Month: August 2019

One year in Uppsala! – By Prasanth

When I meet new people in Uppsala, one of the first questions they ask is, how did you end up in Sweden? And I am always like, ‘Well, I heard a lot about Sweden and when I got the opportunity, I just have taken it and never looked back’. After doing my research on various universities in Scandinavian countries, I got to know that Uppsala is one of the best when it comes to student life.

Beautiful view of the cathedral

It all started when I decided to do a masters in the field of sustainability for which I was passionate about. This is the first time I travelled abroad, and that made my journey much more exciting. I got all possible help from the university when I arrived at Arlanda airport during the welcome days. As most of the others I also ended up getting a housing in Flogsta – The hub of international students and corridor parties.

University bus that picked us when we arrived during welcome days
Autumn season in Uppsala
We went to segerstedthuset building to collect our keys when we arrived

The first few days it was a bit cold and so I used to wear my winter jacket until I met a guy in shorts, these where the exact words he said:

Him: How cold is it outside?

Me: 8 or 9 degrees probably ….

Him: Do you know its going to be -15 degrees in few days?

Me: Oh yes, I heard! How could you survive in that weather?

Him: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” so you need to dress like this in winter not now. (This was the first time I heard this quote)

Later he invited me to his home to grab some apples.

I met my classmates during the welcome week, and they were from many diverse backgrounds and cultures. The best part of my program sustainable development was that everyone had a different opinion and that made me think how my views are so different. Within couple of weeks I got to speak with most of my colleagues and felt that I need to learn a lot.

It’s me explaining my classmates about the project that I did

During the welcome week we all got some temporary nation cards from the IK (International committee) and then started my journey into the so-called nation life – I didn’t know at that time that my nation will become my second home. Student Nations are something special and unique here in Uppsala. All 13 student nations offer various kinds of activities. All the fun began with working for a gasque without even knowing what it was all about and then becoming a club worker at Smålands nation. I had the best time of my life during those days and made friends for life. Eventually I got to know about Swedish culture and their lifestyle, but I was a complete disaster in learning Swedish.

At my nations Ambetsverkare weekend

Winter was very harsh on me, but when I saw the snow, I was always happy. Autumn was so colourful that I started missing it in winter and stopped taking bike to the university because of the snow. I had to take bus every day in the winter. Buying a winter jacket, and snow boots was very helpful for me during this time. Somehow, I survived the winter and moved to the beautiful spring wearing my shorts and sitting in the sun outside. From Spring to summer was the best weather if I ignore the midnight sun.

Drone view of Uppsala Cathedral (Credits to my friend Christian apps)
Lake picnic with my classmates

I am used to just eating in my home or in any restaurant or at my college cafeteria but did not cook or clean on my own before coming to Sweden. Buying what you need, and cooking is hard sometimes. When you see the prices in super markets to buy food it is quite expensive than back home. So, I used to think twice before buying something. Now I figured out what food I want and should buy.

Dog sledging in Lapland

Coming to travelling, I should say I have visited quite a lot in and around Uppsala. I stayed in cabins over the weekends, went on hikes, gone on a cruise in the Baltics, skied in Åre during ski week, went on a Lapland trip – sadly no northern lights, covered east Europe by bus and went to visit student nations in Lund and Helsinki. These are some of the highlights of my travels after coming to Sweden. Every place I went was a new and an exciting experience for me.

Group picture  during the Lapland trip
Skiing during ski-week in Åre

My studies in Uppsala had been challenging as I come from an engineering background and I had to read lots of literature in the starting of the semester to understand the concepts. Group works, case studies, home exams, assignments, presentations, seminars, site visits and what not, these all made me the person I am, and I don’t regret it.

Valborg party in Uppsala

Overall, my experience here in Uppsala till now has been wonderful but yes, it is not easy as it looks to survive in a completely different environment, but it worked out for me very well.

Did I miss something? Yes, Valborg! I completely forgot about this insane thing happened to me in Uppsala. It should be experienced on your own. It can’t be explained in words. Hope this blog might give a brief on how Uppsala might look like.      

