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Kitty Cheung

she/her
SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology
Study Abroad

Program:
University
Location:
Exchange was such an incredible time to focus on learning, growth, and fun. The amount of self-discovery I experienced was life-changing.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2022
Introduction + Preparation
 
Academic Planning

Going into exchange near the end of my degree, I had specific credit requirements that I needed to fulfill. As an IAT major (Interactive Arts and Technology) with no room for electives, I specifically needed Upper Division IAT credits. I reached out to both my Academic Advisor and Study Abroad Advisor. They recommended researching institutions that IAT students had gone to before and looking up the documents to see how their credits had transferred back. My study abroad advisor was particularly helpful in sending me a list of all exchange courses with successfully transferred IAT credits, which helped me pick my destination. I ended up taking the course “Storytelling - Narration Across Media” at Malmö University in Sweden. Past SFU students had taken this course before and earned credits for IAT 313, so it was more of a guarantee that this course would fit my degree needs.  

What to Pack

For a five-month stay, I brought a large suitcase, carry-on suitcase, and backpack. I was on exchange from August to January so I packed some summer outfits for the beginning of the semester, but mostly allocated luggage space to autumn and winter clothing. Weather and temperatures in Malmö are somewhat similar to Vancouver, except where Vancouver is rainy, Malmö is windy. Malmö is in the south of Sweden so it’s warmer than the north, but still gets pretty cold. Bring layers and a warm coat (leggings to go under pants, base long-sleeves, sweaters, etc). If you plan to bike, a face mask, toque, and gloves are extra helpful to stay warm against the winter chill. 

Those of us living in Metro Vancouver might already be familiar with seasonal depression. In Malmö, winter days are pretty dark and damp, similar to Vancouver winters. I experienced several days in December and January where the sun would set around 3pm. Living in a community of dorm friends definitely helped me combat low mood. If you are studying abroad in the winter, consider taking Vitamin D supplements too. 

In case you forget to bring anything, you can also ask around to borrow from friends and neighbours. At the end of the semester, I went on a Lapland trip in the north, where it was all snowy tundra. Several of my friends had already visited Lapland and they were generous enough to lend me a ski jacket, snow pants, and Timberland boots (plus by the end of exchange they were happy to get rid of stuff and free up luggage space). There are also many secondhand shops and the main malls are Triangeln and Emporium. 

Travel and Transportation

For transportation, I used Malmö by Bike. It’s similar to the Shaw Go bikes that you find around Vancouver. There are stations all over the city where you can loan out a bike, ride around, and drop it off at any other station. You can get a yearly subscription for 250 SEK (~$33 CAD). I was only on exchange for one semester, but this was definitely worth it. You can also purchase your own bike on Facebook Marketplace. There are pros and cons to each option. Sometimes the nearest Malmö by Bike station is empty so you need to go to another one, or the bikes aren’t in the best condition (squeaky noises, missing bell, etc.) However, buying your own bike means you need to bring it everywhere with you, carry a lock, and resell it at the end of the semester. 

The city’s bike infrastructure is amazing. Bike lanes are separated from cars and closer to the sidewalk. The driving culture is also much more bike-friendly. Drivers will actually stop and prioritize cyclists, which was refreshing coming from a more car-centric city in BC.

Bus fare is quite expensive. A one-way ticket is 23.25 SEK ($3.05 CAD), though I recommend purchasing 24 hour tickets if you’re taking at least two trips. There are also monthly passes and discounts if you buy tickets in bulk so you can split fare with friends. I recommend downloading the app Skånetrafiken (Malmö’s equivalent to Translink) where you can buy tickets and look up bus routes. 

A station of orange, white, and black bicycles
The Malmö by Bike station closest to the student housing. 
 
Finances

My best finance tip is to apply for funding! Some examples of funding opportunities include the Suite of Study Abroad Awards, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion International Mobility Award, and student grants and loans. 

Sweden is mostly cashless and I often used mobile pay. I recommend the apps Revolut and Wise which you can use to transfer money into different currencies. I used Revolut to pay rent and also transfer money to friends if we owed each other (as an alternative to Canada’s e-transfer). Wealthsimple Cash is another option; they charge a lower currency conversion fee than most Canadian banks. The only place where I needed cash in Sweden was at outdoor produce markets. If you’re travelling to other parts of Europe, some euros might be good to have in cash too. 

If you do go with your regular bank, make sure to contact them and let them know you are travelling so they don’t flag purchases in Sweden as suspicious activity. Additionally, if you have any accounts which use MFA (multi-factor authentication), try to change them so they are not linked to your cell phone number. There were times I would try to log in to my bank account, but it was difficult whenever they sent me a text since I had already changed my SIM card. 

