As soon as I decided to apply for exchange, I started trying to learn Swedish using memrise.com. I’d never attempted to learn a language before, and although learning snippets from the website was fun, knowing how to say “det finns ett smörgås har” (there is a sandwich here) seemed to be about as fluent as I could get on my own. Aside from activities and events to familIarise yourself with other students, the university, and Malmö during orientation week, a “Svenska på Utbyter” (Swedish for Exchange Students) course is offered which finally started connecting all the dots for me. I still can’t properly pronounce the subtle differences between the “ooh” sounds of o, u and ö, but I can tell you that a is pronounced “ahh” and å is pronounced “ohh”. The course was also how I got to know other exchange students a lot better, which was great because a number of them are in my other classes.
So where exactly are you headed? Malmö was, until relatively recently, part of Denmark. In fact the whole of Skåne County was Danish until the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, which was just one of many treaties signed during a series of Scandinavian wars throughout the late 16th century. As the gateway to Copenhagen, and therefore overland trade with the rest of Europe since the completion of the Øresund Bridge in 2000, Malmö is a very important Swedish city with strong growth. Previously, the economy was driven by the shipyards, but the land which they once occupied just north of the old town is being rapidly replaced by a mass of construction that includes headquarters for many financial companies, as well as your host university, Malmö Högskola (in Sweden, a “högskola” is a tertiary institution whilst a “university” is a tertiary institution that offers study up to PhD level in ALL disciplines).
My grades were good enough to get acceptance into the ACU exchange program, but I wouldn’t consider myself a confident student, and I worried about whether exchange was something I could handle. The flight here wasn’t short (40 hours door to door) and at first I found myself wondering how to do even basic things like choose the milk in the supermarket (“mjölk” and “afil” are displayed together; choose correctly and you’ll find that Swedish milk is delicious; choose incorrectly and you’re actually getting runny plain yoghurt), but Malmö Högskola is a small university (like ACU) so it’s easy to find your way around, and the staff are always happy to help. The exchange course is relatively small (about 50 students) and you’re all going through the same things, so everyone tends to help each other out with advice like where to get your bike fixed, or which restaurants are cheap.
Being a student on a budget is something we can all sympathise with, and whilst Sweden isn’t South East Asia, it isn’t as expensive as Australia either. However, small things can add up so skip the bus and buy a bike (but make sure it isn’t stolen by asking the buyer to send you a photo of the serial number before you meet), take to making your own coffee at home (it’s expensive to drink out, especially if you want a latte), and limit your trips to Copenhagen. Not only is it expensive to cross the Øresund, but everything (minus the Earth-friendly ‘wares’ in Christiana) are more expensive. If you do have some cash to burn though, it is a great place to visit (checkout the ‘Lacma Snapchat’ worthy statues in the botanical gardens), and you have to make the trip at least once during your stay.
If you do end up making your own coffee at home, you should definitely complete your ‘fika’ (coffee and cake) by making your own pastries. Make the pilgrimage to Cafe No. 6 for a cafe experience that’ll remind you of home, and cardamom buns that’ll make you wonder why you’ve previously overlooked the spice, but for home you can’t go past incredibly simple yet irresistible kanelbulle (cinnamon buns). I decided to take it one step further, and try my hand at cinnamon croissants. It’s a three day process, but worth it, and if you’re worried you haven’t quite nailed it, there’s plenty of other cafes serving mind blowing pastries, and latte art to make you swoon. The cafes are also a good introduction to Sweden’s love of liquorice, an ingredient that they’re continually pushing the boundaries with.
Going on exchange isn’t all coffee and cake though, and there’s a couple of things you might be wondering about if you’re thinking of applying. Unfortunately, if you’re on exchange for under 12 months you won’t be able to open a bank account, or get a mobile phone contract. Thankfully there are Australian credit/debit accounts that allow you to withdraw money and make purchases without the ridiculous fees that come with most accounts, and Malmö had my phone worries covered with a prepaid SIM in their welcome pack. If you plan to work (and you can with your student visa), you’ll not only need to get your Swedish Residence Permit from the Migrationsverket Office on the outskirts of town, but also a Personnumber from Skatteverket (Swedish Tax Office). Finally, tickets for the green buses (the most common ones) aren’t available from the driver, so make sure one of the first things you do is buy yourself a Jojo (Yu-yu) travel card from a Skånetraffiken office, such as at the central train station. There’s no student price for exchange students, but it’ll get you 30% off regular fares (including trips to Copenhagen and will also cover transport fares while you’re there) and you can top up online, at a ticket machine, or at Pressbyrån (a chain of convenience stores).
If you’re ever wondered what exchange would be like, stop wondering and take the first step. Once I applied, it all happened much quicker than I thought, and now that I’m here, I can’t imagine missing this opportunity.