Exchange Students in Karlstad

The exchange students who are studying in Karlstad right now might all come from different countries across Europe but most of them have one thing in common: Back when they applied for their exchange semester, they probably imagined it to be completely different then it actually turned out. Most likely, they had already signed up for it before the corona virus outbreak happened and planned on partying, travelling, meeting new people, and spending time at university. As we all know, a pandemic happened in between and completely altered those plans. We spoke to five exchange students to see how they are coping with these unforeseen circumstances.They told us what motivated them to come to Karlstad, how they are experiencing life on campus, and how studying here is different to their home universities.

Sarah, 21, Master Journalism and Communication
Sarah originally comes from Vienna and studies Journalism and Communication there. “I was always sure that I wanted to come to Karlstad despite the pandemic situation”, she says –  but until the last minute it wasn’t clear whether her university would allow her to. When her university finally decided on the 15th of December that it was ok for her to come to Karlstad, she got really lucky. Just two days later, her university ranked Sweden as a high-risk country which means Sarah would not have been allowed to come here any longer. And the chaos didn’t stop here: when travelling to Karlstad, Sarah missed her connecting train from the Stockholm airport by ten minutes and had to wait there for four hours. When she finally arrived in Karlstad, the KBAB office was not open anymore; so she couldn’t fetch her room keys and had to book a hotel room spontaneously.

But ever since she has settled in, Sarah has really enjoyed the experience. “Before I came here, I wasn’t sure what to expect of living in a shared student accommodation because at home I still live with my parents”, she explained. Luckily, she gets along very well with her floor mates and spends plenty of time with them. In general, she is very happy to meet so many new people and get in contact with other students.

Sarah feeding reindeers in Lapland @ Sarah S.

For her, one of the main reasons to pick Sweden for her Erasmus semester was the impressive Scandinavian landscape. She was particularly keen on making a trip to Lapland and  has already fulfilled this dream by spending a week there in February.  Another main motivation for coming to Karlstad was that she wanted to live in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language and also see what it is like having lectures in English.
Sarah didn’t have any concrete expectations how studying here would be like but she quickly learned that you need to be more self-organized as a student. She has fewer contact hours than in Vienna but is expected to do more work on her own. “One thing I like about the system here, is that you don’t have three or four courses at the same time but rather one or two which change throughout the semester”, she explains. Like this, you are able to focus more on the specific subjects.
Compared to her home country, the corona restrictions in Sweden are quite different. “At the beginning it was really weird that people weren’t wearing masks in the bus or at the supermarket”, Sarah says. She personally still wears a mask when grocery shopping and also tries to avoid the parties at campus. She assumes that if it wasn’t for Corona, she would have spent more time in the university itself and her life would have also been more “social”. Is she sad that her exchange semester is slightly different than what previous students experienced? “Sad isn’t the right word, maybe a little bit melancholic”, Sarah says – but all in all, she still considers it a great exchange semester and is very happy with her decision to come here.

Phil, 28, finished his Master’s in Computer Science in Karlstad

Phil at the Swedish Westcoast @ Phil A.

Phil originally came here in August 2020 to finish his Master’s thesis and now signed a contract with the Karlstad University for three more years as project assistant. He was very keen on coming to Karlstad because it was his last chance to do an exchange semester during his studies. But like Sarah, he was lucky to actually get here because at first, his home university in Osnabrück (Germany) wouldn’t allow him to. Then, during one week in August, when the university ranked Sweden as a safe country for an exchange semester, “we quickly got in the car and travelled here”, Phil explains. And then he got lucky again: even though he forgot his ID at home, he was still allowed to enter the country, because his mother could quickly send him a photo of the ID.
He had previously spent two months in Sweden, so he roughly knew what to expect of the Swedish lifestyle. H already knew that life here is more focused on social aspects and less on work and productivity – at least in comparison to Germany. Other than that, he expected the Swedish university system to be similar to the German one, but realised quickly that students here need to be more self-organized and in the end, actually preferred this way of studying. When writing his master’s thesis here, he needed to be more self-reliant as well and had to present it to a bigger audience than he would have to in Germany, once he finished. In addition to those differences, Phil also got the feeling that the Karlstad University was better prepared for online learning than most of the German universities were.

