Helen Haines - An exchange student in Uppsala

Uppsala just north of Stockholm in Sweden is a student town run by the students. So it seems a tad odd writing this article about being in Uppsala from the other side of the world, but I was given this assignment just the day before I left Uppsala for home. Now I am back home in Canberra, Australia. What I'm supposed to do is give you all a bit of insight into how us exchange students perceive Uppsala and I also hope, that for all those new exchange students out there, that this article will give you some insight into life as an exchange student in Uppsala. So here it goes...

Introductory Swedish

In the first four weeks of my time in Uppsala, I, like many other exchange students took the Introductory Swedish Course. This gave us the opportunity to meet and mingle with other international students from all different backgrounds. As a consequence these weeks were filled with parties, picnics and travel. It was great, because at the time, many of the Swedish students were still off on their summer holidays, leaving Uppsala to be a fairly quite little town.

Anyway, as part of the Swedish Course, we were taken on excursions around Uppsala and Gamla Uppsala, as well as Uppland, Stockholm and Sigtuna. On top of this, lectures on Swedish culture and history and the origins of the Swedish language were given. Overall it turned out to be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Oh yeah, and we learnt some Swedish too.

The University year begins

As the Swedish students returned from their holidays at the beginning of the university year, I could feel the town slowing livening up. The international students divided up and went off into their own areas of interest. I studied biology and chemistry courses during my time in Uppsala, which turned out to be a lot of work. I think I ended up having more than twice as many class hours than I did at my home university. Despite this, my class mates still had the energy to go out to or hold corridor parties, course parties or go out to the Nations. Admittedly, many of my other exchange student friends had a large reduction in their class hours compared to what they had at their home universities.

The snow

The first snow fall for the winter came early for us. So we had to quickly learn how to ride our bikes through the snow and on the ice. The snow and ice of the winter seemed to bring out the snow plows; led us to appreciate those double glazed windows; made us wonder when the bikes lying on top of the frozen river would break through the ice and sink to the bottom of the river; and led us to despise those frozen bike tracks that we attempted to cycle through. And of course the snow also brought about the snow ball fights and snowmen. However it did seem like that the only people who had snow ball fights and built snowmen, were the little kids and the international students.

The Nations

I love the Nations! The Nations are the reason why there is always something on in Uppsala. As I mentioned above the Nations are where the majority of students hang out in Uppsala. They hold lunches, dinners, gasques (formal dinners) and balls, they also organise excursions, trips and movies and you can join their choir, theatre group or one of their many sporting teams etc. I made a lot of very good friends through the Nations. If you are an exchange student, I fully recommend that you get involved in the Nations as much as possible. Work there, help out at one of their dinners and/or just hang out there and take part in some of their activities.

Festivals, Dinners, Gasques, Balls and Uppsala Nightlife

As an exchange student it is your duty to engage in the cultural aspects of Swedish life. This includes taking part in as many dinners, gasques, balls and festivals, as possible, during your time in Uppsala. In other words, you must go out and party as much as you possibly can. But a word of warning, the Swedes celebrate everything and anything that can possibly be celebrated!

The dinners, gasques and balls in Uppsala, particularly with the Nations - singing schnapps songs, dinner, everyone nicely dressed up, riding a bike to and from the event in a nice dress or suit, the friendly people, the entertainment and the warm and merry atmosphere - is just something you must experience for yourself. During dinner someone would get up, everyone would go quiet and then they would make a speech or pick a song from their song book. Everyone would then open their song book, sing the song and then drink. Sometimes the choir would come out to sing for us instead or the theatre group would put on a play. I, however, sometimes found it quite hard to keep up. For dinners we are given an introductory drink, a couple of bottles of beer, a couple of glasses of wine and one or two shots of schnapps as well as a three (sometimes four) course meal. And then, after massive over consumption we're expected to get up and dance? I don't think so. After all that I need to sit in a quiet corner to recover. But this doesn't work, because everyone else just thinks that you're not having fun and so you end up getting forced to dance.

Below I have listed just a few things that you should get involved in Uppsala.

There's the reception gasque for all the new students. There's the Damsupé (ladies supper) for the ladies, in which all the guys have to do all the organising, cooking and cleaning etc. and then there's the Herrmiddag (men's dinner) for the guys, where all the ladies have to do all the work. I would also recommend that you at some stage, head along to Universitet Huset to see the Uppsala Orchestra play or the Nations' Choir Concert.

There's Luciadagen which is celebrated on the 13th December. In Sweden, during the early hours of Luciadagen a girl dresses up with candles in her hair, walks around and sings, while carrying a tray of lussekatter (saffron buns) for everyone to eat. Last year I ended up going to one of the Nobel Prize Winners lectures on the morning of Luciadagen. The lecture I saw was on Aquaporins and it was a good lecture, however, I would recommend that if you plan to go to one of these lectures, that you go to a lecture that you have some background in, otherwise you might find it a bit overwhelming. Then there was the Lucia Gasque, which involved eating vasts amounts of food, lots of drinking and afterwards some dancing.

Then there's Valborg, which is celebrated on the last day of April. This is the day in which people from all over Sweden accumulate in Uppsala. In the morning people go and watch the boat race on the river and then head off to have a picnic lunch usually at Ekonomikum Parken or Engelska Parken. The director of Uppsala University then gives a speech and there is the waving of the hats out the front of the Carolina Rediviva (the main library). After this people go on the champagne gallop to one of the Nations and party all night and perhaps go to Gamla Uppsala for the bonfire.

I have only mentioned a few events that you must involve yourself in while in Uppsala. Indeed this was just the tip of the iceberg. I really enjoyed my time in Uppsala and I only hope that every other exchange student will have just as much fun in Uppsala as I did.

Helen Haines