In many ways the courses reminded me of my home university: small groups in which you get to know almost everyone, high quality of teaching, interactive and also diverse classes – field excursions, lectures, labs, seminars and group works. I found the course structures to be very balanced and well planned. First, courses were given one at a time, which enables students to focus on the subject they are learning instead of being split between many courses simultaneously. Second, the schedule is built so that you have lots of free time to do whatever you want aside from studying. This is gorgeous!
Most exchange students who study at Umeå University tend to go to IKSU (one of Europe’s largest training facilities), have a lot of parties, pre-parties, pre-pre-parties, and so on. All of it is great! But, for my part, I arrived in Sweden with snowshoes and winter camping gear, and decided to explore Sweden’s backcountry and small villages. Having a bike enabled me to explore around Umeå (there are tons of bike trails even in the middle of the winter), from Brännland to the river delta. Also, using the maps that cover the whole country, I went hiking at Tavelsjön, Skuleskogen National Park, Kungsleden, Norway, and more. I saw tons of aurora borealis, hiked with reindeers, ate tasty fresh fish, swam in the Arctic Ocean and, most of all, met amazing people, some of whom I became good friends with. If that interests you, don’t be too scared by all the Swedes who tell you you’re going to die because you’re going "hiking in the cold". Be prepared (maps, transport, gear and security), and ask people for information.
Living in another northern country isn’t just like travelling anywhere in the world. It enables us to immerse ourselves in a place that deals with similar realities to ours, and thus feel automatically closer to their history, issues, culture, sadness and happiness. This exchange also showed me that every place has its good and its bad sides. While I found Sweden very inspiring for their innovations and care for the environment, I also found this country to have so many social barriers that it was often difficult to enjoy good, simple and spontaneous things of life. But we can always grow from these experiences: they bring us to care more for the people and things we value in life, and we go back home with new ideas and perspectives to contribute to our choices.
Open your mind, heart and eyes, and you’ll get the most out of it!
Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2016