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Jordan Lok

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Marketing | Beedie School of Business › Operations Management
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op, Study Abroad › Exchange

Program:
University
My study abroad journey in Sweden was not only insightful and life-changing, but truly amazing. Making the most of the opportunity, I travelled across Europe by train, immersing myself in 15 distinct countries, savoring diverse foods, connecting with people, embracing various cultures, and appreciating unique lifestyles.
Experience Details
Semester
Spring
Summer
Year
2022
2023
Skills
Introduction + Preparation

I had an amazing opportunity this past spring to study abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden. For those of you who haven’t been to Sweden or Scandinavia, I know what you’re thinking there. Isn’t that the land of IKEA, Swedish meatballs, Spotify, H&M, and Pewdiepie? Yes, it is, but there is so much more than meets the eye. The experiences I had were definitely beyond my expectations given the unique cultural history of Uppsala University, one of the world’s oldest universities founded in 1477, yes you heard that right. Besides my exchange experience in Sweden, I will also be going over some tips & tricks from my time travelling across Europe by train.

 

Financial Preparation

I tried to apply for all available funding I qualified for as early as possible. In fact, I remember looking for and applying up to four months before I left Canada. Aside from personal work savings, a lot of my financial funding came from the different bursaries and support that SFU offers to students going on exchange.

Packing

As I knew I was staying in Sweden for over half a year and planned to backpack across Europe for two months, I made sure to pack as much as I could without going over the baggage limits. I flew with KLM so I had one free checked luggage, one carry on suitcase, as well as my personal item of a backpack. 

Some of the most important items I brought with me as recommended from everyone included:

  • Essential Items (Medication, Contact Lenses)
  • Copies of Important Documents & ID
  • Laptop and Adapters
  • Noise Canceling Headphones
  • Clothing and Shoes (Winter & Summer)
Travel and Transportation

There are no direct flights to Stockholm (or anywhere in Scandinavia) from Vancouver. So the best and easiest routes are a single connecting flight going through either Paris, Amsterdam, or London. I flew with KLM from Vancouver to Amsterdam, and then a short two hour flight to Stockholm. There are official arrival days offered by the host institution which provides direct bus transport to Uppsala from the biggest and closest airport at Stockholm Arlanda. The drive is around 90 minutes by car or bus, and you can also easily commute to Uppsala by commuter train or SJ rails if you don't arrive on the official days where a free bus is provided. 

Preparation Tips for Future Students

If I’m being honest, I chose Uppsala not knowing anything about it besides the location of the campus. I was just looking for an option near Stockholm so that I could study abroad while living with my long-distance Swedish girlfriend. And for me, Uppsala was the only university partner with SFU as there were no other partners in Stockholm. So, I just took a chance and went for it not knowing what to expect. Fast forward nine months later, and I find it difficult to even talk about all the experiences I had because they were just so unique and extravagant.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

Now, I was in a bit of an unusual and unique situation compared to most if not all exchange students who were there. First, I had previously lived in Sweden for a few months before and my partner who I would live with was also Swedish. I had also arrived earlier in late December to celebrate Christmas with my partner so I had already been in Sweden for two weeks before students started arriving for their exchange semester. 

In terms of Orientation, Uppsala offers a nice buddy program matching teams of new students to a local buddy who guides you through informal meetups and events. There are many orientation activities held by the 13 different student nations such as events, pub crawls, dances, dinners, gasques, sports, and many more!

Accommodation and Living

My accommodation at Uppsala was quite easily sorted thanks to my girlfriend who is Swedish. We were able to rent a one-bedroom apartment from another student who went to study abroad at the same time making the timeline perfect for us. There are also a lot of on campus housing and accommodation through the university and student nations that are available for exchange students. 

Day to Day

Uppsala is a very student-friendly city as it has 13 different student nations (organizations/associations) each hosting and running its own restaurants, bars, events, and clubs! I was extremely shocked when I first arrived, it was crazy and unlike anything in Canada or even the world as I was told. These student nations are non-profit organizations operated by full-time paid students who are elected by student members. They have been in operation for hundreds of years and they also provide student housing and scholarships as they own half of all student accommodations in the city. The largest student nation has over 6,000 paying student members, and the smallest having just a few hundred.

