By Anushka Tay
In Part I of this series on my Erasmus exchange whilst on MA Fashion Cultures, I discussed some of the academic differences between LCF and Stockholm. In this blog post, I dwell on some of the practical considerations of doing a study exchange.
There’s no way around it: Stockholm is an expensive city, and if you’re hoping to do a study exchange, start saving now! As the exchange is organised via Erasmus, you’ll automatically be eligible for a grant from Erasmus+. This won’t be enough to cover your rent, but will go some way towards paying for food and local travel. Be aware that you don’t receive all the money upfront, so arrange your financial affairs so that you don’t run into cash-flow problems.
I also successfully applied for means-tested grants through UAL: the Access to Learning Fund and the Final Year Award. These took several months in total to apply for, so start the paperwork as early as you can. It’s a long-winded process, so I advise maintaining a positive relationship and regular e-mail contact with your advisor from the finance office whilst completing the application.
It is notoriously difficult to find accommodation in Stockholm; simply put, there is a lack of housing available on the rental market. If you’re considering doing this exchange in the coming academic year, I advise getting the application forms completed as soon as possible, so that you can apply for student housing via Stockholm University. This really is the best option not just socially but practically, as it is really difficult to find a room in Stockholm on your own. Contact the Erasmus co-ordinators for information regarding housing. If you’re told (as I was) that the university has run out of accommodation at the time of application, don’t worry – you are very likely to be offered last-minute accommodation as people tend to drop out.
Stockholm is a small city, and if you’re used to London commuting times, living outside of the city centre will be a breeze. I was unfortunately unable to get student accommodation from the university, but ended up feeling thankful to find anything at all. My (shoebox) room was 30 minutes to the city centre on the fringes of Zone A, and was only a minute from a national park. It’s even easier to find rooms that are further out (a 45-60 minute commute is not abnormal for London but far by Stockholm standards), where you are likely to have a larger and cheaper room.
Sweden is a pro-card country, with many places even refusing to take cash. Setting up a Swedish bank account is not straightforward, and as as the study exchange is less than 6 months, it’s not really worth the hassle. I applied for a UK credit card which offered overseas spending at no extra cost; and opened another UK current account that allowed me to make cash withdrawals overseas via debit card with no surcharge. See Money Saving Expert for which banks are the best at the time.
I didn’t manage to find a job whilst in Stockholm, but other students have managed to pick up language teaching and tutoring/child minding jobs. Be aware that this presents a whole new set of concerns though as officially you must register into the Swedish system and get a Personnummer (personal identity number), even as an EU citizen. This is notoriously bureaucratic, as in order to get a P-nummer you need a Swedish bank account and permanent Swedish address; whilst in order to get a Swedish bank account you need a P-nummer!
Finally, rest assured that nearly all Swedes are multi-lingual, and you will be able to get around perfectly fine speaking English. The university’s websites usually have English language options, but these are quite clunky; you’ll do better just to use Google Translate, which happens automatically on the Chrome browser. Be aware that the most problems I have encountered with the language barrier has been at the library, when searching for English-language resources, as there are often fewer copies of texts in English. Whilst there is a selection of core texts in fashion studies, the library just does not have the extensive, arts-specific catalogues that are available to us at UAL. Nonetheless, we are in the fortunate position to be able to simultaneously use UAL’s extensive online databases. Thank goodness for e-resources!
Outside of school, I have met a few people (usually older Swedes, but not always) who only spoke Swedish, but this is fairly uncommon, especially when you consider how few Brits are bi-lingual! Beginner Swedish language courses are available at Stockholm University, and you can enrol for free. I recommend the class as a great way to meet people!