International students Eden and Marie faced challenges many newcomers to Sweden will recognise — not knowing the language, a small network and uncertainty about what to do next. Their experiences at Gothenburg’s student radio station K103 were a big factor in their eventual decisions to stay in Sweden for the long-term.
From exchange student to Sveriges Radio
Sitting on the sofa in the big glass building of Kanalhuset, Gothenburg’s public service hub, is a big step for French-British former international student Eden Maclachlan.
In 2019 he arrived in Gothenburg for an Erasmus exchange, and ended up staying way beyond his planned year abroad.
“I always thought that radio was an interesting medium but when I moved to Gothenburg as an exchange student I went to a fair of the different organisations you could join”, says Eden.
“K103, Gothenburg student radio had a stand there and so I signed up and attended the info meeting. I met a few people, had a few ideas and eventually started a radio programme.”
Eden didn’t know a word of Swedish when he first arrived. Less than three years later he is working at Swedish public service broadcaster Sveriges Radio on an upcoming episode of the popular radio documentary show P3 Dokumentär.
At the beginning he stuck to speaking English, as the student radio is internationally-oriented and allows its members to do shows in either English or Swedish, Eden told The Local.
However, as time went by he started listening to a lot of Swedish, given the high number of broadcasts in Swedish and Swedes involved in the student radio station.
“You listen to the radio in Swedish and you meet a lot of Swedish people too”, he says.
Eden later became involve on the board of Gothenburg’s student radio board and then national board Studentradion i Sverige, an umbrella organisation that supports all 13 student radio stations in the country.
“Sometimes they would do (meetings) in English, but if there is just one international it’s a big effort for them to switch everything into English.”
What at first was a challenge, soon became an opportunity for Eden to really improve his language considerably.
“You don’t necessarily understand every single word but you get the overall meaning. And that is the most important at the beginning, when you are starting to learn. If you don’t get it, people will happily explain it in English”, he says.
Today he’s no longer a student but is still involved in K103 and is working on a documentary project at Sveriges Radio, where Swedish is the working language.
“I try to make the effort to speak Swedish back depending on levels of tiredness and concentration,” he says.
Eden also pointed out that if he needs to express something emotionally loaded he chooses to switch into English and everyone understands him.
“Being in an environment where everyone speaks Swedish around you, it is easier to feel confident and speak Swedish back. As soon as you’ve done it a bit, you feel more confident about it and then you feel that you’ve improved a lot,” he says.
“You get to hang out with people who speak Swedish”
Marie Heimburg is from Germany and also came to Sweden for an Erasmus exchange term which she did in northern city Umeå.
She like the country enough to return in 2018 to be close to her partner, whom she met in Sweden, and to study a Master’s degree at Gothenburg University.
“I was new to the city, wanted to do something fun and thought to do something that contributed to my education in communication”, Marie says.
She explained that an event popped up on her Facebook feed so thought to check out the student radio station, where the meeting was conducted in a mixture of English and Swedish.
For Marie, learning Swedish was “a side effect of joining” student radio.
“You get to hang out with people who speak Swedish, compared to hanging out with international course mates”, she says.
“The Swedish people at the radio station always start speaking Swedish to you and I took that as a chance to speak a bit of Swedish, until my cover was blown” she says, laughing.
“For that brief moment of 15-30 seconds you feel like one of them, it’s amazing!”
She recommends joining a student radio station regardless of linguistic aims.
“If you are interested in making radio content and are very enthusiastic about a certain topic, joining a student radio gives you the chance to try things out,” she says.
Marie remains involved in K103 after her graduation and continues to do her show “The Show About Nothing” in which she and three friends talk about a range of topics.
The radio show started as a fun project amongst friends but has been running for several years and now has listeners beyond Gothenburg’s FM wave-radius.
“My old English teacher from high school listened to the show as he saw the link on social media and that really made me happy,” she says.
After her studies, Marie had to make a big decision: to go back to Germany or stay in Sweden.
She weighed everything up: job opportunities, social circles and ongoing projects.
“One of the things that mattered to me was my friends and the podcast project that I was doing and that I’m still doing now. So I think K103 is a big reason why I’m still in Sweden,” she says.
Eva Gustavsson, originally from Hova, a small inland village in Väster Götland, has worked as station manager at K103 for over 15 years.
During her time in office she has seen many generations of student radio broadcasters walk into the studio and broadcast their shows at the radio.
“Internationals join for the same reasons as the Swedish members”, says station manager Eva.
“Many want to pursue a career in journalism, gain experience and meet people.”
“At K103 we have students and non students from across the universities and other education institutions, so you meet people more easily,” she says.
Eva, who has a background as Swedish language facilitator, told The Local that she finds it natural to help people who want to improve their language.
“If they are interested in learning Swedish or if they can speak a bit of the language we try to mix and match for a while,” she says.
Both Eden and Marie underlined how the student radio for them was “a safe environment” where it’s ok to make mistakes.
“Everything doesn’t have to be 100 percent correct,” Eva says.
For those who want to stay on and become residents, “you can definitely see an improvement when they speak Swedish”, she adds.
K103 is a student radio run mainly by students for students and is broadcast on FM in the Gothenburg area and online for those who wish to listen outside of the region.
It has a young target listener group. However, you don’t have to be a student to be a member.
“We don’t have a demand for you to be a student but you need to participate in the productions that we are doing in the times we do things, mainly daytime and early evenings. We are open for everyone!”, Eva says.
Are you interested in joining a student radio station? You can contact the national umbrella organisation Studentradion i Sverige with any questions.