Thank you!

Preparing for the journey, Preparing for Uppsala. – By: Nick Hall

“You are here.” I am anticipating telling myself those exact words around 11:30 a.m., in Stockholm, at the Arlanda International airport, with a deep breath and a nice release of tension from an 8 hour flight across the Atlantic. However, to even get to “here,” there are a lot of steps I have to take, and while they should appear to be linear, they often come in clusters flush with anticipation, like fireworks.

I started this journey back in the spring of 2017 while I was still an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA (known for being one of the oldest collegiate institutions in America). I was researching international universities that had strong programs in philosophy. I have a long held favorable view of the Nordic countries for reasons that should be obvious. So, I looked at schools in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, specifically. As I narrowed down the field of universities I wanted to attend, Uppsala always stuck out. I decided to apply and hope for the best.

One of the great things about UU, and the Swedish higher education system in general, is how easy it is to apply to their universities. I was pleasantly surprised with the central application system University Admissions. From that website, a prospective student can apply to all of the public universities and colleges, I believe, in Sweden. But further, beyond a few logistical hoops, relative to the American system, the application process was not cumbersome at all. The website makes the process of selecting school, program, uploading documents, and
making necessary information (like which documents are needed, how to send transcripts, links to department requirements) streamlined by hosting all the information in an easy to process format.

So, I filled out a very basic application, sent my transcripts, uploaded important documents (like my passport), and wrote a very concise essay on why I wanted to study philosophy at Uppsala University. There is an application window for applying to schools in Sweden, and international students are encouraged to apply in the first round. This has to do with ensuring enough time is given to process student visa applications, which can be a lengthy process. Pressing on, I made sure I crossed all my T’s and dotted all my I’s, submitted my application in winter of 2018, and patiently waited for a response.

In May I got an email saying that UU had accepted my application, and granted me admission into the philosophy program. I was absolutely elated. The dahlia ignited! Along with my acceptance email came a whole new batch of fireworks, though. Which conveniently put, listed all the necessary immigration, financial, housing, and even cultural, expectations.

This point in the journey becomes a little more arduous, where the Swedish application system for universities has a more streamlined ease, the leg work of applying really starts at this point.

I have never applied for a visa, so Sweden is my first, and even though this process was a little more chaotic, it still felt very much situated. The immigration website was very helpful, clear, and has great user friendliness. I applied for the student visa, which cost about $100 USD. However, applying for the visa requires much more information. I needed to demonstrate that I could support myself financially while in Sweden, I had to list why I was interested in coming to Sweden, and give a few more details about my background. Once I sent that application off I expected not to hear back for a about month.

While I waited to hear back from Swedish immigration, I kept working on my application. The next leviathan was housing, lol. Which in terms of process, again I am quite amazed at how efficient Swedish processes are, was fairly straightforward and easy. I was sent an application from the great and ever helpful International Master Program staff (Cecilia, Lina and Jorja). The only real difficulty was deciding where I wanted to live. I settled on Klostergatan 16 mainly because they offer a pillow and comforter along with the room — more on that later!

After I applied for housing, I quickly received notification of my immigration results. Another firework was successfully launched and enjoyed! At this point, I feel comfortable buying my plane ticket and deciding a date of departure. The school offers a few dates wherein they have transport from Arlanda to Uppsala from early morning until the late evening. So knowing that, I selected a date to take advantage of the transportation. It also feels nice knowing that when I come into the country there will be a host of nice people waiting to greet me and help make my transition a bit less stressful.

In the meantime, the turnaround on my housing application felt really slow. I believe Midsommar was happening and from what I’ve learned that is a pretty significant celebration period in Sweden. But I finally received notice of my housing offer and I was given my choice of Klostergatan 16! That was great news because it means I will have to pack less things for my trip! Finale!

All things considered, this whole process has taken about 6 months to complete. Which compared to applying to my undergrad feels a bit long. However, I had a few added steps in applying to an international program so the length makes sense. Also, the organization of the application process, I cannot stress it enough, is amazing. Even ancillary things like language courses, or videos about the school, this blog, are all very conveniently spaced to each other. One doesn’t have to go on an internet expedition to find useful information, it is all pretty close by.

