By Loren Ha, Exchange to Malmö University, Sweden
Nearing the end of my exchange semester (or for many others, the start of theirs) in Malmö, southern Sweden, I’m happy to say that my experience has gone far better than I could have ever imagined. Because of the terrific orientation program that Malmö
University provides, I was already in Malmö by August 13th, more than 2 weeks before classes began and less than an hour after arriving, I was already at my first scheduled information meeting, learning about my new school, life in Malmö and getting the keys to my dorm. The next few weeks were filled with Swedish lessons, information sessions and organized activities where I got to meet the people that I would become friends with for the next 5 months. Some highlights include eating crayfish at one of the largest crayfish parties in the world during the annual Malmöfestivalen, exploring the surrounding region on a bus tour and trying out some local varieties of food stuffs available at the local supermarkets.
I began my first official class at Malmö University as September rolled around. The credit system is a little different in Sweden and 30 ECTS credits make up a full-time course load. I was enrolled in two 15-credit courses in the beginning of the semester but each was only a few weeks long so the second class didn’t begin until the first finished in mid-November; this meant taking only one class at a time— a very refreshing change from your typical study regiment. I learned about “co-design” or participatory design, a uniquely Scandinavian approach to solving design issues and quickly saw how my time would be divided for the next few weeks. It varied, but on most weeks there were only 2 days of classes; however I found myself meeting up with my group almost every day to work on our group project which involved cumulative milestones that eventually led to our final presentation. One of the “workshops” that we ran was even featured on school’s website (http://www.mah.se/Nyheter/Nyheter-2013/Design-for-att-paverka/) after it was tweeted out by a local business partner we worked with and retweeted by the Malmö City Twitter handle.
Of course, being in Europe on exchange means traveling around as well and not just staying in your dorm all day! So far I’ve been to ten different countries and my highlights include: going to Saint Petersburg, Russia, taking 2 overnight ferries to get there and visiting Stockholm and Helsinki on the way; visiting Finnish Lapland to see the Northern Lights, ride on a husky safari and venturing into a small village in Norway to swim in the Arctic Ocean; and finally, celebrating new years with my closest friends at one of their homes in the small city of Esslingen, Germany and watching the most amazing display fireworks I’ve ever experienced atop a hill overlooking the city.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and even more about other people and their cultures. If you are thinking of doing an exchange, do it! You will learn more about planning, organization and financial management on exchange than in most of your classes. Managing your time to squeeze in as much travel as possible while balancing school, learning to pack just the essentials so that it fits in just one carry-on bag, finding the most cost-effective way to get from point A to point B, watching your savings dwindle down to dangerous lows while budgeting for the next few months—none of which are easy tasks but what you gain in doing each is invaluable and also highly useful.