Exchange Students Share Their Experiences, Perspectives

Among the numerous agreements Kansas State has with various universities across the world is an exchange agreement with Linnaeus University (formerly Växjö University) in Växjö, Sweden. The nature of the agreement with Linnaeus University (LNU) is a Bilateral Exchange Agreement – meaning K-State is allowed to send students to study at Linnaeus for K-State costs and vice-versa for Linnaeus University and LNU costs. Since the partnership between K-State and Linnaeus (then Växjö University) began in 2002 the universities have exchanged nearly 30 students including Sara Hallengren, from Karlskrona, Sweden, in the fall semester of 2012 and Logan Gauby, from Washington, KS, during the same semester.

It is to be expected that all universities, especially universities in different countries, are going to be different – but exactly in what ways are they different? Both Sara and Logan reflected on their time at each university and have provided personal insights to some of the areas in which these two universities diverge as institutions of higher education.

Sara Hallengren: I’m from a small town of about 60,000 people in the south east of Sweden. Right now I’m in my last year of my bachelor’s program in International Administration at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden, finishing in June of ’14. I took the opportunity to study abroad and decided, quickly after doing some research, to spend my semester at K-State! I was there during the amazing fall of 2012, also known as the best football season in school history. Yes, I was truly impressed!

Logan Gauby: I studied at Linnaeus during my final year at K-State and I had an experience of a lifetime. The courses I took at Linnaeus counted toward dual degrees here at K-State in General Human Ecology and Family Studies & Human Services and helped me to graduate on time in May 2013. Although I did miss out on witnessing one of the best (if not, THE best) seasons of K-State football I wouldn’t trade my time in Sweden for anything!

Question #1: Academically, how did your studies at your host university compare to those at your home university – class structures, interactions with professors, classmates, etc.?

SH: Okay, so it’s definitely different studying at an American university and a Swedish one. So different. The biggest difference is that we only have one course at a time, usually for about four to five weeks and when you’re finished with that one, you move on to the next. Four courses per semester is somewhat standard. Another difference can be (from what I’ve heard from American students here) very confusing at first, is that we can be in a different classroom every single class and sometimes there are two or even three and four different professors in one course. The classes can also be quite large with up to 70 or 80 students in one class so that means the professors won’t remember you at all. The interaction with professors is different in that we will address ours in Sweden on a first name basis and you don’t at K-State. However, I would say that I personally got a much closer relationship with most of my K-State professors.

LG: While I was at Linnaeus I took “free-standing” courses meaning that my courses were not from one particular field of study or program but rather were from many different disciplines across the university ranging from gerontology to Swedish language and leadership in business to international peace negotiations. I really enjoyed being able to take so many different courses of such variety to get a true feel for all aspects and faculties of the university to broaden and expand upon the areas of study that I had already built a foundation for at K-State. My semester at Linnaeus was marked with entirely new experiences, including course structures. In the United States we are pretty used to taking anywhere from 4-6 classes all concurrently throughout the semester (a parallel scheduling structure) but in Sweden I only took one class at a time for 4-5 weeks in more of an ‘intensive study’ format (a consecutive scheduling structure). Though it took a little while to fully adjust to only having one class at a time, in the end, I actually preferred it. It felt like I was able to retain the information better instead of dividing my time and attention between multiple classes on top of extracurricular activities – I only had one course to focus on, and let’s be honest, less to forget!

Question #2: Describe what the campus life and overall atmosphere was like at your host university – what was different from your home university, what was similar?

SH: At K-State the school is much more involved in extra-curricular activities than here. Here, the school is only a school and does not get involved in anything else. I liked that K-State is so involved and that shows that they are really keen to making sure their students enjoy themselves, even outside school hours, especially for those who aren’t old enough for the Ville!

