What is your educational and professional background? I have a Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Geography from the University of Waterloo and a graduate certificate in Environmental Management and Assessment from Niagara College. After completing my certificate programme, I spent four years working for Canada's sixth-largest municipality in the waste management field until I decided that I wanted to go back to school to study planning.
Why did you choose to enrol in your degree programme at Umeå University? I knew that I wanted to study abroad for my master's degree and I wanted to go to a country that has high environmental standards and efficient planning practices. With these criteria in mind, Sweden was the first country that popped into my head, so I began looking into planning programmes at the master's level here and found that the programme in Spatial Planning and Development was best suited to my needs.
What do you like most about your programme? For me, the holistic approach to planning is the main highlight of my programme. We study a variety of topics related to planning at different levels, though, mainly at the urban and regional levels. We study planning theories and issues in not only a Swedish or European context, but also in a global context. Umeå is undergoing a period of urban development, as well as being the European Capital of Culture 2014 alongside Riga, so it's a bonus being here for both of those experiences, as we often discuss them from a planning perspective in class.
What is the most interesting thing you learned in your programme or courses so far? There are a lot of seminars in my programme and it's fascinating to listen to everyone's opinions on a given topic or issue. It's a great learning experience, as you tend to learn more about a topic by discussing it in a seminar group rather than by simply writing a memo.
What do you do when you are not studying? When I'm not studying, I enjoy cooking and baking with friends, running, watching hockey, or having a 'fika' downtown. I also study Swedish at Folkuniversitetet and work part-time.
What is your impression of Umeå and the surrounding areas? Umeå is a beautiful city! It's easily navigable by bike, bus or on foot and you can find virtually everything you need here. Also, Nydalasjön is a great place to be year-round (although, I prefer it in the summer!).
What do you find as the biggest cultural difference, both socially and educationally, from your country with Sweden? The most noticeable difference, socially-speaking, is that friends get together for a home-cooked meal much more frequently here than in Canada. I like this tradition and I've since adopted it with my friends. Educationally, the biggest difference is studying one course at a time, as opposed to studying five courses simultaneously, which is common in Canada. I prefer the Swedish approach, because students don't have to worry about multiple impending project deadlines for different courses and, instead, can devote all of their attention to one course at a time. Also, in Canada, it is common to choose elective courses to study, which are meant to complement your core courses, but here, all of the courses in my programme are core courses.
What you would say or what advice would you give to another international student thinking of attending Umeå University? Go for it! If you come here with an open mind (and you aren't afraid of cold weather!), then you'll have a wonderful and memorable experience.
What are your career aspirations? I want to work as an urban or regional planner, in either Sweden or Canada.