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A Student’s First Impressions of Uppsala, Sweden

Norrlands nation, Uppsala

I’ve been living here in Uppsala, Sweden, for 3 weeks already and so far am very happy to report that I really like the city! Moving from the enormous metropolis of London to smaller university cities like Groningen & Uppsala for my Master’s was a bit of a risk, but so far it’s paying off. Both cities have approximately 200,000 inhabitants and are centred around their historic universities, which are over 400 and 500-years-old respectively, so the similarities are a great student atmosphere and lovely, short distances to get around. But they are of course two different countries with two different cultures to learn and adopt!

Back in September I wrote about my first impressions of life in Groningen (my first semester), so here is a short collection of my initial thoughts and comments on Uppsala (my second semester).

  • Everyone here knows how to speak English, and mostly with a British accent, compared to the predominantly American accents I found in the Netherlands. However the Dutch do translate more of their signs, websites and posters into English than the Swedish do, so I’d say it’s slightly more important to learn Swedish here.
  • The Swedish language is devilish to pronounce! Luckily the university offer 4 hours of free language classes per week to all new students so fingers crossed it’ll come with time…
  • Sweden is indeed expensive! I’m mainly referring to transport, food and drink – it’s enough to get you walking and put you on a diet!
  • Based on observations from my gym classes, I’d say that the Swedish sweet tooth and love of fika (afternoon tea and cakes) raises the national BMI. Not everyone in my Swedish fitness classes is super model-thin (like they were in my Dutch fitness classes).

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  • Not all Swedes are blonde and blue-eyed. Given the national stereotype that exists abroad, I imagine those who aren’t might be a tad annoyed!
  • Swedish men are incredibly good-looking – that part of the stereotype is completely true! Some Swedish girls are also very beautiful, but proportionally fewer of them I’d say.
  • Swedes are a little cautious about new people to begin with, but once you push past that initial frostiness and make an extra effort to be friendly, then their icy exterior melts and they’re really friendly. At my first ‘gasque’ (the word for a black-tie dinner at my student ‘nation’, Stockholms, which is like a society/association with its own clubhouse) I was one of 15 foreigners surrounded by a sea of 200 Swedes! The seating was completely random but all the Swedes around me were really lovely after that initial barrier had melted.

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  • I only have 6 hours / week of lectures and seminars (+ 4 hours of Swedish) – which is blissful! Seeing as I had a minimum of 22 hours / week in Groningen and I felt rushed off my feet most of the semester, I am very grateful for the lighter workload here in Uppsala. Despite that, the lectures are replaced with lots more texts to read, and I think I actually prefer classtime than studying independently.
  • The student ‘nations’ are fantastic! There are 13 in total and you join one for around 300 Krona (£27) per semester, but after that you can then go into any of them. They all serve different meals on different days (breakfast / brunch / lunch / fika / waffles / traditional pea soup / dinner), they all have pubs and a club once a week, as well as having live music nights, tastings, quizzes and all sorts of other cool events going on, such as the formal ‘gasques’ and balls. Each nation has its own vibe: some are large, some small. Some more formal, some less formal. Some more Swedish, some more international. The buildings they’re in are mostly old neoclassical or gothic mansions, with the interiors full of chandeliers, grand spiral staircases, atmospheric wood-panelled libraries, and portraits of imposing alumni of the nation.

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  • We have two reading weeks this semester – woop woop! One in March (called ‘sport week’ so the lecturers can go skiing) and one in April (for Easter) so I’m hoping to make the most of these with a few travels!
  • Uppsala is perfectly located. It’s only 20 minutes to Stockholm Arlanda airport, only 45 minutes from Stockholm, and therefore also quite near to the Stockholm archipelago for island hopping in the summer!
  • The university offers housing to international students, which is worth accepting to save the hassle of house-hunting. But when it comes to picking which housing, it’s worth paying a bit more to live centrally. I live in Klostergatan 16, a former hotel in the city centre that was converted in 2015 into individual furnished flats, with some extra common rooms, a cafe and a gym, etc. I’m not going to lie – it’s pretty cushty. While the newness of the building and facilities is obviously a major plus, the main benefit is actually its location, as the rest of the student housing is actually located quite far away from the university. (Flogsta is a real trek – I wouldn’t advise it unless you really, really love the countryside).
  • Uppsala has some damn cool architecture – whether it’s neoclassical columns in the Botanical Gardens, the imposing stone fortress of Uppsala castle, the Gothic features of the cathedral and some of the student nations, the traditional Scandinavian style houses, the pastel coloured walls everywhere, or the little floating houses on the River Fyris.
  • We’ve not seen very much snow yet, but there are some beautiful blue skies to accompany my runs!

Some of my first impressions aren’t entirely new, as I did visit Sweden back in 2015, so I was well prepared for the cost of living for example. A lot of my initial impressions have been direct comparisons to Groningen, the last city I lived in, just as my first impressions of Groningen were direct comparisons to London. It’s really hard to take that element of comparison out of the equation and be objective, and given how much I loved life in the Netherlands, Uppsala has a tough precedent to live up to!

But so far I am really enjoying the city, I’ve already met lots of great people and am settling in really well. There are aspects I miss about Groningen (and London), of course, but I have at least 2 trips back to each of those cities in the coming months, so I’m not pining too much!

Here’s just a taster of my first few weeks here in Uppsala, so keep an eye out for more about life in Sweden in my monthly diary posts about student life during my Erasmus Mundus Master’s!

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