With my upcoming first final of the semester, I thought I would discuss the Swedish school system. University classes are very different than in the States. Firstly, Sweden has one of the longest semesters in the world: 20 weeks. In the U.S., my semesters were only 16 weeks long. There are no defined holidays from school. Teachers set their own schedules. My classes are in different classrooms each week. Many teachers will not assign classes during Christmas time, but you are not guaranteed to have a holiday break from class. There is also no break for Swedish students in between fall and spring semesters or in between each consecutive class. I think this would be very difficult for me if I were continuing in the spring.
Secondly, every class is only five weeks long, but you only take one class at a time. When I read this before I arrived here, I thought that meant I would be in that one class all day every day. I did not understand how a student would have enough hours in the classroom to be equivalent to full time studies in just five weeks. It is different for every class, but the majority of classes only meet 3-6 hours a week. Students are expected to study and teach themselves the material outside of class. This means students study outside of class 34-37 hours a week. This is very difficult since there is little to no assigned homework. Students must find their own research materials to supplement their education.
Even as a very self-motivated person, time management is really difficult for me. It is really strange to have so much time outside of class. Last spring in New Mexico, I had 18 units at school, I worked 16 hours a week, and I managed two school organizations. I was constantly stressed and on the move. Here, I only have to go to school two days a week. It is a lot of free time, which I have to force myself to dedicate towards studying. I do like this system because I can focus solely on learning one subject at a time. When I was taking six classes last spring, I could only retain tidbits of information from each course. It is also nice because the classes end so quickly. I know there have been classes that I had at home that were taught unnecessarily slowly, where teachers tried to make it more in depth than it needed to be, just to make the material cover 16 weeks. Here the lectures are to the point. This is what you need to learn from this class. Nothing but the essential information.
Now for a little information about classes. My study abroad program advertised the classes that would be offered at Linnaeus University in English. I was able to verify this on the Linnaeus University website. I chose this program based on the fact that there were many interesting sustainability classes. When it came time to register for the classes, I learned that there were very high prerequisites for all the classes I was interested in taking. Some classes required as much as 60 units in that field or high level math and science courses. I also wasn’t aware that there were two campuses and you could not take classes at both campuses at the same time. The classes I wanted were in Kalmar, but there weren’t enough classes there that I would be full time. I also didn’t know about the one class at a time system. You cannot take more than one class at a time here or drop or change classes once you are enrolled. This lead me to take classes that were very different than what I was planning on taking, and only two of the classes I am taking this semester will count towards my degree. The nice part is the act of studying abroad counts for two classes that I need, so it still works out to be a solid semester.
Obtaining textbooks has been one of my biggest challenges abroad. Since you are not guaranteed enrollment in any class until a week before that class begins, I did not have any information about my classes until I got here. I still don’t have information about some of my later classes, not even the textbooks or the times that the class will meet. Once I found out what textbooks I needed, I thought I could just buy them at the campus bookstore. At home I usually rent them from the used bookstore or order them on Amazon. Linnaeus University doesn’t have a campus bookstore, so I have had to order them online. There are only two textbook websites in Sweden, and they do not have all of the books that I need. One of my classes requires 8 textbooks! Furthermore, it has been difficult getting the textbooks that I have ordered. I live in a large apartment complex. We have tiny mailboxes downstairs. When the textbooks arrived, I was given a code by the textbook company and had to go to the cigar shop downtown to retrieve my order. I don’t know if this is a common practice with all packages, because all I have received are textbooks.
With my Beginning Swedish course ending, I have my first final approaching. Since I haven’t taken it yet, I cannot tell you what it is like, but I can tell you what they told us in the orientation. There are two types of Swedish finals. One is a take home exam which is an extensive essay where you explain what you learned in the class through thorough examples and quotes from outside research. The other type is an in-person exam which is usually held on a Saturday. Students must register for these exams at least two weeks before the exam. I find it really strange that they don’t expect every student to want to take the exam. The finals are usually four to six hours long, which is very daunting. The nice part about these exams is that there is always a makeup exam.
I am a little worried about the exams. I am one of those students that flounders a bit when taking tests. I rely on homework, classwork, quizzes, and participation points to sustain my grade. In Sweden, depending on your class, the only points available may be the final. I am studying hard though and I feel pretty prepared for my first final.
Swedish High Schools
My Swedish Friend Family has one child in high school and one child in middle school. Their mother, Anneli was telling me about the Swedish school system. I thought schools have been in the strangest places. They are usually not on their own parcel of land. They are in the middle of apartment complexes, next to shopping malls, or in the middle of parks. If fact, my apartment complex is on top of a high school. When we check our mailboxes, we can look through the window at the lockers in the high school hallway, and sometimes when the students leave, we play ping pong on their outdoor ping pong table. Anneli said Sweden puts schools close to where the students live, especially elementary schools. Some high school students ride their bikes across town or the city provides bus passes for them. Anneli said that sports and extra curricular activities are very popular for children, but high school students are expected to focus on their studies and usually do not participate in sports. Many high schools specialize in a certain career focus. I think it is awesome that high school students in Sweden are required to learn how to cook, fix household appliances, and balance their bank accounts. As an American student, I really could have benefited from those classes.