Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Studying in Sweden

               I'll be taking a page out of the Hairy Swede's book for the moment. He likes to give tips and tell people a little bit about what to expect when moving to Sweden. Since I'm a student, I thought it might be a good idea to give a little bit of information on what to expect for anyone thinking of studying in Sweden.
                First, I would advise you to be European. It's a good thing to be from certain countries within Europe if you are going to school in Sweden. The university system here used to be free for anyone who wanted to study. This rule was recently changed and now only people with citizenship from countries within the EU/EEA (European Union/European Economic Area) get free tuition. The rules changed starting in the 2011/2012 school year. Officials wanted their schools to be able to compete globally, and the best way to do that was to introduce fees to discourage people from going to school simply because it was free. The fees definitely make it a little harder to rationalize schooling for the sake of schooling when it costs so much and roots out the lazy people and presumably only the really motivated people will be willing to pay.
                Don't despair, though. Tuition-paying students are eligible for grants and scholarships provided by the Swedish government. There is always help if you know where to look for it. 30 million SEK is awarded to students from certain countries that have had long-standing cooperation with Sweden (Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc) and this year there is a general fund for all students from outside the EU/EEA for 60 million SEK. For those Americans counting at home that's almost 8.9 million US dollars. Not too shabby or a country with only about 9.5 million citizens.    
                Also, I'm not entirely sure about all schools in Sweden, but where I'm studying, those students from outside the EU/EEA are guaranteed housing. That means that you don't have to go through the hassle of trying to find a place to live. And trust me, it's a pain in the ass. If you've read Hairy's previous tips, you'll know that it's very hard to find housing here. And expensive. And it takes forever. And you don't really get a whole lot of space for what you're paying for. Seriously. I've been on a list for about 6 months now and I think I've moved up about four places for a room that's right around 20 square meters (215 square feet) and is close to 800 US dollars a month. I was lucky enough to have connections and found a place, but take my advice: If you even think you have the slightest interest in moving here, start looking now.
                There are also differences in the schooling system. The biggest change for me is going to be the class schedule. At my American university, I signed up for 4 or 5 classes in the spring and I would start all of those classes, having a few a day. This would last from about September to December, when we would have final exams before Winter break and start all new classes when we came back in January. Not so here. I am currently taking one class. I have one class a day. It is the same class. Each day there is a different lecturer. Each day it is in a different place. This will go on for about 5 or 6 weeks, then I'll take an exam and start another class. The semester begins in September and ends in mid January (yes, there is a winter break and yes it does take a chunk out of the semester - exams are only a week or two after the break is over). I know there are some universities in America that take this approach to coursework, but I also know that it's fairly rare. The idea is that you get more in-depth and focused coursework over the course of several weeks. I've only had two in-class sessions so far, so I can't really say whether it's good or bad. I understand why it could be good, though. There is more time to study when there's only one subject to study, so you can get a whole lot more out of the time you have. Also, with only one class at a time, you don't have to worry about finals week where your entire grade rests on one test at the end of the semester, multiplied by the number of classes you're taking. It will take some getting used to, but it should be good (hopefully).
                If this is too big of a change for you, don't worry. They let you retake exams. As many times as you want . My program actually has a 4 re-take limit. But the fact remains that I can take one exam four different times until I get it right. If you fail two times, you can request to have a new person administer the exam. You know, in case that person is out to get you. Apparently it's a sort of unwritten rule that on your tenth time taking the same exam, you're supposed to wear a tuxedo jacket. They like to keep it classy here in Sweden.
                One thing that doesn't change is that books are still super expensive. So where ever you are, you can be sure that you'll pay way too much for a book that you really don't want to read. So there's that.
                The take-home lesson here, though, is that school is different here, for better or for worse is up to you to decide. I'm taking it all in right now and enjoying it, and if you're interested in school, take a look. You might find something that intrigues you. I was intrigued, and I will get an education here.

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