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Sweden: Destination Guides

Student Insights: Why I studied in Sweden

Sweden is becoming an increasingly popular study abroad destination with its progressive and innovative education. We chatted to Võ Lương Bình Nguyên all about her experience studying in Sweden.

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Tell us a bit about your academic journey to Sweden and where it all began for you?

I studied my undergraduate degree in the UK at the University of Sheffield. It was a BA in Urban Studies, which I really enjoyed doing. Having completed my degree I returned to Vietnam and began working in the socio-economic development field in Da Nang. I worked for a local think tank with a significant focus on public sector consultancy. As I gained more experience I realised that there were areas of my work that I was particularly interested in and I really wanted to enhance my skills. That’s when I started investigating furthering my studies by undertaking a master’s degree. Luckily, I had worked with the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi and so had a fairly good understanding of what the country was about and what sort of options were available for international students. I was impressed with the progressive nature of both the country and its universities, including the opportunities on offer.

 

What motivated you to pursue your postgraduate studies in Sweden?

During the course of my work in Vietnam I realised that I really wanted to gain more understanding of the project management side of the job. In addition, I wanted to understand it from a more global perspective. I started to do my research and through the Swedish Embassy and the Swedish Institute found an opportunity to apply for the master’s qualification in International Development and Management. This included an application for a scholarship which I knew would be critical to me being able to study abroad. I decided on Lund University because they had a good global network and were an internationally top-rated university. It was a good match for me in terms of what I wanted to study and the kind of environment I wanted to study in.

 

What sort of differences did you notice between studying in the UK and Sweden?

Studying in Sweden definitely opened me up to some new perspectives, mostly with the way in which the classes are organized and the level of interaction there is during lectures and tutorials. I found that there was a lot of a distance between lecturers and students in the UK and that you don’t have as much access to professors. To be fair, this may have also been because I was studying at an undergraduate level and this naturally changes when you study a masters and the class sizes become smaller. What I did notice is that in Sweden there is a big emphasis on the practical implementation of knowledge and how this can be used in real world scenarios. Collaboration and group work are also key, which is something I noticed less of when studying in the UK.

 

 

What was the application process to study in Sweden like?

To be honest the application process was not as hard as I anticipated it to be. This is probably because the university was very well organized, with information readily available and accessible. I already had many of the documents I needed for my application, having studied previously in the UK. Added to this was that I wasn’t confused or deciding which course I wanted to do, I knew that from the get-go, which made things simpler. I will admit that applying for the scholarship made me a little nervous and was more difficult. This was probably because I knew that it would be competitive and writing up the motivation letters and personal statement took time as well as dedication.

 

What was the student support like during this time?

I found it to be very good. I remember that I attended a webinar on the application process, which was extremely helpful. It’s something I would recommend to any potential international student. The university guided me through the process and I even received a call from them to ask if I needed further assistance. The university reaching out to me just confirmed that I had made the right decision in choosing to apply there.

 

What has student life in Sweden been like?

To be honest, it’s amazing. I am really having a great time. Lund is a university town, so everything is close by and you’re surround by a nice local community. A lot of what’s on offer caters for students, which I really enjoy. It’s a lively and energetic place to live. People are very welcoming and accommodating. I’ve made friends quite easily and I often hang out with my classmates on the weekend, sometimes doing some cooking or watching a film. There are lots of student organizations to try and to join which is also nice. One of things that surprised me the most was how many student discounts there were on offer and that fact that you can access free skills workshops. There is even one for fixing bikes.

 

I’ve been working with some of the student groups on campus to organize events and workshops. One of the organizations that I’m doing some work for is the Swedish Institute Network for Future Global Leaders. We develop activities aimed at helping students, such as screening films on important issues like domestic violence. I’m also involved with the Social Science Student Unit for international students. I will admit that I haven’t tried any of the sports on offer yet, but I do really like to cycle around the city and campus.

 

 

What has the adjustment from full-time work been like?

I think it has primarily been all about time management. When I worked, I was like most people, I would work my day and then go home to relax and take a break. Now I find that I am constantly engaged and have to manage my time between studying, group work and discussions. Self-motivation is essential. I’m finding it exciting, challenging and interesting all at the same time.  

 

Have you done any traveling during your time in Sweden?

I have traveled quite a lot and have found that Sweden has some great connections to places across the continent. I’ve been down to Stockholm and to Uppsala in Sweden. Last year I also went to Berlin which gave me some of the best memories I’ve had in my time here. What I have found is that the weather is always a good conversation starter and I definitely appreciate the sun a lot more now when I see it. In fact, many of my Swedish friends say that when you get to the point that you’re excited for a little bit of sun, then you’re truly Swedish.

 

Have you experience any homesickness?

I didn’t expect to have any homesickness because I had studied abroad before. However, I admit that on some days I do feel a little homesick. The good thing is that we have a small Vietnamese community in Lund and we are able to reach out to one another which helps a lot.

 

 

What would your advice to prospective international students be?

First and foremost, you’ll need to search for a programme that suits both your interests and abilities. You’ll generally be able to find out most of what you need to know in terms of how to apply and the criteria on the university’s website. Secondly, make sure that you start the process early. Stick to your deadlines and timelines. You’re probably going to have to get quite a bit of documentation together including motivation letters, references and personal statements. Manage your time and plan well, especially if you are working at the same time.

 

 

If you’re looking for funding or a scholarship, you must start the application process early. The biggest scholarships available in Sweden are those offered by the Swedish Institute, with more than 30 countries eligible. You can also search for funding from universities or other organizations, but it does take time and effort to research. Make sure that when you apply you highlight your special and unique characteristics that make you a good candidate. I’d recommend you do your homework on the institution and country you intend to study in. It’ll strengthen your application.

 

Lastly, I’d just mention that students shouldn’t be under the impression that people in Sweden don’t speak English and that they’ll have problems communicating as a result. There’s no need to worry, Swedish people are very accommodating and generally fluent in English. If they know you don’t understand Swedish, they’ll swap to English. Most importantly, if you choose to study abroad, just immerse yourself in the culture and environment. Enjoy the experience.

 

Have you been learning any Swedish?

In fact, I have been taking Swedish classes that are offered free as part of the course. Many of my friends have signed up too. The teachers are great and it’s really fun to learn a new language.

 

What would you say the major benefits of studying abroad are?

I know that it sounds like a cliché, but it really is true that it changes your perspective of the world. Studying abroad really opens your eyes and you learn so much more about other people and their cultures. In my class for example I’ve met people from Germany, Spain and France. Studying in another country is also a good boost for your career and enhances your knowledge. In my case, wanting to work in international development means that the exposure I’ve had to such diverse cultures and opinions can positively impact my work.

 

What are your plans and aspirations for the future?

One of the main reasons that I chose the programme at Lund was because it offered the opportunity to undertake an internship semester at an international organisation. Masters study is as much about acquiring new knowledge as it is about developing practical skills.  I’m looking forward to that. I really hope that one day I can work for an international development organization like the UN and perhaps at a later stage establish my own social enterprise. I’m not sure if I will pursue a PhD just yet as I’m interested in developing my work experience and putting in to practice all that I have learnt.  I might come back to university at a later stage and I think I would probably choose Sweden again, as studying a PhD here is considered a full-time job. Plus, I really love it here.