Hi there! My name is Casley Rowan and I have just arrived at Uppsala University in Sweden for my exchange semester.

Uppsala is a beautiful university town about 40 minutes north of Stockholm by train. It’s not dissimilar to Canberra in the sense that it is a very student focused city and the university is really the life and soul of the town. The university is intertwined within the city, so you can’t really tell where the university begins or ends.

A beautiful little canal runs through the “Centrum” and main attractions of Uppsala Castle and Uppsala Cathedral are visible from almost every angle. Because Uppsala welcomes around 3000 international students at the beginning of the autumn semester, the university’s “Welcome Week” is very organized, with lots of great events being held to familiarize new students with Swedish culture and university life.

I arrived early on Saturday the 24th of August and was greeted by an Uppsala University shuttle bus at the airport, which transported us straight to campus. This was such a relief, as after 28 hours of travel, I was feeling quite delirious! The bus took as to an administration building, where staff and students helped us with logging into the online student portal, collecting our accommodation keys and explained the concept of a “Student Nation”. This is a really unique part of university life in Sweden, particularly in Uppsala. Students tend not to live in “college” like accommodation but rather are involved in university life through their “nation”.

There are 13 different nations, all representing different regions of Sweden, however you can join whichever nation you’d like- they are not exclusive. Each nation has a beautiful old building where they have a bar, café, study spaces, a big ballroom/dancefloor and is a perfect place for students to come and hang out. I believe your nation sort of becomes your ‘home away from home’. You can even work at the nation and its easy to become involved in anything from sport teams, drama productions and choirs to attending formal dinner parties and weekly club nights.

During ‘Welcome Week’, all the nations put on events which everyone can attend, which allows students to understand the general vibe of each nation and decide which they would like to be a part of. All throughout September, each nation holds different events for their new members including a ‘gasque’, which is the word for a formal dinner. These dinners are a chance to dress up, sing and dance and meet new people.

By far the highlight of my own ‘Welcome Week’ however has been getting involved with the ‘Recce Week’ which is run by each faculty of the university. It took me a bit of time to work this out. On the first Monday of ‘Welcome Week’, I noticed a lot of Swedish students walking around the city in teams, all wearing strange outfits and matching t-shirts and singing and dancing. I noticed that a lot of these teams had tote bags with “Law Faculty” written in Swedish, and because I am studying law subjects on my exchange, this was something I really wanted to get involved in. I will admit that Swedish people can be quite intimidating before you get to know them, so I really had to work up some courage to ask someone what was going on and whether I could get involved. I finally found a lovely Swedish girl who gave me the phone number of one of the Law Faculty Committee Members, who I then contacted. Fast forward to 9am the next morning and I had been placed in a team with other “reccers” – the Swedish word for “freshers”. I became part of a group of about 20 other Swedish law students and for the rest of the week, our team has been led by a group of amazing team leaders (later year students) on various missions, tasks and activities, all with the aim of breaking down barriers and introducing people to new friends.

It’s a very intense and high energy week – the Swedes start singing and dancing at 9am! It has been without a doubt the best thing I could have signed up for, and even though I really had to put myself out there to get involved, and despite being the only international student on any of the teams, the Swedes could not have been more welcoming and inclusive. Luckily, Swedes speak absolutely perfect English and they actually enjoy practicing their English and are happy to translate everything for me. If there is one thing I could recommend on any exchange it would be to really throw yourself into the first week, as this is when a lot of your friends for the whole semester will be made. International students tend to gravitate to other international students as they seem less daunting, but I personally knew I really wanted to meet actual Swedish people as well as other internationals, and so far, this has been really successful!

I can’t wait to experience more of Uppsala in the coming weeks, especially while the autumn weather is still warm and everyone is out and about enjoying the sun. My classes start on the 3rd of September and I am looking forward to getting back into study as well.