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.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Holidays and Travelling

Last time I promised a post about how to apply to university in Sweden, but since the deadline for starting in September has passed and the deadline for starting next year is ages away, I thought I'd write about something more seasonal. So this post will be about holidays and travelling.

Timetabling in Uppsala university is a mysterious process which seems to follow no logical structure. Firstly, it's not the same from week to week. You might have three classes for one course one week then none at all the next week, and they can be on any day at any time. There's even a horrific possibility that classes can start at 8am, however luckily I have largely avoided this. They usually give you the timetable each half-semester at a time, a week or two before classes start, so long term planning is quite difficult.

Despite this, the number of hours of class a week is a lot less than I've had before. However, my friends doing theoretical physics courses seem to have it a lot more intense (moral of the story, astronomy and space physics is best). It also depends a lot on how many credits you're taking. You need 120 for the masters in total which works out at 15 per half-semester (usually one 10 credit and one 5 credit course), but sometimes you might have more in one period and less in another. You can take more courses than required then you can choose which ones to put on your final transcript, but obviously doing this will give you a lot less free time and a lot more stress. NOTE: If you are from outside the EU/EEA and therefore a fee-paying student you will have to pay more if you take more courses than required. More information about this is available on the university website.

A typical week of my timetable (Physics of Galaxies = 10c, AToPT = 5c)

The strange timetable means that sometimes you might find yourself without any classes for a whole week. This is, in my opinion, the perfect opportunity to go travelling, and see more of Sweden or other nearby countries. Uppsala is pretty convenient for this too.

Also, despite the university website saying there are no specific holidays for Christmas and Easter, you will get at least 2 weeks without class over Christmas and a week or two at Easter.


You can get a train from Uppsala to Stockholm in about 40 minutes, and from there you can reach anywhere in Sweden, and even take a train to Norway or Denmark too. It can be a bit pricey but if you book far enough in advance you can get a good deal. A popular trip is the 17 hour journey from Stockholm to Narvik at the very top of Norway, where you can see the Northern lights or the midnight sun in summer.


Uppsala is really close to Arlanda airport, which has flights to almost anywhere you can think of. However, the cheapest airlines use different airports instead. Västerås airport has cheap flights to London and you can get a bus there from Uppsala. Skavsta airport is south of Stockholm and a bit more difficult to get to, but you can get really cheap flights across Europe.

Istanbul is only 4 hours away from Stockholm.


Probably the cheapest and most fun way to see other countries from Uppsala. You can take an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Tallinn (Estonia), Helsinki (Finland) or Riga (Latvia). The cheapest option is the day trip cruise where you spend the night on the boat on the way out and on the way back, and have around 8 hours or so in the city to have a look round. If you go with a group of 4 sharing a cabin you can get this return trip for less than 10 euros each, which is amazingly cheap. You can also use the opportunity to stock up on things which are expensive in Sweden (eg alcohol) but really cheap in Latvia etc. The ferry trips are something I'd recommend to anyone in Uppsala.

You can get to Tallinn for less than 10 euros return.

I would encourage anyone coming to study in Uppsala, especially those from outside Europe to take advantage of all these travel options and visit some of the Sweden's nicest places and its beautiful neighbours too. If you're from outside the EU your student visa for Sweden allows you to visit most countries in Europe (not the UK though).

Things that happen in Sweden - Part 2

At the end of May, the student nations (which I will discuss in detail in a future post) host their May Ball, the fanciest occasion of the year. This is your chance to dress up in your finest clothes and pretend to be Cinderella or Prince Charming. One unusual tradition of the May Ball is that choir groups will go round student housing areas serenading residents in the hope that somebody will agree to be their date to the ball. I experienced this at 2am one night and was very confused. I am told in future that the thing to do is bring them sandwiches and drinks and they will leave. Sometimes Sweden can be a very strange place.

Is there a satanic ritual happening outside my house? No, it's just a May ball choir.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Hello people of the internet

Hello people of the internet.

