiU master’s programme in International and European Relations. They are happy here and hope to be able to stay after Ahmed receives his doctorate.

“We live here in Linköping. Actually, right next to a forest where I sometimes go for a walk.”

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