Another noteworthy feature of this process worth stating, is the approachability of pretty much everyone involved. I keep hearing Swedes have this “shyness” to them, but that so-far has not been my experience. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to an encountered has been helpful beyond expectations. For a university of this size, I haven’t felt like a number, or another face in the crowd. People seem to speak very candidly and will respond to my questions. I was able to reach out to people in my department and even talk to a few students in my program. I feel very welcomed and engaged with, I appreciate that.

Other helpful things to know: There is an international student group on Facebook that is officially sanctioned by the University. Uppsala University’s youtube channel that has some good videos. The immigration website has links to a pretty comprehensive Swedish language course that is user friendly.

I also took it upon myself to try to engage with more Swedish culture and peoples. I joined a semi-famous Swedish guitar players discord server and youtube channel, Ola Englund. There are people from all over the world on his discord, but there are heaps of Swedes, and again they were all pretty candid about being Swedish, answering questions, and generally being pretty welcoming. Even for a bunch of hardened-exterior-Swedish-metal-folks, they seemed pretty nice, haha.

I’m looking forward to it!

Sweden: My Emotional Landscape – By Winstead Zhu

“I feel emotional landscapes. They puzzle me.”
Jóga by Björk

I was in Rennes that summer one year ago. At the confluence of the Vilaine and the Ille, Rennes, prefecture of Brittany, is a picturesque city in northwestern France. Even though it was already midsummer season, different from the humid and muggy subtropical climate in Hong Kong, the temperature during the sunset there was surprisingly cool; the gentle breeze smoothed the lines of worry on the faces of the pedestrians away with her cool fingers. The golden red sun was bending in the west as the street lamps reflected irregular beams of light on the cobblestones. It was ideal time for sunset hour drinks and evening soirées of cool cocktails, with a wide selection of wines and international beers. Javier, Sylvia, Janice and I were strolling along the boulevard while listening to Björk’s Jóga as the verse went, “[…] Emotional landscapes, they puzzle me.”

Hearing this, Javier, lost in thinking, asked me with faltering smiles, “So Winstead, what’s the emotional landscape that puzzles you?” He must have felt that the answer to this question should be obvious, as every friend of mine from my university knows I love the country of France and its culture (and this probably explained why I’ve been learning French for four years while I’m in Hong Kong as I’m so, so deeply obsessed with this language). “Wait, let me guess: your ‘emotional landscape” is the French-style landscape, right? See you can hardly hide your yearnings for it.” He teased me. I closed my eyes and plunged into a deep reverie while the sun changed in untold colors: white, yellow, and then red… which made me daze to be lost into dreaming that I couldn’t tell which color was the most gorgeous and beautiful. After a moment of silence, suddenly a word blurted out of my mouth, “Sweden.” And at that moment I saw incredulous expression on Javier’s face as this answer was so unexpected to him, and perhaps to everyone who used to know me.

Javier, Sylvia, Janice and I in Rennes

The land of Nordic dynamism, a vast region of prosperity, has indeed long appealed to me like a magnet when I was a child, as I started to have many a fantasy about Sweden since I was seven when I spent more than half of my childhood time reading Lindgren’s fairy tales. Most of this Swedish writer’s books have been badly thumbed by me, and among them Pippi Långstrump is my favorite, who has been encouraging generations of girls to play freely and believe in themselves. In the process, Pippi created a miracle for gender equality. The 9-year-old girl, representing an imaginative and unconstrained child power, lives alone in a big house, where she cares for herself, has countless gold coins, can walk forwards and backwards as she likes, can sleep in shoes, can wear wet clothes, can go to school on horseback…

The many “don’ts” that are often scorned by adults are all overthrown by her, and her maverick subverts the life of the Nordic town. “Don’t we live in a free country?” Pippi always responds to the voices of doubt like this, and it is this “free country” that strongly attracts me. For me, Astrid Lindgren endowed many kids with modern aesthetic ideals and subjective consciousness, independence and creative desires, which is lacking in my own cultural literacy, and that’s probably why I could never get enough of Lindgren and every aspect of Swedish life depicted by her. “To live in a Swedish tree house” has thereafter become one of my childhood dreams.

