Tag Archives: bilainsweden

Swedish stories: Kevin from USA on education structure, apartment hunting, safety, and a big-small world

Swedish stories is a series of interviews with international students from Malmö University. Following up on the interview with Raya from Bulgaria, I had a Sunday brunch and a chat with Kevin: a 23-year-old student from Texas, USA. This is what Kevin had to say about student life in Sweden.


A: Let’s start from the beginning. There is a long way from United States to Sweden. What made you come here for your Master’s degree?

K: Actually, since high school I have always planned to study in Sweden. I just wasn’t sure when it was going to happen. I have some family here and a dual citizenship, so I wanted to take advantage of that since European Union citizens don’t have to pay a tuition fee for studying in Sweden. But it’s not just that, I wanted to go out of US and experience something new and different.

A: And how is life in Sweden different from what you are used to?

K: Stuff is slow here. I mean, the pace of life is very slow in comparison to US. If I would walk into a bank in Texas and wanted to open a bank account, their answer would be something along the lines of “Yes, we want your money!” Here it was: “We need your personnummer, source of income, occupation, passport and we will contact you in a week.” An hour event in the US was made into 2 weeks of bureaucracy. On a more positive note, I simply love the Swedish architecture and urban planning. It’s so different. In Texas everything was too far to walk and in Malmö it would be hard to find something that is not in a walking distance.



A: What about academia? Does the university life differs from American one as well?

K: From my understanding, based on what my cousins that went through high school and university in Sweden told me, here you only study your major. Your courses are all connected to your degree. But back during my Bachelor’s in the US, I took Anthropology, Linguistics, Human Sexuality, Native American History, 2D & 3D Game Development, Suicide in Japan… All those different things on top of art history and design education.  What’s also different here is the scheduling. Every day in every week is… kind of random. Because in America when you register for courses you would have them at exact same time, exact same day every week. I never have to check the calendar. Every week is exactly the same. Here every week is different. I have to pay more attention to what the schedule is.

A: Are you happy then with your Master’s in Malmö if it’s so different from what you are used to?

K: Yeah, I am. It’s completely different from what I expected. It’s a lot more… tangible. I like that. It’s not just the courses but the class. Everyone is just so different. It’s not just another Master’s program with different courses but also 17 other people from all over the world that I can learn a bit from.

A: Glad to hear that you are happy with the program. What about what is after the education? What do you think about your career opportunities? Is it a valuable asset back in US to have a degree from Sweden? Are you considering staying in Sweden after finishing your degree?

K: As far as Master’s Degree in Interaction Design, I think it could be valuable. The interaction design discipline is evolving, especially in places like Austin, New York, Silicon Valley. However, I suppose what matters is the work experience in the long run. I am doing the education more for myself. I am considering a career in Sweden too.  I don’t intend on going back to the US immediately after the degree.



A: Oh, let’s talk about the logistics of such long-term stay. You already mentioned that setting a bank account was a bit of a hustle. What about the apartment-hunting?

K: Well, with my family we had this idea that buying a place in a long run would be cheaper than renting or living in the student dorms. Prior to me moving to Sweden, my family here was looking around. I took around 2,5 months to actually move to the place from the point when we started looking. There was quite a lot of paperwork involved like sorting out the issue of source of income in another continent. The neighbourhood association was doing background checks. Even though we started signing in mid-October, I didn’t move in until November.

A: One question I get a lot as a digital ambassador is how safe Sweden is. My first answer always is: “depends on a person”. What is your opinion? Do you feel safe in Malmö?

K: It’s weird to compare safety here and back home. Austin and Houston are a lot bigger cities than Malmö but also… it’s Texas. People are allowed to carry guns everywhere. It’s weird to go into grocery store and see people carrying guns. That does not make me feel safe there. Here I do feel fairly safe. But then again – it is a smaller city. When I read about things that happen, I know where they are. There was a shooting that happened around 2 weeks ago at a place that I passed in a bus 5 minutes before. I walked out of the bus and saw helicopters in the sky. I didn’t know what it was. I came home to discover there was a shooting and I had just passed by this place. Although, at the same time I know that these events are related to one another. It is like gang in-fighting or something. More often than not, these are not random occurrences like mass shootings that have happened in America.

