“The biggest opportunity that came with SI scholarship is the chance I had to reflect on my perspectives and prejudices.”

Wossenseged Birhane Jemberie, from Ethiopia, studied in a master’s degree in Public Health at Umeå University between 2014 and 2016. This is his story.
portrait photo of Wossenseged

What are you doing currently?

I am currently a PhD student at Umeå University. My research area focuses on problematic substance use and health outcomes among Swedish adults aged 50 years and above.

What were you doing before coming to Sweden?

I was working as a research assistant at Harokopio University in Greece for a national intervention programme which focuses on the wellbeing of school-aged children. I took my bachelor’s degree at the same university.

Why did you want to pursue a master’s degree in Sweden?

I decided to continue my studies on population health at advanced level because I could see clearly that if I was going to pursue my endeavour (in producing measurable, prudent and effective interventions), I needed to arm myself with the tools which I could use to hone my skills. I chose Sweden because I liked the structure and diversity in its universities, the opportunity to continue my studies further and the relative absence of societal calamity following the global economic depression. And of course, the major factor was the SI scholarship. My choice to look further north in Sweden was because the master’s programme in Public Health at Umeå University is very highly rated and produced some of the best global leaders, including the current WHO general director who has taken courses as part of his PhD studies.

What opportunities did the SI scholarship provide and what has it meant for you?

I especially appreciated the networking opportunity that SI provided us. Having the tag of SI Network for Future Global Leaders (NFGL) along your name opens the opportunity whenever you knock the doors of some of the brightest and busiest leaders. The Swedish Institute scholarships provide many opportunities for its scholarship holders, including networking with relevant and world-class sectors for thesis project, opportunity to develop one’s soft skills, opportunity to work with some of the finest minds and practice leadership in non-academic environment, and opportunity to start influencing on areas of one’s choice, even before graduation.

The scholarship of course also enables a stress-free, affordable and very high quality education with the opportunity to control your study outputs, including thesis works on challenges your country is facing, and work in fields of your choice after graduation. Trust me when I tell you Swedish universities have the best staff who are familiar with the low-income countries – LIC contexts, and often much more than we do, don’t let their humility give you an otherwise picture. They are knowledgeable and accessible. The flat hierarchy which you will encounter during courses, seminars and meeting with your supervisors build up your confidence as student. Use the opportunity to tap into this resource and take the whole experience with you.

While being granted the scholarship meant the possibility to attend the subject of my choice at one of the top 1% universities in the world, the value of the scholarship is much more than that. For me the scholarship meant that I was able to meet with both aspiring, young and seasoned change makers, to organise events on democracy, freedom and governance, to create network which made my master’s research thesis rewarding, to practice leadership in organisations and clubs of my choice and discuss burning issues with influencers such as Hans Rosling and Martin Schibbye, as well as to pursue my academic career and continue my studies on PhD level. Additionally, after my graduation, I had the opportunity to stay here in Sweden and work my way back to the academic world. Meanwhile, I also enjoyed having fun in my student life and became the 2018 pizza championship silver medallist.

In short, the SI scholarship in my opinion is a ticket the luckiest person can have to prove they are also the deserved ones. It is, in fact, up to us how we choose to get the maximum out of it.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Personally, the biggest opportunity that came with SI scholarship is the chance I had to reflect on my perspectives and prejudices, and to strengthen my globalist and feminist views of policies. I now consider myself a global citizen and I believe many of mankind’s dreams, needs and problems transcend skin colour, gender and any other labels. In the future, I aspire to contribute to solutions for such challenges wherever I go, as a researcher, consultant or policy maker.

Do you have any advice for prospective applicants?

Be truthful to yourself and dreams. When writing your motivation letter, acknowledge your shortcomings and explain how you plan to address them during your study time. Don’t underestimate your experience or some pro bono (voluntary) works which you did. Relate your academic achievements to your current work. Please don’t exaggerate, maintain the balance.

Is there any other thought you’d like to share?

Some of the leaders in LIC countries, including some of the strong men are western educated. Education itself might not suffice to change one’s perspective. I would like to stress that potential SI scholars should not take the scholarship as end point. It is rather a door to better future for themselves and others who could benefit from their work. Don’t spend your time only burying yourself in academic books. Interact! Engage! Bring your beliefs, perspectives, prejudices and uncertainties to the table. Listen to other fellow SI scholars and your classmates. Don’t get afraid. Everybody comes to the table with their own views and prejudices. But you will surely see that, at the end of your studies, you will have widened your horizon. Take all that experience, civility and tolerance back to your home country or work place. Remind yourself that these are values which are also true to your multi-ethnic country as they are to Sweden – a country with at least 1/4 of its population having foreign background.

Find out more about the SI scholarships.