Friday, May 18, 2007

International students of Hyper Island: Amber Sellers, Crew 10

Hello Amber Sellers from the USA, Crew 10!

How did you find out about Hyper Island?
I was tinkering with the idea of going to a design school that specialized in interactive design, but wasn’t sure what schools were really out there. I thought a good way to find a great school was to find out where people whose sites I liked went to school. I started researching hot design portals and reading through the designers “about” sections. I found a lot of quality designers went to Hyper Island. Crew 8’s internship site was popular and posted everywhere as well. I tried to dismiss Hyper Island because it would be a tough move to Sweden (with it being so far away and that I’d have to learn Swedish). However, with more research I found it really was the best school for me out there. I decided to dig a bit deeper and see if they would be interested in accepting me.

What did you have to go through to get to Hyper Island?
I gave up a lot to go to Hyper Island. It was a huge risk for me on many levels, but in the end it was completely worth it.
My Former Life & A Large Loan
I had a fabulous, well-paying job in Los Angeles with a sweet Loft in a funky art district, but I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing for a living. In order for me to go to Hyper Island I needed to borrow some money from my family because no student loan companies in the United States recognized Hyper Island as a legitimate University. I remember sitting my father down and telling him I was giving up a great career and life that I had built to go back to school – art school – in Europe of all places. At first he didn’t take me seriously. He was worried I’d end up exchanging a solid career for a starving artist position, now with a large debt to him. I could see his point of view, which was a lot of pressure. Somehow I managed to convince him this is what I needed to do and that it was entirely worth the gamble.
Learning Swedish
I made the concrete decision to seriously apply to Hyper Island in the first week of April in 2004. The deadline for portfolio submissions was May 15th. I had just over one month to pull a portfolio together, see if I could roughly pick up Swedish, and apply. I searched for a local Swedish tutor and found one that could meet with me 3 to 4 times a week for an hour of Swedish Lessons. I started with her that first weekend in April. I remember flipping through my text book and thinking “Aight Girl, what did you get yourself into now?! This is madness!”. I gave it a proper a month-long shot and it turned out to not be so bad at all. In fact, it was surprisingly simple. I ended up also taking an intensive 3 week language course in Sweden over the summer before the first semester started, which did the trick.
That year it was a requirement to know basic Swedish and pass an SFI test (Swedish language test) because most of the lectures would be given in Swedish. I hear that’s no longer a requirement, but the language is relatively simple to pick up and would be very useful to learn.
Fear of Culture Shock
This education would include new surroundings, a new language, and a different way of thinking.
I had to throw myself into my fear of the unknown and hope that I would find a way to fit in. I didn’t have a chance to “test-drive” Sweden and see if I liked it because it was so far away. It was either I got accepted and went, or didn’t. I studied my Lonely Planet guide on Sweden, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.
Once in Sweden did you feel limited by your language knowledge or did you feel you had the opportunity to learn as much as the Swedes?
Overall, I do feel I had an opportunity to learn as the Swedes. Most learning is done by doing. That’s an experience anyone from any language background can learn from. However, there were a few times when the lecturer was speaking in Swedish and I wish I could have understood every word because the topic was fascinating. What I couldn’t grasp on my own I could easily ask for a quick translation from my peers (who were happy to help). In the end I was able to grasp the important points during those rare language barrier moments. I found most students wanted to practice their English skills and were happy to converse with me in English where my basic Swedish skills fell short.
What did you think was strange or funny about Sweden?
- The first thing that comes to mind is the ice cream trucks in Sweden. In the US children chase after them in the neighborhood streets, but in Sweden it is the parents. It was such a strange experience to hear the child-like tune playing from the truck’s loud speaker and seeing parents running after it, and even stranger was that the truck came by all year long, even throughout the cold, snowy winters.
- Milk and yogurt both come in the same looking carton. After pouring yogurt into my coffee in front of everyone, I learned those Swedish words on the packaging pretty fast.
- The pizza shop has 30 different types of pizza you can order and some popular items include corn and tuna.
- IKEA has the same products in Sweden as in the US, and many Swedes shop there. It was strangely comforting to see the same glassware, candle stick holders, and bedding in my fellow students rooms as I had back at home in Los Angeles. If you shop at IKEA you may just literally feel at home there.
- Strawberry vendors some out in the summer and sell their strawberries on nearly every street corner. It smells nice throughout the towns and they taste amazing - like no other strawberry.
- Working in an old prison was interesting. It’s pretty easy to focus on what you’re doing in there.
- Every shop in Sweden closes on Saturdays at 4pm and remains closed until Monday. Coming from 24/7 America this was quite an adjustment. I was frustrated at first that I couldn’t go shopping on Sunday afternoons, even at the grocery store, but you learn to plan ahead and roll with the relaxed atmosphere.