LG: It is my experience that nearly all campuses have their own unique vibe or atmosphere; at K-State’s is very much a “family” feeling with the whole university connecting through our sports programs. The same remained true, in my experience, of Linnaeus – students from all over the globe seemed to be interconnected into a close-knitted community through the unique university experience that Linnaeus is able to offer. Although Linnaeus wasn’t all that different, in my opinion, from K-State as far as a university setting goes there were a few aspects with very notable differences that allowed for very different and unique experiences that I would not have been able to experience at K-State. For instance, Linnaeus hosts two student pubs on campus so on any typical Friday or Saturday night you would see a very good majority of the on-campus students at one of these two pubs and this made it easier to get to know many more people that I was attending University with but may not have gotten to know otherwise.

Question #3: What were your expectations/assumptions of your host university before you arrived? Did the reality confirm or deny any of these expectations/assumptions? How so? What about of your host city and country?

SH: I spent a year in Seattle, WA in 2009 so to me, the [U.S.] is still the same but every time I do something new or go somewhere new, I try to always keep an open mind and not have too many expectations because from experience I know that things are hardly what you picture them to be. However, I did expect to meet great people and gain some experience from new awesome experiences, and I did! K-State was about what I thought it would be though, big, no – huge! (Compared to any school in Sweden that is…) The relationship with professors wasn’t as formal as I had thought it would be. I did think that I would meet and become friends with many more Americans than I did. It’s easy to fall in to connection with only other exchange students and believe it or not, but Americans are tricky people. Manhattan was about what I had thought, small American town, loved Aggieville! Kansas was more conservative than what I had thought, I know it’s politically a conservative state but I didn’t expect it to show that much with the people.

LG: I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have any expectations of what Linnaeus would be like before I arrived and it would also be a lie to say that Linnaeus was exactly what I thought it would be but in reality all of my expectations were met…and often far surpassed! I knew before I left that Linnaeus is a very international campus – especially considering the EU’s Erasmus Program and how easily European students are able to move between partner Erasmus schools – but I was truly amazed at how well so many students from so many corners of the world seamlessly blended in to the culture at Linnaeus and within Växjö. My expectations of Sweden as a whole were definitely met, in part because I was really excited about the winter/snowy weather – and I was not disappointed – but also the people were just as nice, and generally more so, as everyone I spoke with and everything I had read had led me to expect them to be. Sweden was a great host country!

Question #4: What was the biggest cultural adjustment you noticed between studying at your host university from your home university? How did you handle it? Feel free to give multiple examples. 

SH: I’m going to elaborate on my comments about Americans here. For me, wherever I’ve gone, I have seen people as the biggest cultural attribute, and Americans are no different. I heard a short analogy once how Swedes are coconuts, with a hard shell but with a soft and nearly liquid center, and Americans are like peaches with a soft shell but a hard pit in the center. I would say that us Swedes generally seem quite hard and cold on the outside but once you’re our friend, your “in” and there’s no return. Americans are friendly and everybody is so nice and ask “how are you?” (even though it’s just a way of greeting someone, it will be misinterpreted by a foreigner), but it’s hard to crack the pit, you’re never really anyone’s true friend, at least in the Swedish way of looking at it. That I would say was the biggest adjustment, you’re used to having really close friends and making them fairly quick once you come to a new place in Sweden but it just isn’t the case in the U.S. However, not to say people weren’t great and I met some really awesome people that I will never forget!

LG: Aside from the language barrier I would say that I have a relatively easy transition into the culture at Linnaeus and in Sweden in general. Obviously there are significant cultural differences between the Swedes and Americans but I feel that I have always been a “go with the flow” type of person and I was able to easily sit back and observe my surroundings and take in the culture quite well. I have always been fascinated by other cultures so it came quite naturally to me to simply sit back and “people watch” to gain a better understanding of the place that I was calling home for the nearly 6 months that I was there. I will say, however, that there were people who helped me out tremendously along the way to decipher all of the things I saw along the way.

Question #5: What were some of the things (habits, perceptions, new foods, perspectives, etc.) you picked up on while studying at your host university (also from your host town and country) that you have taken back home with you?

SH: Wow, this was a tough one… I would say that two things I miss are Chinese food, and ranch dressing! Chinese food in Sweden just isn’t the same. One thing that I think everyone tends to do is to view the world from their own back yard, we all do it, me too. But after experiencing something so completely different than “home” I think it’s important to think twice about things and one of them through someone else’s eyes, we can all at least try to.

