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Published: 01 Nov, 2021

The Buddy Programme - like an extra family for the international students

NEWS Every year, Umeå University welcomes hundreds of international students. Traveling to a new country, a new city and a new study environment can sometimes feel overwhelming. An important part of the reception of the international students is the University’s Buddy Programme – designed to make international students feel at home in Umeå and to help them start building their social networks.

Text: Elizabet Westerlund

The Buddy Programme gathers new international students and domestic students by arranging common social activities, which works as an extra security for the new students. The programme has existed for over 20 years and is much appreciated among international students.

Through the Buddy Programme, new international students are introduced to Umeå and Umeå University. An important part of the Buddy Programme is the social activities, where the international students hang out with students who have already studied at the university for a while, so-called buddys. In addition to activities arranged for all the participants of the Buddy Programme, the students are also divided into smaller groups - so-called buddy groups. The buddy groups organize their own activities every week and include both new and established students. Each group has a buddy leader.

- The buddy groups give the students an extra security and acts as an extra family for our international students. When coming here, you usually have no relation to Sweden or to Umeå. If you stay during one semester, it can be difficult to have the time to build strong relationships, but the Buddy Programme helps the students by introducing them to a social group. The students get to experience Sweden and Umeå in a different way than they might have thought before coming here, says Tove Norkvist, international student coordinator at the International Office at Umeå University.

"I have the best job in the world!"

Tove Norkvist works as an international student coordinator at Umeå University. For one year, she coordinates Umeå University's Buddy Programme. Tove plans and carries out the activities that are common to all the participants within the program and she also supports the leaders of the buddy groups.

- I have the best job in the world, says Tove. I get to meet a lot of people and I get to participate in fun activities. It is also nice to be able to give experiences to others. For example, I myself do not remember the first time I saw snow, but to see the joy in the students' eyes the first time they see the northern lights, snow or a moose - it's really nice.

Getting back to normal student life

Arranging social activities during a period where students should avoid meeting physically has created challenges. At the start of the semester, there were still many COVID restrictions, but during the autumn, the university has gradually lifted the restrictions. The plan is that the University will return to it’s normal state from 17 January.

- During the start of the autumn semester, we have chosen to arrange fewer common activities where the students physically meet. Our common activities have been carried out in small groups or digitally. We hope that we will be able to organize a social event for all the participants of the Buddy Programme in the end of this semester, something that I know many of the students longs for. Our plan is to get back to “normal” during the spring semester, says Tove Norkvist.

Despite the restrictions, many of the international students are satisfied with their stay in Sweden. They have already had the time to take part in some of the unique experiences that Umeå offers.

- During the first week of Orientation (the reception of the international students, editor's note), the students got to experience the Northern Lights. They were overjoyed and were also happy to know that there will be even better chances to see the Northern Lights during the winter, says Tove.

During the same week, the new international students also had the opportunity to get to know both Campus Umeå and the city of Umeå better through the Campus Race and City Challenge activities.

Many students wants to experience nature

Hiking is a popular activity among both international and established students in Umeå. During the autumn, many students have taken the opportunity to hike, either in their buddy groups or on their own. During October, the Buddy Programme also organized hikes in the Nydala area. Nydala is a nature area close to the University.

- In mid-October, we walked around lake Nydala, showing the students places that only the locals know about. Places that the international students might not have explore on their own, says Tove Norkvist.

A very popular activity that takes place annually is the visit to Älgens hus (Moose farm) in Bjurholm, about 70 kilometers from Umeå. At Älgens hus, students have the opportunity to learn more about the animal that in Sweden is usually called the King of the Forest.

- Above all, they have the opportunity to get close to the tame moose and also pet them - which is an exciting experience for many. It is also usually possible to see reindeer along the road to Bjurholm, so I hope that the students will also get to experience that, says Tove Norkvist.

More information about the Buddy Programme

If you are interested in becoming a group leader or buddy can read more about it on the page: Be a buddy

Please note that you can only register to become a buddy before the start of the semester. The next period to register is before spring semester 2022.

Being a buddy at Umeå University is a merit for students who wants to study abroad or students interested in becoming an international student coordinator at Umeå University.