A: Yeah, I get what you mean. So… to sum up. How would you describe this experience of studying in Sweden? Did it turn out to be what you expected it to be?

K: Not sure what I expected. Honestly, I was just really excited… maybe a bit nervous. But I am really happy about where I am now: doing this Master’s program, learning what I am learning with the people I’ve met here. This is just so cool. I think the biggest change is that I feel both at the same time: the world is so big and the world is so small. It’s just that America is huge, Texas is huge and where I went to school everyone was from Texas. But now I am studying in Malmö, Sweden with the most lovely people from Denmark, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Bulgaria, Romania… This is a little microcosm where everyone has a different background. Still even though we know each other for 8 months, some of our conversations are: “back home is like this” “oh, that’s really different, we do things like this.” The world is so big. But here we are all together and it is so small. This is simply awesome. I am so glad I’m here and not sitting in an office in Texas.

If you have any additionals questions to Kevin feel free to post them in the comments!

5 tips for writing an academic paper

How to write an academic paper and not die out of panic in the process?

It’s the middle of night and the panic slowly overtakes you as you struggle to write the next sentence of your first academic paper. For a non-native speaker writing an academic paper can be a nightmare – but it’s also a requirement at many of Swedish universities. Here are tips and tricks that help me when I am stressing over the deadline looking at a blank screen.


I always start with finding as many relevant sources as possible. I try looking briefly through them to get the main idea of the content (eg. just reading abstracts). I read a few that seem the most important. Only after having a general idea of what has been already said I look back to my own project and try to establish what do I want to say that could contribute to the discussion. Then I create a working title that I will look back to during my work – to remember what is going to be the essence of my paper.


I never start writing before I create an overall structure. For writing a report-style paper I may use generic one: introduction (with aim and research question), theory, state-of-art examples, method, process, results and findings, evaluation, conclusion, references. But it may be a bit harder if you are trying to write a more original paper, focused on specific idea. What I do in this situation is to write down the keywords for all the most important things I want to say, most characteristic positive qualities of the project, new ideas for the field… Then I look at them trying to find connections and figure out a logical flow. Arranged keywords create a structure of the paper, each representing one paragraph.


Another thing I do before I start writing is to count the number of paragraphs I plan to write according to my preliminary structure. Then I divide the average number of words from requirements by the number of chapters. For instance if I have to write a 2000-4000 words essay that I written down 20 paragraph keywords for, I know that I should write about 150 words per paragraph, which allows me to focus on one at a time.


Ask a friend for feedback on your work. Possibly proof-read it by a fluent or native speaker. Just make sure that it all makes sense in someone’s else head too.


You got a really good feedback from a teacher? Do you think that the idea behind the paper was really valuable  and contributes to the field? Don’t be afraid to submit your work to a student conference! Since you have the paper already written it won’t take you much time and you can gain valuable experience of presenting your work at a conference, getting feedback and an exclusive look into the world of academia. A published work will look great on your CV, but most importantly will give you an immense level of satisfaction! (And a good reason to celebrate!)



Those are a few rules I follow when writing an academic paper. They seem to be working just fine: this week I am presenting my first individual paper at a conference! But if you need a step-by-step introduction instead of just tips and tricks check out this video course from Lund University, that explains the process in greater detail.

all images via GIPHY


Living in the dorms

Dorms enthusiasts talk about new friendships, sense of belonging and busy social life. Their opponents complain about messy kitchen and constant noise. One thing they all agree on – living in the dorms is an experience itself. But how is it really like to live in a Swedish University housing?  What are the pros and cons? What is actually the dorm-life experience? And is it something for you? Let’s take a peek into Malmo University Housing and try to answer these questions.

In Malmö we have 4 types of student dorms:  Swedish Rönnen , International Rönnen, Celsiusgården and Malmö Studenthus, so you can choose depending on your needs. Swedish Rönnen (associated with university) and Malmö Studenthus (private) are more like mini-apartments, rented unfurnished, where each room has their own kitchen. Since you have to buy and transport your own furniture, they are rather a long-term option. There are no common areas there, so life there is diametrically different than the one in International Rönnen and Celsiusgården. The latter two are “typical” dorms – with shared kitchen and lounge area, thriving with life and full of Erasmus students. This is what I will describe in this post.

