Can you survive winter in Umeå?

Annamaria

Written by Annamaria

31 Jan 2024

Winter in the north of Sweden has a confusing reputation. Is it a winter wonderland or a scary freezing nightmare? To find out for you, I interviewed Johi, a brave student from the Czech Republic doing her Master’s in International Business at Umeå University. Curious what does Johi think of studying in the north? Well, read on… 😎

Reindeer
Photo: Jörgen Wiklund/imagebank.sweden.se

So Johi, how did you end up in Sweden and particularly in Umeå?

The school system in the Czech Republic is quite bad, at least for me, so when I was applying for universities, I looked for countries that have a different approach to education – and that’s how I decided to go to Sweden! I came to Umeå specifically for the programme that I am studying which I liked much more than programmes offered in other parts of Sweden, but also because I wanted to experience life so far up north – be it the long winters that are so widely unpopular or the bright summers that everyone loves so much. It’s something really unique, and since I had the opportunity, I wanted to take it.

A girl in the snow.
Photo: Johana

What were some of the challenges you encountered while in Umeå (or before coming) and what advice would you give someone to overcome them?

Accommodation

A lot of people have an issue with accommodation, but I think this can be very easily avoided. Student accommodation for fee-paying students is guaranteed through our international housing office, but I am from the EU – which means I don’t pay fees, and at the same time, accommodation isn’t guaranteed for me. For us, the easiest way to get a room is through a company called Bostaden. The waiting line for regular student dorms with a shared kitchen is around three to four months – so, if you join the waiting line when you apply for Umeå University, you will most definitely be fine! Signing up for the Bostaden line is free, so it doesn’t matter if you make an account and never end up coming!

Street covered with snow.
Photo: Annamaria

Weather

Weather is, of course, something a lot of people worry about. I think the biggest issue is not knowing what to expect. You have no idea what clothes to bring and what the crazy low temperatures even feel like. I tried to bring a lot of clothes from home because I thought it would be cheaper, but this wasn’t a good strategy. I’ve found that winter gear is less expensive here than it is in the Czech Republic, and it makes sense because here it is an everyday necessity. If your first semester is the autumn semester, then I think your body will have enough time to adjust, and you will manage to find clothes that suit you! Other than that, just make sure to take vitamin D. 😉

Two girls on a walk.
Photo: Johana

Finding friends

Umeå is a true student town, so finding friends is not that difficult. Many international and exchange students are here to make friends, so as long as you talk to people in class and go out from time to time, I’m sure you will be fine. Most students also share a kitchen with others in their dorm, and this is a great place to meet new people. If you’re not very social, make sure to sign up for the buddy programme! This is hands down the easiest way to make friends. You will be grouped with maybe 5 to 10 Swedish students and 30-40 internationals. The Swedish students will organise fun activities which is a great way to not only meet new people but also get to know the city and the Swedish culture better!

How do you like living in Umeå and the university?

City

Umeå is fairly small – there are around 130 000 people here, and around 30% of them are students! That’s a crazy number. If you look at a map, you will see that Umeå is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s surrounded by forests and nature. This is amazing because you can do so many nature activities all year round. There is also incredibly fresh air, which is amazing for focusing on studying. 😉 But it’s also a small student town, so when you want to go out, there’s almost always something happening very near your place (everything is kind of near).

University building
Umeå University. Photo: Annamaria

University

The university is incredible! It’s a huge complex a bit away from the city centre. Everything besides the design and arts building is in the same spot, and all the buildings are connected by tunnels or corridors so you don’t have to go outside when the weather is really bad! We have a nice and cosy library that you can go study to. If you have a group project to do, you can also easily book a group room for free! The teachers here are very friendly and helpful. We always do one course at a time with one exam at the end of it, which I love, because I don’t have to do 20 different exams at once like we do in Czechia. There is a lot of focus on group work and hands-on projects, which is great because I learn a lot more than I do by memorising things for an exam.

Anything you don’t like?

I actually kind of hate the summer here. The temperature is fine, around 20 degrees Celsius, but I hate that it’s light ALL THE TIME. I can’t sleep well and in general, it’s just much more difficult for my body to adapt to it than it is to winter. People always talk about how difficult the winter here is, but nobody mentions that summer can be crazy too. I know more people who also prefer the winter darkness over the summer light. I think it’s different in the south of Sweden, because there you get at least a short night, but here, we get no night at all. It can be quite uncomfortable and difficult to keep a schedule.

Northern Lights
Photo: Johana

Would you recommend others to come study in Umeå?

I think Umeå is actually a pretty perfect study destination. You can have calm and peace when you need it for studying, but you also have events happening all the time since there are so many students. There is an incredibly international environment which is such a valuable experience for anyone because you get to interact with people from all over the world. You can learn to understand their views of the world and their culture better. It’s also good for networking. 😉 Living so far up north is also definitely a special and very unique experience. For example, you can see the Northern Lights almost every night! These are things that set Umeå apart from the other popular student towns in Sweden.

Annamaria

Written by Annamaria

31 Jan 2024