Hej! I’m Jessica. I have just returned from a semester-exchange at Lund University, Sweden, where I completed a free-standing course in Advanced Neuroscience. My time at Lund was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. It was filled with many adventures, new friends and LOTS of fika. More importantly – it was an extremely eye-opening educational experience. For these reasons, I would highly recommend Lund University as your university of choice when considering studying abroad.
Alright so honestly, this is the most stressful yet exciting time of the entire experience.
The difficult part: I’m a bit of a “stresser” by nature (Stressy-Jessy if you will), so this period was quite tough for me! Be prepared for a lot of administration and a lot of emails back and forth. But I promise you – every. single. second. spent organising this exchange will be so, so worth it.
The exciting part: This time is filled with so much uncertainty and possibility that you can’t help but dream about what it’s going to be like. I did as much research into Sweden and Lund that I possibly could so that I had a rough idea of what to expect.
Because you never really know what it’s going to be like until you’ve arrived, and you can only control so much – there comes a point after all your preparation where you just have to let it be!
Here are a few tips I learnt along the way:
- Be organised. Have a ‘To do’ list and make sure you cross things off as you make your way through it.
Here’s an example of mine:
- Stay on top of things and keep records of everything (printed and kept in a flip file and also electronically where you can easily access it from anywhere).
- Speak to your coordinators! My International Coordinators at both Stellenbosch University and Lund University really helped me stay organised – they were also always available whenever I had any questions.
- Make sure you say your proper goodbyes, as 6 months (or in my case 8 – read below to find out why), is a long time!
Experience at Lund University:
I arrived in Lund a few days before the official Arrival Day. In hindsight I’m glad I did this, as it allowed me to settle in and get my bearings before the whirlwind that was Arrival Week commenced. I spent those few days wondering aimlessly around the town with no destination in mind, trying to soak it all in. This was going to be my home for the next semester. It was a concept that took me quite a while to come to terms with, but I was beyond excited to start this new journey. The weather in August was superb. I had no idea I was going to be treated with ~25˚C and clear, sunny skies. My grocery store visits took ages initially, and it was here where Google Translate became my best friend.
Lund University has an incredible orientation programme for international students, and it is an amazing opportunity to make friends. I took full advantage of the jam-packed programme and attended as many activities as I could, making many close friends along the way. This orientation period really sets you up for the rest of your time in Sweden – you get a taste of the Swedish culture, history, nature and cuisine. I took a 3 credit Swedish language course during these 2 weeks and learnt the basics of Swedish which was incredibly helpful in daily life (read: grocery store). I would also highly advise taking the semester-long Swedish language course if possible, as things will get busy and the structured learning environment will give you a big advantage.
Lund is a small, quaint town and thus its no surprise that the main mode of transport is a bicycle. It only takes about 20 minutes to get from one side of Lund to the other, and the best part – it’s completely FREE. Lund also has a very efficient public transport system, and so getting anywhere by bus or train is completely hassle-free, using the Skånetrafiken app. Remember – it’s always cheaper to buy your ticket with a friend! My friends and I took trains to Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Kivik, Stockholm and Kiruna (a 22 hour train ride to the very north of Sweden!).
I took the semester-long Advanced Course in Neuroscience, which consists of a research project performed in a lab within the Wallenberg Neuroscience Institute. I ensured I could incorporate this research project into my MSc thesis at Stellenbosch University. My research at Lund was a complete learning-curve for me, however it was so rewarding to be able to work in a lab practicing such progressive techniques. I also thoroughly enjoyed interacting with everyone in the department – there was “Fika” twice a day where everyone on the floor mingled over coffee and treats. After my research project had finished, I was given the opportunity to stay for an additional 2 months as an intern, where I continued with the project and learnt additional techniques – this is how I stayed for a total of 8 months in Lund.
A few tips regarding life in Lund:
On saving money:
- Shop at Lidl and Willy’s and try avoid ICA and Coop if possible (These can get quite pricey)
- Meeting friends at cafés and restaurants in Lund is expensive when you’re a South African on a budget (I’m talking about R100 for a beer, and minimum R150 for a plain burger). I’d suggest making use of the Student Nations (which are the student associations i.e. student prices) as well as socialising at friend’s houses (we would often make dinners together, watch a movie, play boardgames, etc.)
