Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: The University of Edinburgh
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Autumn semester 2018/2019
Name: Donia Arafa
Email address:



I chose to go on exchange to the University of Edinburgh for the great research opportunities it provides in the life sciences, in particular my field of interest, neuroscience. I had heard plenty of good things about the city itself from friends and had been there myself once or twice, so I knew that it was a really nice place to visit and a beautiful city. 

Organising the Exchange

Soon after I had received the nomination from KI to go on exchange, I received an email from the study abroad advisor in Edinburgh who sent me a "visiting student" application to complete. I found the division of departments and schools within Biology/Biomedicine/Medicine quite confusing and at times I was receiving mails from different departments, and having a hard time making sure that my application and other documents got to the right place. Although I am a master's student at KI, at Edinburgh I was considered an undergraduate student due to the nature of the exchange agreement, and so was part of the Honours (fourth year) medical and biomedical sciences programmes. The people who coordinate this exchange are part of what was called the Biomedical Sciences Teaching Organisation, so it is very important that once you get a contact person there to keep them updated on your application and direct any questions you have to them.

Research Project 

Since I was going abroad in the third semester of the master's programme, I was required to take the 16 ECTS research project abroad as well as an equivalent of the 9 ECTS elective course. After the processing of my application by mid-May I had received a formal offer from the University. I started looking at potential supervisors very soon after accepting the exchange offer, and contacted the lab I wanted to work with in March, letting them know that I was a master's student, that I was very interested in their work and would like to do a research project there. I got a response within two or three weeks and the PI requested to Skype a couple of weeks later. By July I had a project description and was prepared in terms of the project.

Elective Course

Organising the courses I would take in Edinburgh was a little more difficult. Eventually I was given a list of potential courses I could take (, and the criteria for selection were that they were open to visiting students, that they were SCQF level 10, that they were in Semester 1 and that they were 10 ECTS credits. Once I had decided on a course I emailed the contact I had in the Biomedical Sciences Teaching Organisation and also the course/module administrator listed online. This was not completely sorted out until September just before I arrived but it seemed quite easy to join any course so it is not worth worrying about if it is not organised too far in advance.

Edinburgh By Night

Arrival and registration

Arrival Week 

Arrival week for new exchange and full-time students was in early September, and the biggest thing to get sorted in this week was the student card. By then you should be registered with Euclid/Blackboard/MyED (ie have a student number and password), which are similar to Ladok and PingPong. On these portals you should upload a picture of yourself prior to arrival and then you can simply collect your ready-made student card from the main library on arrivals week. I arrived on Saturday the 8th of September, collected my card on the 9th, and started in the lab on the 10th. This was the beginning of Arrivals week for the university, and lectures didn't start until the following week on the 17th.

Social Aspects

Prior to arrivals week there were many opportunities to join Facebook groups for International Students coming to Edinburgh in September, and there was a good social committee organising different events in those first few weeks, I did not attend many of these events but I think they are a good chance to meet other people. 


Cost of Living

I found Edinburgh to be cheaper than Stockholm for most everyday expenses. Lidl was an excellent money-saver there and was extremely cheap, I would say that a lot of groceries were about 2/3 of the price that they would have been in the same store in Sweden.


Transport was a similar price to Stockholm. For a month of unlimited use of the bus and tram it costed £48 for a student. This was quite useful as it also included the buses and trams that go to the airport, which would only take about 30 minutes from the city centre. A single journey anywhere on the bus costed £1.70. During September and October the weather was good enough to cycle, and on one of the exchange student Whatsapp groups I purchased a bike for £20 which was perfect for what I needed. Edinburgh is an extremely hilly city however so it is not the most cyclist-friendly place!

Keeping Costs Down

I would recommend always checking whether places offered a student discount. There are also a lot of student bars and restaurants in Edinburgh, and many of those are advertised extensively during Introduction Week, so this is a good chance to find the cheaper spots. Also at the Royal Infirmary Hospital, if you are based down there for your project, it was possible with the student card to get a hot lunch for about £2.50 which was really good.


How to find accommodation 

Finding accommodation in Edinburgh, like most places, is not simple and straightforward, but it is possible. I would say that there are as many opportunities as in Stockholm to find a place, and that most of the searching is done online. My best advice is to go to Edinburgh first, stay at an AirBnb for a week or two, and arrange viewings before you get there and during your first week. When you get offered a place in Edinburgh it means that you quite often can move in within a few days. It is very difficult to try and house-hunt in August as the famous Fringe Festival is taking place and this will mean that every room and couch in Edinburgh is completely full for the whole month! Some useful websites when looking for accommodation are (a very popular website in Edinburgh used to buy anything from a room to a bike, similar to Blocket) and 

Student Housing 

I applied for student housing through the University of Edinburgh, but was not hopeful as they had already stated in the application that students not staying for the entire year were unlikely to be offered a room through the university. There were also plenty of private companies in Edinburgh that specialised in offering student rooms but from what I saw, these were extremely expensive and needed to be arranged very far in advance. 


A very important consideration when looking for accommodation is of course location. I lived in the north of the city, but my lab and lectures were in the south. When I was cycling this was not a big issue as it took 25 minutes to get there, but when I needed to get the bus, sometimes it took about an hour, which for a small city like Edinburgh is not ideal. The public transport in Edinburgh is not as frequent or as varied as Stockholm, so I would recommend finding a place to stay that is at least on a bus route to your destination. If you do want to work at the Royal Infirmary or the Centre for Regenerative Medicine down in the Little France campus, then the area of Newington would be an ideal balance between central and convenient if you are lucky enough to find a room there. 


