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Guide to Student Life in Uppsala

Uppsala is one of the best cities to be a student in Scandinavia and possibly in the entire world. With a really old university, founded in 1477, it has centuries of traditions and is centred around academia and student life. It is the fourth largest city in Sweden (after Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö) and has a population of around 150 000 (in 2015) of which more than 45 000 are students.

If you are reading this article, chances are you may be one of those 45 000 students, perhaps even one of the new ones, in which case the next part could be of use to you as I will try and give you tips that could come in handy:

Buy a bike! Might sound silly in the midst of winter. Right now, many rely on buses and just walking as the roads may be too icy or it may be simply too cold to ride a bicycle, but when spring comes everyone will have one and you do not want to be ‘one of those people’ who forces everyone to walk or who has to ride solo on a bus. There are many ways you can buy bikes second hand either via Facebook groups or dedicated shops.

Lock your bike, always! Not only lock it but make sure it is secured to something like a lamppost or a bicycle rack. Apart from people stealing bikes (which apparently is one of the most common crimes committed in Uppsala), many drunken students have the nasty habit of throwing bikes into the river so beware! A really big hotspot for this is in front of Norrlands nation.

Use your bike ‘the Swedish way’: make sure you have a working bell, a front and a back light (also led ones will do) and use the designated cycle lanes. If you do not follow these rules you could get fined 500 kronor each for every transgression on the spot! Also remember not to walk in cycle lanes, may sound stupid but you would be surprised about how many people tend to do this and get angry reactions from the cyclists.

Become a member of a Student Nation! There are 13 different ones and each one represents a different area in Sweden. You can join any nation you like (unless you are Swedish in which case if you do not have family ties to Södermaland or Nerikes regions, you cannot join Snerikes. But for all the other ones no problem). Joining one nation gives you access to all 13 of them, even when they sell alcohol (so during pub and club nights). Each one gives different perks specific to that nation. Most give free entry to their club for members (except Kalmar and Upplands who only give 50 percent off) while others also give you discount on food and hot drinks at their pubs and cafes. Most also give their members priority for buying gasque tickets with them. You can join as many nations as you like; I’m currently a member of 2 but debating if I should to join a third one too! The membership fee is paid once a semester. If you want to join you need to speak to the 1Q of that particular nation and bring ID and proof of studies (Swedish personal number or T-number should be enough).

Get involved in the Nations! If you just go to the nations for fika, the odd pub and weekly club I feel you may be missing out on a big part of  ‘Uppsala student life’. Working in the nations is super easy; you meet new people, get the chance to practice your Swedish, learn new skills, eat good food and so on. The best thing is that for most nation jobs no previous experience is required so you can try out making hamburgers in a busy pub kitchen, pouring beers and mixing drinks at a bar or even just checking ID and student cards (ideal if you want to read a book, study or watch a film). Most nations do not pay for the work you do (even if they do it’s peanuts as 35 kronor per hour is nothing compared to what a normal waiter gets which is a minimum of 90 kronor) as it is part of the spirit ‘students 4 students’ in which, by working for free, we allow people to have a really cheap meal. You do however still get rewarded for your work and the sort of reward varies from nation to nation. It could be anything from a card to skip the line and get free entry to the weekly club for one month, (like in Stockholms Nation) to a free staff dinner followed by an afterparty in Östgöta Nation (both of which you get if you work three shifts). Mainly one does it for the social life and to meet Swedish people who, for an international student, are not always the easiest people to socialise with in normal situations, at least in my experience.

Download these must have apps! There are some essential free apps that one can dowload to make life easier both in Uppsala and in the whole of Sweden.

Join one of the Student Unions. They fight for our rights and are there to support us if we have any sort of problems within our department or in our student life in general. They also offer a lot of services (from sexual health advice to a student wellbeing centre) and when you join Uppsala student union they give you a free tote bag and you get a ten percent discount off books and merchandise in Studentbokhandeln. To join just head over to their headquarters during office hours and while there help yourself to information leaflets on the city of Uppsala and student life in general, pick up some free goodies such as notebooks or condoms. Though Uppsala student union is the biggest and oldest student union in Uppsala, there are several other student unions you can join as well, depending on your field of study. You can find all of them listed here.

Flash your student card in shops and restaurants! Many of them offer student discounts, and even if they don’t – it never hurts to ask. You can find a list of all the discounts offered to you at mecenat.com (unfortunately the page doesn’t have any English translation, so you might have to ask your kind Swedish-speaking neighbour or Google translate to help you understand it).

