Is Goeteborg more liberal than Stockholm

Blog seminar

Studying in Sweden is anything but rosy these days. Here, too, the university is at a standstill, and foreigners have to make many decisions. A report from Stockholm.

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Seven months ago in September 2019 I started my new studies in Stockholm. I quickly got used to the new life in Sweden and the university in Stockholm: a seminar in the morning, lunch in the full cafeteria at noon, a fika break (Swedish coffee break with cinnamon buns) in the afternoon before writing an essay in the library. At the beginning of March everything was suddenly different and you could tell that the new virus Covid-19 had arrived in Europe and Sweden. First, Stockholm University canceled the planned open day, then lecturers began to think about how seminars could be converted to distance learning, and despite the examination phase, the university library became increasingly empty. Even if Sweden was initially reluctant to take action against Covid-19, the universities were completely closed in mid-March. This meant that the usual university operations with learning, lunch and fika were over for the time being. Uncertainty spread.

Questions suddenly arise that, as an exchange student in Sweden, a few weeks earlier seemed as unrealistic as ABBA's reunification. How will the situation develop in Sweden? What happens if I get sick and shouldn't leave the room in the dormitory? How much longer will it be possible to travel without significant restrictions and will planes still fly at all? What impact would an early departure from Sweden have for studying abroad?

The “Swedish special route” - should you stay or would you rather go?

A German fellow student in Sweden describes the previous strategy as a “really typical Swedish reaction”. Even if the measures in Sweden have gradually been tightened and Covid-19 is recognized as a danger, they are still quite relaxed and liberal in a European comparison. Sweden's state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, primarily relies on recommendations combined with the individual responsibility of the population. As in other European countries, the top priority is of course social distancing and hand washing. If you have the slightest cold you should stay at home, which has also been emphasized again and again by Swedish universities. Events with 50 or more people are now prohibited. Daycare centers as well as restaurants and shops are still open.

As an international student, one wonders about the Swedish special route compared to the more restrictive measures in their home countries. However, since the Swedes traditionally have a high level of trust in the expertise of their authorities, the locals are less skeptical about the strategy. A Swedish fellow student points out that recommendations are the authorities' strongest means and that the government has only had the power to close shops and airports, for example, in the event of war. A recent change in the law now gives it the appropriate powers. There are increasing problems with the Swedish strategy, for example the increasing number of infections and deaths in old people's homes are causing displeasure.

As an exchange student in Sweden, uncertainty grows and you suddenly have to decide whether you should stay or leave. The rolling of suitcases in student dormitories in Stockholm is symptomatic of the growing insecurity. The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) advises considering local health care, political stability and the general security situation when making any decision. For an Austrian student, the “lax approach to Corona in Sweden” was a reason to leave Sweden. And indeed, the liberal measures have a bland aftertaste if you consider the words of the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in his televised address, who "prepared" his population for the fact that everyone must say goodbye to a loved one.

However, there are certainly reasons not to leave Sweden immediately. For one German student, the center of life is already in Sweden; the other has a high level of trust in the Swedish health system. In addition, concern for the health of family members plays a role that could potentially be infected. Some also welcome the fact that the measures in Sweden are looser than in Germany.

In any case, it is not easy to make a decision on this issue, and it is made more difficult by the fact that one cannot always obtain adequate information in a “foreign” country. The universities do provide updates, but official websites also provide the most important information in English. In-depth and comprehensive information is often only available in Swedish.

Home university & self-isolation paired with Swedish personal responsibility

Many of my fellow students in Sweden report that their lives have changed fundamentally from one day to the next. When the corona crisis worsened, the lecture period at the German universities had just ended. In Sweden, on the other hand, you were already in the middle of the summer semester. From mid-March almost all courses were switched to distance learning. Seminars are held on the American video platform Zoom, lectures are recorded and the usual take-home exams are simply expanded or online exams are held.

Even if courses and examinations can now be completed from anywhere and without any loss, all the "trappings" of daily student life are no longer there. The house is almost only left for shopping or sports. In this respect, the Swedish daily routine hardly differs from that of a student in Germany or other countries that are in lockdown.

The Student Union at Stockholm University (similar to the student representation in Germany) has also canceled all of its events. The pubs on the university campus have been closed. There are also notable initiatives and ideas. Online events planned by the Student Union such as student quizzes or Netflix parties with “Mamma Mia” take place. And a PhD student friend of mine has helped produce more than 20 tons of hand sanitizer for hospitals and retirement homes at Stockholm University.

But of course there are always the unreasonable who continue to roam the streets. A German student at Uppsala University reports that parties are being held next to him in the dormitory. The future will show whether the way of Swedish ownership works.

What's next?

The students are currently living in uncertainty: will exchanges be possible for the winter semester? What will happen to planned internships? For a student at Stockholm University it is already clear that the exchange to Singapore will not take place in the winter semester. And lecturers also expect fewer exchange students to come to Sweden for the winter semester.

The Swedish strategy is also unsettling, it seems to be a dangerous balancing act between preserving freedom and aiming to flatten the new infection curve. An experiment with an uncertain outcome.

But it also drove me crazy to scour the media all the time and wonder how my studies in Sweden will continue. So I finish my studies abroad remotely in Germany, unlike what I thought seven months ago. But I'm also learning to appreciate the experiences of the first few months in Stockholm even more, and meanwhile I bake cinnamon rolls at home, which then feels a bit like a fika break at Stockholm University.

Keywords: Corona and studies, studying in Sweden, Stockholm University
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Sweden: Studying under Corona conditions

From Stefanie Rueß

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