More specifically, partaking in a north2north exchange in Sweden, which is known for its high quality health care system, allowed me to combine my interests in health and the North from the perspective of another circumpolar country. I chose to study at Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet for their course offerings, high-quality education and reputation, and opportunities available outside the classroom. During my exchange I have taken courses in Swedish language and nutrition and health at Karolinska Institutet, and I’m currently doing a research traineeship in molecular biosciences.

When I first arrived, what I noticed was the natural beauty of Sweden and the very high level of English that Swedes possess. Like Canada, Sweden has amazing nature, green spaces, environmental awareness and a love for winter sports. However, Swedes tend to drink a lot more coffee, and the coffee is much stronger than in Canada. They even have a special word for coffee breaks, fika, so needless to say they take their coffee culture very seriously!

Zachary Anstey 2

To date my exchange experience has been nothing short of life changing. The highlight has been meeting people from all over the world and being exposed to so many different cultures and ways of thinking. As always, being independent in a different country and a new environment requires some getting used to, but the fact that there were so many people in the same situation made it pretty easy to get over the initial jitters. Oh and the darkness! The darkness during the winter months was certainly an adjustment.

The leadership skills, networking, collaboration, knowledge, personal growth and cultural awareness gained through this north2north exchange will definitely be indispensable in my studies and future career. For example, I’ve learned about the need for increased access to healthcare and preventative medicine in the Arctic, especially in the areas of mental health, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. As I will be starting studies in medicine in the fall, the knowledge gained through participation in this program and the opportunities for educational exchanges and collaborations with other circumpolar countries and UArctic member institutions will be invaluable. While each circumpolar country and region has their own uniqueness, strengthening the commonalities that bring us together will lead to a healthier and more prosperous Arctic for everyone.

I would very much like to return to Sweden some day, whether it be for a clinical elective, research or simply for a vacation. For anybody considering an exchange, I would simply tell them to seize the opportunity with both hands, to get outside their comfort zone and to take advantage of every opportunity. There are so many programs available within the north2north network that you can tailor to your interests and goals. I encourage you to take advantage of it – you won’t regret it!

[Originally published in 2015 Shared Voices magazine]