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Sweden: Destination Guides

Student Insights: The Swedish student experience

Get a unique insight into what the student experience is like in Sweden and what you can expect when studying abroad in the country. We sat down with masters student Jordan Mathews for her take.

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We’d like to find out a bit more about you and your academic journey to this point. Where did it all begin for you?

 

I have always been a nerd at heart. My curiosity about the world has always been the catalyst for my studies. I am lucky to come from a family who instilled in my brother and I the importance of education from a very young age, and so we focused our attention first and foremost on our studies and everything came after that. In high school, I was interested in topics that discussed world history, government, politics and culture and knew that I wanted to continue to pursue these interests during university studies.

 

What were your undergraduate studies like and did that motivate you to pursue your postgraduate studies?

 

I reflect on my four years at undergraduate experience very fondly. I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder (USA) where I received my BA in International Affairs, with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in International Media. It was really during my undergraduate degree where I was able to fully explore my interests in a way that I was unable to in high school. Not only was I able to take classes I was interested in, but I also had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain, which in the most cliché of ways, changed my life. Living abroad, learning a new language and immersing myself in a new culture was exhilarating. I knew, in a way that I’d be chasing that “high” for the rest of my life. When I graduated, I knew one day I wanted to go back to school, but my parents encouraged me to work a bit first, get professional experience which would solidify my interests. I think it was great advice, so I ended up working for two years before I joined the United States Peace Corps, in 2016, where I served for two year as a Youth Development Promoter in the Dominican Republic.

 

Uppsala Sweden

 

 

Can you tell us a bit more about the course you are doing now and why you decided on it?

 

I am currently studying to get my MSc in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. It was while I was in the Peace Corps, where my interests narrowed from International Affairs to my interest in peace and conflict resolution. During my service, I worked with community counterparts on gender equality and equity campaigns which included comprehensive sexual health classes, girls empowerment groups and a Let Girls Learn conference. This work and the women, girls, men and boys I worked with inspired me immensely, and it was there when I realized that gender equality is a necessary ingredient for promoting and sustaining peaceful societies. I wanted to take this interest and expand upon it in the classroom.

 

How did your studies in Sweden come about?

 

Whenever I am asked this question, I laugh, because I feel like in a way Sweden chose me. I applied for the Rotary Peace Fellowship, which provides fully funded scholarships to individuals passionate about promoting peace. The Rotary Peace Fellowship has five centres around the world that fund master’s degrees and Uppsala is one of them. I was interested in studying in Uppsala because of Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy and commitment to gender equality, not only at home, but abroad. I was lucky that through my scholarship, I had a lot of support at the university and through Rotary to help me navigate the many hoops international students have to jump through. It is always overwhelming to get everything together before moving to a new country, but I felt lucky that I had people along the way to answer my questions and guide me through different checkpoints.

 

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How have you found student and academic life in Sweden?

 

Adjusting to life in Sweden, for me, has been a pretty easy transition but of course, there are always challenges that come with living in a new country. Having graduated in 2014, I had been out of higher education for a while before starting my master’s degree at Uppsala. In general, just learning how to be a student again has been a learning curve, and finding out how to be a student in the Swedish system has also been another factor. However, overall, I appreciate the Swedish model of education which is the pass/fail system. Unlike the United States where there is a very nuanced breakdown of grades with a heavy focus on GPA, I think the Swedish system takes a bit of pressure off its students from being so focused on “performing” and excelling in tests and examinations, and its emphasis is more on the process of learning, which I deeply appreciate.

 

How difficult was it making the decision to study abroad and how do you cope with things like homesickness?

 

For me, it was not a difficult decision to come abroad because even if I had not been selected as a Rotary Peace Fellow, I knew I wanted to get my master’s degree abroad because firstly I wanted to be trained in an international setting outside of the American perspective, especially because of the topic I am interested in. Secondly, secondary education in the United States is criminally expensive. I was looking at programmes in the States that cost over USD 100,000 and that was just tuition fees. I knew I could get a great education abroad for a fraction of the cost. As for homesickness, I think I may be a bit more desensitised to it now after having served in the Peace Corps, but I think staying connected with friends and family back home is really important. It is important to balance that, and make sure you’re going out and making connections and relationships where you are. I have made some great friends since I have been here, and being able to share the highs and lows of studying in Sweden with them is something I'm very grateful for.

 

What are some of your favourite things to do outside of your studies?

 

Sweden is a beautiful country that values life outdoors. In many ways, it reminds me of Colorado, the state that I am from in the US. In the summer and the fall, I enjoyed being outside, whether that be on a hiking trail or just lounging in the park or next to the river. This semester I have prioritized traveling. I’ve been to Egypt and up north to Kiruna. I also have a trip planned for Prague coming up. I am excited for the summer so I can start getting back outside more.

 

Student life

 

What tips do you have for students looking to study abroad and particularly in Sweden?

 

Just do it! If you have the opportunity, resources and desire to go abroad I hope that you do. Never let fear deter you from doing something as exciting and enriching as studying abroad in Sweden. If you decide to come, be sure to read up on Sweden and its culture. I think I’ve been surprised at how difficult it can be to make friends with Swedes, though it’s not impossible! So just preparing yourself as much as you can for what may potentially come can help you meet the challenges, as well as, all the really awesome amazing ‘this-is-so-cool’ experiences.

 

What would you say the main benefits of a study abroad adventure are?

 

Studying abroad provides you the unique opportunity to take yourself out of your own comfort bubble and catch a glimpse into an unfamiliar corner of the world in a more meaningful way than say just a vacation, although vacations are great too. I think, by living in a new country with different values and culture, it forces us to look at ourselves more critically and in that process we learn more about who we are and what we value. It can be an uncomfortable process but one I wish more people had the opportunity to have. If I had stayed in the States, though the country is very diverse itself, I would have still been in class with mostly Americans. I love being in class with people from all over the world because the diversity of perspectives and experiences are so valuable to the learning process.

 

What does the future hold for you?

 

That is the question! I am unsure exactly how life will play out, but does anyone really? Right now I am interested in mediation and negotiation as a tool in peace processes, and I am hoping to explore that interest while I am here in Uppsala. I think I will probably try to find a job back in Washington DC, but this is certainly not fixed.

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