Make the most of Student Deals on mobile phone rates! When I first arrived in Uppsala I got given the free sim card in the university welcome pack but after almost a year living here I realised that paying 49 Kr for 0.5 GB was extortionate even for ‘expensive Sweden’. After some research I found Vimla! which is a start-up based in Södermalm that instead of investing heavily on marketing campaigns rely on the mouth to mouth system. So if I refer someone I get 10 Kr off my monthly fee and so do those that I referred. The monthly fee is  90 Kr which gives you: 2 GB (3 GB if you are a student or over 55) | 60 min. for nationwide mobiles and landlines | 600 SMS | 20 GB extra data. Unused data, minutes and texts role onto the next month if you have not used them all! Plus the first 3 months you pay 40 Kr instead of 90 Kr and there is no binding time! To sign up and get 10 Kr off each month (paying 40 and eventually 90 Kr as opposed to 50 and 100 Kr) follow my referral link: https://vimla.se/?201705101301370838 Only problem is the website and the free app are only available in Swedish but if you use the translate function on Chrome you should be fine and if you are not just ask them for help via chat, they all speak English and are all very friendly and helpful.

Going home for a few days? Use the coach (yellow bus number 801) to go to Arlanda airport. It might take longer than the train (40 minutes as opposed to 20) but tickets are also half the price of trains. You can also buy tickets for the bus on the UL app mentioned previously if you want to save a few extra kronor. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Go to Uppsalingo! If you want to practice your Swedish and are willing to teach your mother tongue language in exchange this is the place for you! There are regular meetings held in a nation pub where people are divided according to their mother-tongue language and sit at tables.The first hour is dedicated to Swedes teaching Swedish and in the second hour you swap and you teach the Swedes your mother tongue language (so, for example, if you are Italian you will sit on the Italian table and teach Italian). This semester it is held in Gotland Nation’s pub every Wednesday from 18:00 to 21:00 and you need to bring ID and your student card as they sell alcohol.

Be in Uppsala over the Valborg period! Valborg is the best student party in Sweden and its heart is here in Uppsala. Students from all over Sweden and beyond congregate in Uppsala having massive parties in public parks and squares and flooding the student nations which will all be open and jam-packed with events and people. The period is between the 27th of April and the 1st of May. A more specific guide on this important festivity will be published here (in English) closer to the time.

Original article published in ‘Ergo’, Uppsala’s student magazine, on the 7th of March 2017.  Latest revision done today.

Ghost Villages in Sardinia (1/5): Education

As a guy from the village of Ales, in central Sardinia, once said: ‘Studiate, perché avremo bisogno di tutta la vostra intelligenza’ / ‘Everyone should study, as we will soon be in need of all of your intelligence’ (Antonio Gramsci). Learning English properly is the key, not only in order to offer good tourist services, but also for personal enrichment to be able to make the most of opportunities that extend beyond the village and can reach the far corners of the world.

Starting from nursery schools, the English language must, in my view, be taught at all levels of schooling, ideally reaching a good enough level in high school to be able to study all` sciences 100% in English as opposed to Italian. This may seem to some as extreme globalisation, but on the contrary, having a solid basis in English would allow future university students to be able to choose to study in whichever university worldwide and also enable them to take part in global debates from their laptops and smartphones thanks to blogs, forums and social media platforms. Also, from a ‘Sardinian identity’ prospective, if English is the language spoken at school, the family could speak Sardinian at home without running the risk that their children would mix Sardinian and Italian which can be quite similar and which leads Sardinian pupils to make many grammar mistakes when writing in Italian.

If many more Sardinian youngsters were fluent in English, even university courses organised by the University of Cagliari or Sassari, the two universitie on the island, could be held in English, potentially by professors from other countries, thereby making the educational offer more interesting. Also, having courses taught in English would enable non-Italian speakers to be able to study in Sardinia, both as part of exchange programmes, but also for entire degree courses which in turn would be a great source of income for the universities and the entire island economy. Imagine if there were good courses in architecture taught in English, an English or American student who is used to paying over €10.000 / €20.000 for one year of tuition fees would pay a maximum of €3000 and would also have cheaper living costs. Not to mention the fact that the foreign students would love to have the chance of going to the beach when not in lectures and eating authentic pizzas and drinking Italian wine yet at the same time they would share with the locals part of their own traditions and culture which would benefit the island.

Distance learning courses could also be offered by the universities in Sardinia so that young people in the villages would not have to make a choice as to whether to study or continue their family business; they could do both. The knowledge given them through studying at university would empower them to improve and modernise their business in order for it ,not only to survive,but flourish in the modern world. This should not be too difficult to implement nowadays, as most articles and literature are available in PDF; the lectures could be streamed via video link and assignments uploaded to a student portal. The student would only need to go to the university to take exams and for certain seminars or events, but could still live and work in the inland village.

 

The Problem of the ‘Ghost Villages’ in Sardinia

In September there will be a one week course held in a rural community in the centre of Sardinia in which there will be lectures and discussions on the ever increasing problematic of ‘desertification’ of inland remote villages. As part of the application process the organisers asked me to write about what pushed me to sign up for the course and my answer was: will to learn and contribute to the discussion to find good ideas which could be, one day, put into practice.

