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Published: 2020-01-08

Exchange students take the train abroad - for sustainable travel

NEWS The journey itself will be part of the goal when four students from the engineering programme in industrial economics at Umeå University leave for a spring term of studies abroad. In order to promote sustainable travel, they have each been equipped with an interrail card instead of flying to their respective universities in Europe.

Text: Anna-Lena Lindskog

"It felt like a fun project and it's good to do something to support sustainable travel," says Olivia Walfridsson, who will be studying economics courses at a university in Barcelona for a semester. “Every small step is important.”

To study abroad, is it really environmentally sustainable when the trip usually takes place by air? How does one make the aim of giving students increased international experience go hand in hand with sustainable development? Researchers and teachers at the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at Umeå University asked themselves this. When they participated in internationalisation days organized by the Swedish Council for Higher Education, the idea was born to send the students away by train instead of air.

“Uppsala University had done something similar, but not Umeå, so we applied for money and received grants from the deputy dean's strategic funds” says Konrad Abramowicz, International Contact Person (IKP) and associate professor. “We chose to address the invitation to exchange students traveling within Europe.”

One way or both

Studying abroad is popular among students in the engineering programme in industrial economics. Next year, around 20 students will be leaving for a semester’s exchange studies, half of which will go to European higher education institutions through the exchange programme Erasmus +.

Of these, four students have been selected for the project, named Erasmus + on track. Students are equipped with interrail cards and must travel by train to or from their universities abroad, or both ways if they wish.

“Johannes and I are going to the same university in Milan, so we travel together and it really becomes like a real interrail journey” says Joakim Eriksson. “We look forward to the trip, otherwise when you fly, the trip is just something to get through.”
"We are thinking of going to Amsterdam and then Paris and after that through Switzerland to Italy," says Johannes Norén.

When their parents were young, many young people ventured through Europe by train. Since then, train travel across borders has been made more difficult, as European train companies have no common booking system. However, the interrail cards are still there and have grown dramatically in popularity over the past year. The four students note that train travel does not need to be difficult.

“You can find all train schedules by googling” says Joakim Eriksson. “So it really is just that flying has become relatively more accessible so that the train appears to be more complicated.”

Hope to inspire more

Elias Ågren will study statistics, modelling, project management and international marketing at the University of Porto, Portugal. The choice fell on Porto for the proximity to the Atlantic and the opportunity to surf. Porto is 4000 kilometres from Umeå, as far as coast to coast in the USA. Therefore, he plans to fly there, so that on the way home he can send course books and other heavy luggage by mail and take the train with a light backpack on his shoulder.

“I have previously thought about interrail travel some summer, so I might add on the interrail card myself so that I can make the trip a little longer.

Konrad Abramowicz hopes that more students through the project will open their eyes to the train as a travel alternative, both within Sweden and abroad. Part of the project is that the four students will document their travels and report about them, on social media and in blogs.

Follow the engineering students' train journeys and studies abroad on Instagram