A Story About Studying in Sweden

Hej SHABL,

Just thought it would be an appropriate time to tell you about my life as a student as the end is near. Yes, when I am not out nearly getting kidnapped in Moldova or sleeping with gypsies in Romania, I am actually studying full-time at one of Europe’s most prestigious universities.

How I ended up here isn’t one of the craziest stories of mine, but it is definitely one of the luckiest.

It was December 2009 when I came back to California after 4 months of bouncing between England, Sweden, Ukraine and Poland looking for a job. Without a visa I had found it near impossible to stay on the continent which was both discouraging and depressing. Out of dark times can come clarity though which is how I found myself dead set on getting a Master’s degree and very seriously started searching for programs. I was looking at all kinds of them and all around the world when I finally came across one that seemed to be just perfect for me, a self-professed Europhile. It was a brand-new, 2 year program for a Master of Arts in European Studies at Lund University in Sweden.

As it turned out, not only was this Master’s in European Studies right up my alley, but it was also the last year it was going to be entirely free. I had no idea but up until 2010 all education in Sweden was free, you just had to be able to support yourself in terms of living expenses for the duration of your studies. Needless to say I JUMPED on this chance. Seriously doubted that I’d get accepted given the circumstances and odds, but wouldn’t you know… I was one of the lucky 28 that were ultimately chosen.

Some of you are probably wondering what exactly is European Studies anyway? That’s always the first question I get when I tell people it’s what I am doing, so here’s an answer. We study Europe and the European Union using approaches in both humanities and social science. Politics, history, culture, and identity issues are all covered. We ask and try to answer questions like “What is Europe?”, “What does it mean to be European?”, and “Why the hell was Israel in the Eurovision competition?” Just kidding on that last one…sort of.

This has turned into so much more for me than just learning more about Europe and getting another degree. I have met some of the most amazing people and had some pretty amazing experiences; people and experiences that have enriched my life so much more than the books I read or the papers I wrote. The degree will be beneficial to have, no doubt, but it’s what I’ve learned about myself and the world that can’t be determined by a piece of paper that will prove to be even more so. Now more than ever before I believe that the journey is just as important than the destination with all I’ve been exposed to within the past two years both academically and personally.

I can’t express enough the gratitude that I feel towards Sweden for giving me this opportunity (and the U.S. government for granting me a loan for my living expenses, heeey). Just to give you an idea of how grateful I am, I just read my program now costs €11,000 per year, so €22,000 in total that I saved. That’s for non-EU residents, it’s still free for EU/EEA ones. I believe that Norway, Finland and maybe even Denmark still have free universities for all so check up on that if you are interested. Scandinavia is an excellent place to consider studying for English speakers as many programs are taught in English (like mine) and you can get by very easily without speaking the native languages here. Not that you should – I am a strong advocate of learning the language of whatever country you are living in. It’s just that yes, the Scandinavians sure know their English which can make a lot of things easier and transition abroad smoother.

Such an interesting/fun/crazy two years and I can hardly believe that in just a couple days I will actually be “graduating”. It’s just going to be the official ceremony, then in August is when I will defend my thesis and be finished for good. I think. I HOPE. To be completely honest, I have no idea what I am going to do once I am done but I’m pretty sure things will fall into place. I really want to stay and work in Europe, but if all else fails at least I know I’ve got an office in close proximity to the beach waiting for me on Little Corn

11 Comments

  1. Ann

    May 31, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Larissa! Hi! I feel it was fate for me to read this blog post today! I was recently accepted into a very highly regarded non-accredited school in Stockholm – only, as you clearly state here, the cost of tuition PLUS the cost of living makes it a very expensive undertaking. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and to getting into the school is an achievement in itself.

    I’d really love to talk to you about financing this endeavor and what to expect in terms of *real* cost of living! Would it be possible to email you??

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    • Larissa

      June 1, 2012 at 4:16 am

      Very nice, congratulations! I think you’re going to love it here! Definitely send me any questions you have and I will try to answer them the best I can – larissa at blonde-gypsy.com.

