Studying in Sweden For Members

The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Sweden

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Sweden
Learning just a few Swedish words will get you a long way in university life. Photo: Evelina Ytterbom/

Being an international student in Sweden is an experience that's likely to stick with you for the rest of your life. Here are the words and phrases you'll need to navigate student life and make the most of your time here.



When you first begin at university, the term starts with nollning, which means something like "zeroing". It's the equivalent of British Freshers Week and US orientation, where the nollor ("zeroes" or new students) are initiated into university life.

This involves a range of events organised by older students, which often include wearing the studentoverall (student overalls/boilersuit) and sometimes a rite of passage such as jumping in a lake or singing a song.

Some universities have their own unique words for first-year students, such as novisch at Lund and recentior or recce at many institutions.

After that, the termin (term or semester) properly begins. Don't be confused by the word semester, which means holiday.

Take a look at your schema (course schedule) and kursplan (course syllabus) to find out when you have föreläsningar (lectures) and which are the obligatoriska moment (compulsory elements) in your course.

And finally, you've probably heard the stereotype of Swedes arriving exactly on time for everything. But students should familiarise themselves with the akademisk kvart (academic quarter), a tradition that means at some universities, most lectures or events start at 15 minutes past the hour. This dates back to a time when the hourly church bells served as a warning that students had 15 minutes to make it to class.

A lecture which is actually supposed to start on the hour might be indicated either by writing out the full time with the minutes included (e.g. 10.00 rather than 10), or by writing a full stop afterwards: 10.00 (.). The latter would be pronounced tio prick in speech (ten on the dot). Exams also usually start on the hour, rather than 15 minutes past.



You might be confused when you first hear that most Swedish students live in a korridor (corridor) but don't worry, this doesn't mean they actually sleep in the hallway. The set-up is similar to university halls in the UK: students live in a private room (you won't have a roommate), and share kitchens with other students whose rooms are on the same corridor.


When speaking to teachers, in Sweden you'll usually use their first names, even if you're speaking to a senior professor.

It's also helpful to know a few of the terms used for different members of the faculty: the prefekt is the head of department; the studievägledare is the study advisor who can assist you in choosing which courses to pursue; a professor is of course a professor, but you'll also encounter a lektor or adjunkt, both of which mean "lecturer", but an adjunkt may not have a doctorate. And a handledare is a supervisor, especially for doctorate students.

You may also want to find out about the studentkår (student union), which works to protect the interests of students and should offer you support if you get into any difficulties.



It's not all work and no play: there's plenty to do as an international student in Sweden.

At Lund and Uppsala in particular, social life revolves around nationer (nations), which are student organisations you sign up to in order to attend their regular events through the semester or year. They are named after different historical provinces of Sweden and traditionally students would join the one representing their hometown, but these days you can choose based on size and the events on offer.

There are other activities on offer, such as joining a sportförening (sports club) where you can take part in a favourite sport or learn a new Swedish one: innebandy (floorball) or orientering (orienteering: the English word comes from the Swedish), anyone?

And even if you're not a fan of exercise, there's no excuse not to participate in the Swedish friluftsliv, which literally means "open air life" and refers to making the most of the outdoors, from barbecues to long walks in the forest.


At least some of your socialising will probably revolve around fika (coffee and cake – call it a pluggfika or "study fika" if you'll also be cracking out the textbook) or drinks, either at a korridorfest (dorm party) or a bar.

When it comes to fika, it's worth looking for places that offer free coffee refills (gratis påtår) if you plan on hunkering down for the afternoon with your laptop. And two crucial bits of vocabulary for bars: afterwork (referring to after-work drinks, which usually means discounts at city centre spots) and skål! (cheers – remember to look everyone in the eye as you say it).

Be aware of Sweden's laws around alcohol purchase and consumption, which might be surprising if your home country has more lenient legislation. You need to be 18 to buy alcohol at a pub or bar, and some places have their own age limits which might be a bit higher, so be ready to show your legitimation (ID) or leg for short. To purchase alcohol at the state-run monopoly Systembolaget, you need to be at least 20 years old.

When it comes to ordering your drinks, here are some useful phrases to have up your sleeve: en stor stark (literally "a big strong", referring to a large lager beer), husets rött/vitt (the house red/white wine), en lättöl (a low-alcohol beer, for those evenings when you want to take it easy). Just make sure you don't turn up to lectures bakis (hungover).


We'll start with the weirdest: the Flogstavrål (Flogsta scream or roar). Students in the Flogsta area of Uppsala open their windows and let out a scream, each week at precisely 10pm on Tuesday (because Swedes are organised and efficient even when it comes to letting out their angst). No one really knows when or why this tradition began, but it's been going on for at least 40 years.


You'll also hear it at many other student areas, where it might be named after the local student residence, such as Lund's Delphivrål, or simply called the tioskrik or elvavrål (the ten o'clock scream or the eleven o'clock roar).

The biggest student night of the year is Valborg (Walpurgis) on April 30th, an evening of bonfires (valborgsbål or majbrasor) and merriment just before the big exam season. Part of the celebration sees students don their student caps (studentmössa) in a special ceremony.


As a student there are savings to be made. Look out for the magic words studentrabatt (student discount) or ungdomsrabatt (young person's discount) to cut costs on everything from food to concert tickets. To be eligible for the former, you may well need a studentkort (student card).

You'll probably want to download payment app Swish if you have a Swedish phone number and bank account: this allows you to send money to other app users, whether that's when you're splitting the bill with friends or buying secondhand furniture at a loppis (flea market). The app is so widely used in Sweden that it has become a verb, as in kan du swisha mig? (can you send me the money via Swish?)


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