7 Things You Didn’t Know About Sweden – as Told by an Exchange Student

I’m currently in Stockholm, Sweden completing my Master’s Thesis in BioScience Enterprise. As an exchange student you are immersed in a new country and learn a lot of things first hand.
Here are some things I’ve learned about Sweden during my time here so far:

Summer Break – over summer, Stockholm empties out as the Swedes take advantage of their short but sweet summer. They head off to their summer houses or Southern Europe or anywhere but Stockholm! There are so few local people that some bars and restaurants even close over summer. When I arrived at the end of June I practically had the office to myself – and it wasn’t until mid-August that everyone had returned. 

IKEA – IKEA is amazing. And enormous. After having to furnish my room, I was glad to find it full of cheap homewares that fit within the student budget. Not only that, they have a restaurant where you can get a full meal of meatballs, peas & potatoes for NZD$6! Who doesn’t love cheap food and tea towels?!

Fika – Fika is an important tradition in Sweden. With no direct English translation, fika is taken to mean “to have a coffee”. It’s often accompanied by a sweet treat and is a way of taking a break from the daily happenings to catch up with a friend or colleague. Fika can happen any time of the day when necessary – it’s more about the socialising than the coffee. 

Kanelbullar – if Sweden had a signature smell, it’d be Kanelbullar for sure.  These cinnamon buns are an important part of Swedish culture and are a popular fika treat. They aren’t nearly as sweet as an American version but they are certainly delicious! There is even have a national day dedicated to them (October 4th if you were wondering…). 

Lollies – The Swedes love their sweets and the pick’n’mix section in Swedish supermarkets is particularly impressive. Sour, sweet, chocolate & fudge – whatever your favourite indulgence they’ve probably got it! A Swedish sweet of choice is “salty liquorice” – I’m certainly not a fan, but my Swedish friends can’t get enough of it. 

Exercise - they may love their sweets but luckily they also love their exercise! Biking is a favourite mode of transport - there are over 760km of bike lanes in Stockholm so it’s easy to bike almost anywhere in the city. There are also numerous running clubs and on the weekend if the sun is out, you can bet there will be many a jogger hitting the streets to enjoy good weather. 

Languages – English is compulsory in schools in Sweden so many Swedes speak near perfect English! Many people that I’ve met also speak 3, 4 or even 5 languages which totally amazes me. It definitely makes me want to break out that 7th form Spanish book and brush up. 

I have been having the most amazing time away in Sweden and it has truly been a life-changing experience.  As Ryan said on his blog post earlier this year – if you have the chance to go on exchange, DO IT! There’s no better way to learn more about yourself, experience a new place and meet new people from all over the world (while also furthering your education ;) ).

It’s getting colder here now – wish me luck with the Swedish winter!