What are the best and the worst things about studying in Umeå? Vertex has met with the international biomedicine student Constantine S.

For Constantine, who was born in the US, the decision to do his master in Sweden was partly based on politics.
– When I was in the States, I was really unhappy with the state of the country. I didn’t believe in how the country was run.

He had heard good things about the Scandinavian society:
– The Nordic countries have a good reputation; they are always in top of lists like ”10 best countries to live in”.

Some friends, though, warned him against going that far up north. They described Sweden as “super cold, lonely and depressive”, and the Swedes as “super introverted”.
– Breaking the ice with people would be the challenge, because Swedish people stick mostly to themselves.

Constantine wanted to explore his options – and he wanted to do it while he was still a student. At his university in New York, there was a study abroad program, but since Sweden was not one of the eligible destinations, he had to wait until finishing his undergraduate.

Now, he has been studying in Umeå since January 2017.
– To me, Umeå is a charming little town. Wherever you go, you always run into someone you know, which makes it feel homey.

When asked to mention the best things about studying in Umeå, he says the nature, the student unions and the student–staff ratio.
– Being able to go out in the winter, staring at the sky and see the Aurora at Nydalasjön gives me so much joy. I’ve always been drawn to that.

Student unions do exist in the US as well, but they are more hierarchical, competitive and often gender-separated, says Constantine, and based more on people’s personality, rather than on what they study.
– Here, you’re not restricted to one student union. You can go to Skogis and have pancakes on Thursdays, and then you can go to Villan or Origo, regardless of which student union you belong to.

The low student-staff ratio is another advantage. In the US, with classes of 500 people and office hours twice a week, it was harder to communicate directly with the professor, says Constantine.

A more challenging part of studying in Sweden, says Constantine, is the variety of light exposure.
– It’s so dark in the winter. You go to class at 9 and it’s dark, and when you finish at 2 it’s dark again. You lose the sense of the days.

Constantine has had friends from Southern Europe who suffered from depressions, due to the lack of sunlight. He, on the other hand, has suffered more from the opposite problem:
– I’m sensitive to light, so for me it has been super confusing waking up at 2 in the morning and thinking it was time to go to work.

Another cultural clash, Constantine refers to as “this collective share ideology”. He takes living in a student corridor as an example:
– You have to be more cooperative, and there are these cleaning schedules.

He mentions the differences in how to recycle:
– In the States and in Greece we’re very bad at recycling. Here you separate four different ways, and under the sink you have the compost. I didn’t know about that, so the first time I used a plastic bag with spinach inside, I threw it in the compost. Then people started yelling at me and were like “what are you doing?”.

Text & photo:
Sofie Gisslén

See more pictures in article in Vertex 5-2018..

Text & photo:
Sofie Gisslén