Postcard from Abroad – Uppsala University Sweden

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Anastasia is a third year History and English Literature student currently spending her Erasmus year in the picturesque Swedish city of Uppsala. Sweden has shown her that there’s no escaping her Russian descent, with every silver birch tree reminding her of the Motherland. Although she may come across as condescending with her Royal County Berkshire accent and overzealous passion for history, in truth she is as lost as the rest of her generation. Her passions include Korean High School dramas, Jane Austen novels, Swedish cider and a newfound love for documentary photography.

Hej! Jag heter Anastasia och jag kommer från storbritannien. Jag studerar på Uppsala Universitetet i Sverige. That is pretty much my knowledge of the Swedish language in its entirety, which is terrifying seeing as I have a Swedish exam in less than a week…

Three months ago I packed up everything (and I mean everything) I could ever need, left behind my friends, family and my adorable rabbit called Zebra, to build a new life in Scandinavia. Like many others, all I knew of Sweden could be boiled down to their passion for meatballs and IKEA, and a penchant for skinny-dipping. Oh and the tall beautiful Swedes of course, who could forget about them? Three months later I can tell you that, despite developing a desire to dress in all black and a propensity to while my days away with fika (a social institution in Sweden meaning “to have a coffee break,” serves as both a verb and a noun), I am no closer to becoming a Swede. In part the Swedes really aren’t that different to the Brits, especially us good old boring Southern Brits. However their language and mindset are alien to me and, with how reclusive the Swedes are, I doubt either are things I’ll ever be able to fully grasp.

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My new home is Uppsala, a rural city with a population of 140,000 – despite being Sweden’s 4th largest city. It looks like a little toy village, with colourful wooden houses, a picturesque river running through it and everyone’s riding their bikes. I found this very stressful. I’m used to big cities and it’s taken me three months to acclimatise to somewhere so small and quiet. Flogsta, my accommodation for the year, is fairly far from town, but it is absolutely picturesque (if you disregard the Soviet style blocks of flats it is actually comprised of). And every night at 10pm we do the Flogsta Scream – something that is VERY appealing to partake in when the essays are getting the best of you, you’re feeling homesick and your meatballs have been stolen (SACRILEGE).

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Student life in Uppsala revolves around the 13 Nations. These are somewhere between a society and a student union. Each nation is representative of a region in Sweden and traditionally students join the nation representing the region they are from. Each has its own building, which houses a cafe and restaurant. Once you’re a member you can enter any nation and participate in any event. They host club nights, formal dinners and balls, as well as interest groups such as photography, choirs and dancing. I arrived in Sweden very late therefore I couldn’t go and check each nation out.

So I joined Kalmar after being encouraged by my hall mates who claimed it was good for vegetarians (even though I’m not technically a vegetarian).  SundayFika serves up a vast array of vegetarian lunch options and vegan cakes and desserts – if you haven’t had vegan chai brownies or raspberry crumble with vegan custard you haven’t lived. It’s also home to Smaka, a weekly vegetarian restaurant, which serves up some fancy looking creations. Sweden, or at least Uppsala, seems to embrace vegetarians. My favourite option are the falafel stands in town where there are three in a row. It’s impossible to walk past them and not get a falafel roll! I’ve never tasted cheap street food quite so divine.

I’ve now been to Systembolaget, the Swedish chain of liquor stores. As Sweden has had problems with alcoholism in the past, the Systembolaget is the face of the government’s monopoly on alcohol. Prices are astronomical and it resembles the wine aisles in Waitrose (it feels like being back in Berkshire really). As I am not made of gold I will be looking for alcohol on holiday or in my care packages. Unlike spirits, low-alcohol cider and beer are not considered “proper” alcohol and can be sold in supermarkets. The bad news though is that they’re only 2.5% which, to be fair, is probably still enough to get me drunk in 2 pints.

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“Different country, same you,” was the response of my friends back home after informing them of my antics from my first night here. Now, the first thing to note is that I hadn’t consumed alcohol properly since June. And the second thing you should know is that I’m a perpetual mess. I managed to seriously injure myself by running across a street and falling flat on my face. Furthermore do not attempt Swedish lessons when inebriated, especially if your teacher is likely to make you sing the Swedish alphabet to the tune of Frère Jacques. Lesson learned.

As well as Basic Swedish, I’ve been studying Swedish History, Art & Music. This means we are lucky enough to be able to watch Eurovision songs in class. That was not sarcastic; the one thing you need to know about me is how very passionate I am about Eurovision. I’ve also had time to pick my favourite, particularly kickass, Swedish kings. But 1st place in my high esteem goes to Queen Kristina for arousing so much suspicion about her sexuality by refusing to marry. You go girl.

Anastasia Kennedy

Images courtesy of Anastasia Kennedy

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