Are you thinking about going on exchange to Luleå by abstraks


									                         Luleå University of Technology
                                                                                            May 2003

Are you thinking about going on exchange to Luleå? I could summarise this essay in 2 words: Do
it! I spent the 4th year of my five-year BSc/BE degree (elec eng and computer science) at Luleå
Tekniska Universitet, and it was the best year of my life. But, you probably want to know a bit
more about it than that.


LTU is much smaller than Monash Uni. There is a pedestrian street which runs up the middle of the
university and there are 6 buildings – 3 on either side of the street. There are around 6000 students
at the campus in Luleå, and another 4000 students spread over 4 other campuses in northern
Sweden, including at Kiruna for some space or aerospace engineers. Education is very important to
the Swedes, and free, and the university’s very well resourced. There’s one library, lots of cafes,
lots of computer labs and other labs, and everything’s modern and up-to-date. The students are
given much more freedom than here at Monash and are treated with much more respect.

There are few things that stood out for me: Throughout the uni you’ll find proper toilets, single
ones like you would have at home. And they’re perfectly clean and well looked after. As are the
lecture theatres, where there are pictures on the walls and it’s unlikely you’ll spot any graffiti. The
students are much quieter and almost always arrive early to classes, something I didn’t really notice
until coming back to Monash.

The teaching year is comprised of 4 quarters of 10 weeks each, plus exams. A full study load for a
year is 40 points, which is generally 8 subjects, so in theory you’ll be doing 2 subjects each quarter.
I got credit on a subject-for-subject basis, so for engineering students you’ll probably have to take
12 subjects for a full year, which is a bit of a pain since you’re doing more than most other people
there. But having said that, I found the workload easier than at Monash, simply because it’s easier
to study 3 subjects at a time than 5 or 6.

In Sweden there’s more teaching time, but it’s much less stressful than the shorter semesters here.
So even though there isn’t as much formal holiday time between quarters, if you’re organised it’s
pretty easy to take a few days off here and there without falling behind. If students fail an exam
over there, they can sit it again as many times as they like until they pass. So there are a few re-
exam periods during the year where you’ll also be free (assuming you haven’t failed anything!)
And there are also holidays at Easter, Christmas and other times.

I can’t really say whether the standard there is better or worse, it depends on the subjects you take.
You’re likely to find some subjects really hard because they assume knowledge you don’t have,
and you’ll find some things easy that you’ve done before. The classes are generally much smaller
over there, I had 15 to 30 people in most of my lectures. The lecturers are very approachable, and
there’s a great teacher-student relationship. They know who you are since the classes are small and
if you’re having trouble with something you can ask them for help. Since it’s a small uni, you often
have lunch in the same place, you bump into them all the time, and you can even walk right
through the staff room.

What can you study there? Broadly speaking: engineering (chemical, metallurgical, civil, mining,
materials, manufacturing, environmental, mechanical, space, electrical), computer science, maths,
business administration and social sciences, the humanities, teaching, music, media education,

Learning Swedish

You can take Swedish classes at the university, they’re given for all the exchange students and
you’ll find out about them once you arrive. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Most people in
Sweden speak English, so you can certainly get by without knowing any Swedish. But you should
take the classes though once you get there. It’s so much better when you have an idea of what
people are talking about, can understand signs and things you see around the place, and have
conversations with somebody even if they’re pretty basic. You can learn enough to do this in 6
months. When you try to speak Swedish to a Swede, and they realise you’re not Swedish, they’ll
often switch to English because they want to practise their English! So you have to be persistent if
you want to practise.

You’re a bit limited in the classes you can take because they’re not all given in English. But if
you’re there for 12 months and pick up the language, you can take classes given in Swedish too.
And most of the textbooks are in English, so if you really want to take a subject, there’s a good
chance that you’ll be able to sort it out once you arrive.

Full or half year?

