Monthly archives: March 2011

Campus Transit 101

Here’s the facts: Swedes are a pretty environmentally conscious bunch. In fact, here in Växjö the city bills itself as the “Greenest City in Europe.” Since 2000, the city has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 34 percent, and is a center for alternative energy research and development.

BENJAMIN MACK - Built in the "American" style, Linnaeus University is the only residential campus in Sweden.

But most students I know don’t work in the field of green energy, and are usually – ahem – just a little on the financially strapped side. But the fact that Linnaeus University is the only “American-style” campus  (where everything, including housing, is in one place) in the country sure helps for those who want to make a difference.

Let’s be honest: living on campus has a lot of advantages. First, there’s the fact that it’s perfectly acceptable (though usually not advisable from a fashion standpoint) to wake up three minutes before class, forget the shower, and arrive wearing your pajamas – what I like to call good time management. And second, with the number of transportation options available, saving the environment is not only possible, but can be fun too.

So without further adieu, I present to you Ben’s Campus Transportation Guide 2011. Let’s take a look:

BENJAMIN MACK

Bicycle

Go anywhere in Sweden and you’ll see what amounts to just about everyone, their brother, and their dog Spot riding bicycles. Seriously, according to Bike Europe, more than 500,000 bikes were sold in 2009 alone – meaning about one in every 20 Swedes bought a new bike. And why not? They’re fast, easy to maneuver, and unlike back in the United States not likely to get stolen if you use a lock. Plus, nothing says “Swedish style” like a bright, shiny red bicycle with a basket in front, the purpose of which I am yet to decipher with the advent of the backpack. The problem, though, is that they’re usually pretty expensive, and as I can personally attest, not very fun to ride in the snow.

Advantages: Fast, easily maneuverable, stylish

Drawbacks: Expensive (starting at around 500:- for a low-quality one), uncomfortable in wintry weather and rain, dangerous (need I explain why?)

Foot

BENJAMIN MACK

When you’ve got time and want to get exercise – or are too uncoordinated to ride a bike – nothing beats hoofing it. It’s a great way to explore campus (especially at Linnaeus, where nearby are some of the prettiest forests on earth), and unlike other modes of transportation you can actually hold a conversation while moving.  And in terms of staying in shape, you burn about 189 calories per hour taking a casual stroll at a pace of about five kilometers an hour. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes – high heels or snowshoes are usually not recommended.

Advantages: Easy, allows for conversation, good exercise

Drawbacks: Slow (not good if you’re in a hurry), uncomfortable if wearing wrong shoes 

Bus

If you have to burn fossil fuels, and want to stay warm when travelling long distances in nasty weather, then you might as well take the bus. Buses in Sweden are safe, reliable, and decently fast. They’re usually on-time, and have many stops so you don’t have to go all the way across town to find the nearest one. However, they are often quite expensive (in Växjö, an adult ticket is 20:-, and good for only two hours), with infrequent service nights and weekends.

Advantages: Quick, travel long distances, reliable

Drawbacks: Expensive, infrequent service some nights and weekends

Others

There’s a plethora of other transportation options available, ranging from the somewhat common (skateboards, scooters) to the bizarre (roller skates, pogo sticks). All have their own advantages and disadvantages (particularly roller skates, which require shedding every drop of human dignity). Use at your own discretion.

Overall, there’s nothing quite like living on campus. It’s fun, exciting, and as you’ve probably heard just a few times, life’s a journey, not a destination. And with the above ways of getting around campus, you can make that journey quite an experience.

Or you can take online courses. Couch potatoes rejoice.

BENJAMIN MACK - Teleborgs Slott is a castle located on the edge of Linnaeus University's campus. Many students and visitors enjoy taking a leisurely stroll around the castle grounds and in the surrounding woods.

 

FIELD Trip!

As a kid I looked forward to going to school everyday. It used to be a very exciting; nap time, snack time, recess, gym class and spending the day with your friends made you want to go back everyday.

The older you get the less exciting and more demanding it becomes; going to class, taking notes, writing papers, studying for exams, and intensive group work can become monotonous.

However, there is one thing that makes learning more exciting at any age.

