What international students really think about studying in Stockholm

Stockholm University is a magnet for international students and talent. But once the initial excitement has worn off, does Sweden’s largest educational institution live up to its students' expectations? And is it really as dark and cold in Sweden as everyone says it is? Here's what the students had to say.

What international students really think about studying in Stockholm
Photo: Students of Stockholm University

At the beginning of every semester, staff from Stockholm University’s International Office drive to Stockholm Arlanda Airport to welcome hundreds of new international students. It’s a time of great excitement and anticipation, and for many, expectations are running sky-high.

The question is: Are these expectations met once term is underway? The Local visited Stockholm University’s campus to find out.

A diverse student body

Polish student Monika, who joined Stockholm University only a few months ago to pursue a one-year master’s programme in European Economic Law (EEL), came to Sweden hoping to meet new and exciting people from all over the world. With its large and diverse student population – nearly 3,000 of whom are international – Stockholm University has certainly ticked this box.

“One of the things I enjoyed most when I came to study in Sweden was that there were lots of international students and locals around, compared to in Poland,” Monika tells The Local.

Polish student Monika, who is currently pursuing a one-year master’s programme in European Economic Law at Stockholm University.

Find out more about studying in Stockholm

Eco-friendly Swedes

When she first arrived in Sweden, Monika was surprised to discover how environmentally-friendly the Swedes are. It’s a far cry from what she was used to when she lived in Warsaw, where habits like recycling don’t tend to be part of everyday life.

“It was a big shock for me how everyone is so environment-focused,” says Monika. “For example, I was really surprised at how much people recycle and how eco-friendly everything is.”

True to Swedish form, Stockholm University offers a range of courses and programmes with a sustainability focus, like its master's programme in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. You can find out more about the many master’s programmes which are taught in English right here.

Less formality

For many, one of the biggest surprises about studying in Sweden is how informal things can be compared to at universities elsewhere in the world. From calling professors by their first names to independent group projects, students take more responsibility for their learning and are treated more like colleagues than pupils.

“University life in Sweden is a lot less formal than back home,” says Monika. “In Poland, you have to address your professors by their titles. I find Sweden to be a lot more friendly and the relationship between students and professors is a lot more straightforward.”

Nature and hip neighbourhoods

Set in the Frescati area, which is part of the Royal National City Park, Stockholm University’s main campus is just three stops away by metro from the city centre whilst still being completely immersed in nature. In fact, it’s a famous feature of the city that you’re never far away from a lush green area or a vast open lake.

For Dora Peric, one of Monika’s classmates who hails from Croatia, studying in Stockholm has exceeded her expectations by far. She is particularly fond of the Swedish capital’s hip Södermalm neighbourhood – where she likes to stroll during the weekends.

Stockholm University campus.

“Studying here is even better than I imagined it to be,” says Peric. “The city, the people, the professors, and the classes – it’s all really nice and Stockholm University is a really good organization.”

Find out more about studying in Stockholm

Step-by-step learning

For some international students, Sweden’s more democratic and collaborative learning process can come as a surprise. According to Dora, it doesn’t make the education at Stockholm University – which is in the top 100 on the Academic Ranking of World Universities – any less rigorous. 

“In Sweden, you learn step-by-step and it’s never last moment learning,” she says. “This was new to me because at my home university in Croatia it was more like: ‘Here is your book – see you in two months.’ But in Sweden, you have a lot of seminars and workshops to help you along the way.”

Embracing Swedish winter

Dora’s enthusiasm for Sweden has also spilled over to her relationship with the Swedish climate – which some students can find hard to adapt to.

“I don’t mind the cold or dark that much,” she says. “There are fun things to do when it gets dark like Christmas markets and ice skating, for example. I also think I’ll go skiing with my classmates in January.”

Singaporean biology student Xing, who thought the Swedish climate would take a toll on her given the heat and humidity of her home country, is equally unconcerned about the onset of the Swedish winter. In fact, like Dora, she has already made plans with friends to go ice skating and skiing – as well as exploring the city and its outskirts.

“I’m already getting used to the cold,” says Xing. “Until recently, I’ve been taking jogs, and on the weekends, my friends and I explore the greater Stockholm area. Last weekend we went to Sigtuna for example and we are planning to take trips to other European countries as well.”

Singaporean biology student Xing on her way to the last lecture of the day.

Safe and friendly

Xing had researched more than the Swedish weather before her arrival. Reading up on the internet, she learned about the country’s famous commitment to equality as well as its reputation for safety. During her time in Sweden, she has found reality to live up to these expectations.

“Sweden has a lot of emphasis on equality,” says Xing. “Everyone is very nice and friendly here and Sweden is definitely a quite safe country to live in.”

A walkable city

German student Philipp Wallkum, who, like Monika and Dora, joined Stockholm University a few months ago, finds Swedish culture and society quite similar to Germany (albeit the weather slightly colder). Even so, his time in Stockholm so far has been a journey of discovery – and much of that journey has been done on foot.

“I have discovered a lot of Stockholm on foot like Djurgården, Södermalm, and the Archipelago, including Vaxholm,” says Wallkum. “I also like to go to cafes in the city and try out Swedish sweets at places like the coffeeshop Vete-Katten.”

From intensive exchange semesters to competitive English-taught degrees at all levels, Stockholm University offers many opportunities for international students. Learn more about these opportunities and what it’s like to study in Sweden here.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Stockholm University.


‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”


At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.”