Inbound students Study Abroad and Exchange at the University of Melbourne
Exchange in Semester 2, 2008
Bachelor of Property and Construction and Bachelor of Commerce
'Stockholm: The Capital of Scandinavia' was the very first promotional sign I saw when I arrived at the Ryan Air airport, located nearly 80 minutes from the heart of Stockholm. This airport hardly resembles the sort of aviation hub one would expect to find in a city claiming to be the key metropolis in Nordic Europe. What was I expecting - an airport full of stereotyped Swedish things? A structure supported by giant vodka bottles and Ikea Billy book cases stacked with meat balls and filled with Vikings, Volvo driving blondes and entrepreneurial Bjrn Borg all singing along to Abba tunes? Although such icons play a great part in Sweden's identity, there is so much more to Sweden. Greeted by another sign welcoming visitors to Sweden (på svenska naturligtvis!), I met some fellow students also bound for Kungliga Techniska Hgskola (abbreviated thankfully to KTH!), our new university, where we knew we would be warmly welcomed.
KTH is located about eight minutes north of the city centre and is easily accessible with a Tunnelbåna (Stockholm's underground train) station at the entrance, as well as bus lines and, is a leisurely walk into the main shopping street. This prestigious university is one of the very best technical universities in Europe and is extremely hospitable to international undergraduate and masters level students studying on exchange. People from all corners of the globe, including many Swedes, attend KTH resulting in a very dynamic and diverse learning environment. The facilities are great and, although there is no such equivalent to our lovely South Lawn in Melbourne, the quadrangle, brick arches and cobblestones form a lovely setting exuding academia and European culture.
Arriving at the commencement of August was recommended to students and I personally would also suggest students, who intend going in the Autumn Term (Melbourne's second semester), arrive at that time. The first month was incredibly social and educational. The majority of students enrolled in an express Swedish course for beginners entailing a three hour morning class on weekdays lasting for about three and a half weeks. This was intense, as the course name suggested, and several students dropped out of the course as the early starts marginally impeded their ability to really discover Stockholm's nightlife. It was worthwhile staying enrolled as the daily morning break was a great way to get to know fellow students; in addition to improving our language skills and allowing you to further your Swedish studies in the proceeding term . During August there were no local students, thus giving the exchange students (generally referred to as Erasmus students) the freedom to roam the campus and its grounds on our own.
The International Students' Society at KTH certainly knew how to throw a party (or dozens!). A range of organised events were held (usually under $20) and these events will be fondly remembered by all students. Highlights included scenic boat cruises; a Sauna, Lake and Barbeque (and 'one time grills') night at a place called Osqvik; a yellow and blue Swedish dinner allowing us to learn the all important drinking songs; as well as games days, museum visits and parties ... All just in August! This was complemented by day and night visits to our new friends' accommodation appreciating international food, meeting and greeting and teaching each other slang words.
KTH was very organised finding us accommodation, something for which I was very grateful, particularly now understanding the complexities of the rental and public housing market. The prices and locations varied, some were more ideal than others, but they all were comfortable, clean and safe places to live. I lived at Stadshagen and my studio apartment had its own kitchen and bathroom. This place was delightful and on my floor were 16 apartments all filled with KTH exchange students. Many other students lived at Lappis, Sundyberg, Kista, Kungshamra, Skrapan and on campus. Not all facilities had individual kitchens but it seemed to be 'the luck of the draw' who lived where and many people loved communal cooking.
I was pleased with the subjects on offer and feel I have been enriched by studying at KTH. Australian students will have no difficulties with language as all the classes (although do check the details!) are conducted in English. For this reason, at times the work load seemed reduced due to our fluency, compared to some other students who had to comprehend not only the course material but also the challenges of English. The computer labs were great and the campus felt well maintained.
Stockholm (and this can be generalized to all parts of Sweden) is a very livable city and feels a very safe place to live. It comprises 14 islands and thus the city is a vibrant contrast between the water, the greenery and of course red store signs leading to H&M! Every thing seems to run at optimal efficiency and the welfare-like economy supported with high taxes means the streets are typically graffiti free, and appear clean and quite cosmopolitan, without being sterile. The cost of living is high however not as high as I was anticipating. Caf prices are comparable to cities like Paris and Copenhagen but supermarket prices are very comparable to Melbourne, other than lamb and premium cuts of beef. The Swedish diet is very healthy, and as a result, eating good quality food when self prepared was economical. Eating at university was also viable with daily lunch specials (main, salad, bread and drink) costing about $10, and the Swedish affection for coffee kept prices at a low of about $2. Alcohol is taxed and the liquor store (Systembolaget) monopoly is controlled by the government, so expect to pay more than in Melbourne. The Systembolaget opening hours are a joke so the lack of trading time was more of an inconvenience. Most students overcame this issue (including myself) by visiting the island of Åland in Finnish waters, or a Baltic country, by boat, thus entering international waters! In Stockholm, expect to pay about $10 for a beer on tap in a pub or bar, but about half this at places affiliated to KTH or Stockholm University on weekly student nights.
One of the best things about exchange was, by far, meeting so many new and interesting students from such an array of places. It didn't seem to matter which course you were studying, where you lived in Stockholm or your home country; everyone was keen to mix with each other. The happy times I shared with everyone in my corridor and class mates are priceless and I feel many of our friendships will survive across hemisphere obstacles. You will leave KTH only saying 'we' and not 'I', and 'our corridor' not 'my apartment', reflecting how strong a bond we formed in such a short space of time.
Being able to travel with new friends during our exchange was also a lot of fun. As a group, we ventured to most places in Scandinavia (including Swedish Lapland) and an epic trip to Riga in Latvia. The ability to travel for a weekend to a European destination with just a small bag was fantastic and something most Europeans don't fully appreciate. I went to the two big general universities in Sweden for a few days and a day trip, namely Lund, and Uppsala. These have great reputations and quite a different feel to Stockholm. I would, however, be happy to study there.
To be honest, my choice to study at KTH was largely based on the great things I had heard from students, lecturers and outbound exchange students. At times, universities in foreign language speaking countries can seem daunting, but I did not encounter any problems prior to my departure with the staff at KTH, or with the website. I believe this was representative of my entire exchange. I was intent on studying in a big city as opposed to a university town. That was based partly on my tertiary studies relating to property, urban planning and finance, and wanting to experience living in a big city, allowing me to make comparisons with Melbourne. Studying at a uni town such as Lund would be quite a different experience to the Melbourne experience, so perhaps some students may value this contrast. Generally most people in Scandinavia speak almost perfect English so concerns regarding language should not be a worry.
When I departed Stockholm on Christmas Eve to commence more travelling, I shed so many tears at the Ryan Air airport thinking about all the fun times we experienced as a group; the things unique to Stockholm and Sweden that I would be leaving behind and more. Each and every one of us matured so much and loved every moment of our time at KTH. Would I change anything in hindsight? ... perhaps stay for two semesters!
Return to top of the page