No question about it, if you can possibly afford it, go for a full year. Lots of the exchange students I
met over there only planned to stay 6 months but had such a great time that they either stayed
another 6 months or went home wishing that they’d stayed. Hmm, this also happened to some who
stayed for 12 months…

Sports facilities and extra curricular activities

If you’re interested in sports or outdoor activities, there’s quite a lot to do. They have a complex
like our Sports and Rec building, though smaller. There are teams which compete against other
unis, or you can just go along with your mates and have a go at a stack of stuff including soccer,
handball, badminton, basketball, bandy, ice hockey, ultimate frisbee, spinning, tennis, volleyball,
and other sports. You can join the gym, and there are various forms of aerobics which are really
popular, budo, capoeira. There’s also an indoor climbing wall, though it’s not very big. Oh, and I
should also mention that many Swedish people love to have saunas, which at first is very
interesting to a foreigner who’s not used to such things…

Outside you can rent equipment and, depending on the season, go cross-country or downhill skiing,
snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, ice skating, or cross-country skating on the frozen rivers,
lakes and sea. You could also go dog-sledding or snowmobiling. There are some ski trips to the
bigger mountains organised through one of the uni clubs which are really popular, and a few other
trips each year such as a Killerwhale safari to Norway and cross-country skiing trips. LURC, the
Luleå University Reception Committee, is a small group of students who look after the exchange
students and they organise other trips during the year which are just for exchange students. I went
ice fishing, tobogganing, to the annual Snow Festival in Kiruna to look at snow and ice sculptures
and reindeer races, to Rovaniemi in Finland to see Santa, to the Jokkmokk Winter Market in
Sweden where reindeer skin, meat, clothing and other traditional items are sold each year, and to
other places.
There’s a student-run restaurant, bar and nightclub at the university. You might like to work there
since it’s a great way to meet people and have a heap of fun. The only pay you get comes from tips.
They have some live bands from Sweden and Europe and some theme nights. There are lots of
student parties. Swedish students in Luleå generally only party on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays,
but being an exchange student you’ll be open to new ideas and things are a bit more flexible…
However, you’ll have to occasionally take a night off to do some studying!

There are other clubs you can get involved in at the uni – juggling, drama, dancing, movies. The
movie club shows films twice a week on a big screen at the university. It’s really cheap, the movies
are from all over the world, some will be in English (but they all have Swedish subtitles!) You can
buy a filmcard each quarter. There’s also a science museum at the uni, where you’ll see lots of
primary school-aged kids being taken to and from. But I secretly reckon the museum’s more fun for

Cost, arrival, accommodation

You can get to Luleå by plane (1 hr) or train (15 hrs) from Stockholm, and you’ll probably be
picked up from the airport or station. Students can travel standby on SAS flights – you buy the
ticket at the airport and it’s really cheap. But, this is about the only thing in Sweden that you’ll find
cheap! Things are expensive there compared to Australia – groceries, books, clothes, alcohol,
almost everything. Eating out’s very expensive. The International Office suggests that you’ll need
about 750 Euros a month once you arrive, and that’s about right if you’re reasonably careful with
your money. You could easily spend much more than this. It’s a good idea to have enough money
to travel a bit, because one thing people regret when they come home is that they didn’t travel

When you arrive, you’ll get your keys and other stuff and be taken to where you’re staying. In
general, if you stay for 6 months you’ll share an apartment with one or 2 others about 3 km from
uni. The apartment’s empty when you move in so you’ll have to buy kitchen equipment. If you stay
for 12 months, you’ll probably have a room with your own bathroom in a corridor with 4 others
with whom you share a kitchen. It’s in a big building and you’re more likely to be living with
Swedish students as well as exchange students. That’s about 2km from uni in the other direction,
the kitchen will be full of equipment, you’ll be around heaps of people all the time... Stay for 12
months! They cost about the same, 2000kr/month (AUD$400/month).

Transport and the town

Most people have a bike, which is the best way to get around since there are bike paths everywhere.
You could walk too. Luleå’s rather small compared to Melbourne standards, and everything you’ll
need or use is not more than a few km away. In fact, everything full-stop is not more than a few km
away! There are buses all over the place if you’re a slacker or want to travel in something heated.
Very few students have cars. It’s pretty cheap to rent a car for a few days if you want to go on a trip

If you’re really a city person, then Luleå may not be for you. There’s one main street, and most of
the shops and entertainment places are along there. There are a few bars, a few nightclubs, a couple
of shopping malls. There are a lot of students around so there’s more to do there than there would
be in other towns of similar size (about 70,000 inhabitants), and if you can handle not having big-
city choice when it comes to shopping and entertainment then you’ll probably like the town a lot.
And there are of course things that you’d never get in Melbourne, such as polar bears in the streets,
and an ice slippery dip in winter. Check out


This is what the International Office at LTU will tell you about the climate there: “The warm Gulf
Stream of the Atlantic gives Sweden a milder climate than other areas equally far north. Even so
the winters in Sweden, especially in the northern parts, are very long and dark, and rather cold.”
Yes, winters in Luleå are in fact rather cold.

