Life on Exchange – First Impressions: Lund, Sweden
Going on exchange is probably something that many students look forward to in their university life – a chance to take a break from the endless studying in NUS by spending a semester in another country, experiencing a different culture and way of life, with the chance to travel around the region, and of course, essentially getting 5 extra S/U options. I was lucky enough to be able to get my first choice of Lund University in Sweden, and having spent about a month here, here are a couple of first impressions that I’ve picked out about life in Lund! (Disclaimer: Obviously, one month is not enough to become fully familiar with life in a different country, and I apologise if there are any mistaken observations below!)
Of course, the most obvious and drastic change was the weather. Professors and local students alike questioned our decision to come on exchange in the dreary winter months – while temperatures that hover around 0°C may not be absolute-freezing-hell, it is still cold enough such that attempts to walk around and explore the new environment can easily become uncomfortable, limiting the amount of time one is willing to spend outdoors. A fellow Singaporean even proclaimed that she would “never, ever, ever complain” about the heat and humidity of Singapore again – nonetheless, it is a novel experience learning to live in a place where the cold can make talking coherently a daunting task. It was also my first time seeing snow, which, amusingly, was mind-blowing to a Swede, who after hearing that fact, looked at me and said, “Wow, I never even actually thought about there being people who have never seen snow before…” Still, as pretty as snow can be, I cannot help but look forward to the end of winter – although I’m very much a nocturnal creature, it does get a tad depressing to have to say goodbye to the sun as early as 4pm everyday!
“The City Where Bikes Dominate”
In a BBC program, Lund was named “the city where bikes dominate”, with 60 per cent of the people leaving their cars at home in favour of bicycles and public transportation. There are just simply way fewer cars on the roads here, such that pedestrians can easily cross roads (okay, jaywalk) without having to worry about being knocked down by a vehicle, and this lack of cars is really a refreshing change from the jam-packed Singapore roads. We were also told that drivers are expected to be highly respectful of pedestrians and cyclists – quoting Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”, and with cars clearly more powerful than people or bicycles, drivers should hence also be the most responsible and conscientious. It does seem like such a mentality should be encouraged in Singapore as well, especially with our drivers notorious for their rude and reckless behaviour. Public transportation, while reliable and convenient, is not exactly cheap (without a travel card, one bus ride, regardless of the
number of stops, costs around S$4), and hence the main mode of transportation for the majority of students is by bike. With Lund being a student town, bicycles and bicycle racks are then present everywhere, truly making it a city where “bikes dominate”.
While I was expecting the workload to be more relaxed than NUS (which it is), what struck me the most was the amount of variety in module combination for a semester. In NUS, we are used to taking 5 modules every semester that last the full semester, with a final examination at the end. Here, it’s entirely possible to take just one module
that fulfills a semester’s worth of credits (MCs, in NUS lingo), or to take four modules, with two modules lasting for the first half of the semester and the other two in the second half – with many other combinations possible. In general, the way modules are organised here allow for more time and better focus, without needing to split our time between multiple different modules.
It was quickly made known to us that ‘nations’ were central to student life in Lund University – basically, nations are student societies that each have their own building (and sometimes accommodation as well), with nations being scattered all over different parts of the town. It’s actually not easy to describe what a nation is, since essentially everything related to student life seems to revolve around the nations – how do you explain something that organizes such a variety of activities and events? Sports, performing arts groups, clubs and societies are under them, they have their own magazines, radio stations, and more uniquely, they also have their own cafés, pubs, and clubs that are run entirely by student volunteers. Meals (brunch, lunch, dinner), drinks, clubbing/partying, formal dinners, balls –
yup, they’re all covered by nations. Although I haven’t participated in that many nation events and activities, I have to say that from my experience thus far, it is definitely something I wish existed in Singapore as well – can you imagine being able to explore such a great range of activities, from sports to theater to running your own café and club, all in one place?
It’s been a tough but fun month – it is never easy being so far from home, and as cliché as it may sound, I do think it is true that going on exchange and learning to live independently does make you learn more about yourself, and I am looking forward to a fruitful 4 months ahead before returning to sunny Singapore!
By: Jessie Koh