Sunday, 16 October 2016

Student Nations

Student Nations

One of my favourite things about student life in Uppsala is the nations. Its something very unique to Uppsala (they have them in Lund too but Uppsala is way better of course) and something I didn't really know anything about before I came here. So in this post I hope to explain a bit about what they are, how they work and why you should join one.

What are the Nations?

History lesson: In the 16th century, students at Uppsala were a bit wild and were spoiling the city for everyone. The university decided that students should be policed by inspectors to make sure they didn't misbehave. Nations were created and each represented students from a particular county or region of Sweden, and if you did something bad, then your nation would tell your parents and even your church back home so you could be suitably punished.
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What student nations looked like in 1608 (probably).
Nowadays, the nations are no longer there to police students, and are social groups which arrange all kinds of activities and give students a nice family kind of feeling. The student unions and the university itself arrange some things, but most of the fun stuff that happens in Uppsala is organised by the nations. They also run pubs, cafes, club nights, which are significantly cheaper than anywhere else in Uppsala.

How does it work?

Originally, students had to join the nation of their home region, but today everyone is free to join whichever one they want. Swedish students do often join the nation of their home region, but international students with no such loyalties can see which one they like best. You can also be a member of more than one nation if you want.
To join a nation you have to pay a membership fee every semester, which varies a bit between nations but is usually around 250 SEK. You will then recieve a nation card which lets you into not just things at your own nation but at all 13 of the nations.

Why should I join?

Joining a student nation is not compulsory, but to me it is such an essential part of student life here you'd be missing out if you didn't. You will meet loads of new people there from all kinds of different courses and backgrounds. While physicists are obviously the greatest people ever, sometimes it is nice to get out of the Angstrom bubble and talk to people studying completely different things.
You will also have the chance to take part in loads of different activities, many of which are free. My nation for example has a running club every wednesday, but other nations have yoga, photography groups, video gaming sessions, and loads more. One of my favourite things at the nations are gasques. These are super fancy dinners which they organise, where everyone dresses up fancy, eats posh food and sings weird Swedish songs. Its a really traditional Swedish thing which I think everyone in Uppsala should do at least once.

A gasque at Gotlands nation.
The nations also offer opportunities to work. You can bake cakes, bartend or sell coffee for a bit of extra income (check your visa rules if you're from outside the EU though) and have a lot of fun doing it. You can also get involved with the running of the nation if you have some good ideas.

Working in the kitchen making posh gasque food.

Which one should I join?

When I decided which nation to join, I visited them all to see what each one had to offer and the one I liked best was Gotlands, where I am now a member. Each one is slightly different and perhaps appeals to different people. There are stereotypes associated with each one and you will hear all kinds of negative things from people talking about rival nations. The best way to decide though is to go and talk to people there, see what they're offering and what the nation is like. I would highly recommend Gotlands nation for international students though, its such a friendly place and it really made me feel welcome in this new country.

This page lists all 13 of the nations (some are very difficult for non-Swedish speakers, but don't worry they mostly have easy abbreviations):

This is a great website which lists many of the activities each week at the nations:

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Preparing for Arrival

Preparing for Arrival

The time is almost here for next year's master students to arrive in Uppsala. If you're one of them, here's a few tips on what you need to do before you get here.

1. Get a house
If you haven't already sorted out accommodation in Uppsala, you really need to do that ASAP. There are several different housing agencies that offer student housing, as well as all kinds of facebook groups that can help you. It is very difficult though, so if you don't have anywhere sorted when you move here, don't panic. I was in the same position this time last year, but after a week of intense searching I found a really nice room.

NOTE: most rooms in Sweden come unfurnished, so bring as much as you can from home to save carrying 15 tonnes of goods from IKEA on the edge of town

2. Be prepared for the weather
People who have never been to Sweden before often think that the entire country is covered in snow all year round. This is not true. I made the mistake of thinking Sweden would be cold in August, and wearing about 8 layers of clothes on my flight there. When I got outside I immediately realised this was a bad idea. Do not make the same mistake.
On the other hand, it can get really cold in the winter, and warm clothes (and all other clothes) are quite expensive here in Sweden, so pack accordingly.