Each nation has its distinct heritage, culture, and building as they represent different regions and subcultures of Sweden. They have their own cafes, restaurants, and bars serving different foods at extremely affordable prices as the kitchen staff are all student volunteers. Every now and then they also hold gasques which are formal Swedish dinners where students show up dressed formally for a lovely three course dinner accompanied by Swedish singing and drinks throughout the night.

Learning and Adaptation

The Swedish studying experience was certainly very different to what I’m used to at SFU. First of all, classes happen consecutively one at a time and not concurrently all at once. So rather than four or five different courses simultaneously in a week, classes are split up so they happen one after the other over the term. For me, this was very nice as I could study and focus on one subject and class at a time. I’m sure we can all relate to stressful conflicting deadlines and group projects from multiple classes happening at the same time. So if you prefer to focus on learning one topic at a time, this system would be perfect for you!

It may be different for other faculties or subjects, but at least in business there were a lot of seminars and lectures. Nearly all of them requiring mandatory attendance and the classes were much smaller ranging from 30 to 60 students. This gave you a fantastic opportunity to really know your classmates and speak to your professors and lecturers on a more personal level.

Ekonomikum (The Business Department) at Uppsala University

Ekonomikum (Business Department) at Uppsala University

Accomplishments and Challenges

I was quite involved during my time there as I was part of the Kalmar student nation. I had major difficulty picking the nation I wanted to be a member of out of the 13 different student nations with each representing a different geographical province/region of Sweden. After long consideration, I found Kalmar to be the most inclusive and friendly for international students and English speakers like myself. I attended various study cafes and events they held, as well as their introductory gasque which helps newcomers learn how to act and participate in the formal traditional Swedish event.

I also got involved with the Uppsalaekonomerna which is similar to BASS at SFU here which represents all the business students. I joined as a writer for their 48 year long running student magazine Reversen which publishes monthly issues. I had the opportunity to be the only English writer amongst the Swedish articles to share my unique outsider Canadian perspective and experiences of being an international student in Sweden.

The Reversen Magazine Writing Team

Reversen Magazine

Cultural and Environmental Observations

Sweden is one of those places that most people know exists, yet not many people know much about its culture and people. You can describe Sweden pretty well with just one word, Lagom. Lagom is a Swedish word or saying which can be best translated to "just the right amount" or "not too much, not too little, just enough". This mindset perfectly encompasses the values, culture, and way of life in Sweden.

Sweden is an individualistic culture where people have a lot of individual freedom and strong emphasis on self-identity. However, the "individualistic" culture differs greatly from the vertical individualism of countries like US, UK, or even Canada where there is competition and an emphasis on achievement. In Sweden, people don't show off their accomplishments nor brag, you don't often see any fancy sportscars racing down the street as that wouldn't be very Swedish. Swedes are very honest, direct, humble, polite, and work-life balanced. 

In Sweden, fikas are very common and can be found in many workplaces and across everyday life. In Swedish customs, Fika is a break from work where friends or colleagues get together to drink coffee/tea while eating light snacks like cakes or cinnamon buns. Many foreigners often take the direct translation of Fika too literally or look only on the surface level of it being another word for a "coffee break". However, there is much more to "Fika" on a deeper cultural level. I would better describe it as a mindset of taking time to reconnect with one's friends or coworkers in the midst of a busy working day.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

Uppsala – Sweden’s 4th Largest City

Uppsala, Sweden

Now I’ll include a TLDR (too long didn’t read) for those of you who don’t have the time (or attention span) to read my unraveling endless speech. Basically, Uppsala University is an institution located in arguably one of the best student cities in the world. Around 50,000 of the city’s 200,000 residents are all students. Nearly everyone commutes by bike to class and there is an unprecedented student engagement rate that puts world class fraternities to shame.

Uppsala is located around a one-hour train or car ride north of Stockholm which is the capital of Sweden. It is rich in culture and has a history with roots being traced all the way back to the Vikings! Uppsala is well connected by public transit with frequent commuter trains and express rail trains to cities across Sweden. Being a relatively small to medium sized Swedish city, you will bump into students cycling everywhere you go, even in the middle of a winter blizzard snowstorm! I would say it is perfect for those who want to be immersed in a student city environment while having access to the beautiful outdoors with minimal "city commuter" noise. 

