Swedish university party life exposed

With the autumn term in full-swing and students primed to take a break from the books, The Local's Karen Holst takes a look at how 'nations' shape Sweden's college social scene.

Swedish university party life exposed
Exterior of Västgöta Nation at Uppsala University

With the return of classes comes the return of the party life at Sweden’s universities.

So how do you hook into all the fun and games in this vodka-loving nation after your strenuous studies reach a boiling point?

It’s pretty simple.

Even if you’ve only been in Sweden for about eight minutes, you can quickly gather that these northerly people like things organised, planned, and punctual.

And university party life is no exception.

If you find yourself at an institution that invites you to join a student ’nation,’ be ready for your social scene to make a quick jump into the bleary-eyed, fuzz-brained, red-zone at the drop of a hat.

Nations are essentially large social clubs, with – in a complete departure from the fraternity/sorority style arrangement common in the United States – the added bonus of mixed genders.

These groups, which represent the oldest student societies in Sweden, form the very pulse of student life on campus outside of the classroom and have been beating strong since the mid-1600s.

Two of the oldest universities in Sweden, Lund and Uppsala, proudly boast their intact nation culture on campus.

Each school offers a choice of 13 different nations for its students to select from while emphasising the idea that they bring individual social flavours to distinguish them from one another.

”There is a little something for everyone here – each nation has its own feel so you pick the one that best suits you,” explains Boel Nilsson, Curator of Lund’s Nation at Lund University.

The nations each bear a geographical name related to Sweden. Traditionally, students were required to become members of the nation associated with their home region.

The practice was meant to provide a means for students coming from outside the university area to socialise with other students from their native region and catch up on news from home.

Today, this requirement no longer exists, however. Although the nations still pride themselves on their uniqueness, despite that many offer extremely similar activities.

The groups are open to any registered student regardless of the department or level of study.

So what happens in a nation?

“It’s everything! From nightclubs, to bars, to theatre, orchestras, choirs, sports, lunch and even housing, nations do it all,” exclaims Nilsson.

Many nations have their own newspaper, sports teams, dance floors, radio programme, restaurants and pubs (cheap eats!), all of which are run voluntarily by the students.

Some even offer a limited number of student apartments to offset the infamous housing crisis faced by many newly arriving students.

For example, Lund’s Nation at Lund University is the school’s largest nation with more than 4,000 active members who maintain the attitude of “Lund’s nation is always open.”

They even have a skyline Penthouse, a locale known for its killer weekly parties and awesome weekend brunches.

In addition, they organize annual events such as Siste April, a semi-formal dinner, and OktoberFest, to a name only a few.

Other nations at Lund University focus on specific themes.

You can tap into your inner-rockstar with Sydskånska, which pledges to indulge your study time with the world’s best music. They run Lund’s only soul and funk club, and offer weekly jazz tea hours, a sweet reggae lair, a hip-hop club and a smoke and laser electro beat club.

“It’s really good to become a member of the nation that best suits you. It’s like a whole family of friends and that’s the best part,” says Nilsson.

Although nations are open to all students, once you’ve joined a nation you usually become involved in that group’s particular activities. Your campus I.D. card transforms into your gateway to the good times. You swipe it at the door and, poof!, gain entry to any event.

And, if you don’t become a member of a nation? Well, you could try to party at regular bars or clubs in your uni town, but apparently there won’t be many worth checking into and none with the true college spirit vibe.

Don’t panic if your school of choice is without nations. This does not mean that your social scene radar will sustain a mere buzz.

In the land of the highly organized, there is always an alternative!

Most universities offer their own type of similar student social clubs and/or pubs; they just don’t have the historical distinction of being a true nation.

For example, the individual departments at Örebro University each offer their own social club, which is then responsible for planning its own activities, including the college parties.

“All of the course sections organize their own parties with things like Pub Night or a semi-formal dinner,” says Ulrika Kvist, who works in school’s International Student office.

However, Kvist points out a clear line.

If you are an international or exchange student, there are additional groups available to you that help your transition to Sweden while bolstering your social life with students in the same predicament.

This does not, however, guarantee mingling with Swedish students.

“The social clubs for the exchange students versus the Swedish students are essentially the same, but some of their offerings do differ,” explains Kvist, and points to the Buddy System for new students as an example.

Up north in Luleå, students who take a break from skiing or boarding hit STUK, an on-campus restaurant and bar.

STUK is voluntarily run by students and offers a café, pub, cheap but tasty restaurant, dance floor and theatre stage. It’s the place to awaken your college party groove when up north.

Regardless of where you find yourself, and when you feel the need to let loose, you will be able tap into the good times on campus.

Just check the schedule!

Until then, skål to the next happy hour!

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year

It is looking increasingly unlikely that 'högskoleprovet' – an exam used by thousands of students every year as a way to enter Swedish university will go ahead – despite a government U-turn.

Swedish university exam unlikely to go ahead at all this year
In a normal year, 100,000 students sit what is known as the SweSAT or 'högskoleprovet'. Photo: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/SCANPIX

The Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (SweSAT, or högskoleprovet) is normally held twice a year, but was cancelled in spring and then later in autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after pressure from opposition parties, the government last week said it would pave the way for the test to take place on its usual date in October in a limited format, open only to people who had not previously sat it.

Usually around 100,000 people sit the exam each year, around 40 percent of them doing so for the first time. The exam is not compulsory, but many people use its results to get into university, and it is seen as a crucial second chance for those who are not able to get accepted based on grades alone.

But any hope lit by the government's announcement last week was quickly extinguished this week, when university principals said it would still not be possible to organise a coronavirus-safe sitting. In the end it is up to the exam organisers to decide whether or not to hold it, so the government holds limited sway.

“They [the university principals] do not want to take responsibility for conducting the exam during the autumn, but would rather spend time and resources on conducting two tests as safely as possible in spring,” Karin Röding, director-general of the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR), told the TT news agency on Tuesday.

“I have no reason to have another opinion,” she added.

“It appears to be the case that you are going to have to wait another few months before an exam can be carried out in an infection-safe way,” confirmed Sweden's Minister of Higher Education, Matilda Ernkrans.

Meanwhile the political pressure eased on the Social Democrat-Green coalition government to ensure the test could be held before the deadline for applying to the spring semester of university, when the Liberal party joined the centre-left in voting no to pushing for an autumn sitting. Last week there was a majority for a yes vote on the Swedish parliament's education committee, consisting of right-wing parties Moderates, Christian Democrats, Sweden Democrats and the Liberals, but after the latter switched sides the committee voted no.

The Mdoerates blamed the government for not acting sooner to help the exam go ahead, by for example allocating more money and investigating the possibility of using more venues.

“There is one person who is to blame. That's Matilda Ernkrans,” said the party's education spokesperson Kristina Axén Olin. “The government has handled it really poorly and now it is thought to be too late and impossible.”

Ernkrans argued that she and the government had done everything they could, including making sure that test results from previous years will be valid for eight years rather than the usual five, as well as allocating extra funding to make it possible to hold more than one exam next spring.

Swedish vocabulary

cancel – ställa in

test/exam – (ett) prov

second chance – (en) andra chans

government – (en) regering

semester – (en) termin (note the false friend – the Swedish word semester means holiday)