I have always been one to feel an itch when staying in one place for too long. Whether it’s asking to leave my seat to sharpen a pencil 5 times during class in elementary school, or changing majors 3 times in college before settling on one. I have also absolutely loved traveling, meeting new people, listening to new stories, and engaging in mind and eye-opening experiences. This “urge” and a thirst for independence made me reduce everything I own to what fits in a check-in luggage and move to Italy from Lebanon to pursue an architecture degree. After 3 absolutely wonderful years in Turin experimenting, finding myself, making new friends, offending Italians by asking for vegan food options, I could feel that itch again. And this time it took me to Gothenburg, and specifically to Chalmers.
Due to the pandemic, and thus logistic/bureaucratic difficulties, I had to start my master’s degree in Turin. However, after things calmed down a bit, I explored my options for exchange abroad and was psyched to find out that Sweden was on that list. I am a big fan of Scandinavian architecture, I love the cold weather, I value order, and adore cinnamon buns, I was sold on it. I sent an application to Chalmers on New Year’s Eve, and crossed my fingers. Fast forward 3 months later, I received my acceptance email and started preparing for what I now realize was a life changing 6 months rollercoaster.
I arrived in August to beautiful, chilly, and long summer days that I took as an opportunity to explore the city, do some shopping, and settle in my new home “The Guesthouse” - which was offered to me by Chalmers a couple of months prior to my arrival. I remember the first thing I noticed during the first few days was how well I could breathe. Strange, no? I later learned that Gothenburg is one of Europe’s greenest and most sustainable cities.
I received an email from Chalmers inviting me to enroll for a “phadder group”. Phadder groups are organized by the student association (CIRC) and they include students from different nationalities and specializations. CIRC then arranges month-long group activities that range from campus orientation to canoeing. Phadders also help you with logistics regarding picking up your student card - which is literally your best friend. I was assigned to group #2 or what I now know as “Ur friggin codependent group” on Signal. Another group was merged with ours for orientation as their phadder couldn’t make it, and we stayed in one big group from that first day until today.
At the beginning of the semester one of my courses was completely online, and since I get restless at home, I decided to follow the classes at the Johanneberg campus. Chalmers has lots of classes, study rooms, halls, and different arrangements of spaces that any student can use and access using their card. My friends and I spent most of our days studying at a study space called “The Church” in the student union building. The SU building is fully equipped with everything that could facilitate your life, from well-lit rooms to a swimming pool. I particularly enjoyed the Student store which is a place where you can find Chalmers merchandise, courses books and stationery, but also very affordable to-go coffee and food with discounted rates, again when you pay with your student card.
Academically, I did not know what to expect from the teachers and the design studios.
Through the courses I was able to ask questions and have direct and horizontal contact with experts in different fields who visited and gave lectures about different topics.
Architecture studios are generally known for being stressful labor-intensive experiences with lots of critiques, late working hours, group work, and the occasional pre and post review mental breakdown. I have to say that the studio I took was the most laid-back design studio I have ever encountered. Sure, the brief was complicated, yes, we did like 5 overnights, and okay project plans had to be redrawn 3 weeks prior to the final exam. HOWEVER, I admired the communication dynamic between teachers and students, the organization of the course and the meetings, the clear directions, the cooperative spirit, and most importantly the space to express your ideas without judgment or harsh criticism. I learned that my Swedish colleagues were not graded for their projects in their bachelor education, it was a simple pass/fail evaluation. I reflected on my design choices as a student. How it felt at times like I was interning for my course professor, designing, and changing my design merely for one additional point on a scale from 18 to 30. How my projects would have looked different and consequently my personal style. I appreciated this freedom in experimenting and choosing, it makes you a more confident and daring designer.
Another beautiful thing that I witnessed is the healthy dynamic between the students themselves. Everyone shares their material, gives advice, offers help, listens and discusses openly. I absolutely loved working in an environment like that, and maybe this is why this design studio experience felt so different. I had an academically rewarding overall experience where I felt nurtured but also trusted.
On top of wonderful groups of friends (whether through my phadder groups or the architecture department), good food, better education, comfortable home, and peaceful setting, I also managed to meet someone special and fall in love. Dating apps are a big thing in Sweden! And besides mutual friends, this might be your only way to approach someone in a dating context. I had a few dates on campus actually! As you will see as a prospective student, or probably already know as a Chalmerist, both campuses are full of nice restaurants, cafes, and bars where you can meet friends and even a special someone for coffee or a meal.
Well of course my stay was not only classes and dates. Gothenburg and Chalmers both offered me a wide range of activities. I went on hikes on warmer days, stayed at cozy cabins in the snow, partied, went on lovely walks, spent hours in saunas, played, and traveled. My foodie experience as someone who prefers plant-based food was also a great one. Whether it’s the entire city or on the campuses, there were always vegan and vegetarian options.
At the end of this semester, when it was time to leave, it wasn’t that same itch that made me want to go. This time it was because of bureaucracy and logistics. But to the friends I made, the experiences I had, and the place that warmed my heart and made me feel at home, I don’t say goodbye. I am sure I will visit again, like I already do every day in my thoughts. I am happy and grateful that I got the chance again to live, love, study, and find yet another piece of myself at Chalmers. And so, I say, Vi ses snart igen! See you soon again!