During my school semester, I had a quick weekend vacation trip with my girlfriend Nora to Gdansk and Warsaw in Poland. Unlike in Canada, there are many low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet in Europe which offers very cheap prices compared to the typical pricey fare costs of bigger airlines. With everything being relatively close in Europe, flying to Poland from Sweden only took a little over an hour! To put that into perspective, that’s around the same time it takes me to commute up to the Burnaby SFU campus (especially with snow).

Life in Sweden was quite different than in Canada, but not entirely foreign or overwhelming. Unlike many countries in Europe, Swedes are some of the best English speakers on the planet. You can easily speak to them in English and get any help you need. But being there in Sweden, I also took the opportunity to learn Swedish at night classes. Not only could I transfer an extra course credit back to SFU, but I knew that I would use Swedish again when I return one day.

Wrap Up

My time studying at Uppsala was filled with many expected and unexpected experiences alike. I had amazing memories of celebrating a Donald Duck filled Swedish Christmas, but also trying to not freeze in the bizarre frostbiting chills of the Swedish winters which could hit close to -40 Celsius. I enjoyed the amazing intercity regional train transports linking Uppsala to Stockholm, but also the frustrating and sudden unionized strikes by the train drivers. I loved the different Swedish foods, baked goods, and drinks, but also missed the diversity and affordability of different foods and cuisines of Vancouver. If you ask 100 different people who studied abroad at the exact same place, you'd get 100 different answers and experiences. For me, I definitely faced my fair share of challenges and roadblocks that seemed impossible to get over at the time. However, when I look back I can definitely say those setbacks have translated into personal growth and maturity to the person I've become today.

Fun fact: Anders Celsius which the scientific temperature standard is named after attended Uppsala University!

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

Interrail – Travelling Across 15 Countries in Europe

Now although my study abroad semester ended in mid June, my trip certainly did not end there. I had the opportunity to celebrate Midsommar up north in the beautiful region of Dalarna with my partner. I experienced amazing Swedish hospitality from Nora's family who welcomed me with Swedish traditions and amazing food. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Midsommar, it is the biggest holiday and celebration in Sweden taking place in the summer. I had a chance to eat some lovely Swedish food as well as flower picking in the bustling green Swedish nature.

After my weeklong of adventures in northern Sweden, I embarked on the start of a once in a lifetime trip across Europe with Nora. We were planning to travel by train using the Interrail (Eurail) pass which gives you unlimited travel days during a set period of time for all trains across the whole of Europe! For us, we chose the 15 travel days over two months which was plenty of time for us as we wanted to stay for a few days at each location we visited. With this pass we were able to travel all day on nearly every train in Europe once we activated a travel day in our convenient Interrail phone app.

Interrail Tip: Choose the 15 travel days over 2 months pass rather than the 2 months unlimited travel pass to save hundreds. Many make this mistake and end up wasting money on unspent travel as the 15 travel days option allows you time (2-3 days) to explore a city before travelling to another one.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

United Kingdom

We started our journey by flying to London as it was nearly impossible to get there by train across the ocean from Sweden. Luckily for us, London also hosts the biggest Canada Day celebration in the world outside of Canada so we could experience Canada Day while being halfway across the planet. That made it the perfect first destination for us as we got to celebrate that while exploring the megalopolis of London. An unexpected thing that happened was that we had a chance to see King Charles just meters away as his motorcade drove past us outside of Buckingham Palace. If we didn’t stop to put on some sunscreen, we wouldn’t have seen him certainly. We ended our weeklong trip in London with a visit to the HMS Belfast warship museum in the middle of London. This ship is the last surviving historical warship which participated in WWII during the landing on the beaches of Normandy. I can only summarize my experience on that historical ship with the utmost newfound respect I have for all the sailors, soldiers, and workers who sometimes spent years on that ship sailing across the rough seas away from their families, friends, and home, not knowing when or if they will ever return.

London, United Kingdom

London, United Kingdom

Tip: To save money on flights to London from Europe, try looking at other airports such as London Stanstead where RyanAir flies to instead of Gatwick or Heathrow where flagship airlines are based in.

Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany

After London, we took the Eurostar train which runs under the English Channel all the way to Brussels in Belgium. From Brussels, we took a FlixBus to Amsterdam as it was quite affordable and we could save one of our train days from being wasted for such a short journey. We found Amsterdam to be a wonderful city with beautiful Dutch architecture and canals. It felt very safe due to the number of tourists and the bustling nightlife as there was always someone somewhere at all times. I would definitely recommend a visit to Amsterdam if you enjoy museums, trams, cycling, food, or just good old sightseeing.