- There is a Facebook Group called “Lend JoJo card Lund”, where you can borrow people’s train tickets at a discounted price. This is especially useful if you’re wanting to go somewhere like Copenhagen in which it’s a standard R230 for a one way ticket.
- If you’re looking to travel to nearby countries whilst abroad – Ryanair has some really good deals – my friend and I found R50 tickets to Poland (!).
On activities/events in and near Lund:
- Keep an eye on Facebook events! The student nations as well as the Lund International Office (and other organisations) often post their events on Facebook so you can easily find events that interest you. Either follow these organisations or click the “Happening near me” link on Facebook, or simply look at events your friends have responded to.
- In Winter, Lund has an initiative called “VinterLund”. This is essentially a bunch of activities for the residents of Lund with the aim of keeping away the “winter blues”. They have events over the period November to the end of December with a central Christmas theme. Examples of such events is the celebratory lighting of the giant Christmas tree in Lund Town Square, as well as several Christmas markets, including one in Lund’s historical museum.
- Malmö is a big city situated 10 minutes from Lund by train (think of it as the Cape Town to Stellenbosch). There are many interesting things to do in Malmö so I’d highly recommend going there as often as you can, even if it’s just to escape the “small town feel” that one can often get (I know I even get this feeling living in Stellenbosch).
Some things to do/see in Malmö:
- The Disgusting Food Museum (Okay this is a must – It’s horrible yet satisfying at the same time)
- The City Library is stunning. I’d highly recommend having a study day there.
- There are some really great Bageri’s (Bakeries) in Malmö, such as Bageri Leve and Söderberg & Sara.
- Second Hand Stores – Vintage shopping is a really big thing in Sweden. There are a few really nice and big second hand stores in Malmö, especially on the main shopping street (Sodergatan).
- Art Galleries (Kunsthall is free for the public).
- Christmas Markets, International Food markets, other events (Check Facebook)
- Ice Hockey Games (Ice rink at Hyllie station)
- Shopping Mall (Triangeln, Emporia at Hyllie)
- Hiking spots: Kullaberg Nature Reserve, Soderåsen National Park, Måklappen
- Copenhagen is a must-see! It is honestly one of the most magical cities I’ve been to. The New Harbour (NyHavn) should definitely be at the top of your list. During Christmas time I went to the Amusement Park called Tivoli, as they have a HUGE Christmas market. It’s perfect for getting into the Christmas spirit.
- Dalby is a quarry about 20 minutes from Lund which is now filled with water. It is especially beautiful in summer, where students often go there to swim.
- Lomma is a beach 10 minutes from Lund and is also a great swimming destination in summer.
- Sauna – Swedes LOVE a good sauna. They’re especially obsessed with the notion of swapping from sauna to the ice cold sea/lake and back again.
- Lund has plenty of saunas nearby.
Return to Stellenbosch
I returned back home one week prior to my original departure date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arriving home was a bit of a whirlwind. I started my 2 week quarantine as soon as I arrived and the nationwide lockdown was implemented one week after. The main feeling I experienced was that “Everything had changed, but yet nothing had changed at all”.
My time at Lund feels a bit like a dream, and I’ve just woken up. I think it’s important to remind myself that everyone who has studied abroad feels this way, and that one should just continue to treasure the memories made with friends. I also believe that the unique experience makes for a powerful bond between you and your friends. I’ve been making a concerted effort to keep in touch with all the friends I made in Lund, and I already have future travel plans with a few of them. All in all, my time abroad has made me more appreciative of time spent with family and friends, as sometimes it is only fleeting.
Studying abroad made me appreciate the diversity present in the scientific world. It taught me that communication is vital among colleagues and that it should be prioritised to a great extent in any department. It also showed me that a collaborative effort is often more fruitful than working independently. Lund University is largely an international university, and I appreciated the diversity of cultures and will be more inclined to that type of environment when making future plans. Lastly, Sweden is an extremely progressive society, where equality among the sexes is extremely prominent, and there is limited weight placed on hierarchy and authority. This was extremely refreshing, as it is something I am not accustomed to in South Africa. It is inspiring and I believe that with consistency and education, South Africa can too (and NEEDS to) achieve this state.