When I arrived in Luleå at the start of January it was around 2 or 3 degrees. I was freezing. A few
days later, it was –15º. I was freezing. Then it went down to –20º. I was freezing. Then it went
down to –30º. I was freezing. I walked 3km to uni when it was –36º. It would take a page to
describe that. And then the temperature went back up to –25º, and I wasn’t freezing again all

Luleå is about 100km from the Arctic Circle, and the weather is fantastic. In winter, people start to
think it’s getting cold when it’s below –30º and think it’s warm when it’s above –10º. There’s lots
of snow and it’s dark a lot of the time. I remember going into town to buy some things soon after I
arrived. It was about 2pm, pitch dark, the streetlights were on, it felt like midnight and there were
all these people wandering around doing their shopping. Very weird. All the buildings are heated,
so when it’s really cold you spend a lot of time indoors and any time outdoors is often a quick dash
between buildings. You can go to uni in the morning for a couple of hours of lectures, and during
the time you were in the lecture theatre it’s got light and got dark again. But these are the extreme
cases, and it’s not long before the days get longer and you get used to it. You can often see the
Northern Lights, which are just out of this world (sorry, fantastic). Make sure you bring some warm
clothes – thermals and a good jacket as well as a few layers to wear in between. Also a beanie,
gloves, scarf, and a pair of shoes that you can wear in the snow (runners aren’t so good but boots
are). Remember that it’s warm indoors.

Towards the end of winter it’s often sunny, around 0 degrees, and really nice with all the snow
everywhere. In summer you can go to a party or nightclub, come out at 3 or 4am, and wonder
whether you missed the sunset because the sun seems to be rising, or whether in fact the sun’s still
going down and it’s not sunset yet. It’s light all the time, warm all the time, and it’s really really
nice. I think you have to live through it all to really understand. It’s just amazing.

Other stuff you might find interesting

   There are about 200 exchange students there during the year, most are from France, Germany,
    Spain, Italy, Canada, Scotland and the US.
   You can use your Aussie drivers licence, but remember to drive on the wrong side of the road!
   There’s a lot of forest in the north of Sweden. It’s fantastic for hiking and skiing though it’s not
    so easy to get to places outside the main towns without a car. Having said that, renting a car is
    cheaper than catching the train if you’re with some friends.
   It’s quite easy to travel to different parts of Europe by plane and there are a couple of cheap
    airlines. You need to fly to Stockholm first.
   On a student visa in Sweden you’re not supposed to work during the year, but you can work
    over the summer holidays.
   If you have a mobile phone, take it. If you don’t you’ll probably get one over there since it’s the
    best way of communication.
   If you plan to go in January and stay for a full year, you might not be able to find information
    about subjects for the second half of the year since they won’t have finalised that yet. The
    subjects from the previous year are a pretty good guide though. When you’re picking subjects
    don’t worry too much about timetable clashes, but try to have about the same number of
    subjects (or same number of points) each quarter.
   Most Swedes love Aussies and would love to visit Australia. Australia is a land of beaches,
    deserts, snakes, spiders, sharks, crocodiles, kangaroos, bushfires, hole-in-the-ozone-layer,
    Crocodile Dundee, the Crocodile Hunter, and (when you make them taste it) Vegemite. All
    Australians can surf, and in fact go surfing every weekend.
   Beware of The Wombats.
   Not all Swedes are tall, blonde and have blue eyes… But quite a few of them are.
   If you see students walking around in brightly coloured overalls (which may stink of beer) with
    badges sewn all over them and possibly wearing hats and sunnies, don’t be alarmed. This is
    quite normal and you’ll get to find out more about it.
   Beware: it’s just possible that you’ll find the hardest thing about going on exchange is having to
    come home.


I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve missed here, so if you have any questions or want to know more about
Luleå, email me and I’ll let you know. There are quite a few Monash lecturers who’ve been to
Luleå too, you could talk to Dr Ng in Electrical Engineering. The LTU website is,
click the British flag for a bit of info in English and follow the link on the Student page to the
International Office. There’s lots of information there. I had a really great time in Luleå and would
thoroughly recommend going there (or anywhere else in fact) on exchange (though I do think
Luleå’s the best)… And I probably should mention that those polar bears in the streets aren’t real –
they’re made of stone.

Joe Hallenstein

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