Katerina Hellstrom - a Czech economics lecturer in Stockholm

Katerina Hellstrom

Katerina Hellstrom is a young Czech woman who works as an economics lecturer in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. When we met at a busy café a short walk from the city centre, the conversation took in everything from Vikings to business cards to the Czech accounting system. But I first asked Katerina if she had studied economics at home in the Czech Republic.

Katerina Hellstrom
"No, I studied English and Danish, so I graduated from Charles University's Faculty of Philosophy. So when I came to Sweden I found out that everybody speaks English so I studied economics and graduated in economics here."

I can understand why you'd want to learn English, but why Danish?

"I liked the Vikings (laughs), as a child it was very exotic, all the things to do with Vikings. And Bjorn Borg, he was from Scandinavia - it doesn't matter, Sweden and Denmark I think are for most Czechs the same. So that's why I decided to study Danish, and I found there weren't so many people who speak Danish in Prague either."

So when you studied Danish how come you didn't go and live in Denmark? Why Sweden?

"If you study some of the Scandinavian languages in Prague then usually you study the other ones as well. And we went quite often for scholarships abroad both to Denmark and Sweden. Then it just happened that I married a Swede - that's why."

Do you think Czechs and Swedes can get on well? Are they similar in character of temperament?

"I think there are larger differences than we think. The basics are the same, but there are thousands of small things. I think the Czechs are somewhere in between and in the Czech Republic there are people who can get on well with Swedes and have perhaps troubles somewhere else in Europe.

"And then you've got people who just cannot live here. So I think it depends on your personality. Generally it's OK, no great problems, but it's the small things."

In the Czech language, as in many languages, you have formal and informal ways of addressing people - is it similar in Swedish?

"No, Swedish is much more informal. You call people by their first names, and you do not have the difference like in Czech between the formal and the informal. It's coming back a little bit. It used to be like that but then in the '70s they changed it to all informal. But it's coming back a little bit, so for example when you speak to very old people you may use the formal way, or when you go to the authorities. That's one thing you have to get used to. It's quite interesting - when you speak to someone in Swedish you always use the informal, but then you switch to Czech and you start to use the formal, immediately."

Do they have the Czech fascination with titles? You know in Czech Republic you have to always call people 'mister doctor' and so on - have they got that here?

"Perhaps if you are a professor, but not otherwise. I had an argument with my old professor in Prague the other day. He asked me what title I have on my business card and I said I didn't have any. He said I had to have one but I said we didn't use it unless you are really on a very high level. But usually if you are a doctor you do not have doctor there, you do not have 'inzenyr' and stuff like that, no."

Do you ever get homesick for the Czech Republic? Or for Prague?

"Yeah, I miss my parents because they still live there. So that's a great problem for me because I miss them. And it's always nice to go back to Prague, so I like to go there."

How often do you go home?

"Twice a year."

Do you feel at home? I myself have been away from my home for over ten years and when I go home I feel like a tourist. Do you feel at home in Prague now?

"My home is in Stockholm because it's my home. But I usually say that I've got two homes. I go home when I go home to my parents in Prague and then I go home here. But the friends I have are here, and all the environment you've got is here."

Tell me more about your work - what exactly do you do?

"I'm a lecturer. I lecture at the Stockholm School of Economics, and in Latvia as well. And I'm writing my PhD - I'm doing research on Czech accounting."

Tell us more about Czech accounting.

"It's not as bad as people think! The greatest problem is that the laws are pretty good, the principles are OK, but how it is enforced is a little bit of a problem, how companies use it. But it's very fascinating, because I've been looking at the development of Czech accounting and I can see there's been a great change, and that was nice to see."

But how did you come to choose that topic to do research on?

"I think it's interesting for people outside the Czech Republic, and nobody really does this kind of research on what is called the West transitional economies. Also I sometimes teach Czech, or I used to do it, and I remember one guy from Scania who was going to work in Prague, and he asked me 'we are going to buy this company, can we rely on what they tell us, can we rely on the numbers?'. And I said 'OK, I will investigate that!'."

You've been through the Czech education system, you're now working in the Swedish education system - how would you compare the two?

"I would say that university here seems better to me, in that you have more time for discussion and more group work and there are no definitions, and stuff like that. But generally I think the level of Czech schools is pretty good - I would say it's better. I don't know if it's still like it was when I went to school, but when I went to school it was definitely better than it is here."