The problem lies in the fact that communities are getting torn apart from the high levels of unemployment, lack of opportunities and future for the fact that many young people are leaving the villages to move to bigger cities in the island or go to the mainland or in other parts of Europe or the world. If one looks at the number of people who identify themselves as Sardinian I would guess almost half of them are not living in Sardinia. There has been a massive diaspora not due to war or persecution but due to another deadly factor: hunger. This does not merely mean hunger as in food deprivation as our land is fertile and we can be self-sufficient in terms of food production it is mainly hunger for opportunities, not living on the bread line and also getting in contact with the world which is portrayed via the internet and television. This phenomena is not necessarily a bad thing but there is the need, for the sake of preserving part of our identity, to strengthen these rural communities. Question is, how?

I think what is needed is a 5 step plan:

  1. Education
  2. Transport network improvements
  3. Technological improvements
  4. Incentives for start ups and businesses to open or relocate to one of the communities
  5. Better localised social and medical services for the population, especially the elderly.

Details of this plan will be further explained in the linked numbers or articles. Click on one of the five titles to read more about the specific idea to fight desertification of rural communities. If you like share the idea or drop a comment, having a debate and exchanging ideas in the hope that some concrete action takes place in order to reduce or maybe even reverse this phenomena.

Student Traditions

The concept of ‘Student Tradition’ is something that if one asked me a year ago I would never have imagined it being of such importance let alone a possible topic to write one’s dissertation on!

What are these traditions?

They are a series of rituals, costumes and ‘ways of being’ that have distinguished the student population from the ‘normal people’.

In some old universities you can still feel this atmosphere but it is not easy to get into these closed communities and if you are not a student you can see only the outside of it.

J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter captivated the world with beautiful the castle and student traditions songs and rivalries that pick up a lot of authentic traditions in the university world.

My mission is to try to uncover the past of these traditions and comparing the differences between the various universities and the different countries.

Did you have student traditions in your university? What were they like? What did you enjoy most?

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The Concept of ‘Student Nations’


Uppsala is world famous for its particularly awesome student life and what makes it so are ‘Student Nations’.

History:

The nations are student organisations that date back more then 400 years and originally when their function was for older student to support freshmen from their region to settle into life in the ‘university city’. They did this by providing help with accommodation, support and places to socialise (pubs and cafes). ln the past there were more then there are today and each organisation corresponded to a different region in Sweden.

Now 13 student nations still remain, some have merged together and although geographical regions are not that important anymore, you still choose to be member of one of them and someway you identify yourself with the organisation.

Historical photo

Stockholms’ Nation’s Main Hall

What does a nation have?

It depends on its size but generally they each have:

  • A Student Pub where you can find cheap drinks that are taxed less than in normal  laces (you can find beers for £3/€3.50, which in comparison to standard £5 is a bargain).
  • Norrland Nation's Pub
  • Student Club night once a week. Yes, that’s right, just for students so cheaper prices and unlike Saturday nights at ‘Tiger Tiger’ in Manchester, you will not encounter horny lasses celebrating their A-levels 40 years too late…
  • student club
  • Restaurant once a week. A la carte menu with really nice food where you can easily have a 3 course meal for £12 (and food in Sweden is generally more expensive).

Resturant

resturant 2

  • Student Cafe – study lounge:  where you can have hot drinks, milkshakes, sandwiches, salads and delicious pastries all of which is home-made.

cakes

 

  •  Formal dinners once a month (called gasques) where food is particularly  good, everyone dresses-up, there is entertainment during the meal (although most of it is in Swedish so I just nod and pretend to sing-along). Food + drinks + club/after-party  =  300kr (so approx. £30/€35).
Formal dinner

Västgöta Male quire performes as part of the entertainment provided during V.G.’s Gasque (formal dinner) in April 2013 .

  • Sport teams, societies, film-nights, culture nights and so on…
  • Student housing (cheap, good quality, bills included and you don’t have to deal with dick-headed agents who try to capitalise on your misfortune of having signed a contract with them).
  • Library and study area

 Stockholm's Nation's Library

How is all this even possible?

Thanks to the time dedicated by loads of student-volunteers that do not get paid and 4 one-year interns that work weekdays 9-6 in their offices and often even during weekends and get paid minimum wage. Everyone works for the benefit of other students in the ‘students for students’ spirit that should and wise administration of the funds and reinvestment of them in creating benefit for the students.

What do they get?

A great social experience. You meet so many people and interact with them in a different environment from the standard study or party one. Whether you are flipping burgers in the kitchen or pouring shots during the club you have an awesome time.

workers

Staff Dinner at ‘Östgöta Nation’. Once a month, after voluntarily spending a Sunday cleaning the entire venue, all who helped are invited to a 3 course meal with drinks and after-party included, all of which is paid by the nation.

