Studying (again) – and all things being a student in Sweden
The day I finished my Bachelor’s degree I was sure that I am done. It was exhausting and grueling and every other adjective that describe something rather torturous.
Fast forward four and a half years, and I apparently reconsidered. Rather, let’s say, life took a different turn. Now if you have read any of my previous posts, you will know what happened and how I got to this specific moment in time.
Initially I planned on documenting my time as student here in Sweden in much detail, but it turns out that I have forgotten how busy you actually are when you study. On top of that I have this amazing class where we ended up being a group of 30+ really good friends. So in short: I failed. No, it went well with the studies. I mean, I failed in my mission on telling the story of my revived student life in Sweden and the tales and tribulations of a South African moving to (and living and studying in) Sweden.
See, it turns out studying entails long nights, little sleep, worrying a lot and most importantly mastering the art of procasternating. I was quite skilled in this FOUR YEARS AGO, but didn’t take long though for me to fall right back into the pattern.
Seeing that I skipped all the other posts I intended, I figured I will try to give a short* account of my first year as Master’s student in Sweden.
*I might lie a bit here in the hopes that I don’t lose you yet because of the long post.
For Europeans this might be nothing new, but for this South African the system was a bit new. We are used to two six month long semesters each year – and that is a school year starting in January (you know, like the calendar). Here it is four study periods each about two months long. And yes, school starts after summer holidays – so September. That also means exams every two months after only about six weeks on a subject. I have taken longer to decide what watch I want (for the record: two years then I gave up on it). In all honesty though, I am quite surprised by the level of education in South Africa. We usually think the quality is low(er), but up till now I think what we learnt was quite on par.
So I want to start by saying that I have always been fortunate to make friends easily. I have a big mouth, and I think the guard between my brain and mouth is usually either drunk or sleeping – either way he is not very good at stopping the ridiculous thoughts before they spill out. Lucky for me, that has helped me to make friends here.
We are a class of about 50 people and, thanks to some of our pro-active classmates, we have become quite a close group. We have had some of the best times – celebrated local holidays and customs, shared our international traditions, went sightseeing and made memories for life. Sadly, as with all good things, our first year has now come to an end. With it some of our friends are leaving (the ones doing just a one year exchange). So we spent this past weekend saying goodbye. And that sucked! Luckily we know we will see each other again (and with social media, do we ever really lose good friends…?).
Moving to a new country is bound to be a culture shock to some extent. However, I was pleasantly surprised. There are some things the Swedes do that others find strange, but I like it. Things like having a personal space at bus stops, standing in queues and living on headphones. Full disclosure: I am sure having some Swedish friends involving you in their culture and traditions from day one helped a lot with my experience. However, I believe the conception of Swedes being cold or antisocial is absolutely wrong. Yes, some of them are really reserved (I think it is way too generalised on the web) – as a good friend noted “they just do not want to bother anyone”. I have met some people that would barely say hello initially, but now (yes after eight months) we are actually friends. The Swedes are some of the kindest, endearing people I have met – and they can have a lot of fun! They love socialising, drinking (this is when the quiet guy becomes the life of the party) and having a barbeque. So if I can offer my humble opinion: reach out. As the newcomer, you have to show that you want to be part of the group.
If I had to point out one thing that is undoubtedly Swedish and which I am now completely hooked on, it is Fika. An extremely important part of any day in Sweden. Wikipedia describes it as “a Swedish word meaning ‘to have coffee’, often accompanied with pastries, cookies or pie“. Oh no! Trust me – this is an understatement if ever I heard one. Fika is a way of life. A lifeline. A necessity. Fika is an event – just as (or maybe even more) important than lunch. We usually have it around 10am and 3pm, but there isn’t really a specific time. It entails getting coffee (or tea or anything else to drink) and something sweet – cinnamon buns are a known favourite, but if you like sweet and chocolate then a chokladbol is a must.
Don’t trust all the horror stories on the internet. By that I don’t mean to say it is not as bad, but rather that weather is what we make of it. First off I want to mention that in general the weather is not that much different to what I am used to. Well except for way more rain, a very potent wind and February. Yes, February. Good thing it is the shortest month, because trust me – this is the one month the horror stories are very true for. I was geared for the winter. Warm jackets, many layers (the key to Swedish weather in general) and shoes that works for snow. It snowed a lot in Desember, and yes it was freezing, but nothing that made me want to go on a tropic holiday. It is also really dark a lot – I mean sunrise around 9am and sunset by just after 3pm (deep December this is). Then February arrived. For about two weeks I was sure a person could freeze inside full winter attire. One night I was heading home at around midnight (group project that took forever) and I stood waiting for the bus in -18°C. That is cold.
But before you know it, it is May and the sun is out and everyone dons their summer clothes (even if it is cold, you still wear it). The past three weeks (from mid-May) it was perfect weather – hot and sunny. I have to mention here that the weather in Gothenburg was apparently very strange this year according to people that have been there a while. However, most reckon it was worse than usual – more snow, a colder February, and if possible a warmer spring.
All considered – I feared worse. And the weather would not be a reason for leaving Sweden.
The Swedes are a very considerate nation. No judgement – or at least, they won’t say anything if they do not agree. What you do is you own business. In general they avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics, sexuality and race. That does not mean they do not have an opinion – I have had some interesting and heated discussions on all these topics. They are all for equality and high living standards.
My first year of Master’s ended on Saturday (1 June) and we are now officially on holiday. I made friends that I wouldn’t trade for anything, learnt a lot, experienced more and made memories that will last forever – things that will have a lasting impact on my life. This is truly an experience that I wish everybody could get!!
On the topic of Sweden, I will let you know again when I get back. For now I am off on a three month Europe adventure….