Sweden is an awesome country. It’s a western country, very similar to Canada in climate, but that’s where the similarities stop. Umeå is situated close to the coast of the Baltic Sea; there is wonderful hiking along the high coast and through the surrounding forests. Furthermore, in Sweden you can camp on any land not in sight of a house – so there are tons of wonderful places to camp. The residences are all equipped with saunas and the city provides firewood for the picnic sites around the lake Nydala. You can travel to Norway, Finland, Russia, Estonia and Latvia, plus all over Sweden. Plus there’s the Northern Lights. It’s an incredible place to travel to. Though if anyone tells you all the bathrooms in Sweden are unisex, don’t believe them…
Studying in Sweden:
A great reason to travel to Umeå is it is a great opportunity to try out different education streams. For years I’ve wanted to attend law school, but was unsure whether or not I’d really enjoy it. I also considered trying for my masters. In Umeå, because law is an undergraduate degree, I was able to be in law school and get a taste of what it is like.
I took an incredible comparative law class where we had 16 students from 13 countries; our professor would give us a legal question, such as “what does freedom of information look like in your country?”, “how can you get government documents?”, or “how is divorce legally processed in your country?”, and we’d spend the class comparing legal solutions. They have classes like this for many different streams, be it social work, tourism or political science. They are a great way to learn about how many different solutions there are to one problem.
The university system is done in blocks. Instead of taking classes 4-5 at a time, you take one class at a time, maybe two. The classes are more focused – it’s so much easier to engage in what you are learning when you don’t have to do 4 different subjects at once. Every morning and afternoon the Swedes take a half an hour break called fika. During this time you grab a coffee and a pastry, and chat with your classmates.
“UniSex” Bathrooms and Swedish Culture:
The Swedes themselves are rather interesting people. Between the cold winters and the fact that Swedish is such a difficult language to learn, few people have immigrated to Sweden historically. As such, a rather quirky and isolated population emerged. Now I laugh when people talk out about polite and politically correct Canadians are; Canadians have nothing on Swedes.
During my first week in Sweden I was introduced to the concept of full unisex washrooms – urinals included. I was telling one of my fellow traveller friends about this phenomena and they informed me that all bathrooms in Sweden are unisex. Most of my classes were in the law wing on the social sciences building, so I regularly used one washroom on the floor. Usually I’d walk in and there would be a couple of guys in there washing their hands or using the urinals. I assumed, since they were Swedish, they must be acclimatized to ladies in the washroom with them and their stares were in appreciation of my hair that day. For about 3 months this went on and no one said anything. It wasn’t until I was chatting with one of my Egyptian male friends and I went to go into the washroom with him did I learn that not all bathrooms in Sweden are unisex. As my mom’s boyfriend pointed out, this is a good example of what swedes are like – a very polite people.
The Buddy Program and Student Life:
Umeå has repeatedly been rated the number one university in Europe for international students. The reason for this is they have so many awesome engagement activities. Whether you want to learn Swedish folk dancing, or dance all night to Avicii, they have something for you.
The best decision I made during my exchange was to join the buddy program. In Umeå before any student can go on an exchange, they have to volunteer for at least a semester with the buddy program. They separate exchange students into groups of ~20 people. These groups are awesome. The buddy program coordinated all sorts of events like branboll and soccer tournaments between the buddy groups, while we coordinated events within the group. We’d go out for Fika, have international potlucks, go blueberry picking, etc. There is a floating sauna on Nydala Lake. Once our group rented it and had a sauna and BBQ. Some of the best friends I have today I met through this group – it was a great way to meet Swedes and other international students.
Similar to Canadians, Swedes push the limits on short appropriate weather. If the sun is shining and it’s above 0 degrees, everyone is out enjoying the sunshine. During this time it is really fun to go to Nydala Lake because there are fire pits all around the lake and THE CITY PROVIDES FIREWOOD! So you can head there after class and have a study session/ fire/ swim. Which is awesome. Or grab a group of people and head to the lake for a BBQ and swim.
IKSU is the sports and recreation centre that everyone uses. It is a great place to meet people and hang out. They offer a wide variety of classes and have beach volleyball, rock climbing and pools. Swedes love fitness and health, so IKSU is a great place to meet locals. Going to a yoga or spin class, then grabbing dinner at the cafeteria was an almost daily occurrence for me and my girlfriends. It’s not covered under your university fees, but almost everyone joins. It’s like $120/ semester*. There is also something called Frulifts which runs awesome trips – I did a survival trip and a kayaking trip with them.
The language exchange is similar to the language bank offered at the University of Calgary. Some students use it to work on their Swedish, I used it to practice my Spanish and Swedish, while making new friends. It’s a great tool.
There are five options for housing at Umeå: Berghem, Mariehem, Ålidhem, Nydalahöjd and Gluntens väg. I’d recommend trying to live in either Mariehem, Ålidhem, or Nydalahöjd. If you want to be in the centre of the action, Ålidhem is the place for you. But if you like to sleep before 4am on any night of the week, Nydalahöjd is the nicest place to live. It doesn’t have any grocery stores nearby, but the apartments are super nice and it’s close to the lake, the campus, IKSU and Ålidhem. Mariehem is where I lived – I loved it because it was on the lake and the walk to school in the mornings was lovely. The apartments were nice, the people were better and the grocery store was a short walk away. It is about 25 min walk from the university and IKSU.
Fika is a Swedish activity similar to our coffee break. Swedes are the largest consumer of coffee worldwide. They love their fika. Everyone in Sweden participates and it is a great way to get to know people. During this time you will get to experience some of the best baked goods and pastries in the world. From Kladkokka to princess cakes to Kannelbulle, the Swedes know what they are doing.
Submitted by Bretton Hills
*Costs subject to change
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