The cost of living is a little cheaper than Vancouver. Rent is more expensive in Vancouver, however food is more expensive in Malmö, so it somewhat evens out. I mostly cooked at home instead of eating out. Keep in mind, I was on exchange during the Ukraine-Russia war, so inflation and gas prices were skewed. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

I flew to Copenhagen Airport and rode the train into Malmö. I came on Arrival Day, so there were volunteers waiting to greet me at Malmö Central Station. I recommend trying to come on this day as it definitely relieved the stress of landing in a foreign country. The volunteers walked me to the university, gave me a welcome package, and then I received a ride to the student housing. Orientation ran for the first two weeks. There were helpful events such as a campus tour, a grocery shopping tour where they show you the cheapest places to buy groceries, an IKEA trip to grab things to decorate your room, and a beach barbecue to meet new people. 

Accommodation

I lived in the student housing and I highly recommend it! Summer rent is free from mid-June to mid-August. If you have space in your degree, I suggest going on exchange in the spring semester (January to June) and then staying in student housing for the rest of the summer during the rent-free period. This way, you'll be done studying and have more free time to travel Europe. 

There are two buildings in the student housing: Celsiusgården and Rönngården. Celsiusgården is more quiet while Rönngården is more social. I lived in Rönngården and found it easier to make friends as we would usually host events like movie nights, international dinners, and dance parties. 

In Rönngården, I recommend the rooms on Floors 7-9 because they have better facilities with the best window views, especially the west-facing side where you can view amazing sunsets and Turning Torso. There are single rooms with private bathrooms and a shared kitchen, laundry, and common area. The kitchen would sometimes be dirty and there would be disputes about washing dishes and sharing fridge space, but there is a weekly cleaning schedule where everyone has responsibility for shared spaces. 

Rooms have different sizes and are priced accordingly: smaller rooms are cheaper, larger rooms are more expensive. My room was big at ~25 square metres and the monthly rent was 5083 SEK (~$650 CAD). If you’re hoping for lower rent, it might be possible to reach out to the housing office to request a smaller room.

spacious bedroom with IKEA furniture including desk, bed, lamp, and drawers
My favourite part of this bedroom is getting to watch the sunset from the large windows.
 
a kitchen and living room with fridges, sink, couch, dining table, and more
The kitchen and common room in Rönngården was always a great place to make friends while cooking or studying. So many movie nights and international dinners have been hosted here :') 

Groceries

The closest grocery store to the dorms is Willy’s. Check out the discount produce section. Sometimes they have fruit and vegetable boxes for as cheap as 20 SEK ($2.50 CAD)!  Another place to find cheap food is TooGoodToGo, an app where you can buy discounted food from restaurants who don’t want to throw it away. There are also Asian grocery stores that I would visit whenever I was missing the T&T’s and H-Marts in Metro Vancouver. These stores are the best places to find foods such as frozen dumplings and lap cheong (Chinese sausage). 

A cardboard box of discounted fruit, including bananas, apples, grapes, pomegranate, pear, and kiwi
All this fruit for only 20 SEK (2.50 CAD)!


Sometimes grocery shopping was a little disorientating because mostly everything is written in Swedish, however, I recommend using the Google Translate app. The camera feature is especially helpful for taking pictures to easily translate signs and package labels. Another thing that confused me is that prices in Sweden are written with commas instead of decimals, so “24,50 SEK” is twenty four kronor and fifty öre, not over two thousand! 

Sweden is really good with dietary restrictions. There are tons of plant-based options. I am lactose-intolerant and I was pleasantly surprised to find multiple brands of plant-based yogurt, cooking creams, whipping creams, and baking “butter” to choose from at the grocery stores. They also have meat-alternatives, for example, vegan ground meat, meatballs, even kebab, for cheaper prices than animal meat. At cafes and bubble tea shops, they also do not charge extra if you ask for an alternative such as oat milk, which was a blessing. 

Academics 

Classes were usually seminars. The professor would provide readings, give lectures, and facilitate student discussions. Where the course differed from SFU was in the assignments and grading. In the Storytelling course, there were both academic papers and creative projects. We had options to create an audio-play, comic, or even an escape room. The academic system is also more lax here. At SFU, I’m usually balancing multiple courses. Meanwhile in Malmö, I only needed to take one course at a time. My class also had two chances to submit a re-exam in case students failed the first time. Since SFU exchange grades are pass/fail, I appreciated having more flexibility to enjoy exchange. 

There are two campus buildings: Niagara and Orkanen. They are just down the street from each other and I attended classes in both buildings. Malmö University also uses Canvas. Just be sure to change the language settings to English because it might be Swedish by default. The library also has a writing centre (similar to the SLC) in case you need support. 

They also offer free Swedish classes for exchange students. Most people in Sweden speak English so you won’t face many language barriers if you opt out, however, I felt proud to be able to order coffees in Swedish by the end of the term. Some of my friends who opted out did have more free time for rest and travel, so whether or not you should take the Swedish class depends on what you want to get out of exchange.  

A room on campus with fridges, microwaves, and sinks
Campus buildings have fridges and microwaves to store and heat up school lunches. 
 