What did you think was unexpectedly easy in Sweden?
- That punctuality thing was a blessing and a curse. Swedes are amazingly on time and frown upon tardiness. It was great to know exactly when the bus and train would be arriving and that your study group meant business and would show up on time. However, I had to quickly learn to be on time myself.
- Visas weren’t too bad either. Some paper work, of course, but I didn’t have to interview with anyone and get the third degree.
- The language was pretty easy to figure out. It is surprisingly a bit like English once you pick up the patterns. There isn’t much of a language barrier though because just about everyone speaks English, so it is very easy to get around.

What learning experiences from your Hyper Island education have you brought with you to your work life?
There is so much I have taken with me from Hyper Island on a professional and personal level. Here is just a few off the top of my head:
- This is where the whole “learning by doing” thing comes in to play. I’ve taken what I’ve learned to expect from a project lifecycle by actually working on real projects while at Hyper Island. I was prepared to know what was likely to come about through the project process. There are ups and downs and potential disasters to avoid that I’ve learned to navigate through. I started my list of do’s and don’ts back in school and it was a great foundation which I add to today.
- I’ve learned what to look for in teammates. Who I work well with and what sort of team I need to get the job done right.
- There was a great lecture about clients, what to prepare for with them and how to avoid certain negative situations. This was brilliant and has helped me a lot with avoiding a few black holes.
- I learned how to give and receive feedback. What giving feedback really means – to listen to others needs, to be open to change, and to be able to speak up when you need something. It is amazing what an important thing feedback is to a team and to everyone you have a relationship with in general. It would be very beneficial if it was built into the process of everything we do.
- On a personal note, I’ve learned I like to be a leader and about the different ways people need to be lead. This has changed me as a person and how I handle myself now.
What do you think Americans, or non-Swedes in general, can learn from studying in Sweden which they might not be exposed to otherwise?

From Studying in Sweden in General
- It is an amazing experience to submerse yourself in a different culture. Sweden has a wonderful and unique one with many pleasant surprises.

- Sweden is a very inspiring place for an aspiring designer. Advertising, store displays, products and packaging are so well designed and this great design is found just about everywhere you turn. I remember the first time I flew into Copenhagen on my way to Hyper Island. The airport was breathtaking, like a feature article from the magazine Dwell.

From by Studying at Hyper Island
- One of the reasons I chose Hyper Island was that it wasn’t like any other university I came across in the states. It isn’t based on text books, old marketing theories, or tests. It is based on diving into the work first hand, being allowed to make mistakes and learning from them, learning from lecturers currently and successfully working in the field, and learning how to teach yourself what you need to know (how to pick up a new skill and research something instead of relying on others to teach it to you).

- Hyper Island has a great reputation. Now that I’m working in the industry I see that Hyper Island interns are coveted and valued for the talent and work ethic. If you have the skills and drive many top interactive studios will show interest in you.
- Hyper Island is very selective with who is admitted into their program. This pays off as being a student there because you are surrounded with driven peers who are smart, talented, and passionate about what they are doing and want to learn.

- There are some important skills that Hyper Island offers that aren’t part of an average university’s curriculum, some of which include: team building skills, leadership techniques, and the importance and demonstration of feedback and open communication.

Words of wisdom for non-Swedes out there that are unsure of if they should take a chance on Hyper Island?
- Sweden is a welcoming place. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful, so no need to worry on that front.
- For me, studying at Hyper Island was entirely worth the effort for the quality education and experience. It exceeded my expectations and prepared me for where I am today (a busy, happy, successful designer at a top interactive studio – Luuuvin’ it!).
- It takes an adventures spirit with a goal in mind to take on the Hyper Island experience, but if you really want to learn and you love this industry you’ve got a great opportunity here to seize your dreams. Just try and you may be surprised. You never know, it may be easier then you think!

Thank you Amber!

1 comment:

isayhello said...

this is a breath of fresh air. i cannot wait to embark this myself in a few months!