Expectations VS Reality

Reflecting on my time in Sweden, I began thinking about how my expectations before I arrived compared to the realities that I experienced. The main reasons I chose to study in Sweden include: great natural beauty, the idea that it was a world leader in terms of sustainability, a great studying and learning environment, and a feeling of the “unknown”.

To start with, I was attracted to Sweden because of the possibility to spend a lot of time outdoors, exploring its natural beauty. On this front, I have definitely not been disappointed. A friend summed it up best when he described Sweden as one of the most “quietly beautiful” countries he has ever visited. I think this is a good way of looking at it, Sweden is often overlooked, even in terms of its Scandinavian neighbours. Norway has dramatic fjords and glaciers, and Denmark has the lively city of Copenhagen, whereas Sweden’s beauty is more understated. The area surrounding Lund, and the region of Skane, are a perfect example of this. Rapeseed flowers, the unofficial national flower of Sweden, dominate the landscape at the turn of spring and paint the patchwork of fields bright yellow. Lund’s location makes day trips into the countryside very easy, as the sea is only half an hour away, and the area is dotted with national parks.

 

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Ystad, Skane – Where the TV series “Wallander” was set and filmed.

Another key factor that brought me to Sweden was it’s reputation as a world leader for environmental policy and sustainability. It was interesting to see how this manifests in everyday life. Firstly Sweden has an extremely efficient recycling system, and even imports trash from other nations to process. I saw this through the ordered recycling bins at almost all locations in Lund, including student halls and libraries. Secondly, cities like Lund and Copenhagen have been planned and designed to accommodate bikes and public transport as the primary modes of travel. This leads to reduced emissions and consolidated their status as climate friendly nations. 

 

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Sustainable and innovative architecture in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Overall, Sweden met my expectations as a beautiful and environmentally forward-thinking country. I was also presently surprised by the “unknown” factor of Swedish culture and society – which I experienced through getting involved with student “nations” and organizations. Check my other blogs for more information about this unique Swedish student life!

Student Nations at Lund University

One of the most unique things about studying in Lund is it’s organized student life. Many universities have student unions, however none are quite like Lunds. The first “Nations” were founded in 1668, based on geographic regions in Sweden, and historically students who came from that area would join the according nation. For example students from Halland province would join Hallands Nation, and students from the East would join Ostgota. In the modern day all 13 nations are open to anyone who wishes to join, and offer a wide range of activities to be involved in. This includes putting on cheap student meals and lunches, cinema nights, pubs and clubs, as well as organising day trips such as hikes and other outdoor activities. Whilst every nation will offer the basic activities, each has it’s own speciality, for example Kalmar nation focuses on outdoor activities, whereas Sydskanska nation aims to be the go to place for electronic music. This makes the small town of Lund, with a student population of around 40,000, seem a lot bigger as there is an activity on most days of the week.

 

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Sydskanska Nation (AKA SSK), where I became a Foreman.

 

What makes the nations even more successful is that they are all entirely student run, and rely on volunteers to make their activities happen. This is quite unique and as a British student I found it hard to believe that people would volunteer their time so freely. However after getting involved with a couple of activities, I discovered what makes them so special. I first volunteered as part of a pub team, and the Foreman (the person in charge of the activity) made the atmosphere very social and welcoming for the workers. I ended up becoming very good friends with him, and after taking part in a few more activities, I decided to sign up to become a Foreman myself. In true Swedish tradition, the nation meeting where new Foremen are voted in took around 3 hours, and was conducted entirely in Swedish. Whilst this wasn’t the most exciting start, it was followed by some free food and drinks. I signed up for the Kafe Matine post, a film evening on Sundays, where my responsibilities included cooking a vegan meal for around 40 people, and choosing one of my favourite films to show. This was quite hard work to organise at first, however being a Foreman also brings quite a few perks. 

 

The first of these was a weekend trip, where all the Foremen at the nation were taken to a large cottage 1.5 hours from Lund, in a lovely remote location by a lake. We were cooked a meal, and given a “small” supply of free drinks. An aspect of Swedish social life that is very different from what I had experienced before was the focus on “organized fun”, and an evening with the nation often involves a lot of games and challenges. The cottage also had a sauna by the lake, making the weekend very relaxing and fun. Overall becoming involved and volunteering with the nation was one of the highlights of my time in Sweden, and I would recommend it highly for anyone considering studying in Lund!

Swedish Culture: Ball Weekend

Spring has sprung and as I finished my mid-semester exams I took the opportunity to take in some more of the Swedish environment and culture.