After our four-night stay at Amsterdam which ended with an intense storm, we ventured across the border into Cologne in western Germany. We were fascinated with the impressive gothic style cathedral mixed with the Germanic architecture of Cologne. After a brief day, we made our way to Berlin across the country on the comfortable and modern Deutsche-Bahn German high-speed trains. We were able to walk along the famous Berlin wall and visit checkpoint Charlie while soaking in the monumental historical attractions which surrounded us. After all, Berlin was the city that had reshaped and redefined the world as we know it in various times across history.

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

Tip: Over half of all transactions in Germany are conducted using cash. Unlike in Belgium or Netherlands, many places don’t accept card so make sure you have enough Euros.

Poland, Czechia, and Hungary

Now, I must keep my story shorter as there were simply too many places and experiences for me to cover them all. After Germany, we had a chance to visit Kraków and Katowice in southern Poland. There were a lot of amazing museums and historical attractions as the Auschwitz concentration camps are located nearby. We then moved onto Prague in Czechia during the record setting heatwaves. From there we visited the Prague Zoo which is one of the world’s biggest zoos being located atop a massive hill overlooking the historical city. We saw giraffes, birds, elephants, and even polar bears in the middle of the summer! After our crazy heatwave experiences, we ventured towards Budapest, Hungary hoping for cooler and milder temperatures. In Budapest we got to see the famous Danube River alongside bridges and castles that have stood there for hundreds of years. Perhaps our wish for cooler temperatures were finally granted as we were greeted by a sudden thunderstorm bringing much needed rain.

Central Prague, Czechia

Prague, Czechia

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

Seawall in Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk, Poland

Tip: All three of these countries use their own unique currency and are not part of the Eurozone so they don’t take Euros. Some street vendors may accept Euros but at very bad exchange rates so ensure you have either Polish Zloty, Czech Koruna, or Hungarian Forint if you do visit! (Don’t exchange your money at airports, bus stops, or by touristy old towns as they generally give the worse rates)

Croatia and Italy

Afterwards, we ventured south past Slovakia and towards the picturesque capital of Croatia, Zagreb. Croatia is one of those countries that many don’t mention or have even heard of. It is a very beautiful country, and I can only describe it as a more affordable Italy mixed with Eastern European culture along with its coastal mountainous landscapes. From Zagreb, we made our way by bus to Rijeka before finally arriving in Venice, Italy by train. Venice was exactly what I thought it would be from everything I’ve ever heard of. It was full of canals and gondolas for as far as your eyes could see. But it was extremely crowded with record breaking tourist numbers combined with record shattering heatwaves. Not a very fun combination as you try not to get swallowed up by the massive crowds while fighting the deadly heat. Our Italian adventures didn’t just end there as we headed towards Milan on the western side of Italy next. Milan could truly be described as a city where modern Italy meets the remnants of the historical and cultural Roman empire of the past.

Tip: Rather than just trains, it can be cheaper and just as fast to travel by Flixbus within Croatia and parts of Italy. Also ensure you have enough cash as it varies from region to region for cash acceptance.

France and Spain

When it comes to our experiences with France, it pretty much went as expected as we opted to avoid major touristy cities with unreasonable prices. Instead, we chose to visit smaller overshadowed cities such as Nimes and having a quick layover in decently affordable Lyon. We did spend a few hours in Marseille on the way through France and I can only describe the experience as disappointing due to the chaos, protests, and garbage littered streets. However, our experience at the historical Roman city of Nimes was unexpectedly amazing and fascinating.

Tip: Similar to Italy and Croatia in some sense, be prepared to either have your Google Translate handy or knowing some basics of French or Spanish as very few people speak English. Spain has some of the lowest English literacy rates in Europe and the world so be prepared to ask for help if necessary.

Switzerland, Germany and Denmark

Now, I'm not sure where to start but almost everyone knows the amazing beautiful scenery and nature of Switzerland. Even though I expected the sights to be amazing, I never thought it would take my breath away like the way it did. We had the opportunity to take the panoramic "Golden Pass Scenic Train" which went through the Swiss Alps. Best of all, this was actually included in our Interrail Pass meaning it didn't cost anything extra besides a travel day which was already being used! Now I haven't watched Lord of the Rings yet, but I can understand how the landscapes of Switzerland would later come to inspire the making of that series.

