Disclaimer: the views expressed in this writing is based on the author’s personal experience in international studies and social sciences programmes, Lund University.
Picture 1. Lund University Library (Source: personal doc)
This February marks my 6 months of being in Sweden;though it is crazy how time went by so fast despite the pandemic which ironically is forcing us to reroute our life and slow things down; thus I feel that it is a good time to talk about some of the differences that I have noticed so far. Especially, in regard to the Swedish higher education system.
Having experienced studying in public schools and universities from the south-eastern part of Sulawesi to the capital city of Jakarta, I cannot help but to notice how the access to a good quality of education I got was significantly poles apart. It stands to reason that there will be a long debate if we want to talk about the good quality of education, yet it has always been in the back of my head to continue assessing what kind of access I got for my study experience. Here then, with the hindsight privilege and some rollercoaster-journeys spent, experiencing the Swedish education system has been a blessing although it is not in an ideal condition because of *uhum* the covid-19. So for those of you prospective students, (in Lund University to be more specific), allow me to tell you some things that you need to bear in mind to optimally navigate your freedom of learning in Sweden:
Freedom to choose your specific interest
Before we go further, the one thing that you need to do prior to your study is to choose a programme of your interest, right? One of the things that amaze me about the Swedish higher education system is the wide range of subject areas they covered and taught in English (bear in mind that Sweden is not an English-speaking country, although most Swedish speaks GREAT English). Compared to Indonesia, it is still difficult to find English-taught-specific programmes even for international studies, especially for graduate programmes. Lund University alone offers about 131 English-taught degree programmes, and about 18 programmes are within international studies and social sciences. Thus, you are free to choose whatever specification or interest you wish to pursue, and a big chance you will find it within the programmes at Lund University.
Freedom to learn from experts in your field and befriend your professors
In my programme of study at Lund University, I can learn various appealing courses from the experts in my field. It is probably too extreme to say that you can befriend your lecturers or professors from the first time you met them in class. However, it does feel like it as apparently in Sweden we call everyone by their first name so there is no hierarchy between student and teachers. And, lucky for me because all of my professors are pretty laid-back and having a discussion with them feels like a brainstorming session with your extremely smart friends. It can happen as Sweden thinks that it is important to have mutual respect with everyone. This behavioural communication pattern would be rare to find in Indonesia’s education environment for sure. Nevertheless, I think that it is still important to keep our “eastern” culture in our social interaction as it is part of our identity and it would not hurt to be famously known as “that polite and decent Indonesian friend”. Additionally, one course can also be taught by 5 different lecturers according to their respective topics and expertise. Thus in my programme, I also have the chance to learn from other programmes’ lecturers if the course touches upon cross-cutting issues.
Freedom to study independently (also to skip classes and retake exams 😛)
If in Indonesia you are used to having one long day of up to five classes with different courses to attend, here in Sweden you might only have one course for a period of several weeks depending on how many credits the course is. This modular system is the one thing that I personally content from the Swedish higher education system as it allows us to focus and deepen our understanding of the course that we are taking, without being distracted by another course. In my programme, students are even allowed to not attend classes if they do not feel necessary. The only mandatory is the seminars where our active participation is expected. But even if we did not attend the seminars or failed exams (by providing proper excuses of course!) students are allowed to retake exams up to 3 times which is fairly negotiable. This system, however, will encourage us to manage our time effectively and nurtures us for being a more independent person. Because it does not mean that education is not taken seriously, instead the system is ensuring flexibility and spaciousness on the enhancement of students’ learning experience.
Picture 2. Students studying in AF-Borgen while maintaining safe distance (Source: personal doc)
Freedom to explore your hidden talent
It might not be far cry from Indonesia in terms of diverse activities and organizations that students can join in their campus experience. But, studying in Sweden offers a various head start for a gateway to life and career. Students can enjoy perks like picking up a free Swedish course from Svenska för invandrare or Swedish for Immigrants and join various free entrepreneurship activities from Venture Lab, a start-up hub of Lund University, as well as different activities with Student Nations. These diverse platforms and activities are a great chance for us to explore our interests and capabilities or even just to enjoy meeting and studying with people from all over the world. In my programme, to make up for the limited offline activities we created an online study group and hosted a student-led kick start career called Dilemma of Development where we invited development practitioners to share their experiences working in development agencies. Relatively speaking, given how unpredictable the future is, a good education system ideally should equip the students with a multi-purpose tool that enables them to adapt on the fly. Thus, exploring your capabilities and discovering your hidden talents by making good use of these platforms is definitely worth trying.
Picture 3. Encouraging Swedish Phrases (Source: SwedishPod101.com)
Having said all of that, I hope you find this writing relatable and useful. The first semester was the most fun one to explore every opportunity that came. This semester and the rest, however, will probably become more stressful as difficulty increases with internship and thesis awaiting down the road. So, enjoy the ride as much as you can because I am sure we will look back and wish we can live it all over again (not the corona though).
Stay safe and healthy!
Dina Puspita Pelenkahu
International Development and Management (M.Sc)
Editor: Darmawan Prasetya