Roel Damen (22), a master’s student of Econometrics from the Netherlands
“My longest journey was to Sweden, where I spent four months as an exchange student. There is a lottery to determine who is allowed to go to which country. For really far destinations, you have to have really good grades. I didn’t think that was going to happen, so I chose the most beautiful country in Europe.”
Damen had never been to Sweden before, but had heard a lot about it. “It completely lived up to my expectations. I was there in autumn so I saw it turn into winter. While the sun was still shining in the Netherlands, Jönköping – the city where I stayed – was already covered in three centimetres of snow.
“I went on a kind of survival trip to Kiruna in December, which is right up in the north of Lapland. The train journey took 24 hours. When we arrived, the snow scooters and dog sleds were ready and waiting. Wherever you looked, everything was white. It was between -20 and -30 degrees, but on the snow scooter the windchill factor made it feel like -50. That was tough. You have to get off every now and then and jump up and down, or you freeze to the sled.”
Damen and his travel companions stayed in small houses. “We had to chop our own wood to keep ourselves warm. The following day we went on a moose safari: spotting reindeer. We did see them but from quite a distance. We also went to the ice hotel. As the name says, everything is made from ice. We didn’t stay there – the prices are ridiculously high – but we did have a drink at the bar. Your glass is also made of ice. It was fun to see, but I would not go especially for that.”
Damen thought that aurora borealis was spectacular. “We were so fortunate, it was clearly visible. Do you know that Opel advertisement with the Northern Lights? Nobody believes that it is real, but it looked just like that when we saw it.”