One of the biggest traditions and an important part of student life in Lund is the Ball weekend. Effectively a much bigger, much fancier version of a sittning (see earlier post) the Sydskanska Nations annual spring ball took place this year in the Grand Hotel. There are a few things that separate this event from your average shindig, firstly that its probably the fanciest thing I’ve ever been a part of, with a strict white tie dress code. The guests also attach a series of small medals to their tuxedo/ ball gown, each earnt for engagement in a specific aspect of student or civil society for a certain period of time. I managed to get my hands on one for being involved with a nation, but I was definitely a small fish in a big pond of heavily medalled sharks.

student-ball-lund-university-705.gifMuch of the speeches and songs were of course in Swedish, which made everything quite confusing as an international student, but still a lot of fun. A three course meal was followed by a live band and barbershop quartet, and then the large hall was cleared to make room for ballroom dancing. As the ball drew to a close, the guests gathered at the hotel entrance for a torchlit procession through the streets of Lund up to the Sydskanska Nation building, where the entertainment continued late into the night. If this wasn’t enough, the morning after brought with it a brunch sittning and more live music well into the afternoon. It was interesting to see how much events like this are part of Swedish culture, and it was definitely a unique and different experience compared to student life in the UK.

Academic Life at Lund University

I’ve been really impressed by the Swedish university system in my time at Lund, and it has some quite big differences with what I’m used to in the UK. One of these main differences is the way the term/ semester is organised. Instead of doing modules that last for the whole term, with exams or coursework at the end, the semester is broken up into two blocks. This means that courses run for a shorter, more intense period. I found this beneficial because it means that rather than having 4 modules all running at the same time, you focus on two for each half of the semester. I think this is better for learning, as it allows you to read deeper into each topic and the information is fresh in the mind when it comes to assignments or exams.  

I’ve been taking a number of modules focusing on climate change and sustainability, which has been very interesting to learn from a Scandinavian perspective. Sweden consistently tops all the charts for lowering its emissions and investing in greening its economy. Lund University is also a leader in this field, with a whole department (with its own building!) dedicated to sustainability research. My lecturers have been professionals with decades of years both working in these sectors as well as being involved in research, which has meant the quality of education has been really good!

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Lunds beautiful main library.

I’ve also been able to take courses outside of my usual Geography programme, for example I have just started a Political Science module on the Israel Palestine conflict. This is one of the main benefits of a year abroad, you can broaden your knowledge in a way that is difficult with the busy schedule at home university.

Student life in Lund, Sweden

As my first semester in Lund comes to a close, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on the good and bad things (the weather) I’ve experienced here in Sweden. Lund is a small, very pretty university town in Southern Sweden, with beautiful old buildings and houses that look like they’re made out of gingerbread. Studying and living as a student here has been a completely different experience to my first and second years in Manchester.

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Lund Cathedral, built in the 1100s, one of the most visited churches in Sweden.

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Houses, Lund, built recently of gingerbread.

One of the main factors in this is the way student life in Lund is organised, through “nations”. The nations are similar to a students union, although there are 13 individual ones dotted all over the town. They are named after the different regions/ counties in Sweden, and in the past your area of origin would determine the nation you join. They are basically social clubs, each with a different priority, some are focused around music, others sports, but most are quite general and all are open to everyone. Becoming a member of one nation gives you access to events at all of the others. They are run completely by student volunteers, and put on all sorts of different events such as film screenings, lunches as well as pubs and club nights. I was amazed by this, and to be honest I can’t imagine this working in the way it does anywhere apart from Sweden, particularly not in the UK.

Working/ volunteering at a nation doubles up as a social event and is a good way to make new friends. I found this is the best way to meet Swedes, particularly as an international student. Workers are given free food, and are effectively paid (informally of course) in beer and are thrown a thank you party a week after working a shift. Another popular event in Lund nations are “Sittnings”. These are gatherings where a three course meal is served, song books are passed around and the nation leaders direct everyone through a series of songs. These are often highly cultural, and are often about the area in Sweden that the nation is named after. The songs are also often very funny and light hearted, especially as the singing usually gets quite rowdy, with people standing and banging on the tables (Swedes love a sing song).

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A Sittning at Blekingska nation, 2019. They usually start in a very civilised way, then get gradually looser as the night goes on.

This all makes the student life in Lund surprisingly lively, and wasn’t what I was expecting when I first took in the quiet, picturesque town.

Pre Departure

With 2 days left before I begin my Scandinavian adventure I have a range of mixed feelings. It suddenly feels very real that I will be living in a foreign country for the next year. I’m excited but also apprehensive of the possibilities. To deal with any potential homesickness I have made sure to utilize precious packing space to bring a little piece of home along with me.
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                                   Figure 1 – Packing Essentials

 

I will be making the flight from Manchester to Copenhagen, before travelling across the Oresund bridge (a famous piece of Scandinavian engineering) by train to the small university town of Lund. This is perhaps an example of my expectations of Swedish/ Danish society, planned, orderly and efficient. Most of my studies here will be focused around sustainability and climate change, so seeing how the society works in relation to this will be interesting.

I’m looking forward to meeting people from all over the world, and getting involved with student life in maybe a different way than my home university. Watch this space.