Winter solstice is just around the corner. Three months have passed since the start of the new academic year in Umeå, and it is already completely dark at 3 PM. But the darkness does not diminish the unique excitement of studying and living in this particular town. According to students in a survey, I created for this article, life in Umeå has been beyond their expectations.
“Before I came to Umeå, I expected to see polar bears chasing people riding winter sledges,” a student at Umeå told me. It is cold and dark, of course, but the warmth and the kindness of Swedes in this region can simply melt any frost.”
Umeå is the largest city in the northern part of Sweden. With over 120,000 people and a third of those people studying at Umeå University, it is a student city and one of the most progressive cities in Scandinavia. The Umeå municipality predicts that in 30 years, the city's population will exceed 200,000. You can tell because the more you move towards the edge of the town, the more massive buildings under construction you will see.
About a month ago, we all got to witness the first snow of the season. For many international students, especially those coming from warmer parts of the world, it was incredible to see snow, especially in October. ‘Seeing people biking to work, fraying their path in the snow, makes you realise how fond they are of the winter’ says a first-year student.
Photo: NFGL Local Network in Umeå
Apart from the snow, you cannot neglect the magic of an Aurora, sometimes referred to as polar lights. At the beginning of October, suddenly Umeå’s dark and starry sky with green and violet swirling lights attracted the attention of all people around, especially the international students. In just a few minutes, the lake Nydalasjon was full of people fascinated by this peculiar phenomenon. “I didn’t think that auroras could be seen with the naked eye. Seeing those insignificant yellow street lights compared to the mother nature’s green fireworks in the sky gave me an extraordinary feeling,” says one of the international students.
Apart from the magical scenery, like elsewhere in Sweden, housing is a challenge in Umeå. It often takes a few weeks to find a flat. However, the International Housing Office (IHO) at Umeå University, in partnership with state-owned apartments, dramatically simplifies the process for most of the students. The IHO helps students find a suitable place fast and at a much cheaper cost.
Last but not least, the quality of education at the University of Umeå is a benefit of living in this city. The distinctive approach of teachers, the quality of teaching and research content, the magnificent university library, the various extracurricular activities, and the fantastic ‘Buddy Program’, were all mentioned in the survey I conducted as significant advantages by students of the university compared to their home universities. We couldn’t enjoy studying here any more!