Lena chose Sweden as a way to differentiate herself
When she was 14 years old Lena Günter started an initiative to get a youth council in her hometown. Her interest in democracy led her into academia and from her home in Germany to Sweden, where she is now attaining her master’s degree in political science at the University of Gothenburg.
“I’ve been fascinated with participation and decision making processes ever since I was a teenager. In school I was taught that it makes a difference if you’re interested in politics.”
Lena Günter earned her bachelor’s degree in European studies at the University of Passau, in Bavaria in Germany. After that it felt like a natural next step for her to immerse herself in political science which had been a big part of her European studies, alongside more culture related topics and language studies.
“I wanted to earn my master’s abroad. In social sciences, especially in Germany, you need to differentiate yourself from other applicants for possible future jobs. Even though there are great schools in Germany I wanted something that would stick out.”
Searching for the right University
The first step in Lena's selection process was finding universities in Europe that do not charge tuition fees for European students, and then ruling out schools that charge an application fee.
“After narrowing it down I only applied to schools in Sweden. I wanted to live in a larger city than I was used to so I applied to Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, then I landed in Gothenburg and I never regretted it.”
Arriving in the fall of 2017, her first impression of Gothenburg was positive. She explains that even though the city is rather big, it doesn’t feel like a city with half a million citizens. “I like the proximity to nature. It takes me 20 minutes to get to the archipelago, which is great. There are a lot of green areas and museums, and a rich cultural diversity.”
An aspect of arriving in Gothenburg that was more challenging was finding a place to live. Lena contacted SGS Student Housing and Boplats, which is a private market place that advertises flats and rooms, but still didn’t have any luck. By chance, a speaker at a welcome event for international studies overheard her voice her concern regarding not having a place to live to a friend, and ended up taking her in as lodger for a year.
It was great, I got to live with a family and I’m happy how it turned out. However, getting settled the way I had imagined it, in my own place and being able to be fully independent, took me a year.
When Lena finally got her own long term apartment it was not through SGS or Boplats, but through a private contact.
“It’s common for international students to have to move every three months, that’s something to be prepared for. But the housing market in Gothenburg is really hard on the Swedes as well.”
Some Swedish traits took time to get used to
Another aspect of moving to Gothenburg that took some getting used to was the Swedish transparency. After being listed in the Swedish population register and getting a personal identity number Lena Günter found that all her personal information was available online. At first she felt devastated and exposed.
“I went to the Swedish tax agency and asked if they could remove the information but they explained that the same rules apply for everyone, as well as politicians and celebrities, which made me feel a little bit better.”
The transparency also has its benefits. You can get important personal documents sent directly to your phone or computer, which eliminates the need to stand in line at various government agencies.
”After a year in Sweden I have to trust that it’s okay to give your personal data away. Here it’s normal, and even embraced. It can be kind of scary but it’s also amazing that everything works,” says Lena Günter.
It becomes a more communal learning experience
She also found some differences about studying in Gothenburg. For instance, that the grading system is only divided into three classes, where you can either pass with distinction, pass or fail.
“I think many international students find this very frustrating, but I’ve come to value it. It minimizes competitive pressure between students and it becomes a more communal learning experience with a lot of group work where you help each other out.”
During her time spent in Gothenburg Lena Günter has found that staying active, working out and taking vitamin D has helped her with adapting to life in Sweden. She also advices incoming international students to try to act like the Swedes.
I think they have figured out a good work-life balance, and I’m trying to embrace that.
"It’s important to always ask for help, if you need it. People will be happy to help you, but you have to ask. It’s also important not to become an introvert. In Sweden, especially during the winter, you have to force yourself to stay open and positive, and if you manage it will be really rewarding!”
Written by: Joacim Smidth
Originally published 4 June 2019