Career & Education

Mastering Malmö

Jamaican scholar graduates with honours, recounts journey at Swedish university

Sunday, June 23, 2019

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THERE'S something to be said about individuals who see the world as their oyster. They take chances. They create opportunities. They are always ready to tap into their own potential.

That aptly describes 27-year-old Sanjay Thompson who won a scholarship to pursue a Master's in criminology at Malmö University in Sweden. It was a case, he said, of preparation meeting opportunity.

“It wasn't my plan for the opportunity to present itself so early. Nevertheless, I saw it fit to grab the opportunity as it came,” Thompson told the Jamaica Observer.

Before Malmö, the Old Harbour native and alumnus of the University of the West Indies (The UWI), Mona had moved approximately 8,000 miles from home to teach English in Japan. This was less than three months after graduating, in 2014, with a BSc in psychology.

“It was my intent to move to Japan so I could fund my Master's degree. I got the opportunity to move to Japan, I grabbed it and I ran with it,” Thompson said.

It was his knack for seeking out opportunities that led to his discovery of the criminology programme in Sweden.

“Pursuing criminology was a no-brainer,” Thompson said. “I did a few courses back at UWI and then and there I knew that I had the potential to advance the field, especially the local field,” he added.

“Personally, I think we can't advance other areas of society while ignoring the elephant in the room, which is crime. It's a big and dynamic problem and we need to advance our methods. We also need dynamic solutions to it and solutions that are unique to us,” Thompson told Career & Education.

So off to Malmö he went.

The scholarship covered tuition for the two-year programme — some $3 million — which meant he had to source funds for airfare, living and other miscellaneous expenses. In addition to the funds saved from his teaching gig, Thompson solicited asisstance from back home, where two private sector individuals answered his requests.

Once he got to Sweden, Thompson got busy.

“I volunteered in the Housing Office [and] my volunteerism positively contributed to the study environment at Malmö University, so much so that they hired me part-time as a resident assistant in the Housing Office — an entirely new role within the office. I also pushed further and used my digital media skills to gain another part-time employment with the Study in Sweden programme,” Thompson said. Study in Sweden, he explained, is a highly competitive programme that allows students from all over the world to create content about living in Sweden. They share their experiences online and only about 15 of them were selected as digital ambassadors.

“I did push hard to get these opportunities and I'm very grateful for the skills I have acquired; skills apart from just academia. Being well-rounded really helped here. I thank UWI and St Jago High School for helping me to develop these skills,” Thompson said.

His greatest achievement came at the end of the two-year programme, when, a few weeks before graduation, he and 25 other students were awarded the Global Swede Award for excellent social, innovative and entrepreneurial performances by Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“I was the only one from the Americas this year, that's quite a big deal. The award is given to outstanding international students and according to the Swedish Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it's given to active, enthusiastic students who are excellent in areas close to innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and show that they are good representatives of their country and Sweden,” Thompson told Career & Education.

What made it even better was the fact that the award came as a complete surprise.

“I was not expecting this. It was not even in my head to get an award for the things that I was doing. I was just really giving of myself from volunteering and working hard, and putting my best foot forward. It really shows that hard work does pay off, because when they read the citation, I was pretty humbled by it. I never expected to be recognised in this way,” Thompson said.

With his Master's in criminology completed with honours, Thompson will be spending the next four years in Sweden to take up a PhD position at the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University (ranked among the world's top 100 universities).

“I couldn't be happier for this position. It's really, really, really competitive. What's also nice is that it's a full-time paid position. So that's my next step. My focus will be on substance use and substance abuse. It's going to be a real merger of my BSc in psychology and my Master's in criminology. I'm really excited for this,” Thompson gushed.

The value of the two perspectives coming together is not to be understated, Thompson said.

“My studies allowed me to gain skills in crime prevention, violence risk assessment, programme evaluation, victimology, just to name a few. So it's very hands-on when it comes to crime, criminals and those at risk. I am very excited about what can happen with this collaboration. I'm also excited to see Sweden and Jamaica's relationship develop and blossom. We all have issues and this international collaboration can help both countries,” he said.


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