Sofia Kopasovskaya, master’s degree student, spent 3 months on an exchange program at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. We asked Sofia to share her experience and impressions of studying abroad.
What is it like to be an international student in a European university?
It is totally great! You find yourself in an absolutely new environment where you can develop by 3 different trajectories. First, professionally — you will encounter new educational practices, which is quite important for those, who study pedagogy.
Second, you will grow socially and culturally, become more mature and open-minded. You will learn more about the world as you watch a different way of life, other people’s customs and traditions. Even if you consider yourself quite an open-minded person, by the end of the program you will take a new look at many things.
And, finally, it’s communication skills. If you want to understand and be understood by others, intermingle with the community, even to say a joke — you must use your language competences. It’s a whole new level of mastering a language, different from what you learn at class and from textbooks. Here you use the language to live, it’s a means to express yourself, to be heard.
What did you feel when you first arrived in Sweden? How was the change of environment? What is the attitude of local students to international students?
The environment is extremely different! Imagine finding yourself in a different country, culture, city. For a while you leave behind everything that has supported you during all your life. Obviously, it’s stressfull, but at the same time it’s a wonderful opportunity to develop personally and professionally.
I cannot say much about the attitude of the local students, as I was mostly teamed up with international students from Chile, Spain, Serbia, Belgium, and other countries. The first Swede I got to know better was my curator, she was a senior teacher at the kindergarten where I worked as an intern. Of course, there can be no segregation among students. However, students group naturally according to the language of the course they take. And the number of English-taught courses is quite limited. There are courses that can be more interesting to international students, such as ‘Modern Adult Education’, which comprises comparative analysis of Swedish and world educational systems.
Tell about a student’s schedule in Sweden. What is the balance between studies and leisure? What students usually do to relax?
In Sweden the approach to education differs from what we are used to: there are very few lectures, a number of seminars, but most of the time is dedicated to self-study. The infrastructure allows to do this in comfort: there is a modern library equipped with facilities to copy, print and scan data, E-services which are used as communication platforms between students and teachers, where they can upload their papers and presentations. It is very convenient, but one has to get used to it. Thus, the schedule is like this: a doubled seminar once or twice a week (sometimes more), and the rest of the time is for self-study: students read books, conduct research and write papers.
Leisure depends on personal tastes. The Swedes like to spend a lot of time outdoors. The infrastructure in the city is very efficient. All museums, nature resorts, islands, restaurants, bars and clubs are located within a trip by public transport. Though Gothenburg is not a capital city, it’s quite big and provides a lot of leisure opportunities: one can go to cinemas, gyms, parks, even an amusement park, which is one of the biggest in Europe. Unfortunately, it is open during the summer season only, and we did not have a chance to visit it.
Tell about communication between students and teachers.
If you go on an exchange program, it is essential that you speak English or another language besides your native. Team work is very important here: most of the courses are based on some kind of group activities. Academic writing in English is another very useful skill that I acquired here. It was a workshop on how to write research texts in a clear, simple and coherent way. I wish I attended such a workshop during my first year of studies.
Communication with the teaching staff is quite informal. According to the university rule, teachers and professors must be addressed by their first names. In English there is no difference between informal and honorific personal pronouns. To emphasize the status of the other person, you must use their last names and add such honorifics as ‘mister’, ‘missis’, ‘sir’, etc. Addressing teachers by their first names shortens the distance and helps to establish a friendly environment that encourages cooperation. On the other hand, it excludes overfamiliarity. In Russian it can be compared with addressing by the first name combined with an honorific pronoun that expresses second person plural.
Tell about living conditions, public transport and food. Were you content with the Erasmus conditions?
Yes, absolutely. Erasmus provides a scholarship that covers the flight to Sweden, tuition fees and living expenses. Students’ unions are very strong at the University of Gothenburg, they strive for the better conditions of the program. Though, it is not always perfect. For example, it was quite cold in our room. However, it is a matter of insistence — our neighbour from Ireland was calling the company that provided accommodation until they fixed the problem. You have to work for your happiness.
Sweden is quite expensive. People usually cook at home, because eating in restaurants, even in the fastfood chain, is not cheap. Though the salaries are higher here. Fortunately, the scholarship covers everything. If you are careful enough with your money, you can even save up for a trip. The food is eco-friendly and of high quality. For example, potato crisps are actually made of potato, salt and oil. The Swedes care about the food quality a lot. One of the core objectives of the country is protecting nature, which is reflected in their policy and daily life. Garbage sorting is obligatory. If you do not sort it, it will be 7 times more expensive to utilize. However, Swedes do it naturally without any money penalty, as they have been brought up in a society that truly values nature.
Public transport is very convenient. Though Gothenburg is not a capital, as I already said, the infrastructure is very developed. There are trams, buses, ferries (for traveling between islands), which you can ride with your travel pass. The transport is regular, frequent, on schedule. There is a digital panel on every stop showing arrival time. There are many night routes, so don’t worry if your return late from your friends. It’s quite convenient, as riding a taxi is extremely expensive.
Tell about Swedish kindergarten, its special features.
There is much to tell, but you will have to take another interview for that.
The main principles of the Swedish kindergarten are friendliness (everybody feels welcome — children, parents and teachers) and safe risk, which helps children to evaluate their abilities.
What are your general impressions of studying abroad? Is it beneficial and why?
The experience is quite unique. I advise you to join the program if you still doubt. Of course, you must be prepared for the difficulties and able to solve them. However, it will change our perspective on many conventional things.
MCU is an active participator in the ERASMUS+ exchange program that offers students a great opportunity to obtain experience, become more open-minded and meet new interesting people.