My First Month in Sweden // September

Hej!

Hälsningar från Uppsala i Sverige!

A friend and I went to a beautiful lake close to Uppsala

So, as most you you know, I am spending this academic year 2018/19 in Uppsala, Sweden, on an ERASMUS+ exchange through the Heidelberg English department.  In order to document my time here and keep whoever is interested up to date, I have decided to do monthly updates on this old blog of mine. If you are interested in Sweden, the acquisition of the Swedish language, or just my life, because we are maybe friends, family, or long-lost acquaintances, please feel welcome to check this blog for updates! I will be writing in English in order to be more inclusive. Hope that’s okay.

Back when it was late summer.

Studentlivet

Let’s start out with my favorite part about Uppsala: the student life or, more specifically, the nations. Originally, the 13 nations were a way to help students from all over the country meet up with their regional friends and thus combat home sickness. Today, everybody is free to join whatever nation they prefer. They differ in size, focus, and demographics (e.g. Stockholm nation almost entirely consists of fancy law students). From restaurants to clubs to excursions, events and pubs, they are – as one Swede put it – a perfect blend of American fraternities/sororities and Hogwarts.

My nation is Gästrike-Hälsinge, which combines two regions: Gästrikland and Hälsingland both slightly north of Uppsala, which lies in Upland. GH is a medium-sized nation with 1700 members and specializes in good food, many sporty activities, and… warm welcomes maybe? They have been so wonderful thus far that I am already very patriotic about them: GH, GH, GH!

Some nation activities, which I have attended this first month are: a wine tasting, a crayfish party (very traditionally Swedish, very messy), a board game night, a meeting with the nation’s newspaper, a welcome dinner, a typically Swedish brunch on Saturday morning (so many weird flavors), an American pancake brunch on Saturday morning, and several gasques. A gasque is another Swedish student tradition. It involves a three course formal dinner with a semi-formal dress code (knee length dresses / suits) and lots of folk songs, toasting rituals, and new acquaintances since you are sat next to people you don’t know. (One observation: Swedes don’t seem to care about mixing alcohols. At gasques, you’ll simultaneously have beer, wine, and snaps, followed up by coffee. Alrighty.)

The Baltic seaside at Öregrund, 1h from Uppsala.

Språket

One of my main goals for this year is to properly learn Swedish. Back in Heidelberg, I already took two semester courses, however, those were naturally quite superficial although very recommendable. Whoever has learnt a foreign language before, knows and dreads the transition from a theoretical environment (“Oh yes, I know Swedish, because I passed the test on the passive form!”) to a practical environment (“I. Cannot. Speak.”). It is a struggle.

To prevent myself from curling up in the shell of the omnipresent English language, I took several steps: I joined the level 3 Swedish course, became part of a German-Swedish language tandem program, vowed to practice on Babbel every single day, moved in with Swedish students, and got involved in nation life. And it still is a struggle.

Don’t get me wrong: My limited Swedish knowledge has been an immense help so far. Just knowing the basic sentence structure, a few important words, and lots of grammar goes a long way. After one month, I can understand perhaps 40% of what Swedish people are saying, can write basic texts, and pretty much read in Swedish, although it might take a while. The most difficult aspect by far is speaking. In addition to my still very limited vocabulary, I think it is mostly my fear of embarrassing myself and proclaiming my non-Swedish accent to the world, which prevents me from speaking more. However, I am optimistic.

If you have any tips for learning a new language fast, hit me up though!

View of the Uppsala cathedral from the castle. The cannons are perpetually pointed at the church to remind it of its inferior position to the government.

Universitetet

University, university: the most important part of every ERASMUS+ exchange.

But in all honesty, it has not been bad. On the contrary, I quite enjoy my class, although it is rather introductory (gotta get those credits). As Scandinavia’s oldest university dating back to 1477, UU is well funded with cool professors and lots of forum events – especially in the field of Biology, which makes sense since this is the alma mater of Anders Celsius and Carl von Linné.

What confuses me, though, is the work load, since I have very little. And I am not complaining!! I am just… confused. Sweden has a block system in regard to the semester schedule. I thus only have one class at the same time for five weeks, write my exam, and then have the next class. We shall see how that pans out. The really interesting classes concerning religion in Sweden or the Vikings or socialism will come next semester anyway.

A couple words on Uppsala: With 150.000 inhabitants, it is the fourth largest city in Sweden, located around 70 km north of Stockholm. It is known as the historically ecclesiastic and educational center of the country still tangible today by means of the highest cathedral in Scandinavia with 118.7 m and UU. In addition, there is a castle built by Gustav Vasa, a little river, and lots of university buildings. Basically, it is the Swedish version of Heidelberg.

Blue hour at Lake Ekoln

Sverige 

Sverige, du är så vackert!

This is probably no news to you, but Sweden is incredibly beautiful. Although much larger than Germany, it only has a slightly bigger population than Switzerland, which means that I here get to experience a vastness and emptiness foreign to central Europe. Once I leave the margins of Uppsala, there is just forest, straight country roads, occasional red houses, and lakes. And that’s it.

On one of my first nights here, a friend of mine and I took our bikes 30 min to the next lake, the northernmost gulf of Lake Mälaren, which leads all the way to Stockholm and the Baltic Sea. That was so beautiful.

I have many plans on seeing and visiting Sweden. A kayak trip in the Öregrund archipelago, a winter trip to Lapland, and a camping trip in the spring will definitely take place. Other than that, I am open to input! (I will probably also be a traitor and visit Norway, Denmark, and Finland – oops.)

Layla

PS: Thank you for reading! Next time I’ll be posting is October 24! (Because I am mostly German and therefore very concise. Supposedly. Deutsche Bahn teaches us to break stereotypes.)