Extracurriculars

If you get a membership at the student union (Studentkåren), perks include free coffee and cookies from the student union building and access to discounts for companies such as 7-Eleven and Flixbus. I got involved with SUM Magazine, a student publication where you can submit writing and visual art. Orkanen Library also has a student gallery where you can submit art for display. Plus it looks super impressive to say you’ve exhibited art in Sweden! 

Things to Do in Malmö
  • Visit the beach whenever it’s sunny! It's an amazing place to watch the sunset, swim, play volleyball, and have a picnic. You can see both Turning Torso and the bridge to Denmark from the beach Ribersborgsstranden. 
  • There’s also a sauna by the beach; in the winter you can take turns dipping into the cold ocean and warming up in the sauna. I was initially intimidated because it is a nude sauna, but it was a great experience to get more comfortable in my body. 
  • Go for fika, or coffee breaks, at local cafes and try kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). 
  • Funnily enough, every local will tell you to try the falafel. 
  • Malmö City Library has beautiful architecture. 
  • Parks such as Folkets Park and Slottsparken that are great for walks and picnics.
  • Copenhagen and Lund are cities just a train ride away — great for day trips. Copenhagen has Tivoli, an amusement park where you can go on roller coasters.  
  • Go to IKEA for lunch. 
  • Malmö Opera is expensive but there is a student discount and you can view incredible performances with English subtitles. 
  • Malmö Museum includes a castle, aquarium, and art gallery. 
  • When it’s warm, go paddle-boating in the canal. 
  • Go for a hike in the nearby forests; southern Sweden is somewhat flat so the hiking is easier (though not as majestic) as BC mountain hikes. 
a fancy opera theatre
Malmö Opera offers shows with both English and Swedish subtitles. 
 
Tips for Travelling Around Europe 

First, my caveat is that you don’t need to travel to other countries to enjoy your exchange! I had several friends who preferred to stay in Sweden and explore it more deeply. Whether you’re working with a tight budget or want to minimize travel fatigue, Malmö already has plenty to offer! However if you do plan to travel, here are some tips I wish I knew early on. 

  • I recommend Schengen countries. These countries have an agreement between each other to be “borderless,” so you can cross easily between places (i.e. Sweden, France, Germany, Italy) without needing additional visas. 
  • Do your research. When I was planning my London trip, I learned that Canadian citizens could visit the United Kingdom without a visa, but my friends from non-Commonwealth countries couldn’t join me. Passport privilege is very real. 
  • Once you get your course schedule, book flights early so you can take advantage of cheap fare while avoiding missing class.  
  • Flights aren’t the only transport option! In some cases trains and buses might be cheaper (but more time-consuming). From Malmö it’s possible to take a train to Stockholm or Flixbus to Berlin. 
  • Take advantage of student discounts. For example, the Chateau de Versailles in France is free for people under age 26 residing in the European Union. Since I met the age requirement and had the Swedish residence permit from exchange, I got to visit this historic building for free! 
  • It would be a nice gesture to learn how to say “hello” and “thank you” in the languages of the places you’re visiting.  
  • Many public washrooms in Europe require you to pay — even some McDonald’s locations! If you want to avoid this fee while sightseeing, try using the washroom whenever you’re already at a museum or restaurant. 
Helpful Apps 

To recap all the apps I mentioned (plus a few more), here is a list:

  • Google Translate (especially the camera feature) 
  • Skånetrafiken - public transit
  • Malmo by Bike - bikeshare 
  • Revolut, Wise, Wealthsimple Cash - finances
  • Mazemap - to find rooms on campus
  • Mecenat - if you join the student union, you can show this app for discounts (i.e. 7-Eleven)
  • STUK.CO - student discounts 
  • Comviq or whichever phone company you choose - to check data usage 
  • TooGoodToGo - cheap food 
Reflection & Tips
Reflection

After having my exchange delayed due to COVID, there were times when I considered cancelling altogether. However, it was so worth the wait. Exchange was such an incredible time to focus on learning, growth, and fun. The amount of self-discovery I experienced was life-changing. In total, I visited 10 different countries. Something as simple as learning to navigate each new city’s transit system helped me realize I am capable of so much more than I imagined. 

My best advice would be to make time for rest. Moving to a new country can be exciting and overwhelming. Use this semester as an opportunity to make friends and experience new things, yes, but also it’s okay if you need some days to just stay home and take care of yourself. 

Another thing that made this semester special was that I was surrounded with students who were in the same boat. Many of us had come to this new country alone without speaking Swedish, but we learned to navigate its campuses, grocery stores, and transit systems together. My dorm became a community of travel buddies to go on trips together too. These friendships and memories have made exchange a magical experience. 

Kitty smiling and standing in a Stockholm street
All smiles in Stockholm :) 

Author

Kitty Cheung

she/her
SFU Student Undergraduate
Communication, Art + Technology › Interactive Arts + Technology
Study Abroad
visibility  364
Jun 8, 2023

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