The sun is shining as the international students and their Swedish buddies meet up by the fountain at campus, ready to explore the Swedish nature.

The hike to Hamptjärnsstugan on the outskirts of Umeå is one of the activities that are arranged for all Buddy Groups, who otherwise have their own meetups twice a week. In the middle of the gathering, dressed in a yellow hoodie and running shoes, stands Lucas Haskell from New York, USA.

Lucas Haskell.
Lucas Haskell.

He came to Sweden as an international student five years ago, and is now the coordinator of the Buddy Programme. The purpose of the programme is to introduce the Swedish culture to the international students and make them interact with the Swedish students.
– I think that the nature is one of the best things about Sweden, and this is a great opportunity for the students to experience it. They will also realize that there are a lot of hiking trails very close to where they live.

Soon the ground shifts from asphalt to gravel road and then to soft trails covered with fir needles. The city noise becomes more and more distant and soon we are surrounded by silence. But the group it not quiet at all, everyone is chatting.
– I think it’s important that the students get involved with other Swedes. If you’re from Germany for example, it’s so easy to just stay with the Germans. Many students come to Sweden without knowing anyone and have no friends here. Maybe they don’t get invited to a party and just stay home. To the Buddy groups’ activities everyone is invited, Lucas says.

Jung Hwi Roh and Si Won Kim.
Jung Hwi Roh and Si Won Kim.

When we catch a glimpse of the little red cottage behind the trees, after one more hour of hiking, we start to move faster. Rest is close. The students sit down on the flat rocks. When the food comes out of the backpacks the chatting, which has been constant for the last three hours, suddenly quiets down significantly. Salad in paper boxes, from the supermarkets in town, seems to be popular amongst the international students.
– I’m so hungry! And this tastes so good! I should have bought more, says the South Korean exchange student Jung Hwi Roh, and the others agree.

Swedish food culture has been one of the main topics for the Buddy groups’ activities.
– I love the food here. One day our buddies made us Swedish food and explained while we ate the different dishes. There was sandwich cake, meatballs, raspberries and a lot more. I couldn’t say what was the best, because everything tasted so good, says the South Korean exchange student Si Won Kim.

Read the full article in Vertex #8-2016, which appears 1 november 2016.

Text and photo:
Vendela Wikström