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What makes exchange students come back to Sweden?

Thousands of exchange students come to Sweden every year and then leave. But some of them come back – sometimes for good. We spoke to some of these 'boomerang students' to find out what made them want more of Sweden.

What makes exchange students come back to Sweden?
Each year, more than 13,000 students come to Sweden to study. Some of them come back. Photo: Tina Stafren/

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Every year, an average of 13,800 exchange students come to Sweden to study, according to Statistics Sweden. In 2015, Demie Amoiridou, a Greek undergraduate in English Literature, was one of them. In August that year, she moved to Uppsala, for what was only supposed to be a one-year course.

“I would basically say it was the best year of my life. It wasn't that much about the studying but it was about learning other things: it really made me independent and strong. It was a constant adventure,” Amoiridou tells The Local.

Amoiridou loved her Swedish experience so much, she decided to come back to the country for good. In March 2017, she graduated from her bachelor's and got accepted onto a master's degree course in Digital Media and Communications at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

She has now been back for a year, commuting half of the week to Stockholm from Uppsala, where she still lives.

Demie Amoiridou. Photo: Private

At 24 years old, she could not feel happier. ‘Everything is perfect', she says.

Amoiridou is one of many former exchange students who come back to Sweden after graduating either for further study or to work.

So what makes Sweden such a special place? We asked former exchange students, living in Linköping, Uppsala and Stockholm, to give us their insights.

'Reverse culture shock'

When she set foot in Arlanda airport after graduating from her bachelor's, Amoiridou felt “immediately positive”. “It felt like everything was back into place. It sounds too good, but that was my feeling,” she says.

Going back to Greece after a year in Uppsala had been much tougher than expected. Her home country did not feel like home any more.

“It was an intense reverse culture shock. Things were suddenly strange and I felt less understood by my friends. That was all confusing partly because I think there is a big difference from Greece to Sweden it all struck me very fast. I didn't feel comfortable.”

Claudia Żelazowska, now studying at KTH in Amoiridou's class, experienced a similar feeling. After an exchange year at Stockholm University, she went back to Italy where she was studying for her bachelor's in Bologna in the north of the country.

“When I came back from Sweden no one could understand why I loved it so much,” she tells The Local. “My friends didn't understand the things I experienced. I missed the international environment and meeting people from all over the world.”

Claudia Żelazowska. Photo: Private

Coming from Lille, France, Nolwenn Gernignon knew from the start she would be coming back to Sweden after her Erasmus year studying Political Science in Uppsala.

“If I could have studied my master's directly after my exchange there, I would have done it. But it was not possible so I went home with a heavy heart and started annoying everyone with my Swedish propaganda,” she says, laughing.

At the end of her French master's in International Development in June 2018, she decided to apply for an internship in Stockholm. She has been working there ever since.

Why Sweden feels like home

Gernigon is glad she did not have to experience “a second cultural shock” when she came back to Sweden. “I immediately found my way. I was thrilled to be back and to reconnect with my Swedish daily life.”

The Swedish lifestyle was less stressful according to Demie Amoiridou as well. “The calmness made me feel free and happy. Everything just flows somehow, compared to my life in Greece with all the tension and all the drama,” she says.

“Everything is structured, clean and organized,” adds Claudia Żelazowska. “I love how it is living here, I feel like people are very tolerant and don't judge anyone, they are so open-minded!”

American Mackenzie Gaddy studied at Uppsala University the same year as Gernigon. Although she only stayed for a semester, it was enough for her to know she wanted to come back.

“I made really meaningful friendships with international students and other Swedish people,” she says.

Gaddy now studies Sustainable Development at Uppsala University while working at Västgöta nation (VG), which she now calls “home”. “Home are places where you have really good friends and people you can trust and can lean on. I have it here,” she explains.

Mackenzie Gaddy. Photo: Private

Studying in Sweden is 'way better'

Apart from people who made her year unforgettable, Gaddy also enjoyed the Swedish academic system. When she returned to study in Seattle after her exchange, she had to re-adjust her studying habits. “In Sweden there is only one course going on at a time, but in the US we have four or five at the same time,” she says.

So, studying her master's in Uppsala was a perfect fit: “When I went back to Seattle, I became more interested in environmental politics and environmental issues and when I found this programme, I decided to apply.”

After an exchange semester in Borlänge, Dalarna, Phillip Hölscher immediately decided he was going to study his master's in Sweden. “Very early during my Erasmus, I figured out that I liked studying in Sweden way better than in Germany,” he says.

Phillip Hölscher. Photo: Private

Hölscher is now studying for his master's in Statistics and Machine Learning at Linköping University.

“Here you have two periods in one semester, and during one semester you have two or three courses at the same time. So it's easier to focus than if you have too many courses at the same time like six or even eight like I sometimes had in Germany. You also have different kinds of dissertations and assignments, and then the final exam: this represents your level way better than in Germany.”

Regarding the Swedish lifestyle, Phillip enjoys having more free time. “I think it is very useful to have a break between noon and 1pm and I love the typical Swedish fika,” he says. “And most of the time university starts at 10am so you have time to do other things like sport.”

From exchange student to permanent resident?

Looking back to her first year as a master's student at KTH, Demie Amoiridou admits she still lives in what she calls an “international bubble”. But she is starting to get a glimpse of what living in Sweden really means.

“I kind of start to experience 'immigrant problems', like bureaucracy, housing, I am more stressed and studying is more demanding. I am facing a different reality than I did before,” she says.

Nolwenn Gernignon. Photo: Private

And for Nolwenn Gernignon, despite her excitement, coming to Sweden after two years spent in France has been odd. “I realized the Erasmus experience is very specific,” she says. “Working here in Sweden while most of my friends are not here any more, or not living in Stockholm, was a struggle at first.”

Meeting new people has been hard. “I knew it was not going to be the same atmosphere. But little did I know I would have a hard time to feel like I really live here,” she says.

If possible, however, Gernignon would now like to stay and work in Stockholm long-term.

She sometimes thinks about acquaintances she met back in France, who had also been exchange students in Sweden. “I could not understand why they would not come back and live their entire life here.”

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