While there is a lot to cover regarding student life, this article aims to be a mere starting point for those considering coming to Sweden or the newcomers here.
A newcomer myself, I have learned everything I will talk about from my own experience, and in the past month. Needless to say, if I missed something please comment along.
Let me start by saying that Stockholm is a good place to be a student. Because of my program, I am considered a full-time student at both Stockholm University and KTH. This has given me the opportunity to get to know a lot of different people, and to tell you that regardless of the university you attend, you will find that students have it good here.
For those of you who don’t know, SU is a natural sciences and humanities university, while KTH focuses on engineering and technology. This makes the vibe at both universities different as the students and faculty have different interests, and thanks to my program I have had the chance of exploring them both. Because this article is intended for everyone regardless of their university I will focus on the common grounds between the two places rather than on their differences.
First things first; academics. I think it is safe to assume that if you are a student, you want to know something about the academics here. Even though every department and every university work differently, I just want to briefly talk about the system in general. I should point out I am a graduate student, so I don’t have a lot of information about how things are at the Bachelor’s level. Master’s programs in general are either one or two years, and I know a lot of them are offered in both English and Swedish if not English only. This attracts a lot of international students and faculty.
Something to note about the Swedish system is that each semester is divided into two periods. The first period goes from the first day of the semester (usually some day in late August) and finishes in mid-October. The next period goes from the end of October until December, but the exams for the second period are held in January. Some courses last both periods while others only one. Usually courses that last only one period give you less credits, but this can change.
The academic life is not very different from Canada, where I did my earlier studies. You should check your program’s website for specific information. The one thing I sh,ould say, is that if you come from North America this will probably be a shock to you as it was to me, but they have oral exams here. They are common and some courses do both an oral exam and a written exam. I haven’t had my first oral exam yet, but I will soon so more updates will come on that.
Now, moving on to student life in Stockholm. The first thing you need to know about university students in Stockholm, is that they have an active student life. Students proudly wear university gear on a daily basis, attend university events, and hang out on campus. The sense of belonging makes it easy to feel like you are part of a community and it makes being on campus a very social experience. What’s more, because students spend a lot of time on campus, there are many spaces designed for different purposes, that make all the above even easier.
Which leads me to the next point. Food on campus; it is great and affordable. One of my favourite things about Stockholm so far has been the food. Coming from Canada, it is great to see that Swedes have a lot of respect for meal times and the food they consume. A huge percentage of students bring their own food from home, and there are microwaves in nearly every building where you can heat up your food. I honestly had never seen so many microwaves within such short distance before, and I love it.
If you are not much of a cook, there also are plenty of restaurant options and most of them offer student prices. Whether you want a sandwich or a full meal, something healthy or hearty, you will find what you are looking for on campus. My personal favourites are the small cafes and cafeterias that have a daily menu cooked from scratch every day. This is a great option if you are very hungry or if you have class and need to eat less often. Most places offer coffee and bread with lunch, and there is always plenty of room to sit so you can go as a group. There are always two or more options, and one of them is usually vegetarian or vegan, so dietary restrictions are not a problem.
While these lunches are the most enjoyable, you might not always have time for that. In which case, you can easily go to a 7-Eleven and build your own salad, or buy a pre-made sandwich or panini that will be heated up for you. If not, food trucks and fast-food are a safe choice that always tastes great and is guaranteed to leave you full.
I could go on talking about food all day, but maybe I will do an article on that only. For now, we should move on to topic number three. Social life and Swedish culture. Stockholm is a popular choice for international students these days, so it is very easy to meet other international people that came to study in Sweden. That being said, most of them are on exchange so they are only here for a semester or two. I have found that it is very easy to make international friends because we are all on the same boat. We are all in a new city looking to meet new people and make friends. As for the Swedish students, it is a little different. They have been living here for a long time, and they have their group of friends that they have known probably for years. So even though they are friendly and their English is impressive, it can be a little bit harder to get to know them.
Having Swedish friends can be a lot of fun because they know what to do in the city, they understand the culture and they can help you improve your Swedish, so you should try your best to befriend some Swedes. My advice for this is to take advantage of your courses. Lecture time is a space where Swedes and international students are together, and everyone is speaking English so it is easy to start a conversation and you don’t have to feel bad for making them switch to English as they are already listening (and maybe speaking) it. Another good option to make new Swedish friends is to join student organizations, clubs, or play sports on campus. Even though they might go as a group there, you can always meet someone willing to start a conversation. If at first you don’t succeed in making as many friends as you had hoped for, give it some time. Swedes in general are super nice, but they can be a little shy.
So, this is it for now, I hope you have learned something or identified with some of the things I have said here. If you want to know more about something I said or if you think I missed anything shoot me a message!
Until next time, Natalia.
Photo credits: Natalia Londono, Magnus Liam Karlsson (Imagebank Sweden)