Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
MPA
GPE Sweden

Caitlin Petruska (center) with MPA classmates Laura Moses (left) and Ellie Adair at the Stockholm School of Economics in Sweden.

"As we learned more about both the anti-immigrant sentiment being stoked in parts of Sweden as well as the country’s efforts to integrate the recent waves of asylum-seekers, we decided to dig a little further into public perceptions of these movements."

Caitlin Petruska MPA ’17

Reflecting on the Global Policy Experience in Sweden

Caitlin Petruska reflects on the process of collaborating with other MPA students to create a podcast about the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden and the U.S.

Meetings and lectures relating to immigration in Sweden piqued my team’s interest in the parallels between the right-wing populist, anti-immigrant currents sweeping both Europe and the U.S. Sweden recently imposed restrictions on immigrants seeking asylum in the country, and the conservative Sweden Democrats have grown from relative obscurity to the third-largest party in the minority-government parliament (i.e. the governing party won the most seats but does not hold a majority overall).

As we learned more about both the anti-immigrant sentiment being stoked in parts of Sweden as well as the country’s efforts to integrate the recent waves of asylum-seekers, we decided to dig a little further into public perceptions of these movements, both as they exist in Sweden and how the American version, embodied by Republican nominee for President Donald Trump, is perceived by Swedes. When we introduced our topic to interviewees, many appeared hesitant to offer their opinion on the election to a group of Americans, so we spent a few minutes at the outset of each conversation assuring participants that we were simply working on a school project.

We had hoped to incorporate our participants’ opinions on how they thought Swedish foreign policy might change in the event that Trump wins the election, but we found that only a couple of our participants were prepared to respond to that question. Interviewees were much more confident with comparing and contrasting the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the U.S., and we found the differences of opinion amongst our interviewees particularly interesting. They also readily took to our request to name “an adjective to describe Trump” (e.g., “orange” and “dangerous”). This question turned out to be one of the biggest challenges for us as interviewers, because we needed to minimize our reactions to their comments so our guests would be comfortable to speak freely.

We were fortunate to interview a couple of very well informed individuals. Overall, I think we were able to produce an interesting counter-perspective on the 2016 U.S. election season and ongoing populist currents.