Moving North? When to go; the pros and cons of the spring semester

As this is my first blog post, let me introduce myself. I am a third year geophysics specialist student at St. George campus U of T, and this semester I am on exchange to Lund, Sweden! I have now been in Sweden about two weeks and the surprises just keep coming.

For one thing; it is surprising, coming from Toronto, to be surprised by cold. But that was my first feeling on moving to Lund, Sweden—damn it’s cold! Although Lund is technically a bit warmer than a usual Toronto winter I found myself shivering for the first week of adjustment. There are three main reasons for this:

  • Lund is damp! It’s a wet cold, which really makes you feel it, and takes the loft out of a nice down mec jacket.
  • Lund is windy! That’s what happens when there are no hills, or even trees, to break things up—lots of wind! Lund is very flat.
  • Lund is dark! Lund, Sweden is about twelve degrees north of Toronto, which makes a noticeable difference in winter. The darkness makes it feel like the frigid hours of midnight by 5pm! However, the Swede’s have done their best to alleviate this by stringing up lights across streets and putting candles everywhere, there are even sturdy candles put out on the sidewalks!

So, why arrive in a new country at such a cold time? This was an informed decision, let me lay out my line of reasoning. Yes, it is difficult to arrive into the cold. For one thing hauling tons of luggage across frozen ground is really hard on luggage, so try to minimize the manual hauling if you are in this type of situation.

A larger downside to arriving in winter is that it is hard to meet people and make friends when nobody wants to go out. The key here though is that you are not the only new arrival—everyone is anxious to get out and meet people. So in the end everyone will brave the cold and dark. And anyways, fighting through a winter gale together is actually quite a bonding experience!

Now for the pros, the reasons I chose to arrive into a blizzard. Number one is again, the darkness. In the fall semester the light is diminishing, as the semester wears on homesickness and exam stress are compounded by the decent of the cold and darkness! The dark is not to be underestimated, and the winter solstice falls in December, making the fall semester, well, really, really dark. This can mean students lose energy and become depressed just as they are needing to put the most effort into preparing to take exams.

By coming in the spring it is already after solstice, so it is lighter than the fall semester and the light is increasing each day! This makes students happier and more energized towards the end of semester, which is a much better state to study in. The light and warmth also mean that the end of semester is the best time to party and since there is no new semester right after exams, students can relax and enjoy some well earned revelry!

Number two may depend on the school, but for Lund exams are at the beginning of January, so to go for the fall semester would mean either staying for Christmas, paying more for extra flights, or doing a lot of paperwork to write exams back at U of T. Then there would be the issue of potentially missing the beginning of the semester at U of T to write Lund exams. It would be tricky, and I suspect this is part of why so many students who go in the fall just stay all year.

Number three, and this was a big one for me, there is the potential to stay and travel the area over the summer! So, after making friends over the semester you have people to travel with and friends in multiple countries to stay with as well as more knowledge about the area.

In the end, there are always personal factors that play into the decision and you will have to figure out which semester works for your needs. As long as you pack some vitamin D and candles, you’ll have a blast!

A foggy winter afternoon in Lund, Sweden

A foggy winter afternoon in Lund, Sweden

The last rays of sun hitting Lund University Library

The last rays of sun hitting Lund University Library