Alice McColl

Date: SP5, 2016
Degree Program: Masters of Architecture
Host University: KTH
Host Country: Sweden

Why did you choose your host university?

For studying architecture on exchange there are limited partner universities available. My choice was between KTH in Sweden or an exchange at Liechtenstein University. It was quite an easy choice for me as I have always had an interest in Scandinavian design and culture. The high standard of the English language within Sweden was a big incentive as I knew I wouldn’t have the challenge of language barriers that I would in many other countries. I had also briefly visited Stockholm the year before and I could imagine myself living in the city. The opportunity to studying in a university with such a good reputation was hard to pass up.

What was the university like?

The university was great. In terms of the architecture, the newly-completed building was beautiful! The rest of the campus was lovely and historic, it backed onto a national park which allowed for great walks in the summer. There was a wonderful sense of community and friendship within the studio environment. We spent long hours in studio together, much of the work was self-directed. I found the assessment unusual as we were just given pass or fail – not actual grades. One of my favourite aspects was the access to events, conferences and lectures by architects from all around the world.

What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

I think that I learned a lot from the university itself. Many of the topics we covered and themes we discussed seemed very progressive and engaging. We were dealing with issues such as climate change, globalization, immigration and feminism. It really opened my mind to the possibilities to push architecture away from the commercial world that we normally see and into an alternative approach which deals with global issues.

In a more removed sense it changed me by making me more accepting of differences in people and cultures. Yet it also let me experience living and working in a community of like-minded people. It was really special to spend every day among people with a similar perspective.

What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

I was offered an apartment through the university. I had a private bedroom and bathroom but shared a kitchen without about 10 others. After arriving I soon discovered I was very lucky to get offered this accommodation as there is a huge housing shortage. Many of my classmates moved multiple times throughout the semester, paying a huge amount of money for a room which was a long way from university. The rent was slightly more than I would pay in Adelaide, but all bills are included so it was not unreasonable at all. I would recommend taking anything you get offered in Stockholm…there is a high demand.

Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

I travelled to a few neighbouring countries. I arrived in Europe a few weeks early in mid July and met a German friend in Amsterdam. I travelled with her, her son and her boyfriend to Denmark where my brother lives. We spent time there with him and his Danish girlfriend in the small town of Vojens and then Copenhagen. I then headed to the countryside in Sweden for a few days before going to Stockholm. During a week break in the semester I went to Helsinki and Copenhagen again. I also did a quick weekend trip to Latvia on a cruise. Once I had finished uni I went to Vojens for Christmas, then a weeks holiday in a beautiful log cabin in Norway, some quiet time away with nothing but friends, books, snow, marshmallow roasting and hot chocolates was just what I needed after a busy semester. I then headed to Switzerland to visit a friend I had made at uni, I had a few days in Italy, visited another friend in Germany and then went back to Denmark to say goodbye to my brother before heading back to Stockholm to catch my flight.

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

It was definitely an adjustment but I think I found it easier because I had been solo travelling in Europe (including Sweden) the year before. I think that helped me know what to expect. Mainly though, the people made the biggest difference to adjusting to a new place. Other exchange students were experiencing the same thing as me so it was great to share the ups and downs. Doing the language course was also great for meeting new people, the friends I made that first day remained my closest friends for the entire semester.

Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

I can see the benefits because of the reputation Scandinavia has for beautiful design. I also think the confidence, knowledge and perspective that I have gained will be invaluable. The progressive topics and the conferences and lectures I took part in will always be assisting me to have a more open view of the world.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

Absolutely do it. It can be a bit of work to organise, and slightly inconvenient to leave your life in Australia but the rewards are certainly worth it. The opportunity to actually live and study in a foreign city is such a rare opportunity…you must take it! Particularly with the study grants that UniSA offers. The people you will meet (as long as you put yourself out there!) will be like-minded lifelong friends.

Top Tips:
Be open to anything and everything. Try to forget judgment and embrace new and different ideas, opinions, cuisines and cultures.

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