Congratulations for all of you who got a place to study in Sweden! Here are some tips to help you get started with life in this beautiful Nordic country:
1. Take note of your course outlines—you might be able to skip some lessons
Your course outlines are not just about formalities; they contain important information on how assessments are going to take place.
Swedish education places a strong focus on interactivity and self-exploration. Group discussions and projects are the norm, without model answers.
In the course outline, some lessons are marked as assessment moments (usually seminars, workshops or projects) which are mandatory to attend. If you skip these lessons, you need to arrange for a supplementary session/homework with your teacher. Other lessons are usually not mandatory to attend and can be skipped. Of course, it’s always a nice idea to communicate with your teacher if you have to skip many lessons.
Exams (tentamen, in short tenta; examen in Swedish specifically means graduation assessment) are often centrally arranged by the university, with examination halls and ID checks. Some courses may use computer exams on-site, which requires you to install a special exam programme in your laptop (it locks your computer screen to the exam paper). Take home exams and essays are also common in lieu of physical exams.
Failed exams can be retaken by itself, without retaking all the lessons. Some (like Karolinska institutet) limit the number of retakes at 5, others (like University of Gothenburg) offer an unlimited number of retakes.
Many universities in Sweden have resumed lessons on campus, some with the option of participating online. Always remember, however, to confirm your course registration on your university intranet (or you risk losing your place).
Discuss with your programme coordinator on anything related to your studies.
2. Joining the student union might give you some privileges, even if not mandatory
In some universities (like Chalmers) it’s mandatory to join the student union. But even when it’s not mandatory, it’s still a good idea.
For example, in the Stockholm area you need to be a member of a student union to be eligible for SSSB student housing (the queue is long though—if you still haven’t got housing now, find Blocket or in the worst case, you can live in a youth hostel).
Student unions also provide many exciting activities, and can often expedite your Mecenat card application, which is necessary for student discounts in shops and on public transportation. Other useful student discounts include coffee (see below). Gyms (which are not provided on campus) also provide student discounts, costing from around 200 kronor to 600 kronor a month.
Of course, the choice is up to you, and in some cases it might not be necessary to join a student union at all. Check what applies at your university.
Of note is the nation system in the universities of Uppsala and Lund (formerly also in Gothenburg). Historically for students from the same Swedish provinces or cities, they now act more like clubs which students from any country can join.
3. Save on coffee
Cheap coffee (besides making your own) can easily be obtained in Sweden. Pressbyrån provides discounted coffee to students (with additional discount for bringing your own mug), and a buy-5-get-1-free stamp card.
Coffee often comes free with lunch sets, including in some university canteens. A canteen lunch set costs around 60 to 70 kronor (sometimes cheaper), while a normal restaurant lunch set costs around 80 to 130 kronor.
4. You might not need a monthly bus ticket—buy a bike instead
Although an SL ticket, for example, is still useful if you life in the outlying suburbs of Stockholm—chances are you don’t even need to take buses or trains at all.
It’s convenient to ride a bike in all the Swedish cities, so it’s a better idea to invest a few thousand kronor upfront on a bike, than to spend money every month on a monthly bus ticket (for example, a student monthly ticket with SL costs more than 600 kronor). As an added benefit, you can work as a food courier.
Be prepared though—Stockholm is a city of hills and mounts so it could be a physical challenge to cycle every day. Many people also rent scooters, or buy an electric bike if they’re willing to spend more.
Other opportunities to save money include buying second hand items in shops like Stadsmissionen, or flea markets (loppmarknad, in short loppis). A fast food meal can be bought at minimum 38 kronor at the Swedish fast food chain MAX (mini-meal including small hamburger, small fries and small drink). A normal fast food meal costs around 70 to 90-odd kronor at Burger King, MAX and McDonalds.
5. Boots are useful, even if not in Gothenburg
I’m singling out Gothenburg because it’s the wettest major city in Sweden, where people say the weather is always raining at 8°C, and where mushrooms are aplenty.
But even in drier cities like Stockholm, boots are still a good idea for winter because Swedish temperatures often hover around 0°C, which means snow is often found as sludge (half-melted).
6. Learn how to count week numbers
It’s very important to learn how to count week numbers (weeks start on Monday) if you live in Sweden. Even if it’s standardised internationally, Sweden seems to be one of the few countries to use week numbers in a pervasive, omnipresent manner—many Swedes will quote week numbers instead of the exact date.
7. Learn Swedish for free—inside and outside university
Your university will probably provide non-credit Swedish lessons, but it’s not the only choice for studying Swedish.
You can register for Svenska för invandrare (SFI) at your home municipality (the one where you registered your address) for free. It’s open to all residents at or above 16 years of age, who are not citizens of Sweden, Denmark or Norway.
Most jobs require Swedish proficiency, although English jobs are common (with fierce competition) in industries like tech.
Good luck on your studies and enjoy your life in Sweden!