IFT undergraduate Julian Peng, who is studying in the Bachelor of Science in Tourism Retail and Marketing Management programme, had a literally frosty welcome when he spent the second semester of academic year 2016/17 as an exchange student at Linnæus University in southeastern Sweden.
“It was so cold. I had never imagined how cold it is,” Julian says, almost shivering as he recalls enduring 19 degrees Celsius below zero. “I had to wear a sweater and a coat and many other clothes.”
Realising he had insufficient warm clothes, he was forced to go shopping, not only for clothes but also for shoes to keep the frozen ground from chilling his feet.
The disadvantages of choosing to study in a land so different from Macao soon became obvious to Julian. “I wanted to go to H&M to buy clothes but I didn’t know where H&M was. I asked one Swede and she didn’t know any English,” he says. “But she knew H&M, so she took me there and I was very grateful.”
Julian felt the metaphorical ice melting. “People in Sweden are very nice, very friendly,” he says. “Sometimes they don’t know how to speak English but they still try their best to help you.”
The teaching approach at Linnæus University surprised the student from Hubei province in Mainland China. He was unaccustomed to classrooms that hold 60 students and to day-long meetings to prepare group projects. And he was taken aback by the quality of the university library.
The assessment practices also surprised him. “In Sweden, passing a course is difficult, because you need a passing grade in every part, including presentations and the final exam,” he says.
A life transformed
Julian describes his semester in Sweden as a life-changing experience. “At the beginning I was very shy,” he says. “I was afraid of making friends with foreigners, and I was afraid of giving presentations in front of people.” But during the course of his stay in Sweden he became bolder in reaching out to people, and at the end he was a changed man.
Having shed his shyness in Scandinavia, Julian is now relishing being back in Macao and doing an internship with integrated resort operator Wynn Macau Ltd. “Now I very much enjoy making new friends and I’m not afraid of speaking in front of people.”
His academic exchange changed him in another way. Before he went to Sweden, he was content with the prospect of becoming an ordinary salesman. But a visit to a Swedish factory as part of his studies, changed his outlook, so he now hopes to become an agent, connecting producers and distributors.
The IFT student had other novel experiences in Sweden. He rode a bicycle to get to and from his university classes each day, and a lifelong dream came true when he crossed into the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights. “It’s very beautiful, a really unforgettable experience,” he says.