Accommodation in Edinburgh is not extremely expensive but like anywhere else depends on where you stay and what type of accommodation you have. Renting a room privately will probably cost between £300 and £450. Quite often contracts do not include bills which will probably amount to under £50 so take this into account too.

Studies in general

Research Project 

As part of my exchange I completed a 16ECTS research project at the University of Edinburgh. I completed my project at the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the Little France Campus ( 


The SCRM is only 10 years old and so the facilities there were very good. There was a similar collaborative atmosphere as in Biomedicum at KI, with the open office spaces of the various groups surrounding central laboratory spaces, and many common facilities such as tissue culture and microscopes. All of the labs there researched a common theme, regenerative medicine, and so it was a really excellent environment to learn more about the field. There were seminars every week given by researchers at the centre and from elsewhere, so there was always a chance to listen to some interesting research.

Work environment

I found the relationship between my supervisor/PI and I to be very similar to how it is at KI. It was also a very international environment, and everyone was always very friendly and willing to help me. There were fewer students than at KI and I was the only master student that I met on my floor, I believe that this is because projects only started after January for the master students at the University of Edinburgh. It was very easy to make friends with the PhD students since many of them started in the SCRM at the same time that I did. I did find the pace of work to be higher than in Stockholm, and often coffee breaks would be incorporated into a lab meeting. This is not to say that the labs weren't social, only that not many social breaks were taken during working hours. There were plenty of events run by students or the university or the department, such as pizza evenings for the labs and dinners at Christmas which meant that there were plenty of chances to socialise.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI

9 ECTS Elective Course

As part of my exchange I also took an elective course in Edinburgh to replace the elective track I could have taken at KI, that would need to amount to at least 9 ECTS. I chose a course called Regenerative Medicine worth 10 ECTS. This course was lecture-based, with classes from 10-12 on Mondays and Tuesdays for most of the semester. This course was really perfect for me, because every lecture was by a different researcher, most of whom were based at the research institute where I was doing my project, so for this reason they really went well together. The course was also situated in the same campus as my project which was a really important factor too. Although I was mostly interested in neuroscience, I thought this course would give me a new insight into a field I didn't know much about, and since my project involved differentiating stem cells to dopaminergic neurons I thought getting to know more about regenerative medicine in general would be quite interesting.


I found the lectures overall to be of a very high quality, and nicely they were always recorded and put online if you wanted to revise them again. Since each lecture was about a researcher's work they were all very different and contained a large amount of information, but it really gave me a good understanding of regenerative medicine and stem cell biology which was very useful for my project writeup. Questions during lectures were welcomed and since it was a small class, about 20 students, there were plenty of interesting discussions.


The assessments for this course were in the form of two oral presentations given early in the semester, a written essay on a topic that you can select from a list, and finally an exam which in my case was on the 17th of December. There was quite a lot to study in preparation for the exam, and was based on two essay questions from a choice of six. Overall I would say that I learned a lot from this course and would definitely recommend it.

Language and Culture


English is my native language and everyone in Scotland speaks English too, so at least this was not an issue. I did find the Scottish accent to be at times quite challenging however, especially when I went up north! I did not notice many opportunities for English classes but interestingly there were actually a lot of opportunities to practise other languages such as French and German with the international societies.


Scotland has a rich and wonderful culture and Edinburgh is a great place to experience that. There are plenty of museums to visit in the city and in general people in Edinburgh can be quite active as there are a many outdoor activities too. Rugby is a big sport in Scotland and I would thoroughly recommend attending a match at the Murrayfield Stadium, there can be good student deals and I saw an international game for about £15. Some typical food in Scotland would be a 'Scottish breakfast' which includes beans, eggs, suasages, a tomato, bacon, potatoes, mushrooms and black pudding (the vegetarian version is also quite good!). 
Scotland vs Fiji

Leisure time and social activities


There are more than enough activities to fill the weekends and evenings in Edinburgh itself. Edinburgh is a very pretty city and so walking around the Royal Mile during the weekend is an activity in itself. There are plenty of museums to explore as well as the Botanic Gardens which are free. Edinburgh is also located on the coast so it is possible to visit the lovely area of Portobello and walk along the beach. If you are a Harry Potter fan there are also plenty of sights as many of the locations in the book are inspired by places in the city. There are plenty of quaint cafés to visit. I did not attend many events organised by the University itself, but rather attended events organised by my lab and its department. There were plenty of these leading up to Christmas and nearly every Friday evening there was an event to attend with this group.

Christmas Markets
I was lucky enough to stay in Edinburgh during the Autumn Semester and so I got to see the Christmas markets in Edinburgh set up along Princes street. These were excellent and a really good place to bring visitors. 


I would definitely recommend visiting more of Scotland than Edinburgh during your time there. The Highlands are not to be missed, especially the Glencoe region, Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms. Scotland is best visited by car, and the B&Bs located in every town are of a very high quality, for weekend trips I would recommend


All in all, I would recommend Edinburgh as a place to do an exchange. There are not huge cultural differences between Scotland and Sweden, but nonetheless Scotland is a very interesting place with a high quality of life. I found it beneficial to learn how labs in different universities operated. I would also definitely consider moving back to Edinburgh in future. Overall it was not a very challenging exchange culturally, the workload was high, and the people extremely friendly. I found it quite beneficial to go in the third semester of the master programme, so that I could take a course and integrate more in the university. I would definitely recommend it as a fun and interesting place to go, with great opportunities in terms of research and study.
The Highlands of Scotland