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Ten ways being an international student in Sweden changes you

Salma Labyad
Salma Labyad - [email protected]
Ten ways being an international student in Sweden changes you
Student life in Sweden. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/

FROM THE LOCAL'S ARCHIVE: Be it for bachelors, masters, or exchanges, Sweden is a popular destination among students all over the world. The Local's contributor Salma Labyad, an exchange student in Uppsala, sums up what the fuss is all about.


1. You’ve stopped obsessing about grades

Anxious students everywhere, rejoice. You have made it to the land of underkänd, godkänd or väl godkänd (fail, pass, pass with distinction). Using thresholds (for example 50 percent for underkänd), these three grades are usually the one form of notation you will receive. While it might appear as meagre feedback or recognition, it also means that you can take a break from avid competition for that one percent or that 0.25 mark to climb up the rankings. You’ll learn to enjoy studying for self improvement rather than for competition.

Peaceful studying is actually a thing. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/



2. Thirty hours of class a week now sounds inhumane

You didn’t believe it at first, glaring at your half empty schedule and its five hours of class. You’re even more incredulous when you realize presence is not required for half of your classes (keep in mind however that the personal investment expected is not as light). Still, you might want to take up some hobbies to keep yourself busy. It's actually a great opportunity to join associations or do whatever you did not have the time to do before. There’s a big chance you’ll eventually love this new balance and recall with horror the packed schedules you would have in other countries.

You won't spend much of your time in class. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/

3. Your bike is your most cherished possession

And it’s most likely your first important purchase in Sweden. Especially in student cities, bikes are a very popular means of transport. You’ll learn at your own cost not to walk on the (many) bike lanes, or not to bike without lights at night. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself biking your way everywhere and through most weathers.

These creatures are everywhere. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/



4. You’re not afraid of the cold anymore

There’s a chance your hometown has slightly better weather than your adopted Swedish city. If that’s the case, get ready for Swedes laughing at you when you think October’s plunge in temperature is harsh. You’ll realize you’re a changed person once you’ve walked (or biked!) your way through a snowstorm for an 8am lecture. Worry not, once you’ve made it through the Scandinavian winter and darkness you’ll quite frankly feel a bit more invincible.

Snowy Sweden is normal Sweden. Photo: Ola Ericson/



5. You’ve learned the ways of the corridor life

Anyone who’s tried to move to Sweden knows the nightmare of the housing situation, where waiting lists can last years. A common situation for university students is to live in corridors, where five to twelve students share a hallway, a kitchen and sometimes a bathroom. While you might never talk to some of your corridor mates, you’ll soon discover the vital necessity to organize this self managed community and split recycling, cleaning and everything else with your lovely cohabitants. You’ll become an expert at maintaining wholesomeness through Facebook messages or passive-aggressive notes on the fridge.

READ ALSO: Don't panic! How to find student housing in Sweden

The joys of laundry-planning. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/

6. Calling your professor by their first name does not make you cringe anymore

While some anglo-saxon students might be used to this one these days, others from pretty much anywhere else aren’t quite prepared. It will take time before greeting, addressing or starting an e-mail with your emeritus professor’s first name stops giving you chills. There’s also a chance you might be called out on your profuse use of honorific titles many times before you stop doing it. Just make sure you switch back the frills once you’re home.

She's Katrin to you now. Photo: Sofia Sabel/

7. You shamefully recall your pre-Sweden eating and exercising patterns

While in many countries your fellow students’ lifestyle brings you some peace of mind about your less than optimal diet, get ready for a reality check in Sweden. The average student regularly hits the gym and has meals slightly more elaborate than noodles and frozen veggies. If you manage to get the hang of it, your body (and mood) will thank you for it once winter is here.

Your winter best friends. Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/

8. You’ve been to a party earlier than 10pm

And you’ve gone home before 1am. Much like they love their diet and exercise, the Swedes want to be productive the day after. It is not uncommon that clubs close at 1am, and that house parties die out as early. To compensate, you’ll start your night (and possibly, your drinking) freakishly early for your standards back home. However, you’ll be grateful for those early morning-afters when the sun sets at 2pm.

It might be earlier than you think. Photo: Faramarz Gosheh/

9. Several study breaks are fine as long as it’s fika

It’s not a coffee break, it’s a tradition.  There’s not only a chance that you’ll get accustomed to  those sweet interruptions for coffee and kanelbullar, but also that you take it to the next level and embrace the pluggfiket (from plugga, study, and fika), where you fika while studying. What’s not to love?

Necessary fika. Photo: Simon Paulin/

10. You forget what life without nations is

This is more specific for students of Uppsala, Lund, Linköping and Göteborg. Nations are what you could call the sacred child of an American fraternity/sorority and a student union. They have everything from libraries, bars, clubs, cafés, and are at the core of the student life in these cities, as they offer much cheaper options. After you have spent most of your time hanging out at nations, be it for studying or for leisure, you’ll seriously begin to wonder why the concept hasn’t travelled elsewhere, and how you’ve managed to live without them in the past.

READ ALSO: Seven bizarre Swedish academic traditions

University of Uppsala, where thirteen nations make the student life. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/


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