Cathrin Müller - My year as a master student in Uppsala

Since I was a teenager have I wanted to live in Sweden. I wanted to encounter this calm, reserved and proud folk, explore the country with its endless wilderness, desolate forests, innumerous lakes and rolling hills. The time of my Master study was the perfect opportunity to come to Sweden. Uppsala was my only choice as it offered me the perfect Master Programme with a course compilation that deeply interested and convinced me. The fact that Uppsala is dominated by students and that it is so closely situated to Stockholm, lake Mälaren and the Baltic coast were happy coincidences that contributed to a great student life.

I think that I hit the perfect time in Sweden. I experienced an extraordinarily cold and long winter as well as a very warm and lovely summer. I was amazed to see how people are looking forward to spring and summer time – the change happens very fast and people literally speaking run nuts. I had never experienced before how extreme weather can affect your daily life. In winter it takes of course more time to take the waste outside to the container than it does in summer. You have to put on proper shoes and a winter jacket even though you might take only a few steps outside. Similar accounts for biking to university, which easily takes twice the time in winter compared to summer times. The seasons rule your life.

Regarding university matters Uppsala is very, very traditional. Beginning with the nations, Valborg with the boat race (forsränning) and the cap ceremony (mösspåtagning), Nobel lectures, gasques, disputation parties and so forth. Uppsala is packed with more or less interesting and entertaining traditions that I enjoyed to participate in. Concerning the course of studies itself I can say that the complete programme fulfilled my expectations and I would not hesitate a second to take my decision for Uppsala again.

The courses 
The courses have a classical design: they comprise lectures, practical courses including written report(s) and seminars. Their layout in contrast is modern: actual course information is announced on the web pages, lectures can be downloaded, reports can be handed in via e-mail and you easily can contact course representatives. In general courses are demanding but pressure to perform does not arise while facing young, motivated and humorous staff and a small course size. Nicely decorated lecture halls, often equipped with nice big-print curtains, fortify the friendly course environment.

Absolutely new to me was to visit only one course at a time. The intense (full-time) 10 weeks-course system allowed you to focus and concentrate on one subject. Especially if you are a Master student this system is perfectly suitable, as it supports specialisation and in-depth studies. In general studying in Uppsala is less competitive or 'pressure-prone', there are for instance no entry-tests for practical courses. Also, in Sweden you are allowed to write exams as many times as you like. You will not be removed from the register of students after a triple failure. Finally, calling the professors by their first name generated a relaxed, close and friendly contact to the teaching fraction.

Advises to international students going to Uppsala. 
Put your own effort in finding a flat, often these are cheaper and in a more central location than the ones offered by the university. Ask the international coordinator for e-mail addresses to previous international master students that might be up to advise you about the different housings that get offered to you by the university. Or check the Internet, maybe you find someone to share a flat with you? If you plan to do your Master or PhD in Uppsala and if you would like to learn Swedish, inscribe to Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) courses as early as possible, the university itself does not offer language courses to Master and PhD students.

Get yourself a bike (and a good lock) as soon as possible, that way you will be more flexible. Biking is the most convenient and fastest way to go from A to B. You don’t have to fear biking in winter or at nighttimes. Uppsala provides cycle paths everywhere, there are always other people on the streets and there are enough streetlights that guide your way. If you park your bike close to the river though, you better lock it to something solid.

If you would like to meet other people than students, move away from the typical student sport places such as Stallet and Svettis. Find a regular sport club and you will meet “regular” Swedes. Swedes appear to be “shy” but due to the fact that they all love sport, this is – what I think – the easiest and best way to get into contact with them.

Finally I would like to stress that if there is a problem, in Sweden it can be easily solved. You always find a person that you immediately can talk to and that honestly tries to help you. You only need to stick to your opinion and reasonably explain your problem and why you want to change something. If anything strikes ask Eva Damm, the life raft of all internationals. She is bombarded with e-mails, so if you have a problem or question the best is to immediately visit her in her office. She always finds a solution. As you can see there is nothing to fear, so just do it! If you have the chance to come to Uppsala, take it! You will never regret it! I can tell.

Cathrin Müller (Germany), Master Programme in Molecular Cell Biology.