Monthly archives: May 2011

A Carnival of Cultures

Upon arriving to Sweden, it is without a doubt that you will realize the diversity of cultures that exists. The students you will live or go to school with is just the beginning of the diversity you will be able to discover.

While many of these cultures are showcased by local restaurants, cafes, student groups or dance teams around the city, there are also many festivals that take place in Sweden.

These festivals give you the opportunity to understand more about some of the different cultures that exist. Usually you can try some traditional food, listen to different styles of music or watch some cultural dancing.

This past weekend the third annual Kulturenas Karneval (Carnival of the Cultures) took place in Uppsala. The idea of the carnival is to display and present some of the great cultural diversity in art, food, music and dance that exists within the city.

The feature of the carnival is the parade that sets off the day. The procession was filled with many different cultural dance groups from many countries, including a skillful acrobatic team tossing each other around, despite the threat of hard pavement below. The bright and barely there costumes along with the powerful drum beats made for an exciting parade.

Some of the dancers from the Carnival of Cultures Parade. Photos by: Kristin Follis

The rest of the day was filled with a food and craft market, film festival, dance and theater, live music, arts and crafts, as well as workshops for kids. There was an abundance of food from fresh Swedish fika breads to Ethiopian lentils to ecological hamburgers and even some Mexican corn on the cob and quesadillas.

The live music continued into the night featuring salsa, cumbia, rock and Moroccan styles. Also included was a number of different dance performances from styles all over the world.

Sweden’s culture diversity is without a doubt one of the greatest benefits to becoming a student here. Not only will you meet people from all over the world in your corridor and classes but also within the cities. Festivals and Carnivals like the one in Uppsala are great examples of how these cultures can be displayed and appreciated. And really, who doesn’t enjoy some salsa dancing and homemade traditional Ethiopian food all in one day?

The acrobats from the parade had some crazy stunts! Photo by: Kristin Follis

Hej, Buddy!

It was 5 p.m. on a Thursday. I had only just arrived in Sweden the night before, and I was exhausted. I had been sleeping for the last 24 hours, and hadn’t even unpacked my bags. I was still wearing the same clothes I had worn when my first flight left Portland, Ore. early Tuesday morning, and I hadn’t showered since Monday.

Your student "buddy" will be key to your survival your first few days in Sweden. Photo: Martin Winberg

Suddenly, there was a sound similar to a fire alarm going off. Harsh, piercing, and out of key, it caused me to rise a good 30 centimeters vertically from my bed. Startled, I wondered what it was. Then it sounded again. And again. It was my doorbell.

Normally I would have thought who the heck would be ringing my door when I’d just arrived, and especially when I had only even physically seen about four people and a dog in Växjö so far.

I limped over to the door, jolted by the doorbell’s unexpected similarities to a jet engine but eyes still half-shut with exhaustion. I opened the door, and in front of me stood an attractive, smiling brunette Swedish girl.

I had died and gone to Heaven. Either that, or this was the prelude to a rather raunchy and decidedly real-looking dream.

My jaw dropped.

“My name’s Sara,” she said, seemingly unperturbed by my reaction or what God only knows I smelled like, “and I’m your buddy.”

Within ten minutes, I was waist-deep in a field trip at the grocery store, having the history of practically every item explained and why it’s sold in Swedish grocery stores. On a more practical level, I was shown how to shop at a grocery store and told what the different words on the cans and boxes meant – all the more important considering I hadn’t been to a grocery store even in the U.S. in several months.

Walking home later that evening, carrying half a dozen bags of food that would spoil within a couple of days, I knew the whole buddy thing was worth it.

In short, international students at Linnaeus University are paired with a Swedish “buddy” who helps orient them to the university, shows them around, and helps them adjust to life in Sweden. Basically, they’re your best friend and the key to your survival.

Ah, nothing like forced friendship! Suspicious, no? Well, it’s not, Nuenen.

The buddies are not paid for their services, and don’t even get any kind of academic incentive. In other words, they’re volunteers who simply want to help exchange students.

And they really do help. If it wasn’t for my buddy, I would have starved to death a long, long time ago, and died a very lonely man.