In Rönnen International we have 4 floors, each hosting around 20 students. Your magnetic key gives you access only to your own floor though, so most of your time is usually spent there. Life of the floor revolves around shared kitchen and lounge area – and in my case it is thriving! Of course it depends on the semester and specific group of students, but in my experience living in the dorms is a very social situation. No matter what time the clock shows when you go to the kitchen – if it’s not the middle of the night you can be sure to find somebody there (well, sometimes also in the middle of the night!). Students hang there cooking, working, gossiping and watching movies. Several nights a week there is a group movie screening. Every Sunday we have a shared dinner. Every weekend different floor hosts a theme party. Often with costumes, decorations and beer-pong. Usually this includes a lazy Sunday morning/noon with conversations about nothing and everything while laying on a sofa.

The life in the dorms is best described by moments. The moment when you come home exhausted after a long day of hard work, only to discover an empty fridge and your floormate cooks spaghetti for you two to enjoy together while chatting about your day. The time when you bike through the city with a gang of your girls, shouting secrets and confessions to each other over the shoulders, on your way to bake some Semla with student organisation. It is never having to wonder whether you are invited to a party and always starting a day with a cheerful Hello. But also it is about the moment when you are hesitant to leave your room, not to get distracted from your massive amount of homework. The spark of irritation over all the dirty dishes in the kitchen and noise in the weekend.

I have been living in the dorms, or as they say in Sweden “in a corridor” for a bit over a month now. Before I have lived in a shared flat for a while and have been renting a room for about 3 months, so I can easily compare different types of student accommodation.  I can admit without much thinking that dorms are definitely my favorite. I like having a lot of people around, but at the same time having the possibility of locking myself in my room (which is very soundproof, I admit!). University housing is by far a best option for exchange students. It saves you a lot of trouble of looking for accommodation and places you in a middle of  the social life of your university.  If you are coming to Sweden for longer, for example entire degree, I would still recommend dorms as a start point if you have this opportunity. Stay there for the first semester, while you get to know the city and make friends. Meanwhile you can look for a shared flat with your best friends. I personally don’t see University Housing as a long-term accommodation: it’s actually more expensive than renting a room and you may notice that your lifestyle as a full-time student varies from the one of exchange students. Also a very practical reason – I already know I will miss the people who are going to leave Sweden in a few months! I am not sure I could bear the disappointments of goodbyes every semester.


As you can notice I am extremely happy with my corridor – but I also tried to list some of the cons of living in the dorms. Feel free to ask any questions about University housing or accommodation in general!


Swedish stories: Raya from Bulgaria on birdwatching, learning Swedish and coming back to school after a career break

Swedish stories is a series of interviews with international students from Malmö University. Following up on the interview with Bianca from Italy, I managed to talk to Raya: a 27-year-old student from Bulgaria. Find out student’s opinion on studying in Sweden.

A: Let’s start with the beginning of your journey to Sweden. What had been your thoughts on Sweden before you came here? Did you have any expectations about being an international student here?

R: Well, I expected very polite people, extremely organised country as a whole and everything being stylish. You know, famous Scandinavian design. When it comes to the studies, I’ve been hearing only good things about the education in Sweden and I was very curious about it. I expected it to be more practice oriented than in Bulgaria, where we focus more on the theoretical knowledge.

A: And were those expectations fulfilled?

R: If I think about it… yes. Well, maybe the organisation is a bit different than what I expected. Seems like the stereotype of organised Sweden working like a clock is not so true after all. I discovered that in some aspects Swedes seem surprisingly laid back. For example I had to remind the dorms to assign me a room. In other areas, it is completely the opposite – they even have law on the maximum amount of time you are allowed to leave your dog at home alone! On a completely different note, I was positively surprised by the weather. It is much warmer than I expected, especially in the Autumn.

