Winter is Coming

22 January 2019

Explore Sweden in our first European blog by George Ferguson, a Scandanavian Studies student at Uppsala Universitet!

Winter is coming

Dear reader,

This is a report, or rather, a telling (berättelse) about my first few months in the cold, dark North – Sweden. I have been here for exactly 76 days now and have experienced many highs and lows from the get-go, ranging from trekking in the mountains to having a complete cultural meltdown.

On my first day in Sweden I had a real nightmare with getting to my accommodation. Being used to the convenience of London’s public transport and being able to take the tube or bus, at any time - every few minutes, I mistakenly caused myself a lot of unnecessary hassle and back-ache. Lugging 2 20kg suitcases behind me, I had to walk for 40 minutes in the rain, uphill, to find my new house (surrounded by scaffolding and building works). Needless to say, I wasn’t very amused. However, after exploring the area and the forest by my house, and of course the beautiful city of Uppsala, I was quickly recompensed. A little advice to anyone planning on coming to a Nordic country (or just anywhere that isn’t like London really) – research how far away your accommodation, plan for the journey properly and take into account how much stuff you have with you!

Sadly, the academic side of my year abroad has not been very stimulating thus far. Uppsala University is very different from UCL, and indeed the entire Swedish system in general. Everything seems very simple and laid back here, which may be good to hear for some people, but for me…all it breeds is laziness. The classes I have chosen (Swedish spoken and written improvement and Northern Sami language) are incredibly easy to the point that some of the things we have gone over I went over during high school. The Swedish system is very different, whereby one takes a course for a couple of months and then takes the exam at the end, usually one or two courses at any one given time. Personally I find this system to be rather ineffective in terms of learning as one gets less time to delve deeply into a subject. The examination system is also very mediocre and, seemingly, a bit pointless. You can take the exams as many times as you like (so I believe) without any kind of penalty or punishment, which really hasn’t motivated me to revise in any way. In hopes of remedying this, I have chosen courses that are more similar to courses at home for next term (Icelandic, Old Norse, Historic religion), one of these being a masters level course. With luck, this may be challenging enough to give me a kick and get me in the right mindset again. Regardless, I am missing UCL.

On a more positive note, the nature of the North is astounding. A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Lillehammer in Norway and spent a few days hiking around the fells and fjords, living in a little red log cabin at the top of the valley. I was very reluctant to leave. I also took a cruise to Latvia, and am going on another one from Stockholm to Estonia in November. It’s really easy to travel around Scandinavia and the Baltics from here in Uppsala, with Stockholm only being one hour away and the long distance buses from Uppland and the capital region being incredibly cheap.

Apart from surrounding myself in natural splendor, I spend most of my time with a Catholic student group at my local church. It’s been great attending mass in Swedish and has really helped my language abilities. My group is also very international so I have been able to learn a lot about other countries that previously I’d barely even heard of. One positive (ish) thing about Swedish society is that it’s very gentle and laid back. Whilst I feel like this is a really hindering factor for productivity, it is nice to have a lot of free time to hang out with people and just go and actually do things.

The weather is getting pretty cold now and I reckon it will start snowing soon enough, so I’ve started to don the huge Game of Thrones style coat now. The days are growing shorter very quickly. That being said, I can’t wait to go and make a snowman again!

Med vänliga hälsningar,


By George Ferguson