Researcher in intercultural communication


Nataliya Berbyuk Lindström's research area is intercultural communication, with a focus on communication within health care.

Intercultural communication is very much about identity!

Nataliya Berbyuk Lindström
Nataliya Berbyuk Lindström sees her own experiences as an immigrant from Ukraine as an interesting starting point for her work on intercultural communication.
Photo: Anna Ohlsson

– I have many research interests, but I found intercultural communication especially rewarding and it is also a rather new research field in Sweden, says Nataliya Berbyuk Lindström.

Arrived in Sweden as a guest student

Nataliya is originally from Ukraine and came to Sweden as a guest student during 2001, together with her family.

– It was a bit of a cultural chock for me to move to Sweden. During my first time here I used to write "Professor" instead of peoples' real names for example, and I got complaints about that, says Nataliya with a laugh. Another thing that surprised me was that it is possible to be very forward as a woman when communicating with other people.

Nataliya is an autodidact when it comes to the Swedish language and she actually learnt a lot just by watching TV.

– I don't think everybody realises how fast you can learn a new language by things like watching TV-programmes with subtitles, reading newspapers and talking to friends, says Nataliya.

Interested in phenomena connected to intercultural communication

Nataliya’s mother had been working as a doctor in Ukraine for 20 years and to be able to continue her work in Sweden she had to follow an education for doctors from countries outside the EU, which meant both language courses and practice.

– When I later on started my doctoral studies I became interested in the needs that I saw all around me and I also wanted to increase the awareness when it comes to phenomena connected to intercultural communication, says Nataliya. My mother struggled to learn Swedish and I used to tell her that language is not everything. Of course language is important, but I also think culture is an important thing in the communication between people.

– The fact that I am from Ukraine and had to adjust to a new country is a part of my personal history and it has of course raised some questions that I brought further into my own research, she says.

Nataliya Berbyuk Lindström got her PhD in 2009 at the Department of Linguistics at University of Gothenburg, on a thesis called Intercultural communication in health care. Non-Swedish physicians in Sweden.

A passion for the programme "Master in Communication"

After her doctoral degree Nataliya started to work at the Department of Applied IT and was for several years the programme manager for the international master’s programme Master in Communication. She is still responsible for the courses Intercultural Communication and Cross-cultural Rhetoric.

– You can find courses within intercultural communication at a few more places in Sweden, but it is still a rather rare area, says Nataliya. For me it is an important and amusing field, since I think this is basically about identity – every human being is an individual and by communicating you learn something about yourself and also about others!

The first international version of Master in Communication started in 2008 and the programme has during the years had students from around 80 different nations! The idea is to have a high percentage of international students, since it is essential to get a good feeling for especially intercultural communication.

– In addition to giving courses at the programme, I think I can make some contributions by telling the students about my own experiences what it is like to live in Sweden, says Nataliya. I also like teaching a lot and the content of the courses gives me useful and important perspectives.

Research projects on communication between foreign doctors and the patients

Apart from the teaching, Nataliya has worked a lot with the area intercultural communication in different research projects.

– One thing that led me to the area intercultural communication was a project within Västra Götalandsregionen named "Foreign doctors" where I was responsible for the course "To Understand the Swedish Code". Västra Götalandsregionen was at the time recruiting doctors from outside Sweden, and they saw that there was a need for highlighting intercultural issues.

Nataliya has continued to study different aspects of the communication between foreign doctors and the patients, which includes making recordings of authentic conversations when doctor and patient meet.

– As I see it, it is important not to generalise and reinforce stereotypes, but at the same time be blunt regarding the fact that there are differences in how we express ourselves.

– When it comes to hierarchy and power for example it is relatively flat in Sweden. I have understood from several foreign doctors I've been talking to, that they sometimes find it difficult to relate to the flat organisation and that there can be misunderstandings in job situations. It is at this point important that there is an understanding from both sides, why do we do as we do?

– It involves an awareness of that we have various experiences in our lives and that we express ourselves in different ways for a reason – if we are aware of this, we can manage conflicts in a different way! If you then decide to adapt or not is another thing. It is in my opinion important to have the same goal – in healthcare for example it means collaboration for the sake of the patients and to strive for a mutual openness.

One thing Nataliya and her colleagues found in the studies is that the foreign doctors to a higher extent tend to make their own decisions on the treatment of the patients, without asking the patients themselves. The elderly patients seem to appreciate that – they were given clear directives and guidelines – while some patients might feel a bit run over

Greater focus and attention when you don't speak the language fluently

– Another interesting aspect I have discovered is that when you don't speak the language fluently, you have higher attention when talking to someone. It seems to be a thing that comes naturally: When the language you speak is not your mother tongue you become a good listener and it applies also in the encounter between doctor and patient!

Nataliya believes that communication in general is very much based on the expectations and experiences we have as individuals.

– A occasion I remember very well from the study and which shows that we are all individuals with different expectations and beliefs, is an elderly woman who had just been visiting her doctor. She was generally happy with the visit except that the doctor had short-sleeved shirt – that was not good!


Nataliya Berbyuk Lindström

Associate Professor, Division of Cognition and Communication
Department of Applied IT