Earlier this summer, with the help of Erasmus + funding, I travelled to Karlstad, Sweden to participate in an International Staff Exchange Week organised by Karlstad University.
The event was aimed at those who worked with International students and staff, which is particularly relevant to my job in Postgraduate Admissions and it also offered the chance for job shadowing. There were participants from all over Europe and a few from Thailand. They were working in a wide range of Higher Education institutions and different roles. Over the week there were lots of opportunities to get to know my fellow participants and to share our experiences working in universities.
The week included a nice variety of cultural and work-related activities which allowed us to learn more about Sweden and Karlstad University’s work environment.
The everyday Fika
Throughout the week we received glimpses into the work environment at Karlstad University.
One of the first aspects we experienced was Fika. It is a time when colleagues gather for coffee and a snack and discuss work-related matters. There are usually two Fika times each day (in the morning and the afternoon and can range from 45 minutes to 2 hours) and it is almost frowned upon if it’s missed. Each team has their own fully Ikea stocked Fika Kitchen.
We were also invited to ‘After Work’ which is when colleagues meet up to socialise. It was really nice to see that those working together are keen to get to know each other more to improve their working relationships.
Sharing best practice with colleagues
One of the things that attracted to me to the Exchange Week was the chance to participate in job shadowing.
I spent some time with the International Office where I learnt about their Internationalisation Strategy and the work they carry out. Karlstad is very keen to build partnerships with other universities and encourage students and staff to go on exchanges. The International Office encourages and provides support for incoming and outgoing students with initiatives such as host families for incoming students so that they can experience Swedish family life and exchange ‘buddies’.
The second part of my job shadowing was with the Admissions Team. I was shown how applications are processed and learnt more about how the University and Swedish education systems work. It was incredibly informative and I learnt a great deal from this. Although the admissions process is very different from our own (a nationally centralised system similar to UCAS), there were certainly some work practices that we could adapt to our own environment (especially Fika). It was particularly noteworthy the way in which they incorporate the Swedish values of equality and objectivity into their decision making.
Learning about inter-cultural awareness
One of the sessions that I found most interesting was the Inter-Cultural awareness workshop.
We learnt about how various factors such as language, history (war, trade, agriculture), climate etc have influenced and shaped the rules, structure and organisations within Sweden. The session also looked at the differences in learning styles of various cultures and there was time for us to discuss and compare the academic cultures within our own countries.
There were similarities and differences between the Swedish and British educational systems. In Sweden there is an emphasis on independent learning and a less formal relationship between lecturers and students whereby students are encouraged to ask questions. Also, degree classifications are more simplified and online examinations are being used more and more.
Celebrating the Swedish way
The Exchange week happened to coincide with the Swedish National Day celebrations so we were able to experience how the people of Karlstad enjoyed the day.
There were an international food fair, several music concerts and people generally enjoying the nature and sunshine. We also got to see some people dressed in the National costume and tried our hand at the traditional Swedish game, Kubb which involves throwing sticks at blocks of wood attempting to knock them down. There were also chances to sample the local cuisine. On the first night we went for a group meal at a restaurant by the harbour front and tried traditional dishes such as prawns with dill and caviar on rye bread.
Highly recommended experience
The week was an incredibly fun, very rewarding and invaluable learning experience. I met so many interesting people during my time at Karlstad University. I would encourage anyone interested in other cultures and keen to learn new skills to improve their work to take part in the staff mobility programme.