So, you have made the glorious (in my unbiased opinion, the BEST) decision to study at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden. Not only does this town boast lush green forests and crystal-clear lakes, it is flourishing with opportunities and a place you will whimsically revere as your “home away from home”. Before you embark on the adventure of your lifetime, there are some things you should know that I wish I did before arriving. SO LISTEN UP!
DO The Tradition of Fika
An absolute MUST in Sweden. This tradition revolves around the idea of forsaking work for a little while to grab a beverage, accompanied by a scrumptious pastry and cheerful company. In some companies, it is mandatory for all employees to have a fika break. You will be feeling like a Swede in no time when you make fika part of your schedule.
Cozy up at places near the city centre, such as Cafe Fontaine, Espresso House (think a European Starbucks), Condeco, Kafe De Luxe, and several other shops to experience the quintessential Swedish fika.
DO Join an On-Campus Organization
Växjö International Students (VIS) is an organization that focuses on creating a community and camaraderie among international students. They arrange a number of cultural activities and trips designed to cater to students of all backgrounds. Although a purchase of a membership is required (200 kr), it acts as an all-access pass to all events on campus, such as Sports Saturday and the Welcome Dinner. With membership, you can also receive 15% discount and FREE LUGGAGE when you book with RyanAir, a discount European airline.
Did I mention the amazing trips offered at a fair price? In Spring 2018, students had the option to go to the Finnish Lapland, St. Petersburg, Norway, and ESN (Erasmus Student Network) Sea Battle. Do not miss out on these! It is a wonderful way to make lifelong memories and bond with people from all over the world.
DO Experience the Lively Student Nightlife
While it may lack in size in comparison to other European cities, it certainly doesn’t lack an exuberant nightlife full of bright lights, people to meet, energizing music and dancing like there is no tomorrow. There are many places to get your groove on, both in the city centre or campus, depending on your tastes. There is a scene for everyone, even if you don’t necessarily identify as the “going out” type.
If you enjoy live music, arts culture, terraces and casual conversations with locals, then Kafe De Luxe is the place to be. They also host several events that you can find on their Facebook page, my favorites being Fika pa Svenska (practicing Swedish over fika) and a number of concerts showcasing local talent.
If you want to sway to house music with the Nations (“Nations” are similar to all-gender fraternity organizations, where its members flaunt the iconic “pants” of various patches and colors), head over to Sivans. Sivans also hosts brunch every Saturday and after-school feasts every Friday for a relatively low-cost and a chance to try the best authentic cuisine.
If late-night fun full of latin/pop music, karaoke and games is your forte, then you are destined for Slottstallarna. They are open on Fridays, where you can expect large crowds, both international and local. In collaboration with VIS, students can also have the option to work as a staff member, where you are compensated handsomely with movie tickets and delicious snacks provided at your disposal during your shift.
Work hard, play hard, amirite?
DO Sign up for Friend Family and the Buddy Program
I am not kidding you when I say that I met and developed a close friendship with a Swedish singing superstar and social media influencer (I was his VIP during his concert in Stockholm). Oh, let’s not forget my exclusive invitation to join a sea of Swedish students in Lund for the largest celebration of Valborg, where I happened to be the only North American.
How on earth did these things happen for me? It was all made possible through the Friend Family and Buddy Program. It is irrefutable that my choice to sign-up changed my life (that is the desired outcome of studying abroad, after all). You should expect an email from the coordinator regarding sign-up details when you are officially enrolled at the university.
DO indulge in semla and other heavenly delicacies
Semla is a seasonal delicacy that is a must-try for your fika. With a light, sweet creme wedged between two pastry buns, you will be hooked on the first bite. As I stressed the importance of the fika ritual, it is a necessity to have your rich coffee and/or tea be accompanied with a treat to satisfy your sweet tooth. I recommend trying the cinnamon buns (Butterkaka), cheesecake (Ostkaka), and the princess cakes (Prinsesstårta).
DO Celebrate Swedish Holidays & Culture
Depending on which semester you choose to study, the community hosts several events to get in the spirit of the country’s major holidays. These most popular are St. Lucia (winter season) and Midsummer (Summer Season). Holidays are valued here, so expect a variety of fun-filled activities and delicious feasts! I would also be on the lookout for other fun-filled holidays, such as Valborg (think massive bonfires) and All Saints Day (think the Scandinavian version of the Day of the Dead). Holidays in Sweden are definitely bucket-list worthy!
Hailed as a glassblower’s haven, Sweden has mastered this fascinating craft, accumulating a gallery of stunning works over several centuries. Just a short walk from city centre is the Småland Museum, where you can receive a generous student discount to learn about the rich history and cultural heritage of the region, as well as gaze in wonder at several works of art and glass pieces in an array of interactive exhibits.
DO Invest in a Bike
Public transit can place a heavy burden on your wallet, especially if you wish to travel around the country and beyond. For your local ventures, consider purchasing or borrowing a bike. Europe has been praised for its impressive bike accessibility, and Sweden is no exception. Nearly every street and pathway has been designed for bike passage. Since you will be living relatively close to campus, a bike is a viable option for local transportation. Not to mention all the gains you will get in the process 😉 For the best bike deals, head on over to Tempus, where there is a wide assortment of used bikes for a relatively low price.
DO Join Campus & City Social Media
There is a massive group chat called “Växjö” on WhatsApp that anyone who is enrolled at LNU can join. From answering questions as simple as “Where can I purchase discount toilet paper?” to seeking the perfect roommate, you are almost certain to receive a well-received and thoughtful response. It is also worthwhile to follow @vaxjocity on Instagram for city updates as well as check Facebook to discover ongoing events in the area. There is always something to do!
DON’T Narrow Your Circle of Friends
It’s easy (and natural) to want to cling to people of your own nationality, considering you are far away from home. But, why study ABROAD when you are only going to stick to your own kind?
DON’T Make Your Academic Priorities Slide
I get it. It feels more like “let’s travel every weekend” instead of an actual “study abroad”. I believe in the power of learning in traveling, but there is also so much to absorb in the classroom environment. Not only is it an exciting opportunity to be abroad, but how often do you get the chance to learn about the world around you at an educational institution overseas? Most people merely visit a location, but you get the privilege of LEARNING. I feel some of my most engaging and mind-opening moments occurred during organized discussions with my classmates from around the world. It is rare to have this type of immersion in a diverse arena of international students.
DON’T have a static mindset; be open to new philosophies and worldviews
It is almost guaranteed you will experience some form of culture shock. Don’t worry, it’s normal! Your personal convictions and perception of the world will be challenged, if not drastically altered. This is crucial for your growth as a global citizen. I become so attached to my host country, where I am still struggling with REVERSE culture shock. Fancy that.
DON’T be so caught up on social media
Savor the moment. Be present. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so don’t witness it behind a screen. Put the phone down and look and feel with your own eyes.
DON’T take it for granted
According to NAFSA, the number of U.S. college students that participate in a study abroad program is an estimated 1.6 percent of the ENTIRE student population. Congrats! You are part of the top 2%! How marvelous for you! Now go out there and fall in love with your new life overseas. After all, we only get one life to live.
Jasmine Barlow is a University of Utah student. She studied abroad in Växjö, Sweden in Spring 2018.