I remember when I was younger and the best days of school were the ones where we went on a field trip. Usually this involved some trip to a nature reserve for a hike, learning how maple syrup is made, skating at the ice rink or to watching a play at the local theatre.

Now that i’m 22 and a masters student, I have to admit the excitement of having a field trip has not changed over the years. There is nothing better than getting on a bus and going for an adventure and still calling it school. It definitely is the best way to spend a school day.

View of the sustainable apartment buildings from the Oak forest in Hammarby Sjöstad

Last week my class took a trip to Hammarby Sjöstad and Understenshöjden in Stockholm to take a look at two sustainable communities. For me, being able to see what we are learning in practice is something that I am more likely to remember than a concept I had to memorize for an exam.

My class on the Hågahögen (Håga Mound) on our trip to Hågaby, Uppsala.

Luckily enough, this is not the only field trip we have been on since the beginning of the program. We have hiked through the Stadsskogen (City forest) to experience the biosphere, travelled to the Sigtunastiftelsen (Sigtuna Foundation) for a very tasty lunch buffet (i’m still not entirely sure what the academic purpose of this one was, but great food and no class for the day means no complaints here), went to Uppsala Vatten to see Uppsala’s water filtration and purification systems, walked to Hågaby to see Uppsala’s own sustainable community and lastly travelled to Stockholm to visit Hammarby and Understenshöjden.

Experiencing the Biosphere in Stadsskogen, Uppsala. Photo: Razvan Sandru

A day in the forest or a day in a trip to another city is always a welcome change from every day life in a class room.

Outside class, its ice and death

BENJAMIN MACK - The Nordmarks' summer house, located near the shores of Lake Helgasjön north of Växjö. The house has been in the family since 1907.

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a penchant for over-dramatizing things, making even the most ordinary days sound like they came straight from one of the “Die Hard” movies. And since I’ve been in Sweden, I’ll admit that I’ve sometimes made things sound much more extraordinary than they really are.

But when I say jumping into a frozen lake recently was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, I’m not kidding.

In my usual flair for theatrics, I thought leaping into an ice-coated body of water wearing only a bathing suit would be a great thing to write about. While that’s debatable, one thing I can say is I have never known cold like the waters of Lake Helgasjön, located just north of Växjö.

And mind you, I’ve dealt with below-zero temperatures on more than a few occasions.

Nothing has ever come close to the cold I had to endure, a numbing of the body so intense it even made my last breakup – which caught me so much by surprise I had just gotten out of the shower when it happened – seem enjoyable by comparison.

But I also have a weakness for not being able to say no to things. Some friends wanted to travel to Yellowstone for Spring Break, spending a week with nothing but freezing temperatures and grizzly bears. I said yes. When Girl Scouts appeared at my door last summer selling cookies, of course I bought some. And when my host family, the Nordmarks, invited me to their “summer” house for the day, I couldn’t refuse.

One cool thing about being an exchange student at Linnaeus is this: every student has the opportunity to be paired with a host family to show them what life in Sweden is like outside the classroom, student pubs, and the cultural enigma/tourist black hole known as Stockholm. And as far as host families go, mine is pretty cool – minus the fact that someway, somehow, I get the feeling they’re going to be witnesses to my untimely demise.

With the exception of trying to retrieve the head of a drill used to make holes in ice that had fallen into the lake – by ingeniously attaching a magnet on the end of a string – most of the day was going pretty normally by Swedish standards.

We were sitting in the sauna my host father Lennart had built several years earlier, losing large amounts of weight in temperatures well above 100 Celsius, when he proposed something radical: a dip into the lake. I laughed; there was no way he was serious.

But then I saw his face. He wasn’t joking. In that instant I knew this wasn’t going to end well.

Crazy as it was, I couldn’t exactly say no. I often crave attention, and this would definitely get me more than just a little of it. Plus, I didn’t want to give the impression that Americans were wimps. The hopes of a nation of over 300 million people were riding on me. It was my patriotic duty to do this. For some reason I suddenly had images of the fall of the Roman Empire.

I slipped on some flip-flops, threw on my bathrobe, and plunged into the blinding light shining through the open door and out into the subarctic air.

