Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Universiteit Leiden
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Autumn semester 2016/2017
Name: Diana Cekatauskaite
Email address:


I have always been a person who likes to challenge herself and throw herself into the 'unknown', so experiencing new cultures and different ways of teaching and living is always exciting for me. As a student in Bachelor's in Biomedicine programme at Karolinska, I have had an opportunity to go on an exchange twice: during semester 3 and semester 6 (for my thesis project). For the third semester, I only had an opportunity to go to Leiden University, as it has been a long tradition between these two universities to exchange students since the programs are so similar. I have heard by some older students that in Leiden the educational process is somewhat different to the one at KI, so that motivated me to challenge myself and see how that would work. It also was an easy, essentially, bureaucracy-free process (both universities have an ERASMUS agreeement) that was comprehensibly explained by the responsible people at KI, that made me undertake this journey. I cannot also deny the fact that going to an exchange to Leiden was considered as merit for going on an exchange again in semester 6.

Arrival and registration

All of our 'delegation' to Leiden had to arrive about a week before the courses started, as Leiden University organized OWL - Orientation Week Leiden for English-speaking students. It was organized not only for exchange, but also for freshly starting full-time students in Leiden. It was all packed with activities, starting with get-to-know-each-other games, some programme-oriented introductory lectures and fun parties. They really took effort to show the best side of being a part of Leiden University. Even though some activities did not go as planned (the event is completely organized by students themselves), they did manage to get everyone to know each other and have fun before the studies started. We were assigned two mentors for each newly arrived student group and they showed us around, entertained and took care of us. It was, however, a little disappointing that we were mostly hanging out with other exchange students coming to Leiden University Medical Centre, so we did not get as many chances to meet people from other programs or get to know the Dutch classmates before the school started.


Since I was going on an exchange via the ERASMUS exchange programme, I was entitled to approximately a little over 300 euros (3000 sek) a month for the whole 4-month stay. That helped a lot because I am not entitled to Swedish government support (CSN), so every bit helps to make ends meet. However, Leiden was not as expensive as I thought it would be, or much less expensive than Stockholm, at least in terms of food and leisure. Since Leiden is a student town, there are a lot student-oriented bars with friendly prices, as well as it offers quite a few discounts for students in many places. There is not much need for public transport ticket since if you live inside Leiden, biking is a cheap alternative to get anywhere. However, if one wants to explore the Netherlands a little more extensively, the costs rise. Most international students do not qualify for getting free intercity commuting (as Dutch students do), so travelling around the country might need some additional saving up. Overall, going to Leiden was somewhat of a relief in comparison so Stockholm prices.


I cannot deny the fact that I got extremely lucky with accommodation. A couple of months before the departure, we were contacted by our exchange coordinator stating that one of the girls coming to Karolinska Institutet from Leiden would like to rent her room for the time she spends in Sweden, which was perfect because that was the exact amount of time I needed the accommodation. Since I reacted quickly and we got on with the other flatmates quite well over the Skype interview, I got the room which saved me a lot of trouble. Some people from my group found that the housing situation in Leiden was very difficult and it was hard to find anything. There is both lack of housing (cue: very high prices) and a general preference to have Dutch-speaking students in shared flats. 

The overall quality of housing, I would say, was somewhat less than that of Stockholm but it was not particularly bad in any way. Most students get to have either dorm rooms or share flats operated by a nation-wide student housing company. I had a private room for approximately 350 euros a month in a shared flat with two other Dutch girls about 10 minutes by bike to pretty much anywhere in Leiden. The flat was neat and basic amenities were good. However, I have heard and seen that most corridors tend to be way messier and dirtier since they are not as strict as SSSB in Sweden with imposing the housing rules and reviewing tenancy. But for some people it was hard even to get this kind of accommodation. Our arrival somewhat coincided with a decreased number of dorms available for students due to the escalating refugee crisis. As a humanitarian measure to deal with it, a lot of refugees were settled there. 

