Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sweden From the Not-So-Cheap Exam Seats

JoeThe first study period here at Uppsala University is suddenly (and somewhat unexpectedly) almost over, and if the first couple of weeks seemed to be moving along a little slowly it would appear that the breakneck speed of the final two weeks will more than make up for it. Despite, or more likely because of, the frantic push in all of my classes to get finished by next week, I have gleaned this week what I expect to be a deep and enduring insight into the workings of Uppsala, namely: everything I expect to be difficult is easy, and everything I expect to be easy is difficult.

For example, my absence a couple of weeks ago left me a little behind, and while I've caught up in two out of my three classes, the last one is proving more difficult. My expectation as a student is that this puts me in a difficult situation, as it's way past the last drop date and I'd rather not start racking up incompletes in my first semester. When it finally became clear this week that I simply wasn't going to be able to finish the work for this class, I went and talked to one of the graduate counselors for the department. His advice? Don't even worry about it! By not finishing I'll earn an incomplete, true, but if I either make up the work later or retake the class next fall that will completely erase the incomplete. What's more, if I never take care of the incomplete, the class simply won't show up on my transcript. Do I need to let anyone know if I don't plan on finishing the class this semester? No. Seriously, there's nothing I need to do. Huh.

Next hurdle: I need to add a class for study period 2, and not only is it way past the registration period, but I'm already signed up for the expected course load next period. I would expect this to involve getting the permission of the prof, maybe filling out a form, some hassle with the registrar… so naturally, all I have to do is send one e-mail.

OK, that's the actually easy stuff, but what should be easy? Well, my assumption is that if I sign up for a course, the University will expect me to take the final exam for that course. Pretty straightforward, right? Nope. Apparently I needed to decide last week which courses I want to take the final for, so that I could register for the exam. In some crazy scheme, the departments have to pay the university for every exam seat they reserve, and they have to do this two weeks in advance (and two weeks is a big part of a six week study period). Does this mean I can't take the final exams for my classes? Maybe, maybe not. Apparently I should go anyway, and if there is a seat available (most departments overbook slightly) I can take the exam. If not, I'll have to wait for one of the re-exam periods in January or August, and take it then. Either way, I won't be the only one: in one of my classes, only 8 out of 32 students signed up for the exam.

Here's another one: registering for classes in the spring semester. I should be able to simply go online, select some courses that still have seats, and be done with it. Instead, I have to log on to studera.nu, the national student website (the one that gave me weeks of headaches when it declared my application invalid without telling me). Every university student in the country has to use this same website to sign up for classes, as a result of which it crashes every single semester. What's more, the course registration pages are all in Swedish. Even more, by signing up for a class all I'm really doing is expressing a preference for it—if studera later determines (using an undisclosed algorithm) that the class is full, or that I screwed up the registration process somehow, it just drops my classes. If all that works, studera will send me a letter by mail sometime in December, asking me in Swedish if I'm sure that I want to take all these classes that I signed up for. Failure to respond appropriately will be taken as a "no" answer, and all my classes will be dropped. No problem, though, I would just register for new classes, right? Actually, in any of these cases, the department just signs you up for whatever classes aren't full, and that's what you get to take that semester. Period.

It's a two year program, though, so I should have it all figured out by the time I'm ready leave.

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