Lennart took the lead, sprinting to the hole we had sawed earlier in 40 centimeter-thick  ice. He hopped in without missing a beat. Within seconds, he was out.

BENJAMIN MACK - Växjösjön is another lake located near Växjö. According to locals, during some particularly harsh winters it is possible to drive a car across it.

Now it was my turn. I said a silent prayer.

“You don’t have a heart problem do you?” Lennart asked through chattering teeth, breath more visible than Charlie Sheen’s alcoholism.

For perhaps the first time in human history, I actually wished I did.

I disrobed, already shivering. I threw off my flip-flops, and leaped in. I was genuinely surprised my life didn’t flash before my eyes, or think about that within a couple of seconds I might very well find out if there’s an afterlife.

The cold hit me with the equivalent force of a charging bull. Blasting, penetrating, all-encompassing. “Bone-chilling” didn’t even begin to describe it.

My body was shutting down. I needed to get out faster than the Shah in Iran.

Summoning my last reserves of strength, I exploded out of the water. For the first time in my life I actually saw what the benefits of being on swim teams for more than 10 years were.

Almost slipping on the ice, I threw on my robe, grabbed my shoes and ran back to the sauna. If only the Guinness World Records people had been on hand.

Feeling was just beginning to return to my body after near-death encounter No. 413 of my life when Lennart walked in.

“It’s cold, isn’t it?” he said of the lake.

“Not as cold as I thought it would be,” I lied.

If Pinocchio had been in my place, his nose would have reached all the way to Norway.

Daily Life: A Canadian Studying in Sweden


An afternoon fika! Photo: pixelthing/Flickr

Every day in Sweden tends to differ a little from the last; although, I can say that there are a few things that are very consistent: class, fika, and social gatherings.

While I usually go to school everyday of the week, not everyday is spent in a classroom. Typically, courses have 2-3 lectures a week (if studying 100%), but this is also combined with group work and discussions. Because students are from all over the world, group discussions always prove to be very interesting with many differing opinions. It’s the perfect combination of classroom learning and team collaboration.

After a long, hard day of work there is nothing better than sitting down with friends and enjoying a fika. A Swedish tradition adopted by all international students, occurs when friends meet in a cozy cafe for coffee and cakes. There is nothing more relaxing than talking about your day and catching up with friends over coffee and sweets.

After a caffeine injection and some further reading for courses, there are many opportunities to meet up with classmates and get to know each other. Nations provide the perfect meeting place to buy cheap food and drinks, to sit and chat, and even dance all night. However, I still believe that the best way to meet is for everyone to bring homemade food from their countries to share. There is no better way to meet new friends then over delicious food!

An international food spread from a class dinner. Photo: Wowwow Ja

Everyday in Sweden provides the perfect balance of academics with real-life learning. With 52 countries represented in my course, there is no shortage of new food, new cultures and new friends. Without a doubt, everyday you learn something new.

 

 

Leaving the Homeland… Again

I first came to find myself in Sweden to study as an undergraduate student on exchange from my University in Canada. After studying for three and half years in the capital, Ottawa, I was ready for a change in scenery, a new adventure. Sweden turned out to be the perfect place. The campus proved to be the best location to fully experience Swedish student culture with school and social life. The late night campfires by the lake, picnics, walks through the forest and daily fikas had me dreaming it would never end.

Uppsala in winter time. Photo: Razvan Sandru

After studying for six months at Växjö University (now Linnaeus University) I knew I wanted to come back. Luckily for me, my exchange semester was the last of my undergraduate degree, meaning I could apply for a Masters program and return in another 6 short months.

I decided to apply to Uppsala University for their Sustainable Development Program. The lure of a small student town, yet still close to Stockholm sounded like the perfect location. The many stories and long history of Uppsala’s 13 nations intrigued the student in me; cheap food and drinks, fancy gasques, choirs and sports are combined to create an original experience like no other in the world. The environment that surrounds the city and the opportunity to be outdoors also attracted me. And so I was to return, this time to Uppsala.

I left the land of bathtubs, maple syrup, and poutine (french fries with cheese curds and gravy) to return for an adventure in the new world of fikas, meatballs, and glögg.