Studies in general

The general impression I have when I compare the two universities is that studying at Leiden University is way more intense and requires much more effort than at Karolinska. Here, at Karolinska, it is usual to have around a week without any lectures before the exam to revise. However, in Leiden, we only had a few days and that meant that everyone is very tense and stressed from the very beginning of the course. It was also even harder for exchange students because we had 3 little additional modules on top of the larger course (such as Immunology or Physiology) to fill in the credit gap that would not require us to come back to Leiden after Christmas. Doing assignments for them took some precious time away from studying for our main exams, which resulted in failures for many people. 

The teaching methods were somewhat the same as those at KI. There were seminars (that were mostly compulsory), lectures, and a few laboratory practice sessions. Generally, seminars were much tougher (especially in Immunology) and they prepared for examinations better than at Karolinska, as teachers were much more pressing and demanding for full elaborate answers. Lectures were somewhat easy to follow and the best feature was that they were all recorded and posted online so we could re-watch them during revision. However, a lot of the assignments took a lot of time to do (like, a three-paper review of a topic in electrocardiography which is a very niche and specialized topic) that felt like they were not exactly necessary or focusing on testing how well we achieved our study objectives. This made the studying much harder, just not intellectually but physically. 

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI
For the courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI I took:

Immunology. The course was very demanding and took a lot of effort and time to prepare for mandatory seminars. Although it was tough, it also taught a lot, since we had discussions and very elaborate explanations for many topics in Immunology during the seminars. We also had a few laboratory practices that perhaps were not as well equipped as here in Karolinska but they taught us how to do basic ELISA or cell culture. I have a feeling that this was the best course that semester as the teachers (or at least the ones I had) were the experts of their field who came prepared and could explain a lot. The most challenging thing was, however, the examination. It was an open book exam, we could use any material we wanted but the time was very limited. Since I was not used to this kind of format, I started panicking and double checking facts I already knew just to make sure, not leaving enough time to look for details I was not sure about. But apart from that, I think this format is amazing because the questions were not asking the student to simply regurgitate the information, they made you solve certain problems and in order to do so, a student needs to use his/her knowledge. It was not about remembering a certain protein or cluster of differentiation number because that you could check in the book, but rather testing how well a student understands concepts and can apply the knowledge. This is something Karolinska really should take notice of.

Infectious Agents and Immunity. The course that followed Immunology and it focused more on the microbiological aspects of immunity. The course was a lot more disorganized and hectic, there was a lot of misunderstandings, last-minute changes without any notice (lecture time, assignment format/deadline etc.) and in general did not feel like it had a running thread but rather had scattered and not very relevant topics (or at least their relevance was not made clear). There was no appropriate study literature and the curriculum felt just crammed because there were at least 6 topics we had to 'teach' each other without any proper guidelines or study objectives given to us, so the quality of presentations varied a lot among groups and yet we were still asked questions on those topics during the examination without really knowing whether the presentation covered the topic in sufficient depth.

Physiology, Basic Concepts. Very intense course both in terms of time and material covered. During the course everything felt rushed, although the quality of information was high. It was extremely hard to keep up and the course required a lot of deep understanding of bodily mechanisms that could not be just memorized the night before the exam. There was not a lot of practicals or labs during the course, it was more or less strictly theoretical. The examinations were extremely hard, they were not open book, but rather multiple choice questions that required to know a lot of details as well as show understanding -- all of this in a very short time. A lot of people were also complaining that they used the standard curve and would deduct a certain number of points for potentially 'guessed' answers which was met with discontent since a lot of students felt this is the risk the teachers take by choosing this method of examination.

Biomedical Academic Scientific Training. To be completely fair, it was not the most useful use of time having this course on top of Physiology or other modules. It was indeed interesting, to find a person in academia and ask about his/her daily joys and struggles and then produce a report but it was very time consuming and not really providing with anything tangible. The teacher was absolutely amazing and passionate and discussions with him and among ourselves about working in science were definitely interesting and provided with a lot of insight and answers to career choice questions. However, in a lot of cases it was rather a source of frustration since it was just an unnecessary burden keeping you away from studying for the hard subjects.

