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[ Vuyani Bonakele Mrwarwaza was one of three students selected for an exchange programme with the Royal College of Music in Stockholm from August 2017 to January 2018. This is Part 1 of his story (lightly edited for clarity and flow). ]

The dream

I never thought I would become an exchange student ever in my life. It has always been my dream to travel the world. I had no idea as to how I was going to achieve this, but my aim was to save up money when I’m working and take myself to the world. I never thought that my first time of going abroad will be through education or studying. I have been so much blessed and fortunate and I could never be grateful enough.

It all started as a dream and something that lived in my imagination when I saw an advertisement the first week of May 2017 on the notice board at the Conservatory that there is an opportunity to study as an exchange student at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. I looked at the requirements of the programme and I was so overwhelmed to see that indeed I meet all the requirements, that I qualify to be part of the exchange programme. I couldn’t wait any longer and applied immediately, answering all the questions as honestly as possible and hoping for the best.

It was towards the end of May, if not the beginning of June, when I was notified that my application for the exchange programme was successful. I was very excited from that moment on as it was almost time for me to write exams for the first semester. I knew from there that I had to work extra hard because I had to make sure that I pass all my modules before I leave South Africa so that my journey to Sweden could be peaceful knowing that I didn’t fail anything back home.

Vuyani MrwarwazaI put more effort into fixing my documentation, from getting a passport to applying for a study permit through the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria. I was even more excited when I received my travel documents in an email. It was an electronic flight ticket with all the dates and times of departure to the connecting airport, and then to Stockholm. I knew upon receiving a call from the embassy confirming the arrival of my study permit in Pretoria that it was indeed a reality that I’m going to Sweden!

The day of departure came. It was 16 August 2017 at exactly 13:20 when I left South Africa together with my classmates, Nozipho and Thulani, who had also been chosen for the programme. It was two long flights, first from South Africa to Qatar, then from Qatar to Sweden, but they were worth it for it was my first time on an airplane. We arrived at Stockholm Arlanda Airport on 17 August 2017.


Introduction Week (21-25 August)

By the time of the introduction week, I had already learned about the famous Swedish word ‘fika’, which is a concept in Swedish culture meaning “to have coffee”, usually accompanied by pastries, cookies or cinnamon buns. This is the word I had already learnt from my Swedish friends (Emanuel, Cassandra and Guro) who were all in South Africa as exchange students earlier that year. They also met us at Arlanda airport upon our arrival.

At the start of the introduction week it had been exactly five days since arriving in Stockholm and surely I was well aware and a bit familiar with the environment around me, especially traveling from Lappis (Forskarbacken 3) where I stayed to the Royal College of Music using the bus and the subway train.

Vuyani Mrwarwaza

At a soccer match with Thulani.

The reality and excitement of being a student at KMH began when I received my access card to the buildings. Then I realised, indeed it’s happening, I’ll be studying at the world’s number five higher institution for performing arts (as I’ve heard the Vice-Chancellor mention in his introductory speech). This really made me proud and I thought to myself that I should work hard and prepare myself well for any lessons as I will receive quality education.

Then I went to a choir workshop where I met Per-Henrik and Incca, who were the workshop leaders. Singing in a choir is one of my personal interests. I was so looking forward to the workshop and I thought it really went well as I mastered the art of singing in harmony and unison with other students. Each leader taught in a unique way, but I could see the love and passion for choral singing in both of them.

I also went to a percussion workshop. I’m not so big on percussions, but I can play a few rhythms on a djembe drum and my favourite percussion instrument is the timpani. I enjoyed myself in the workshop because the leaders were friendly and didn’t expect us to play perfect rhythms on the drums. The warm ups on how to use the stick and pretending to hit were great. Everyone was excited and expressed themselves the way they know how – no one was perfect, we were all new and really excited.

I also learnt the system of KMH in a practical information session where they taught us how to book practice and lecture rooms. This was a new thing for me because at the Conservatory you can go to any practice room as long as it’s not occupied. The introduction week went well and concluded with a guided tour to the music library and the Department of Music Education where we met our teachers: Eva, Ing-Marie and Incca.


Learning Svenska (31 August – 28 September)

I have never studied any foreign language except the self-studies of foreign languages that I do due to my classical music pieces. This was my first time getting into a formal class for a foreign language. It was only a one-month course, two hours twice a week (Monday and Thursday) for each class, but it was worth it. It really took me by surprise as to how the university caters for so many international students and they pride themselves by making the Swedish language accessible to all visiting students.

Vuyani Mrwarwaza

Exploring Stockholm.

I still remember our first class. The lecturer had a list of countries on the projector. All the countries were written in Swedish, or rather Svenska, and they were in alphabetical order. What the lecturer did was to name a country, and if the country doesn’t have representatives (students) in the class, then he would remove the country. I learnt that South Africa in Svenska is Sydafrika. I was so proud of myself and my friends as we were the only South Africans in the class and we also met fellow Africans from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Malawi and Zambia. It was really nice to see Africans since I arrived in Sweden. Every moment in class was really fun and enjoyable because we were all very enthusiastic to learn the language and we were many students who came from different walks of life. We really connected with one another as we showed interest into one another’s culture and traditions. Most of the credit should go to our lecturer as he really conducted himself very well and he’d always tell us that we can learn and master the language by learning one new sentence or phrase per day. I can say I’ve learned a lot of Swedish words, and now I can do basic greetings, I can say my name and where I come from, I can even count from one to ten by heart and also write the numbers without misspelling them. We also learnt some Swedish songs and a few words of the Swedish national anthem.

The students around Stockholm University were also wonderful and so helpful when it came to us settling in at the institution and showing us around the important venues and our lecture halls. I also like how diverse and very social they are. There is mutual respect amongst the students, irrespective of where you come from.

[ Continue to Part 2 of Vuyani’s story ]

Vuyani Bonakele Mrwarwaza, born and raised in Sharpeville, is a final year BA Music & Society student at the NWU School of Music. As a voice major he holds a Grade 8 certificate in singing, as well as a singing diploma from Trinity College London.