  2. Rob

    May 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    School is out for the summer, schooooools out FOREVER!!!!!!

    I love Sweden and slightly envious of the time you get to spend there.

    • Larissa

      June 1, 2012 at 4:36 am

      Yesssss!!! And you know you’ve always got a place to stay here should you ever decide to make your way back..

  3. charlie

    June 1, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    How cool! A year ago I concluded that Sweden and Czech Republic are my top choices for study abroad. I think I would enjoy Sweden itself more, but CR’s central location can’t be beat. Tough decision.

    How many hours/wk do you estimate the “B” and higher master’s students spend studying/homeworking? Would there be plenty of time to enjoy seeing/socializing most of Europe or are the academic demands rigorously “old school”?

    AND, congratulations! I’m sure you’ve considered a career as a Foreign Service Officer already, but given your passion for Europe, it’s probably worth keeping on watch, probably. From what I hear the work is a bittersweet mix of frustration and soulfully rewarding.

    • charlie

      June 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      soulfully-rewardingness*

      • Larissa

        June 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

        Thanks, Charlie!

        I really just want to be a professional rockstar but since the odds of that happening are slim, I will probably try and stick to something tourism/travel related :)

        Study hours are always going to vary depending on the student but I found it to be fair and not too demanding at all. I actually had a lot of freedom for these past two years which has allowed me to do a good amount of traveling and socializing.

        I totally agree about the Czech Republic, it would also be a really sweet place to study. Cool thing about where I am situated in Sweden is that I have both Malmö and Copenhagen airport within close proximity to me so lots of flight options to the rest of the continent. I absolutely love it here, really hoping I can stay a while longer!

  4. Connor

    June 2, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Taking into consideration that you’re a native English speaker and your classes were conveniently in English. I noticed you quoted “I am a strong advocate of learning the language of whatever country you are living in”, did you learn any Swedish or have you become a fluent speaker? I am very intrigued to know, and if you have.. is it a good language to learn?! Also congratulations on graduating! Best of luck on your future endeavours! Make a detour to the South of England, I think you’d like it! :D x

    • Larissa

      June 2, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Thank you so much Connor, really nice of you! And like where in the South of England? I’ve been to Isle of Wight and loved it.

      One of the beauties of having a Swedish residence permit is that you are entitled to free Swedish language courses which I did take full advantage of. I am by no means fluent but have come a pretty long way in just two years. It’s a cool language to learn if you’ve got a lot of Swedish friends, but with only 9 million people in the world speaking it, probably not the most useful. That is unless you want to work in Sweden or be able to impress hot Swedish chicks/dudes you meet abroad.

  5. Someday I'll Be There - Mina

    June 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Congratulations! This is really amazing!

    I didn’t know schools in Sweden were free till 2010! That is damn lucky! I was applying to Lund university (and some other schools in Sweden – Karolinska Institutet and Malmo University) for a Master degree in Public Health last year, I didn’t get accepted because my English proficiency proof never arrived at the administration office :( I’ll re-apply next year again though…I’m really looking forward to living in Sweden for 2 years! :D Though it is really expensive to apply now, courses I was applying to would cost 18-22k Euros, I was also applying for scholarships :D So I need loads of wishes and fingers crossing to get accepted to BOTH the university and then any of the scholarships :D

    I’ll look into Norway and Denmark though if they still do have free courses! Thanks for the info and goodluck with your future, future will eventually unfold, don’t worry about it ;)

    • Larissa

      June 5, 2012 at 12:39 am

      Thanks Mina and that is really cool to hear about your plans! I will be crossing my fingers AND toes for you – I know exactly how that hoping & waiting game goes.

      For sure look into Denmark and Norway just in case. It’s always good to know about other options. The downside for all these countries is that it is that even if it is free, living expenses are still really high. Honestly though, the living standards and benefits I have gotten in return even as a non-citizen has made it so worth it. It all equals out in the end, I believe.

      The future will eventually unfold, absolutely. Thanks for that and hey, still hoping that will mean Egypt at some point :)

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