You learn loads and no previous experience needed. From how to make cocktails, to baking pastries, recipes in the kitchen and if your colleague has good tunes on his iPod, you get to broaden your musical repertoire (before working in nations I thought Justin Bieber and Marco Carta were the best artists in the world #mindblowing).

I you have a position of responsibility you have staff discount on all food, drinks and formal dinners,  +1 club-night pass that allows you to skip the cue and get free-entry and earn ‘accommodation points’ that help you work-yourself up the waiting list to get student housing with the nation. You get a point for each semester you are member of the nation and if you take a position of responsibility you get, at least, one extra one per semester (I believe it varies on the level of responsibility and the number of hours you’re required to do every week).

Put stuff on your C.V. This works a treat especially if you hold a position of responsibility instead of being a casual worker.  This is a list of most of them (that I can think of):

–          Club master

–          Pub master

–          Official photographer

–          Magazine Editor

–          International Secretary

–          Bar Manager

–          Librarian

–          Kitchen master

–          Head waiter

–          Breakfast host

–          Lunch host

–          Café host

–          Weekend Brunch host

And I think there may be more..

Could you imagine something similar working in other parts of the world?

I tried to: Click here to read the idea I had to try and improve Manchester’s Student Union.

 

Useful Links (in English):

Student Nation Guide

Uppsala University

Facebook pages of some of the nations:

Stockholm’s

Västgöta’s

Varmland’s

What is Happening?

One afternoon not long ago,

I was walking down the street going from Engleska Parken (humanities campus) to the main library and as I walked people appeared on the side of my path and kept shouting at me trying to hand me flyers, loads where chucked on the ground and similar posters littered the surroundings. Another person went along with a loud radio, 2 guys were walking up and down with a massive sign. This had never happened before! Loads of people were shouting, I could not understand what they were saying, but honestly neither was I interested…

The day was grey, it would not stop raining, a bus driver carelessly sped through a puddle and drenched me in muddy water.

As a consequence my light-coloured trousers were stained, but nobody took much notice, I think… There was a girl with a smartphone in her hands, that might have been taking a picture of me. What if she did?! No doubt I would most liked post on ‘Spotted’..

Once I got to the PC cluster I immediately had to check the all-telling page. Nothing there, possibly a comment could apply to me, but no way to be certain; at least there were no photos!

So many people surrounded me, a feeling of self-conscious paranoia prevailed, as if everyone was judging each other.

I decided I could take it no more and decided to leave.

Outside there was a starless sky, the cold darkness and dampness surrounded me together with a sense of unease and fear, as if something bad was bound to happen.

The people I saw earlier had disappeared instead they had been replaced by others: some were puking; people were pissing on the street;rude, aggressive gorillas were arrogantly perched outside the over-rated club doors like giant gargoyles…

You get the picture?

Soon after, a group of blokes in hoodies with glass bottles in their hands congregated.

They glared at me, why?

I did not know…

They started to edge closer and closer, I felt powerless, so I started running, panic stricken I ran and ran but couldn’t keep going…

They started punching and kicking me;

What did they want from me?

I gave them my phone, my wallet, my bank cards, the pin codes and even my jacket but still they didn’t stop…

What more could they want?

I gave them all I had but they kept punching and kicking me, angrily, as if I had something they could not have.

The final blow was strong, I lost my balance and whilst I fell I realised that what I had was ‘hope’, a ray of light that maybe one day I might succeed in building myself a bright future, as I want it, something they all didn’t have and by hurting me and depriving me of my belongings maybe they wanted me to be the same as them…

My heart was beating fast, I kept on falling for a surprisingly long time, I wondered when I would reach the ground, then with an odd sense of relief I hit the pavement.

Press Play on The YouTube Video for musical background.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZxq3cn5ppc]

My Student Room

I jolted up and as I opened my eyes, a ray of sun-light blinded me. I saw the familiar east-facing window with the half-open blinds, I realised…

It was all just a dream Alex, nothing but a nightmare. You are still in Uppsala, it is nowhere near and nothing like the gorgeous city in which you normally live and study.

This fictional dream is dedicated to the ‘Manchester Study Abroad Team’ that are doing an AMAZING job in encouraging students to take the opportunity to go on exchange somewhere in the world, far far away from the charming city I know and love.

 

Cuppa Soup

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Nothing better then a hot cup of tomato soup to keep you going, whilst desperately trying to write an essay (last minute, what a surprise!).

Here in Uppsala most of the university shuts at 8pm and even the main library is shut by 9pm. The only part that remains open are the corridors of the buildings which are equipped with study areas, computer clusters vending machines and also kitchenettes!

Not a security guard to be seen, no visible CCTV camera. This really makes me think about how lost Swedes would be, the moment they stop trusting one another..