My childhood hero: Pippi Långstrump

But still, no matter how big the childhood dream is, to study and live in Sweden is on all accounts deemed an unusual choice for me. Indigenous to the southeastern coastal area of China, my body, and especially my stomach, has been so used to the hot and humid weather in the subtropical zone. The smell of a salty breeze and the light taste of the seafood have been deeply rooted in my memory of life. And now, as I’m setting out for my new life in northern Europe, I start to search for a common ground between Sweden and Hong Kong; however, except for the fact that most locals speak English in both places, there is no more common point; the climates are even at the two extremes, which reminds me of the famous line in A Song of Ice and Fire, “the winter is coming.”

However, I’m not afraid of the cold, no, on the contrary, I’m looking forward to it, as in Nordic primitive cultures the winter represents the future and rebirth. The Swedish winter shall not be cold, dark and depressing, but it gestates the vitality of the coming year. The more I long for the cold winter with the shining of eager in my eyes, the more visions I have of Sweden: I will be wandering on an embankment, where the crystal clear waters and white yachts shall greet me; or I will just follow the path leading to the castle, and enjoy the idyllic archipelago scenery at the highest point; or I shall simply sit in an open-air garden by the harbor, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the crowds and clouds. It takes only 2-3 hours to have a sightseeing boat trip from Gothenburg to Marstrand, and many activities on the island are available, including fishing in the sea, Viking dinner and a rubber boat ride at sea.

The archipelago in Sweden is rich in vegetation, dotted with two or three red or yellow holiday cottages, where the white sailboats roaming the calm Baltic Sea would occasionally drift, so the island scenery there must be fascinating. What’s more, because of its slow growth in cold, clean waters, the shellfish in Sweden is even one of the most delicious seafood in the world. Now it’s time to admit that there is so much to look forward to in this Nordic country.

Marstrand Credits: Per Pixel Petersson/

The one last thing I need to do before I arrive in Uppsala, Sweden is probably to learn Swedish. I heard that there are many free Swedish courses available in Sweden when we arrive, so picking up this new language for daily use purpose should not be a worry. But still, as a language amateur, Swedish has already filled me with suspense and curiosity. My inquisitive mind keeps urging me to explore into the wonder of this language, and there are some remarkable Swedish words that leave me with deep impressions which I’d like to share in this blog, as I believe the charm of culture always originates form the glamour of its language, so to appreciate the beauty of Swedish becomes a necessity if someone is going to live in Sweden. Here are some Swedish words that are “impossible to translate” together with their explanations by Ella Frances Sanders:

On its own, “tår” means a cup of coffee, and “patår” is the refill of said coffee. A “tretår” is therefore a second refill, or a “threefill.”

As a coffee lover, probably self-confessed, I down at least two cups every day. And therefore, the coffee culture in Sweden, where people enjoy fika, i.e. taking a coffee break with friends, is certain to increase my sense of well-being and happiness.

The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.

The word “Mångata” conveys the felicity in a private and tender relation between human and nature, which is the enchantment of life in Sweden. The scenery and nature construct a big part of what Sweden has to offer, and a true devotion of life is speechless here in this country with a harmonious communion with nature. It’s not hard to imagine walking here along a path through the forest and that the fast-flowing small rivers suddenly lead me to a clear lake, where the beautiful water is aquamarine-blue with some narrow parts of the lake being emerald-green. Then I shall see the straying moonbeams, silhouetted against the glittering water, are building up a lane to a distant place. And that’s the ultimately beautiful “Mångata” on this natural land.

Again, the verse of Björk rings in my ears, “Emotional landscapes, they puzzle me.” Life in Sweden is only less than one month away, and I’m looking forward to its marvelous landscapes that possess emotions with endless obsession. Lindgren’s fairy tales, the splendid island scenes, the marvelous Swedish language… this country must have much more to offer than I can expect.