Swiss Alps

Switzerland

Lake Zurich in Switzerland

Lake Zurich, Switzerland

Tip: Honestly the best tip for Switzerland is don't spend any money on anything that isn't essential or necessary. Everything in Switzerland especially in Zurich is astronomically priced as the average salary in Switzerland is double or three times the average salary of a Canadian.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

The experiences from my study abroad semester has proven invaluable for both my academic studies and career goals. I will be working in my 3rd and final co-op term as a Communications Specialist intern at SAP before my expected graduation next semester. I have found the following benefits from my Swedish exchange term when it comes to career goals:

  • Being able to showcase my study abroad semester and experiences on my resume, cover letter, and Linkedin profile
  • Utilized as evidence and examples of intercultural communication skills 
  • Showcased as my experiences of adaptability in an international learning environment

European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

Advice for Future Students

Maybe you’re thinking about applying to study abroad or perhaps you’re still debating as to where in the world you should go to. Perhaps you're debating if it's even worth your time, effort, and investment to pick up your life and move somewhere completely different. To be honest, it's probably not for everyone and some will enjoy it more than others quite frankly. However, if you've ever wanted to explore other cultures and meet people from all around the world, this may be one of the few chances you have before you find yourself with limited time at a full-time job after graduating school.

For me, I couldn't and probably wouldn't have done any of this without the unconditional support from my partner, Nora. During the most difficult times where I doubted myself and wondered if I would make it to the next day, I could always turn to and rely on Nora who was not only my partner, but also my best friend. Whether it was travelling for an entire day on a crammed train, or running across the canals in Venice, I could always count on my partner to be there with me, and for me.

If you do decide to challenge yourself and see where life takes you on exchange, you should choose where you want to go based on who you are, and what you want to get out of your exchange experience. Some people may study at a country where they have personal connections at, whereas others may go to a completely foreign country they know nothing about so they can start fresh from zero. Don’t go somewhere just because your friends are going there, or because you saw it on a video on TikTok. Choose somewhere that you could actually see yourself enjoy living in, and somewhere that fits who you are. After all, it's going to be you and not your friends who will be reaping what you sow, and dealing with the reality of the destination you picked. If you’re worried about the costs, make sure to apply early in advance for the financial aid and support that is available for you.

If you do decide to study abroad then I leave you with a final word of advice. Lycka till med dina utlandsstudier! (“Good luck for your study abroad semester” in Swedish)

My story and adventure ends here for now with just one semester left until I graduate. When I reflect back on my five years here at SFU, I would say going to study abroad was without a doubt the best academic decision I have ever made. It has really given me countless experiences which has defined and reshaped me into the person I am today. Whether it is school, work, or even life in general, it really is how you make the most out of what you have. We can't control most things in the world, but we can control how we face the endless challenges and setbacks that life constantly gives us. The famous Roman philosopher Seneca once said "Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity". 

Admittedly, I spent way too much time writing this, but it was worth documenting everything as one of the final articles I’ll ever publish during my undergraduate journey here at SFU. When I reflect back, I realize that the most important skills I have did not come from any textbook or classroom. Rather, it came from the combination of my real life experiential learning on co-op and hands on experiences and adventures on exchange. As I close the final chapter on the last five years of my life and studies here at SFU, what will your life chapter at SFU look like for you?

Ski Hills in Dalarna, Sweden

Winter in Dalarna, Sweden

Summertime in Rättvik, Sweden

Rättvik, Sweden

Lake in Sweden

Author

Jordan Lok

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Marketing | Beedie School of Business › Operations Management
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op, Study Abroad › Exchange

I am a 5th-year BBA (honors) student concentrating in both marketing and operations management. I have been a co-op student on two separate terms for Health Canada and SFU International Co-op. For my final semester I will be finishing my last co-op term with SAP as I graduate and conclude my undergraduate journey. Throughout my time as an undergrad, I have been involved in different leadership roles at various student organizations such as the SFU Esports Associations and the Student Marketing Association. I have also been a business teaching assistant assisting with the instruction of BUS 217W and BUS 393 for my fellow business students. Whether its my humble beginnings from being an overly excited first year student arriving to class 20 minutes early every time, or my currently constantly busy schedule filled up with new challenges and opportunities I want to tackle, I can reflect and truly say that I have been happy and proud of what I've accomplished.

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Dec 22, 2023

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