More foreign students are enrolling at Uppsala University than ever before. What's the attraction? Cedric Pieterse gets the lowdown on student life in Sweden's oldest university town.
Café Linné Hörnan on Svartbäcksgatan in Uppsala is crammed with students. The fourth-largest city in Sweden, 70 kilometers (44 miles) north of Stockholm, is one of the oldest university towns in Europe. And this is a popular hangout for fika, or coffee and a slice of cake.
American Emily Burke says: “I really enjoy the atmosphere here. I love the coffeeshops in Uppsala.” As to why she applied to study at Uppsala University, she says: “European history is fascinating and a lot older than ours. Sweden has always interested me, and a lot of the courses are in English, which makes it attractive.”
Uppsala is a mecca for history lovers. Its cathedral, Domkyrkan, was built in 1270.
If there is one word that sums up university life in Uppsala it’s tradition. It is compulsory for students to join one of the Nations, for example. There are 13 in total, one for every province in Sweden. The first, Västmanlands-Dala, was founded in 1639. The Nations were established for students who came from outside Uppsala to make them feel at home. Foreign students can choose any Nation they like.
Burke says: “I chose the oldest one, Västmanlands-Dala. The Nations have their own traditions, and we can get cheap beer there. At the moment, we are working on our raft for the last of April. It is a great way to build up camaraderie among students.”
The last of April, or Valborgsmässoafton, is one of the highlights of student life in Uppsala. The festivities begin in the morning with a race on the river Fyrisån, which runs through the center of town. At 3 p.m. the vice-chancellor of the university officially declares spring. The party continues throughout the night.
Uppsala University has a student exchange agreement with nearly 500 universities in 50 countries. Photo: Louise Callenberg
More foreign students
Since the mid-1990s, the number of foreign students in Sweden has almost trebled. In 2007, one in 19 Uppsala University students was foreign. Among those 1,448 students, 264 were German, 155 were French and 150 were American. Students from Asia, Japan and India are also rising in number.
Pravesh Govender from India says what he likes most about Uppsala is the nature. “I often take my bike and go for a ride in the forests around town. Compared with India, it is a lot safer.” Bikes are the most popular means of transport among students thanks to the relatively flat landscape, and cycling lanes make it easy to get around town.
Creative learning environment
Govender is taking a Master’s degree in education. He says: “The non-competitive atmosphere lets me be more creative and not worry about being ‘best in class.’ Regardless of nationality, the Swedish state subsidizes students’ university studies, which helps me a lot.”
Uppsala has many cafés where students can hang out and "fika". Photo: Petter Johansson / Image Bank Sweden.
The most popular courses among foreign students at Uppsala University are Business, Economics, Information Technology, Law, Social Sciences and Education. Natalie Van Dam from Cape Town in South Africa is taking a Master’s degree in social sciences.
“As the Swedish saying goes, ‘There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes!’” she says. Van Dam, a mother of two, married a Swede and moved to Uppsala five years ago. “Winter does take some getting used to, but you can go skiing and ice-skating on the lakes when they freeze over and that’s great fun.”
Founded in 1477, Uppsala University is the oldest in Scandinavia. The university counts among its alumni Anders Celsius, founder of the Celsius thermometer, Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, and writer and playwright August Strindberg. The university has also produced six Nobel Prize winners.
Study in Sweden — Master's degree programs taught in English (brochure)
www.studyinsweden.se — Study in Sweden
www.uu.se — Uppsala University
en.wikipedia.org — Wiki Uppsala University
www.sweden.se — Sweden.se Study in Sweden
www.sweden.se/faq — Frequently asked questions about Sweden
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The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
Cedric Pieterse is a freelance travel writer from South Africa. He has decided to make Uppsala his home, exchanging the African savannah for Swedish forests. He would like to see a bear one day, but not step on a hibernating one. Cedric has been published online and in print in various publications.
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