LG: The first thing that comes to mind, though not necessarily a “habit” or perception, is the various modes of transportation that are used within Sweden. Of course people still drive personal cars and public transportation and biking are not all together unheard of in the United States but I was still amazed at how seamlessly all forms of transportation were integrated in to everyday life, seemingly more so than I was used to in Manhattan. I come from rural Kansas so waiting on buses, unless it was waiting for the school bus to pick you up in the morning or to take you to a sporting event, was pretty much unheard and it wasn’t until I was in Växjö that I had to rely on public transportation as my “daily driver”. Having to rely on a completely new mode of transportation along with actually having to learn how to read a city bus route and timetable which was completely foreign to me from the beginning let alone the fact that it was all written in a foreign language really stuck out to me. Putting aside the initial struggles with the maps and timetables I found to truly enjoy taking the bus into town for a quick run to the “market” (or more likely Systembolaget) or to take a quick fika with friends. Another note on transportation that, to be honest, I wish I had tried harder to integrate into my life back at K-State is how engrained in the lifestyle – almost to the point of being a cultural trademark – is how widely used and accepted bicycling is as both a means of transportation and for sport or leisure. Taking a fika, as I mentioned before, is something that I continue to enjoy now that I am back in the swing of things here in the U.S. again. Google Translate translates fika to “have coffee” but from experience I have learned that it can be applied to much more than that. Yes, usually fika does usually involve coffee (I thought Americans drank a lot of coffee but this doesn’t even begin to compare to Sweden – Sweden nearly doubles the U.S. in annual coffee consumption) or tea or some sort of hot beverage but it is more of a time to sit and relax and enjoy the time with others more than it is about getting that afternoon caffeine rush.

Question #6: If you had the entire experience to do over again what would you do exactly the same, what would you do differently? What do you day dream about doing from your exchange semester?

SH: Honestly, the only thing I would change would be not to study as much as I did. I studied a lot and in retrospect there were other more fun things. I did a lot but as usual you can always do more! I don’t have any regrets, but there are things I wish I’d done and some things I wish I’d done more of. However, all in all I really enjoyed my time at K-State, I would recommend the school to anyone and they’ll have the best time! So anyone who’s thinking about going to K-State, have fun and don’t study too hard.

LG: First and foremost, if I could change one thing about my time in Sweden I would have applied to go for a whole year rather than just a semester – I feel as if I left a lot of Swedish culture and countryside unexplored in the nearly 6 months that I was there and would have loved the opportunity to spend more time exploring more parts of the country. As far as what I would have kept exactly the same, while I feel like ‘everything’ is a cop-out answer, there is honestly very little that I would change. A couple of specific examples would be signing up for a ‘Friend Family’ and choosing to live in the dorm I did. The ‘Friend Family’ experience was one of my overall favorite parts of my experience in Sweden – the Åbergs were incredible in so many ways from helping me to get settled into my dorm they day I arrived in Sweden extremely jet lagged to giving me an ‘inside look’ to the Swedish culture and customs throughout my time as an Exchange Student. Choosing which dorm to live in seems like a pretty insignificant decision when taken at face value but when I consider all of the people I was able to meet and live with as well as everything I was able to experience and participate in simply by living in Lyan 61 the experience is one that I would do over and over again if given the option.

Personal Updates:

SH: Finishing off my fifth semester and then I’m moving to my all-time favorite city in Sweden – Gothenburg. I’ll be doing my internship and hopefully, if it all works out, I’ll stay there forever!

LG: After graduating from K-State last May I began working full-time for Kansas State Study Abroad and International Admissions and Recruiting. Having studied abroad has helped me immeasurably while working in both of these offices as it provided me a perspective to understand the day-to-day processes of each office from a more familiar vantage-point. In the future I hope to continue to my education by pursuing a Master’s degree to eventually work either internationally or within an internationally focused field.

For more information about exchange programs or other great study abroad options available at K-State check out our website. If you would like to read more stories like Sara and Logan’s explore some Past Student Experiences.