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.