My name is Tom and I've been asked to take over this blog and tell you all about what it's like to study physics in Uppsala. I’ve been here for about 9 months now, so hopefully I have some experiences worth sharing with you, and the information they don’t tell you on the university website. This is the first time I'm writing a blog so please bear with me if I've formatted it really badly or something. Also, the previous people who wrote this blog have some really good posts too so be sure to have a loot there too.

Who are you?

Who are you Tom? you may ask, and indeed I may ask myself if I'm feeling philosophical. So here's a brief summary of my life. I come from the distant land of the United Kingdom. I grew up in the beautiful county of Northumberland then studied Astrophysics at University College London (which, as the name implies, is in London) before moving to Uppsala to do my masters.

A visual representation of my national identity (left).

Here in Uppsala I'm studying the physics master programme, specialising in astronomy and space physics. I've always been interested in space since I was a child and there's loads of really interesting courses here in that area. I've also taken a few courses outside this area, including ones about climate and meteorology which are really interesting too.
When I'm not studying my favourite thing to do is travelling to different cities and countries, which is something you can easily do from Uppsala. Another thing I really enjoy is getting involved in weird Swedish traditions, and sharing weird British traditions with Sweden in return.

Why are you here?

This is a question many people have asked me. Before I moved to Sweden, my family would say "why are you moving to Sweden? you've never been there, you don't speak Swedish, its too cold etc.". But, in my own mind I had good enough reasons, and here I am.
When I was studying in London, a lot of my friends went on a year abroad as part of their course. I couldn't do one on my course and I was really jealous that they all got to have loads of fun living in exotic foreign countries. This was the pull factor that made me consider doing the masters abroad. There were also significant push factors making me want to leave the UK. The conservative government had already tripled tuition fees to £9000 (over 100,000 kronor) per year and now they're taking away a lot of grants that were available to students from less well off families, meaning studying another course there would have been very expensive. Also, living costs in London are INSANELY high.
So, I decided I'd go abroad for the masters. Now, I must admit, Uppsala University was not my top choice initially. I didn't have a top choice at all, I just blindly applied to universities in any country that taught in English and had low (or better no) tuition fees. Then, when I received replies from them I did more research into each one and Uppsala really stood out as somewhere that sounded nice to study. In addition to being completely free (for EU students) and taught in English, it had courses that sounded really interesting and the student life seemed to be really unique and fun. I chose Uppsala as my first choice then all I had to do was pass my final exams in London and I had a place here.

First day in Uppsala.

So that was my reasoning of why I applied in the first place, but I still didn't really know anything about Uppsala until I arrived here. Now that I've been here a little while I know I made the right decision in coming here and I've had so much fun over the last months. Being a student is not just about academics, and I hope to share with you all the fun things you can take part in here (starting today) as well as important stuff about the course itself, so please keep reading.

Things that happen in Sweden - Part 1

As everyone in Europe will know, last weekend was the Eurovision Song Contest, this year held here in Sweden. In the UK, Eurovision is seen as a bit of a joke, where you watch people from countries you've never heard of sing awful songs then politically vote for their neighbours. In Sweden, however, its taken much more seriously. The process starts months before the contest with a televised nationwide competition to see who will represent the country. Before the contest are hours of analysis of past winners and speculation on this years winners. Then when it's time for the big event itself, its an excuse for a party. The nation gathers round their TV screens and consumes 3 times more crisps than any ordinary night (see link) and an excess of alcohol. This was definitely true at my Eurovision party.!O3zTiCk3oxa6/

Eurovision party (I don't have a blue face all the time)

Unfortunately Sweden came in 5th place this year, behind winners Ukraine, so no doubt there will be a TV post-mortem to find out how Sweden can improve for next year. However, the contest will be watched with just as much enthusiasm next year, so if you're here it's definitely something to look forward to (or dread if you're one of those people who hates Eurovision).

NEXT TIME: How to apply - Tom's guide through the confusing world of University Admissions Sweden.

P.S. If anybody has any questions or things you'd like me to talk about in future posts, leave a comment and I will try and get back to you as soon as possible.