A: Looks like you moved to Sweden with a lot of positive expectations. What about fears? Moving to another country can be quite stressful… What stressed you out the most when you were preparing to come here?

R: My biggest concern was that after a few years of working professionally I’ve gotten rid of my student habits. So I was a bit worried that it would be hard for me to go back to the student lifestyle.

A: Ah yes, coming back to being a student after a career break can be a challenge. How is this transition going for you?

R: It’s not easy! I miss having rigid working time: that moment when you walk out of the office and you are free. Being a student means always having something connected to university on my mind and on the neverending to-do list. My biggest pain though is getting back to the “poor-student” economy mindset. I became used to living on a certain level and now I kind of have to take a step back. That has been a great challenge for me.

A: Ok, let’s take our minds off of the university then. How is your life like after school?

R: To be honest, I am used to have quite busy private life in Bulgaria, so when I came to Sweden I saw that as an opportunity to step back, do less and relax. However, old habits die hard apparently. I was feeling a bit lonely at the beginning of my stay, not knowing many people yet, so I decided to fix that by enrolling in various activities. Learning Swedish, going to Språkcafe (language exchange cafe), enrolling to a mentor program, finding a swing dancing course and birdwatching. Birdwatching was a hobby of mine even back in Bulgaria. There is a birdwatching centre next to Malmö, so I can bike there enjoying Swedish landscape on the way. I am surprised though, that here it’s mostly old people that practise birdwatching, in Bulgaria it is a hobby for youth. However, everyone is very nice and I enjoy time spent there.

A: Wow, that seems like you found a lot of interesting things to do in Malmö!

R: I think life can be interesting wherever you go, it’s up to you. That being said, Malmö offers quite a lot of possibilities so it’s easy to enjoy life here.

A: One of your extracurricular activities is Swedish lessons. How did you arrange them?

R: Since I don’t have a personal number because I am doing one-year Master degree, I could not enroll in the Swedish classes organised by the city. Instead I signed up for the classes provided by the university. They are being held only once a week though, so it is not an intensive course at all. It isn’t what I initially wanted but it ended up to be perfect because the master program turned out to be much more time consuming than what I thought it would be.

A: A lucky coincidence! Do you find Swedish a complicated language to study?

R: I am a person that generally enjoys studying languages and I regret not having more time for it. Swedish is no exception. I don’t think it is a hard language though. Swedish is actually classified as one of the easiest languages to learn. It just takes practice. Which, frankly speaking, can be hard to find here since everybody speaks English. Fortunately! It makes living here much easier.

A: Summing up, how would you describe the difference between your education in Bulgaria and Sweden? What are your thoughts on being an international student in Malmö after the first six months?

R: The entire way universities work here and there is totally different. The format of my current studies is very open with a lot of seminars during which you talk whenever you want. There are no grades! This is due both to cultural difference as well as to the differences between disciplines. I changed my field of studies. Now I study design, but I am used to much more rigid format specific for software engineering. What’s more I am not used to an academic approach. It has been quite a challenge for me, especially because of the characteristic academic language. I have been feeling out of my comfort zone for a long time after I came. It was hard for me. I wanted to participate in this open format, but I was feeling insecure. Both because of the difference in the approach and because I felt I was lacking some experience due to change of studies. But now, I have to admit that I am really happy I came to Sweden especially because of this long period of being out of the comfort zone. It challenged me in many aspects. Actually, in all the aspects. It challenged me when it comes to what I think about myself and life in general. I feel like I grew a lot as a person. I would say that this is the most valuable thing for me about coming to Sweden. And I like the place where I am right now.


If you have any additionals questions to Raya feel free to post them in the comments!

Very Swedish Valentine’s cards

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day! Swedes aren’t always the best in expressing their feelings but we all know that they do love us, don’t they? Why not express your feelings in a Swedish way this year? Check out these Valentine’s cards and spread the love.