3. Sign up for ALL the activities
By now, there should be a lot of activities planned for the new students. You should hopefully receive a programme of all the events organised by the nations when you arrive. I would urge anyone to go to as many of these events as they can. Not only is there often free food (see below), but you can meet great new people and learn a lot about life in Sweden. The physics department and the student unions also arrange lots of events in the first weeks, so keep an eye out for information from them too.

4. Join the Buddy programme
It can be hard moving to a new city where you don't know where anything is and how things work. Luckily the buddy programme exists to match you with somebody who knows the city a little better, and will arrange some fun activities for groups of new students.

5. Free Things
Companies and student organisations will be dying to get you interested in whatever products or services they're offering, and one way they do this is giving you free things. Pens and notebooks which you can find in abundance are obviously useful but the best thing I got was a mobile sim card in the welcome pack, which gave me mobile internet for an entire year absolutely free, along with the novelty of a Swedish phone number.

6. Investigate the Nations
Joining a student nation in Uppsala is something everyone should do, but there are 13 to choose from so it can be difficult to decide which one. If you have no idea what the student nations are, don't worry, this will be the subject of my next post.

7. Learn some Swedish
This one is not strictly necessary, as everyone in Sweden speaks perfect English. If you feel like giving the local language a go, though, it can be really fun. A few basic words will always be appreciated.

8. Enjoy the summer
Appreciate it while you can, because it won't last long.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Swedish Summer

Swedish Summer

The frozen peninsula of Scandinavia has finally melted and is basking in the full glory of summer. Now that classes and exams are all over, things are very different in Uppsala. Most of the students have left now and the normal student activities have largely shut down until August, but a few nations are still open. Some of my classmates have decided to do project work over the summer (at Uppsala University you can choose to take independent project courses for 5, 10 or 15 credits on a subject of your choice (within reason) so long as you can find a supervisor willing to take you), however many people just take the opportunity to relax and visit family and friends. There are a few things still happening in Sweden to occupy those who are still there:

Summer is the perfect time to have a picnic at the river (before it freezes solid in winter)

Things Happening in Sweden Now

1. Football: Sweden was the only Scandinavian team to reach the finals of Euro 2016, a brief source of national pride, until they were eliminated in the group stages. After that, the whole country switched their allegiance to Iceland, who embarrassingly managed to knock out my native England before being beaten by France. The student nations that are still open have been showing all the games live for football fans, along with special food and drinks offers for the tournament.

2. Politics: For one week in summer, Swedish politicians all go to the island of Gotland to make speeches, debate things, and whatever else politicians do. This is where the parties set out their vision of what they want to do for Sweden, however with the next general election still over two years away they still have plenty of time to figure it out. Meanwhile in British politics...

3. Brexit: As a British person living in another EU country, the vote for the UK to leave the EU has me very worried. My right to live here and get free education is based on EU membership so is now up for negotiation. My advice for any British people considering studying in Sweden or any other EU country would be to apply as soon as you can to get in while the previous rules still apply.

4. Preparations for the new semester: I have already seen a few welcome-type events popping up on facebook (see link below). If you're coming to Uppsala in August keep an eye out for anything you might be interested in, and join all the facebook groups to make sure you don't miss anything. In my experience the ones who organise the most stuff are the Erasmus ones, which you can join even if you're not an Erasmus student. Another thing to get involved with before you arrive is the Buddy programme. I know several of the buddy leaders for next semester and I'm sure they'll have loads of great activities planned.

5. Ongoing rivalry with Denmark: 

6. Midsummer: Another month brings another weird Swedish holiday. Midsummer is a day where everyone wears flowers on their head and dances round poles. You will have the opportunity to learn dances like the "frog" and the "rocket", which sounds really weird but its actually a lot of fun. It is also a day where everyone goes to the countryside (I went to a lake half an hour from the city) and has barbecues and goes swimming in freezing water of questionable cleanliness.

You too can look like a forest nymph at a Swedish Midsummer lunch (not for hayfever sufferers).

As August approaches and the new students arrival gets closer I will talk about what you should expect when you get here, and what you should do before you leave. In the meantime, enjoy the summer wherever you may be.