Before coming here, he naturally was looking forward to having less corona-related restrictions than in Germany and also to meeting people from all over the world. He enjoys the Scandinavian nature and thus travelled a lot – his highlights were trips to Glaskogen, Kiruna, Sydkoster and the West coast of Sweden. While travelling was still possible, there were other things he couldn’t experience due to Corona. “I am a little bit sad that there are no big parties taking place anymore”, Phil admits. He also assumes that he would meet more Swedish people as an exchange student if it wasn’t for Corona. “Most likely, I would have also spent more time in the city itself”, Phil thinks. Even though there are several downsides to the current situation, he is still very thankful that Swedish universities are still accepting foreign exchange students.

Dilara, 27, Master Marketing 
Dilara originally comes from Turkey and did her Bachelor’s degree in Istanbul. After that, she decided to go Germany for her Master’s and to spend her exchange year in Karlstad. Before she came here, she expected Sweden to be really modern and a great place to live in. One of the few things that concerned her was the weather. She anticipated it to be super cold and considered it difficult to live in a country where it is dark for most parts of the day during winter. To her own surprise, she didn’t really notice a big difference to living in Germany and quickly got accustomed to the circumstances. She tried to make the best of the winter weather and was especially keen on going ice skating on one of the frozen lakes but unfortunately, at that point, the ice had already melted. At the beginning she was also really eager to see the Northern lights, but soon learned that it is barely ever possible in Karlstad and you’d need to travel further North for that.
Unfortunately, Dilara didn’t have time to do so yet because her university schedule has been packed. Before coming here, she expected the university system to be similar to Germany and was surprised about the differences. “The professors here expect more prior knowledge and there is less time for deadlines”, Dilara explains. For her, that made studying here more stressful. She also had to sit her first ever five hour exam in Karlstad and, as a side effect of the stressful exam phase, finished a book in three days for the first time in her life. In general, she copes well with the online learning because she considers her courses here to be really interactive and enjoys the smaller group sizes. She also likes that students here have a closer relationship to the professors and, for example, call them by their first names. Contrary to her university experience, she considers the Swedish lifestyle in general to be more relaxed and less hectic than in Germany or Turkey. 

Dilara in front of the university building © Dilara E.

Dilara especially likes the dormitory environment: “In Germany, I also live in student accommodation, but it is way nicer here”. She is also really happy with her room – “I prefer to study in my room, because I have such a nice view. It almost feels like on vacation”, she says. So at least Dilara is not too sad that access to the library is currently restricted. Even though she greatly appreciates the freedom she has here because the corona restrictions are looser, she couldn’t really make use of that freedom yet because her schedule is so packed. “Students who come here should know that it is really demanding and you need to be prepared for a lot of deadlines”, Dilara adds. Next to her studies she also continues to work her job in Germany, in the sales department of a French company. Because she can do her job from home, she was able to keep it during her exchange semester – at least one advantage of the whole corona and home office situation. One thing that has disappointed her slightly is the lack of job opportunities in Sweden. Before coming to Karlstad, she considered finding a job here and staying for longer but since there are not as many open jobs as she had hoped for, she will most likely return to Germany for that.

Lune, 21, Bachelor Advertising and PR
Lune studies Advertising and PR in Málaga and is currently in her second exchange semester in Karlstad since she already arrived here in August 2020. Her original plan was to go to Japan, but since that didn’t work out because of the pandemic, she decided to spend her year abroad in a Scandinavian country instead. She wasn’t really able to plan her exchange for a long time, because she only knew shortly before whether she could come – “but I knew that I wanted to come if it is possible. It was always a big dream of mine to do an exchange semester”, she adds. To get at least some idea where she is going to live for the next year, she looked up the student accommodations on Google Maps. And living together with other students wasn’t something new for her because in Málaga she also shares a flat. Still, she was very surprised how much life there still is on campus even during online learning – “but I would have expected to meet more students in the corridors”, Lune adds. She enjoys living so close to her friends and that all the houses are only a few metres apart from each other. Before moving to Karlstad, Lune was a little bit worried that there might be “too much” nature and too little city life. Indeed, she misses life in a bigger city a bit but still likes Karlstad’s cozy town centre. Lune also started to appreciate the Swedish nature more since she’s come here and enjoys being surrounded by forrests and lakes.

