BIDS Alumni Spotlight #1 Rebecca Sjöstrand

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Rebecca Sjöstrand graduated from BIDS in 2014 with a major in Sociology with a thesis based on her MFS in Nicaragua where she studied how motherhood seasonal migration affect each other. She says, “my best advice for field studies is to be as prepared as possible before you leave… be aware of your own position, try your very best to create equal meetings and listen to the stories that you are privileged to hear.”

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Rebecca Sjöstrand, I am 24 years old and was in the BIDS class of 2011-2014, i.e. the third round of BIDS students. I am originally from Stockholm, but moved to Malmö in 2011 when I started my studies in Lund and still live in Malmö. During my studies I also worked hours in a shoe store. Before BIDS I had been working, travelling and studying international relations at Stockholm University. Currently I am doing an internship at peace organization PeaceWorks at their Malmö office (see more below).

How did you specify during BIDS?

I had Sociology as my major, which I was extremely happy with, and besides from my field study, the sociology semester with the migration studies and welfare course was according to me the best in the programme, where I in particular was very inspired with the teachers (Axel Fredholm, Olle Frödin, Lisa Eklund and Eda Farsakoglu to name a few). For my elective courses in the fourth semester I took 15 credits of environmental sociology, 7,5 in gender perspective on the Arabic World and 7,5 credits in citizenship and multiculturalism in Middle Eastern societies (masters course). Out of those I was mainly satisfied with the masters course that I took on Centre for Middle Eastern Studies. To sum up my main focus of the BIDS programme in retrospect, it is migration and welfare studies with a gender perspective. Right now I am mainly interested in Latin America, but that has shifted during the programme, as seen in my choice of courses I also have had an interest about the Middle East. As I mentioned, I also conducted a field study in Nicaragua during the 15 credits in my last semester. I got granted the Minor Field Study scholarship by the Department of Human Geography, and did my field study in Nicaragua, concerning how motherhood ideals and norms of seasonal migration affects each other in Nicaragua, this with doing semi-structured interviews with mothers that had migrated.

What did you find useful from the BIDS-programme (related to later experiences)?

Most of all I find the experiences I gained during my field studies as the ones I can make most use of right now working practically with e.g. norm critique and volunteer administration. This as that experience made me reflect upon myself, my privileges and power structures surrounding field studies, academia in general and development work. It also gave me great knowledge and humbled my mind to meet and have the benefit in drawing academic conclusions the stories I was told, that the theories I had read about actually came to life by the women’s stories, and of course the whole thesis writing process was extremely valuable, as I learned working in a longer project and conducting research (however small). Besides that I feel that my semester of the sociology gave me very useful knowledge and that was where I truly found my academic interests. The general development studies is also useful, but I can’t say that I believe that the BIDS programme needs the very very similar courses of the different development theories at least four times, one would have been enough.

Are/have you been involved in other development related activities?

I have been involved with a “study group” that Individuell Människohjälp (IM) organized, where discussions on development issues were reflected upon. Besides this I am doing an internship, see below.

What did you do after BIDS?

I finished my thesis and defence of that in August 2014. During the fall semester I studied 15 credits on 50 per cent (i.e. over the course of all fall semester) in ethnology, focusing on violence, gender and culture. I also worked around 12 hours a week at the shoe store that I had been working during my BIDS studies.

What are you doing now?

As mentioned above, I am currently doing an internship at PeaceWorks in Malmö, a non-profit youth organization working with peace through different ways of engagement for young people. PeaceWorks approach is critical reflection, non-violence and equality, and works with volunteer exchange, support for young peoples’ organization and education in e.g. anti-racism, how to start projects and global justice. At PeaceWorks Malmö I am mainly administrating volunteers who wishes to go on an exchange and taking part in our educations where I do trainings in norm critique and power structures.

Do you have an advice for future BIDS-graduates?

I was in Nicaragua with a classmate that did another field study, something that I can really recommend if given the chance, since there is really no way of truly preparing for being in the field. Many things changes, it is often very difficult both with practical aspects and academically when conducting a large project of such kind for (many times) the first time. It was priceless having a good friend for support, fun and for challenging my mind and helping me out when I got stuck, and equally so for her. Besides this my best advice for field studies is to be as prepared as possible before you leave, make contact with teachers to contact prior to leaving, while staying flexible and open to changes of plans while being away. Be aware of your own position, try your very best to create equal meetings and listen to the stories that you are privileged to hear.

What would you like to get out of an Alumni BIDS page?

A network of advice and support, where people can share their engagements and experiences.

Do you have any BIDS-related future plans?

I hope to continue working practically a while forward, hopefully as well after my internship finishes in June 2015. I have applied for master studies for the fall of 2015 (Master of Welfare Policies and Management with a sociology major at Lund University, and Master of Global Refugee Studies at Aalborg University, Copenhagen), but have not yet decided to start in the fall if I am accepted. I have also thought about future PhD studies after my masters, but since I currently LOVE working practically with issues I have studied during the BIDS programme I wish to continue on that road for some time now.

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