Thursday, November 15, 2012

Courses and Erasmus Students

So for the past month I have been slowly getting used to living here. I am past the phase where everything I do is new and exciting. Meeting people from all over the world has grown to be the norm. I am no longer captured by the seemingly magical aurora that I was encapsulated with during the first months. To a certain extent it reminds me of how I felt during this time my first and second year of college. The newness and excitement of living somewhere new eventually fades. This change slightly killed my drive to write new blog posts because for me I feel like I am writing about the mundane, to get inspiration I have to look to myself on August 13th who had really no idea what I was getting myself into. So what I am going to do is have a number of posts talking the different aspects of living as an international student in Uppsala to show you what my life is like here as well as reminding myself how different my life has been the last three months.

I’ll start with what is the “most important” part of studying abroad, the schooling. All of my classes here are taught in English and are specifically for international students. The courses are taught in a sort of block schedule. You take one course for four weeks and then you take another. My first course was “Swedish History”, an incredibly broad introductory course about the history of Sweden with each lecture covering an era of Swedish history. Our only assignment was to write a comparative essay comparing an element of Swedish history with an element of your home nation’s history. This meant that the only lectures that matter to me were the last two. The course was headed by a bearded Swedish professor with rounded turtle shell glasses who clearly had a fondness for nicotine. He looks exactly like I imagined Swedish professor to look. The entire course felt like it was a Frankenstein course, made up of lectures from more specific courses. It was hard to stay focused when I knew everything from the year 0 to at least the 1600s was entirely useless knowledge for the one paper that we had to turn in. The European university system seems to rely on the assumption that students are self-driven and requires much more reading to actually learn the material. Because of this reason a lot of European students are used to never going to class because it is much less necessary. Also they don’t pay for their education. But in Uppsala many of the courses require attendance. Most likely because if they didn’t nobody would go to class.

Throughout the semester I have been taking basic Swedish. My professor is a kind short kind older woman named ├ůsa. She is adorable when you see her you just want to give her a hug. I have never really taken a foreign language. I took German for one semester freshmen year of high school but promptly failed because it was right after lunch and I much preferred sleeping then speaking auf deutsch. I do still remember how to say ich bin hungrig, which has proved to be invaluable. The pronunciation of Swedish is incredibly difficult to get correctly; they have a number of extra vowels which to my untrained ear sound exactly the same. It is hard to get motivation to learn the language when I have only met two Swedes who do not speak English in the last three months I have been here. Most Swedes speak perfect English with little to no accent. I am going to try to improve my Swedish while I am here though, I don’t want to go back to California after being in Sweden for 10 months knowing only how to introduce myself.

Erasmus Students
The Erasmus (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) is a program in the EU designed to integrate Europe by giving funding to young students to study abroad for a semester or a year. The idea is to create a more unified European populace one which understands and accepts the cultural differences of other countries in the European Union. However education takes a back seat for many Erasmus students, credits don’t transfer over to their home universities so for many their main goal is to do well enough in order to receive their funding. So they focus more on “understanding cultural differences with their European brethren”, which boils down to getting drunk and making fun of each other’s cultures. I remember during our study abroad orientation one of the points that IP tried to hammer in is the idea that Europeans only drink “socially” and that they don’t binge drink. This notion is not rooted in any sort of reality as far as I can tell. They might hide it better, but they still drink to get drunk. Of course the Europeans that I have met are all twenty year old students who are living away from home for the first time and only staying abroad for a few months, so that might bias my perceptions.

One of the common topics during the nights of cultural understanding is World War II. Somehow the conversation inevitably leads to World War II, usually after talking about the Eurozone Crisis. The Germans are usually stuck saying nothing while everyone else pokes fun at them. I usually pipe up with uncharacteristic patriotism about how America saved Europe. To older readers this might seem bizarre that the youth of Europe joke about World War II, but for so many it is a long passed event. It was their grandparents and great grandparents that fought. It is partially a generational thing. My Polish corridor mate told me that if her grandfather knew that one of her good friends in Uppsala was German that he would roll over in his grave. For some people the Erasmus program may seem a bit wasteful. Why should the state give money to send students abroad to socialize? It is simple really; if you know somebody from another country you are less likely to have prejudice against the country as a whole. It is taking away the toxic notion of nationalism, which is creeping up even more during this time of uncertainty for the EU.

For the next post
I am sorry for the lack of updates. Like I said I have gotten used to things that I will look back on as being incredible. I’ll post more photos when I do worth wild things. The main thing that I have been doing is working more at Kalmar Nation. It is a wonderful community and I always come home with free food. Last night I got about a kilo of bacon. I will also talk more about various aspects of living here in Sweden, things like going to the grocery store and the Swedish tax code and of course the actual Swedes.