Survival Guide for Winter Erasmus in the North
You are going on Erasmus in winter and have no idea what to expect? Then read this article if you want to get prepared for your next adventure in life!
How to turn your winter Erasmus semester into a fairytale?
Usually, people associate a typical student exchange semester with parties, hot weather, late night skinny dipping and watching the sunrise with your other fellow exchange students. That certainly applies if you go on Erasmus in a warmer season, but what happens if you decide to take on a winter adventure? And not just any winter exchange in any place in Europe but in the Nordic countries? I can tell you that it is the most amazing experience one can dream of!
Many of you may think that a winter exchange in Sweden, Norway, Finland or another Nordic country equals frozen toes, eternal coldness and the necessity to wear five layers of your thickest clothes. I can assure you that all this is absolutely not… entirely true! Indeed, you will need to buy a couple of dozen sweaters and medicine but it is totally worth it!
Now seriously, is there a better way to create a winter fairytale, drink a lot of hot chocolate and spend plenty of cozy time with your Erasmus buddies than to spend a semester in the heart of Santa Claus’s natural habitat? Norden (as the North is called in Swedish) can offer you a great variety of activities that would make your stay unforgettable and definitely one of a kind.
A year ago, I was just like you - hesitant, uncertain, unclear about where I was going. But it was just that slight fear that drove me into my biggest life adventure so far.
When I arrived to Sweden, the days were short and the nights were long. It was dark pretty much throughout the whole day. I remember how on the first day of the Welcome Week, local students told us that if we were lucky we would have 3-4 days of sunlight until the end of the semester. What we actually got was plenty of sun, green fields and swans swimming in the lakes. But before we reached those kinds of weather conditions, we had to go through three long and quite dark months. Do you know what a typical Scandinavian person does in winter? So now, let me introduce to you my personal tips on spending an amazing winter semester in the homeland of Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Longstocking or any other Nordic country!
1. Light a candle!
Yes, it is that simple! Not only will you have a bit more light (which, believe me, is crucial in January-February), but it will also contribute to a better mood and atmosphere in your new home. You can buy a whole stack of candles from the well-known IKEA!
2. Have a fika!
Fika is a special word that refers to a great extent to the way Swedes live their lives. It describes that moment when you chill out with your friends over a cup of warm coffee and cinnamon buns or other Swedish sweets. You can have fika everywhere: during a work break, at home, at a coffee shop, around the lake, on the lake, in the lake… yes, there are a lot of options.
3. Walk, skate or bike on a lake!
As I mentioned lakes, that is another very important part of your winter adventure.
Due to low temperatures, lakes tend to freeze and the surface becomes so frozen that you can actually walk, skate or bike on it. I know that sounds dangerous, but as long as you are careful, you can easily walk on it. For me, it was the first time I had ever walked on ice in my life and the feeling I got from this has been stuck in my head ever since.
It may sound like something simple but if you have never tried it, it would feel as if you have achieved or overcome something big. It makes you feel as if you are conquering the world! And imagine how funny it would be after that to swim in spring in the unfrozen lake when you know that you have walked on it. You will totally get that Scandinavian vibe!
4. Learn some of the local language
As you will probably have plenty of free time besides your studies, you can make some use of it and indulge yourself in learning some basics of the local language! This way, you will be able to greet your neighbors and show off with your upgraded language skills in front of your friends back home when you return. From my experience, Swedish pronunciation is a hell of a challenge, but you should not miss giving it a try with its phonetics, who knows maybe you are a natural talent and you will learn to say smörgåsbord (Swedish buffet) correctly.
5. Meet the locals
After you have mastered the local language, it is time to meet its native speakers. I know you have heard and read a lot about how difficult it is to get in touch, literally, with Scandinavian people, but if you go down the narrow path it will surely take you to your final destination. What I want to say is that communication with people coming from backgrounds different from what you have known so far is always tricky, but we are all human beings, so you just need some time to understand them. I can assure you that Scandinavians are lovely, polite and caring and once you forget about what you have heard and just listen to your inner core you will have no problem discussing with them how bad weather doesn’t exist, only bad clothes!
To sum up, I want to underline that an Erasmus exchange is a lifetime experience no matter the place you choose to do it in. But as this article is all about spending five months of your life in a place situated on the edge of Europe, I must say that there are many ways of turning this experience into the “hottest and brightest” one! Just put on your warm sweater, grab a cup of coffee and say hej to your Scandinavian neighbours!
Starting my path as a volunteer in the network, I was more than thrilled to discover that ESN does not only stand for parties and drinks. In fact, it is so much more.