Passing the semester at Malmö University – walk through my finals week

Today is officially the first day of a new course and I would like to happily report that I came back to life. Passing this semester wasn’t really as tough as I am used to – although I am pretty sure that is more connected to the fact that I no longer study Architecture so days (weeks?) without eating, sleeping or walking away from the computer are gone. Instead of “sleep is for weak” attitude I am enjoying Swedish work-life balance, laid back atmosphere and no grades. Don’t think that means no one cares about the quality of the projects – quite the opposite! I am struggling to be better and better for myself. Small fact that all the projects are group work adds a little bit of motivation and time management pressure. Are you interested in how my final week of the semester looked like? Let me walk you through it…

Before we start two practical information. Firstly, I study Interaction Design, thus my finals week looks different than most of the other students. We don’t have any exams – instead we present project we worked on during the entire course. Secondly, studies in Sweden (or at least at Malmö University) are organised in courses: two per semester and only one at a time. So I wasn’t really passing entire semester but only a 2-months-long course.


Coming back to school after the hazy blur of over-eating, family meetings and not-knowing-what-day-is-it-or-what-is-happening-in-my-life mood of Christmas is a shock. I was supposed to do everything during the Christmas break, wasn’t I? Well, there is just one thing left to do: panic. Panic going through the code in the train, skyping with your group at the airport and trying to do some work at every single one of your five transportation means.


Working, working and yes, you guessed it – working. I am not in this alone: two of my teammates suffer with me the endless hours of skype and iterations of the algorithm. Working on an experimental text processor, we are implementing the last changes in the code to get rid of the bugs and preparing posters presenting the output. At 4.00 in the morning I suggest taking a 3-hours sleep break and meeting again at 7.00 a.m. . One of my teammates thinks it’s a joke – funnily enough I can’t guess if she’s outraged by the idea of us going to sleep already or the idea of waking up again in less than 3 hours.


Hurray, we’ve got everything under control! The code is ready, the posters sent for printing. My group meets at the University to finish the last remaining task – put together a slideshow presentation.



Presentation day! We start with a demo hour – inside our studio all five groups prepare a mini exhibition of the prototypes. Guests (second year students and invited teachers) and us have an opportunity to go around and try out the prototypes. My group is presenting 4 experiments we developed during the design process and a final project: a definition making algorithm for non-existing words, set of poetry created with Google Translate, an algorithm creating a flow of synonyms, a digital dictionary of untranslatable words and the text processor detecting the dynamics of typing and translating it into typographical distortion. We take turns staying at “our” station, answering questions and explaining our process. After the demo-hour each group presents their project, process and theory behind it in front of entire class and receives critique from peers and teachers. This lasts for hours, so when I finally make it to home I am more than ecstatic to see my bed.


Let’s take a break from the studies, shall we? Today is the day that new students arrive in Malmö! And I am one of the volunteers welcoming them. I spend the day in a big black t-shirt with “ASK ME” on both sides, picking the incoming Erasmus and Exchange students from the train station and helping them with the check in.


Oh,well – back to reality. Just the fact that I presented my project doesn’t mean that it’s all over. After finishing a group project each of us individually has to hand in a 3-4 pages ACM format academic paper based on the project. Before the Christmas break we had a chance to discuss our potential topics with our teacher. Let’s get to writing then.



Who would have known that writing 2000 words takes so much time?

FRIDAY 13.01

Everybody is working until the very last moment. The deadline for uploading the finished paper is at 17.00. Shortly after that I set out from home for a Buddy Night at the Student Pub – a chance for me to meet an incoming Spanish Erasmus student for whom I am a Buddy (person helping out with all the questions concerning Sweden and coming for Erasmus).


The semester is over! Time to celebrate! Most of our class is a good group of friends, so we gather together for some well-deserved fun. Kevin is hosting an end-of-semester party: games, pizza, snacks, laughs and random conversations.

SUNDAY 15.01

I haven’t had much sleep yet but instead I enjoy a family-like breakfast at my best friend’s place (coming home alone might not be the safest option in Malmö, so I choose to wait until the morning). Her roommate prepares warm scones for everybody – and that’s just one of the perks of living in a student apartment! It’s well after midday when with full stomach and after discussing almost every topic possible from internships to adolescent fails, I finally set out for home. I can’t wait to get to my bed after this finals week. Goodnight!