Studying in Umeå: ‘It’s more than its coldness’

Studying in Umeå: 'It's more than its coldness'
Photo: Moyukh Chowdhury
Every year, students and researchers from all over the world come to Sweden on Swedish Institute (SI) scholarships, with some SI scholars choosing to study in Umeå. Several NFGL members in Umeå share what the town means to them.

Written by Fahria Kabir


There are two universities in Umeå: Umeå University and SLU and they both partake in the  SI Network for Future Global Leaders (NFGL) programme.

Only a small number of SI scholars study in Umeå, me included, and we always get asked what it’s like studying in cold northern Sweden. To us, Umeå is more than just its coldness. Umeå is one of the fastest growing cities in Sweden; indeed in 2014, it was named the cultural capital of Europe.

Not only is Umeå culturally enriched, it also has quite a reputation for human rights, feminism and queer activism. Being in Umeå, we also get to learn a lot about Sami culture. This year, Umeå University celebrated Sami week from 4-12 March.

As NFGL members, we work towards strengthening the network between the SI scholars in Umeå and their integration into university and Swedish society. We also encourage our members to share their experiences, which often leads to career and personal development.

This academic year, we have organized events on gender equality, violence against women and public health, starting a startup and entrepreneurship, sustainable issues and global health, and so on.

We have also visited the Arctic Business Incubator and MEFOS in Luleå along with Luleå’s NFGL members. With  assistance and funding from SI we make the most of our learning experiences in Umeå.

Outside of NFGL, however, our members have their own interests and experiences.

Fatima Bashri, who came to Sweden from Sudan in 2016 on the SI study scholarship says:

“My experience in Umeå has been far more than academic. The cultural experience, student environment and Swedish hospitality has superseded any of my expectations, and the winter has especially superseded my expectations!! The best part though? Definitely FIKA!! I am grateful for the opportunity that I have been given and I look forward to the brighter future it has created.”

On the other hand, Mahmud Sukkar, a SI scholar from Syria had ups and downs coping with life in Umeå.

“I bet that you have heard the phrase ‘sunny Umeå’. Don’t be fooled my friend, it’s not always that way.” 

In order to live in sunny Umeå, you must first survive the long dark winter.

“I have to confess, my relationship with Umeå was a little bit shaky, and at some points I just wanted to get out of the city – and that's exactly what I did! I visited Stockholm and was amazed by almost everything but still, I couldn’t fight the urge to have a BBQ by a lake or to take a walk in an unknown forest.”

That’s when he realizsed he actually missed Umeå.

“So now here I am, an international student at Umeå university packed with winter survival skills, asking the question: what does Umeå mean to me? It means calmness and forests on every corner. It means replacing ‘ja’ with a 'shwoop' sound. It means spending hours with friends you met 10 minutes earlier, around a fire on a cold night, waiting for a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). But honestly, this question can’t be answered, it can only be lived.”

We thank the Swedish Institute for this opportunity to live in this northern city, where the winter is slowly leaving and where daylight is beginning to linger through the night. We love Umeå, Umeå University and Sweden!