Sweden is home to a mere 9 million people. Whilst I live in the nation’s fourth biggest city, it’s just about the same size as Norwich, except the Uppsala Universitet is twice as big as UEA and ten times as old… with about as many churches too. In some ways it’s surprisingly similar to Norwich, but in others it is very different. The most obvious of these differences is the language, as my grasp of Swedish is, well… I can do my weekly shopping and order hot chocolate at least… I just hope it improves in time for my exam!
Despite this very obvious barrier, studying in Sweden is very accessible to English-speakers. I’ve yet to be the only exchange student in a class, and even as a native Brit, I often swear that the Swedes have better English than I do!
Sweden itself is a fantastic country. Quite recently my parents were able to come and visit me, something they were unlikely to do by themselves. However, they made sure to let me know how much they enjoyed their visit, despite often overlooking the country as a holiday destination in the past.
Stockholm, though I don’t study there, is a beautiful capital city full of museums (especially the Gamla Stan in the old town), and it is also a stepping stone to further travel, be it by air, sea, or land. As a bonus, Stockholm will host Eurovision this year, as well as boasting the famous ABBA Museum – aka a must-visit!
And there’s plenty more of the nation to explore too. Sweden is rich in history and culture, a fantastic place to see the Northern Lights and a great spot for nature and wildlife lovers. A moose safari wasn’t exactly what I had planned to do during my time here but I’m so glad I did – it was amazing; we were even allowed to pet the moose as they were fed in front of us!
I’ve also visited Denmark, taking part in a field trip about sediments on the Danish island of Bornholm, as well as Norway where I learnt a lot about polar exploration at the Fram Museum! But it’s not just Scandinavia that has impressed me so much. I also travelled to Finland and watched the sun set over the Finnish Åland islands. It’s much easier to travel around Scandinavia and neighbouring countries from Sweden than it would be from the UK, mainly because trains are far more efficient and also cleaner than ours back home – so I am taking full advantage of this!
Another key difference between Sweden and the UK would be the student culture. Here, there are thirteen nations who run most aspects of student life, which means we have thirteen different pubs to go to. I’ve yet to manage a pub crawl that involves all of them, mainly because everyone else seems to decide to take part in one of their own on the same night, meaning you simply can’t get into some of the smaller nations! The nations also hold gasques, or formal dinners, often followed by an after-party, or slapp. There’s a lot of toasting with a lot of schnapps, after lots of speeches and lots of singing. But it’s been nice to get dressed up and have a fancy dinner every once in a while, and of course, every gasque ends with everyone stood on their chairs singing. As you can imagine, heels are often not the most suitable choice!
Swedish winter, while one of the hardest things to cope with (the sun setting at half past three means you feel like you’re constantly wanting to sleep, and if you’re at university all day you might not see daylight for a few days), has also been one of the most enjoyable aspects of living here so far. I can proudly say that I have survived cycling in the snow, sledging on a bin-bag down the hill under the castle, a walk home in -24 temperatures, and had a great time doing it…mostly! Winter is also one of the best times to see the Northern Lights, which I have done (briefly one night) and it’s as magical as all the pictures make it seem.
In short: Erasmus isn’t just for language students! Yes, you’ll learn at least some of a language here, but you can certainly get by without it – Google Translate is my go-to in times of crisis in the supermarket! Above all though, you will find that you discover a new home, and are able to explore somewhere you might never before have considered as a travelling destination.
Jessica Stead studies Environmental Earth Sciences at UEA