Five weeks in Umea - USyd on tour

14 March 2017

Camp fire in Bjurholm
Camp fire in Bjurholm

Stephanie Beck, 4th Year Bachelor of Education (Secondary: Humanities and Social Sciences) and Bachelor of Arts student

"This summer I exchanged 40 degree heat, days at the beach and a long university break with five weeks of study in Umeå, where it averaged -10 degrees, getting dressed in the morning involved rugging up in a minimum of 5 layers and where I had one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Together with 13 other Sydney education students, we travelled for over 26 hours to reach in Umeå, Northern Sweden’s largest city. On arrival we were met with knee deep snow and some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen.

We spent our first two days in Umeå at the University in preparation for our four week teaching experience. At 9.15am our lecturer Ron stepped into the classroom wearing Birkenstocks and socks, welcomed us to the university and then sent us off for a 20 minute fika (coffee and cake) break. I knew straight away that education in Sweden was going to be very different.

On our third day in Umeå we began our school placements. I was placed at Ersängskolan with Ayesha, another USyd student. Ersäng, I soon learnt, had the reputation for being a very tough school to work in. However I could not have hoped for a better school. The things that gave Ersäng its bad reputation - its international class, disability unit and the high number of students from the lowest SES bracket - were actually its greatest strength. I have included a few excerpts from the daily journal I kept whilst on exchange in the hope that they paint a better picture of the lessons we taught, the students we worked with and the school system we experienced.

Of course, being on exchange in Scandinavia, we filled our weekends with trips to Stockholm, Finland, Denmark, Norway and even Iceland. We went cross-country skiing (and were shocked to discover that our hair had frozen), tried dog sledding, spent a day on a horse sleigh ride, saw the Northern Lights (twice!), visited an Ice Hotel, saw elk and reindeer and visited all the museums in Umeå.

With five days of teaching during the week, and the weekends free to travel, we did not have a moments rest during our time on exchange. But as I sit at home in the sweltering heat, still completely jet-lagged, I can’t help but long for my time again in Sweden where I experienced so much, made life-long friends and had my approach to teaching and learning turned entirely on its head (in the best way possible). Thanks to the Swedish students, teachers and lecturers who shaped my five weeks in Umeå."

Read more about Stephanie's exchange on the Sydney Life blog.