You and your buddy will inevitably become fast friends. Photo: Ben Mack

But thanks to my Swedish-born, spends-her-summers-living-in-Houston-Texas buddy, I not only was able to survive, but to thrive. She introduced me to some of her friends, and now I can say most of my friends are Swedish. And no, we don’t usually debate which ABBA song is the best or swap meatball recipes.

I’ll issue a disclaimer: you and your buddy may or may not become attached at the hip. Chances are, you’ll be seeing a lot of each other. I know my buddy and I have. It’s like having a big brother or a big sister, only not having to worry about having gum placed in your hair or ice poured down your pants.

Unless you’re an anti-social hermit who prefers to converse with rocks, trees, or the flocks (more like swarms) of geese, you should get a buddy. All you have to do is email the international office, and they’ll show you what to do. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

And if for some reason you do, I promise to eat crow.

An International Food Party!

Perogies, guacamole, meatballs, tortillas, tom yum gai, carbonara, paella, naan, dumplings… the options are endless.

The best part about studying in Sweden is the diversity in every class. Not only does this contribute to interesting discussions in class, but it also means getting to know many different cultures.

A typical corridor dinner! Photo By: Mararie (CC BY SA)

Coming to a new country, far away from your home, family and friends, can be difficult, but meeting new people is never difficult. Most exchange students live in corridors where you have your own room and share a large kitchen and living area with 8-15 other students from all over the world.

One of the best ways to take advantage of this diversity is to take turns cooking some food and EATING.

My program started in the end of August last year with just over 100 students representing approximately 52 nations. Most people were thinking ‘wow… we represent a huge percentage of countries in the world’; I, however, was thinking ‘wow… imagine of all the good food that people can make’!

And thankfully I wasn’t the only one. A month after the first day all 100 of us met in a common room near the student housing area to have an international food party. The selections included Indian, Thai, Swedish, Chinese, French Canadian, and even included an American classic, root beer floats.

The result of an international food party! Photo by: Wowwow Ja

And of course, it’s even better if you can actually learn how to cook. Next time you go home for a visit you can dazzle your friends and family by cooking some spicy Thai soup, Russian pelmeni or an Indian masala.

There is no doubt that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. And, there is no better way to unite a diverse class or a corridor than to share food from all over the world. I can assure you the food will be amazing!

So remember when your leaving for your studies in Sweden, don’t forget your recipes to your favorite homemade food!

Secrets of the student visa

My job here at the Swedish Institute is to provide you, the reader, with information about what it’s like to study and how to go about studying in Sweden, providing you with facts, figures, personal anecdotes and, oh yeah, lots of tips and tricks.

Without a student visa, I wouldn't be about to board my flight to Sweden. Photo: Jennifer Mack

One of the most common questions is this: “Ben, how do you get a Swedish student visa?”

If I were a good journalist, I’d be able to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to get one.

But I can’t really do that, because for me getting a student visa was easier than trying to figure out what I want to order at Starbucks.

Really, it was no sweat at all. All I did was research what I needed to do, scheduled an appointment with the nearest Swedish consulate (in my case Seattle, Wash., but since moved to nearby Kirkland), gathered the required documents, went on a harrowing road trip that involved copious amounts of driving at unsafe speeds, warnings from local law enforcement officers for said driving, a two-hour search for a parking spot in one of the most confusing cities on earth, another half hour trying to figure out exactly where inside the tall office building with a view of the Puget Sound the consulate was, and then another two hours chatting with the blonde consular agent about everything from Playmobil to the Boy Scouts – even though she told me within the first five minutes my visa would be approved. In other words, I took more extra steps than Kobe Bryant in the NBA playoffs.

But seriously, applying for a student visa is less scary than going to the grocery store (one should always be wary of falling boxes of cereal). As Barack Obama might say, let me explain.

Unless you’re from a country that’s part of the European Union, chances are you’ll need a visa if you’re studying for more than 90 days (and you should be: Sweden is far too pretty to spend less than three months in). To find out, check out this list.

According to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), you have two ways to apply for a visa:

  • - By mail. Remember to use enough postage.
  • - Schedule an appointment and visit an embassy or consulate in person. As a single man, I’m always on the lookout for Mrs. Right.

