Left to right: Vivianne, Helen, Ryan, Margaret and Ellington. Photo: Jon Buscall.

Vivianne Lapointe, from Quebec, Canada, is studying law, "I’ve had a good experience so far. The Law course here is so different to Canada. I’m happy to be getting a different perspective. I really think Stockholm University has a good exchange student system. The city is great. It’s very clean and I feel safe here."


Why come and study at Stockholm University as an exchange student?

Vivianne Lapointe (from Quebec, Canada): I wanted to get outside my comfort zone. It would have been easier for me to go to France or the UK. I really wanted to go somewhere different. Studying Law here in Stockholm has been a great experience for me. Although it won’t be of any use to me back home, it’s great to get an insight into a different legal system. I’ve enjoyed that.

Margaret Szymczyk (from Torun, Poland): I could have gone to Turkey but I chose Stockholm because it appealed more. I really wanted to improve my English and taking courses in History, Ethnology and English has really helped. Everybody speaks English here. They’re very fluent. That makes it easier. It’s so easy to communicate.

What’s the student housing like?

Ellington Griffin (from Colorado, USA): I’m living in Lappis, the student accommodation near campus. It’s pretty good. I was surprised by how cheap it was compared to the US. But things like food and entertainment are much more expensive.

Helen Hoffmann (from Bremen, Germany): I don’t think it’s that cheap. But it’s okay. The rooms are pretty standard.

Margaret: I had a really bad experience when I started. My room hadn’t been cleaned properly and wasn’t really ready for me to move in. I complained about it and had to clean it up myself but I got SEK 500 knocked off the cost of renting. Still, I was a bit surprised that my room wasn’t good enough.

Was it difficult to settle in to life in Stockholm?

Ellington: I’ve had to get used to things not being open 24-7 like in the US. That’s been weird. Shops are closed in the evening and earlier on Saturday. That was different.

Helen: For me it was very easy. Sweden is very much like Germany. The university system was also very similar – if not better. We Germans love Sweden, generally, and having visited Sweden before I pretty much knew what to expect. The transition has been very smooth, to be honest. I’ve been an exchange student in other countries but this has been my best experience so far.

Vivianne: I joined a Cheerleading club when I got here. I wanted to get involved in something away from the university as well. The club meets and trains in Nacka. It took me a long time to connect with people in the club. Swedes are very reserved. You kind of have to make a lot of effort but it’s worth it. They’re really friendly when they get to know you.

Ryan Mitchell (from California, USA): I have a Swedish girlfriend. She’s the reason I came to study here. I guess I’ve got a different insight into how Swedes are. It helps if you know someone to begin with. But people are pretty friendly. A few people aren’t so keen on Americans. But I had that experience in the UK too.

I’ve had problems with the darkness. I’m a total zombie here. All I eat is chocolate. I never did that in the US. Coming from California I’ve had to adjust to the climate.

What’s the toughest thing about living and studying in Sweden?

Ellington: The work load is non-existent. I kind of expected more work to be honest. I often have a lot of free time. It was great for the first two weeks or so. But I guess that’s why I’ve really got to know the cafés in the city. I spend a lot of time reading. It’s been more of a year of cultural development rather than an academic challenge. I would have wanted more of a challenge academically.

Helen: Really ? For me it’s a lot of work. I’m taking courses in Swedish, Ethnology and History which means four or five classes during one semester. That’s a lot more reading than compared to in Germany. The work load is also quite a lot for German students because our semesters overlap so we’re still finishing work from Germany when we get here.

I also find it’s very expensive in Sweden. The way the courses are set up I often have to buy a new book for SEK 400 every couple of weeks. That’s expensive.

Ellington: Things are really expensive here. We went to see “Alice in Wonderland” at the cinema in 3D and that was 125 SEK. That’s a lot more than in the US. But you can find things to do that are cheaper. You can get into clubs on guest lists and stuff like that. So it doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Vivianne: Sure, Sweden’s expensive. Food and entertainment are expensive but a lot of things are very comparable to Canada.

What about the teaching and courses? Is that difficult to adjust to?

Margaret: It’s hard when you take a course and you’re the only exchange student. Even if the class is in English they all go into Swedish in the breaks. That’s a bit frustrating.

Ryan (studying Finance): I sometimes get a bit frustrated with the teaching. The lecturers are obviously really qualified but they could be a lot more enthusiastic. In the US I’m used to being taught by people who have a lot of practical experience in the business world. I miss that here. I also get the impression that some people in my classes aren’t able to keep up.

Vivianne: I’ve had a good experience so far. The Law course here is so different to Canada. I’m happy to be getting a different perspective. I really think Stockholm University has a good exchange student system. The city is great. It’s very clean and I feel safe here.

When you’re not studying what else is there to do here?

Margaret: There are lots of parties which we get invited to – even with Swedish students. A lot of activities are at people’s place because it’s expensive going out.

Ellington: It’s such a beautiful city that it’s great to wander around. I’ve been all around the city looking at things.

Helen: There are some good museums and things to see. A lot of the museums are free. That’s great.

Vivianne: I’ve enjoyed the winter sports. The skating and sledging is a lot of fun. But you do a lot of things with just other exchange students. There’s not as much interaction between the local students and exchange students as I’ve previously experienced in China and Chile. You have to invite the Swedes more than once to get them to come along. It takes time to make friends here.

Margaret: There’s a lot to do around the university outside of class: theatre groups, Amnesty, movies, pub sessions on campus. I’ve joined a theatre improvisation group. We’re performing on campus this week.

Finally, how’s the food here ?

Ellington: It’s great! I love the cheese. And the prawns. I eat a LOT of cheese.

Ryan: I love Swedish food. The traditional stuff like Swedish meatballs is delicious. They also do really good quiche.

Helen: But the bread is dreadful! It’s so sweet you can hardly eat it.

Margaret: I’m lactose intolerant and Sweden is brilliant for that. There are so many products if you have problems with dairy foods. Whenever I go to a café I ask for soya milk in my coffee and they always have it. That’s brilliant.

Vivianne: I think it’s good. There are great places to eat. Hermans, the vegetarian restaurant, is one of my favourites.

After discussing life at SU over muffins and coffee in Stockholm's famous Sturegallerian, the group gathered for a photo before heading off into the city.

Text and interview: Jon Buscall