© Lune H.

Before coming here, she expected the university to be more modern and the courses to be more practical than at her home university – and her expectations have been fulfilled so far. Lune, like the other exchange students, also quickly figured out that she needs to be more self-organized and has less classes in Karlstad. She feels like critical thinking is endorsed more here while at her home uni she mostly finds herself listening to lectures. Even though she copes quite well with online learning, she still thinks “it is a pity that in-person classes don’t take place because like this, exchange students and Swedish students barely ever meet each other”. 
If it wasn’t for Corona she assumes that she would have been travelling even more and would have also participated in the trips that are normally organized by the Erasmus Student Network. Also, she is sad that the university can’t offer sports programmes anymore. Nonetheless, she is still really thankful for the opportunity to do her exchange semester here and calls it a “life-changing experience”. Her highlight was all the people she has met so far who are interested in the same things and are eager to travel and discover the land they are living in. She really enjoyed getting to know their “different mentalities and ways of thinking”. “I also got better at organizing and doing trips because everyone here is so into it”, Lune explains. She’s really happy with her decision to come to Karlstad and calls it “a privilege to be in Sweden right now”.

Julia, 20, Bachelor Global Business Management
Julia normally studies in Augsburg (Germany) and came to Karlstad for the spring semester 2021. She was always sure that she wanted to spend her Erasmus in a Northern country since she isn’t a too big fan of hot temperatures. In the end, she decided for Sweden because she wanted to go to a country which could offer her a good educational system with organized structures. At least her expectations regarding the temperatures immediately got fulfilled since she arrived in Karlstad during the first really snowy days of the season and was greeted by streets covered in snow.

© Julia H.

Julia expected the university in Karlstad to be quite modern because she saw photographs of the buildings beforehand and knew that the university is relatively young compared to others in Europe. She wasn’t surprised that the educational system here is slightly different because she knew that the course structure is unlike at German universities. Like all the other exchange students, she also figured out that you are more self-reliant here and need to be well organized yourself. Besides the structure of the lectures, she also assumed that the content would be slightly different and that the lecturers would shed a different light for example on economic issues, influenced by the Swedish system. In general, she is coping well with online learning and especially enjoyed her Swedish lecture since it was more interactive than most online seminars at her home university. One aspect that surprised her was the more relaxed attitude of lecturers, for example when it came to deadlines. Yet, there are also things which she prefers about the German uni system; for example, that you have more opportunities to practice and correct exercises together.

Generally, she noticed that life in Sweden seems to be less hectic and stressful than in Germany. One (not so serious) example for this is the time you have at the supermarket to pack away your groceries – while the speed of the cashiers in Germany might force you to be really quick, in Sweden no one seems to be putting pressure on you to pack up your shopping. Like everyone, Julia also had a few clichés on her mind about Sweden and the Swedes before she came here; for example that Swedish people are really happy even though it is dark for such a long time throughout the year and that they are rather introverted. She said, mentality-wise she expected them to be like Germans – just nicer.

While a lot of her expectations turned out to be true, Julia was also surprised by some aspects – for example, that there are cinnamon buns which are even better than the ones offered by IKEA. On a more serious note, she was also surprised about some facets of the corona regulations – for example, that people here wear masks so seldomly. “I think certain aspects of the anti-corona strategies are a little bit questionable – but that might also simply be  a German point of view”, she explains.
All in all, she is very happy to be here and thankful that she could still do her exchange semester: “I’m really happy that it worked out anyway. Though it would be even better without corona, I’m still happy to be here and not in Germany right now.” The only advantage of these special circumstances, which she can think of, might be that the online lectures offer you greater flexibility, which means that you could go on a trip and still attend your seminars… at least if you were really keen to do so.

While the corona situation probably has deeply changed the experiences the exchange students make, all of them are still very grateful that they could even come to Karlstad. They seem to have adapted well to the new circumstances and try to make the best of the situation. 

This is a news article. Read more about the journalistic work in Karlstads studenttidning here.