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I am an American. I am pursuing my Ph. D. in Sweden. Why did I decide to study in Europe?
It came down to two things: finding a university that would help me reach my research goals and finances. As a note, I did my master’s degree in the U.K for the same reasons. I realized I would save nearly 70k USD if I completed my degree abroad rather than stay in the U.S. So, I moved across the pond. In addition to the total cost, the learning experience of living abroad is not something to put a price tag.
Once I finished my Master’s program at Oxford I returned to the US and began looking into Ph.D. programs. I soon realized that I would have to go into further debt if I remained in the U.S., so I moved my eyes back to study in Europe. I finally set my sights on Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.
What are some of the main draws?
In Sweden, you are considered an early-stage researcher and you can create your own project. However, some departments do offer Ph.D. positions that are exclusively part of a project, so do your research. Another benefit is that you are both an employee and a student, so you are eligible for the subsidized student housing but you get paid as an employee. The pay tends to be higher than the stipends at many U.S universities. That is if you receive a stipend that is a living wage. Something to consider is that you have to pay taxes on this income. Pursuing this education milestone in Europe has given me more room to grow with respect to my research goals since the last thing I have to worry about is finances.
In addition to earning a monthly paycheck and being considered an employee, a Ph.D. candidate is eligible for paid holiday and sick leave. The paid holiday is generous and it is based on age, so I get 28 days a year. In addition to being an employee is that you also receive a pension that can be withdrawn at retirement age.
Sweden is also one of the Nordic countries that have a high tax rate but that allows some benefits, including heavily subsidized healthcare. I also receive heavily subsidized socialized healthcare. I say heavily subsidized because each doctor visit costs 200 SEK up until you reach the number of visits equivalent to 1000 SEK and then your healthcare is free* for the rest of the year. Healthcare does not include eye exams or dental visits but part of it can be paid for by the employer.
What are some of the drawbacks?
Nothing is perfect and I do not claim that Sweden is perfect. Even with all the benefits you get, it can be a waiting game before you are able to see a doctor or a dentist. Since most of the public health practices are booked months in advance.
Additionally, Sweden is a bureaucratic country, which can be annoying in its own right since it takes a long time to get anything done. My advice is to complete your visa paperwork before arriving so that all you have to do is pick up the resident card after you arrive. Once you have that card in hand, you can apply for an identification number which allows you to open bank accounts, rent housing, receive medical care, etc. Once you have that, you are golden. It takes several weeks to receive all this, so be prepared.
Any other notes?
Nothing is perfect but I am receiving more benefits as a Ph.D. in Sweden than I ever would in the U.S. Once all your paperwork is complete, it can be smooth sailing. For these reasons, I moved to Sweden. I would recommend any American to study in Europe. This will broaden your horizons and it might be cheaper than staying in the U.S.
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