Though some may think otherwise, obtaining a Swedish student visa's a breeze. Photo: Sari Kiviharju

“That’s fine,” you’re saying to yourself, “but how the heck do I actually get a visa? What do I need?”

When applying, you’ll need the following documents:

  • - Completed application form. Forms can be found here.
  • - Copies of the pages of your passport that show your identity, the validity period of your passport and whether you have permits to be in countries other than your native country.
  • - Two photographs in passport format, taken from the front and that are less than six months old .
  • - A certificate stating that you have been admitted to full-time study at the Swedish university you’ll be studying at.
  • - Receipt of paid application fee of 1000 SEK (about $167).
  • - Proof that you have comprehensive health insurance that is valid in Sweden if you plan to study for less than one year.
  • - Proof that you can support yourself financially while in Sweden.

The last question was the one that scared me. I knew Sweden was expensive, but I didn’t know if I would be able to prove I had 7300 kronor a month. I went to the different banks where I have accounts and obtained statements on my finances, deciding that speaking to someone at the Swedish consulate would be the best thing to do in case they had questions.

Located in the heart of downtown Seattle and, conveniently, right by the famous Pike Place Market and the world’s first Starbucks, the consulate was much, much friendlier-looking than I had envisioned it. I was expecting three meter high barbed wire fences and armed guards, but instead the place had to share an office with a cell phone company, and was so inconspicuous that the first businessman I asked inside the 42-story skyscraper didn’t even know there was a Swedish consulate in Seattle. As a man, it’s degrading enough to have to ask where to find something, but having to ask again is just pure torment – especially when you’re there with your own father.

Unless you're from the EU, chances are you'll need a student visa to study in Sweden. Photo: Sari Kiviharju

But the torment ended there. After a brief moment of epiphany in which I realized I had overdressed for my appointment (I normally hate wearing dress shirts, slacks, and ties with the same passion Helsingborgs IF supporters despise anything relating Malmö FF), the rest of my time was devoid of any blood pressure-raising revelations. The consular agent took my documents, and in less than two months I got my passport back in the mail – with a large, shiny page-sized sticker inside.

Just be aware that if you apply for a student visa, you won’t get a sticker. You’ll get a card instead, a free souvenir that marks the first step on the study abroad journey.

Makes applying to study in Sweden again worth it just for that.

The Peculiarities of a Swedish Classroom

Living and studying in a new foreign country will definitely require some adjustments to your regular lifestyle. Every time you come to a new country it is easy to notice the differences in everyday life from your home. Well, studying in Sweden is no exception.

Spending lots of time in Swedish classrooms was definitely not an experience I was used to or where I expected to see so many differences from my university life in Canada.

So here are some interesting things to know before stepping into that Swedish classroom:

  1. Teachers usually go by their first names. There is no Dr., Mr./Mrs. or Professor. Usually students have a much more casual and relaxed relationship with their professors and go on a first name basis.
  2. Questions are always encouraged. There is no need to sit there wondering what is going on or what this person is talking about because you don’t need to hold your question until the end of the lecture!
  3. Discussions are frequent. It doesn’t matter if it was started by the teacher or by the student, side conversations and discussions are encouraged. It has happened where the whole lecture has been taken over by a some debate between students and professors.
  4. There are many different professors for one class. You may have 10 or plus different teachers for only one class. Each professor teachers on their specialities as opposed to having one professor teach on the subjects they are not familiar with.
  5. There are breaks every hour. In Swedish classrooms the idea is that when students have a break for 10 minutes every hour they focus more during the lesson.
  6. The room is usually below 18 degrees Celsius. Studies have shown that students are more likely to stay awake if the room is cold. At least this is what I was told when I was freezing in class all winter. So make sure to wear a sweater!
  7. There are not always lectures every day. A lot of the time for class is spent either in group work or working on your own. Swedish education is much more based on individual responsibility. If you don’t do the readings you won’t learn anything.

Lecture hall and study area from The Stockholm School of Economics. Photos By: Wrote (CC BY)

While it may seem that studying is the same all over the world, there are many little peculiarities you will notice everyday when you arrive to Sweden. It is probably the little differences from your home country you will notice the most. The best way to cope with all the changes is to enjoy them. There is nothing better than a 10 minute fika break from class every hour to brighten up your day!