Communication in Science. In theory, a great course that was supposed to be well-integrated to the existing 'scientific' courses. In some cases they succeeded, in some not that much. Some teachers failed to connect to students and created a somewhat hostile environment that even further demotivated students to take their assignments (essays, presentations) seriously. However, the idea is great and Karolinska should absolutely consider properly integrating this into their courses too. 

Applied Electrophysiology. This course definitely felt like it was created just to fill in the credit hole. In general, it was rather interesting, we were trained to analyze ECGs etc. but that was all before we even got lectures on cardiac physiology, so in general had no understanding of what exactly we were looking at. Furthermore, during the physiology course, we were given some of the lectures again, so it was just unnecessary repetition. In the end, we still needed to produce a report that we never got any feedback for, just a grade on a topic we pretty much did know nothing about and were just struggling to be done with it. 

Language and Culture

Fortunately for me, the programme I came to study at Leiden University is run in English during that semester (the rest are conducted in Dutch, this change is made specifically to make the exchange arrangement possible). English is also the language of my programme here at Karolinska, so this was not a huge change for me despite not being my first language (I was born and raised in Lithuania). Dutch people generally have excellent command of English, so getting by was not a huge challenge. To my knowledge, there were no Dutch courses available at the university, not at least at the price affordable for a student. But there was not a lot of encouragement to learn it because of how well they speak in English and also the culture is somewhat similar to the general Northwestern European culture which did not really require the language dimension to understand it. So apart from some strange eating habits (what kind of a sane person would put cereal on bread?) there was not that much cultural shock experienced. 

Leisure time and social activities

There were quite a few student organizations running in Leiden, the student body is much more active than here, especially at Karolinska. One could find a club for pretty much any activity imaginable: from pole dancing and other sports activities to debating. Some of them are free, but most of them require to pay a small amount to be a member. I was a part of the debating society that really helped me to get to know people from outside the Medical Centre which is quite far away from the main campus (in Leiden standards) and it feels quite isolated from the rest of the university. There is a medical and biomedical students' association in LUMC (acronym for the Medical Centre) but they are not as active or at least not as willing to include the exchange students, probably mainly because we did not have any contact with them before the school started and we were not really introduced to them. 

Most of the people, however, belong to fraternities (sororities) that have their own bars and even accommodation. However, for a non-Dutch student, they are not readily accessible since they state that knowing Dutch is a must in order to join and most of their memberships are quite expensive and could only be purchased for at least a year. 

Apart from student bars and fraternity houses, the city itself is tiny yet beautiful. Gorgeous old town with a cozy vibe. However, if you are not involved in the student life (or if it simply is not your cup of tea), Leiden can get quite boring soon, since the rest of the people living there are generally much older and it does not have a buzzing culture or nightlife. 


For me the experience was perhaps not always pleasant but it definitely taught me a lot. Before I was going there, I set my mind for a temporary adventure that does not have to result in any kind of attachment to the place, because I knew I was going to leave in 4 months. I went there with a mindset to get a perspective to my life... in Sweden. As an immigrant in Sweden, who has lived here for about 2 years, it is easy to get carried away with your daily struggles of identity. But as I was representing Sweden and Karolinska in the Netherlands while being completely foreign to both of them, it made me see a greater picture of where I stand as a Lithuanian citizen, as a Swedish resident by choice and as a visitor in the Netherlands. It definitely enriched my worldview by adding another dimension of comparison. 

And as a student, it taught me how not to succumb under pressure, how to plan my time better. To see certain advantages and flaws in my educational process here at Karolinska and motivated me not to ignore and simply go with the flow, but take responsibility about how I learn and what I want to get from my studies.