Sweden in brief
Sweden is a modern and multicultural country in northern Europe, with a long-standing tradition of welcoming international students from all over the world. It is the third largest country in the European Union by area, with a modest population of 10 million. Sweden is often described in terms of contrasts: ground-breaking innovation and historical traditions; individual ambition and a strong sense of community; magnificent countryside and modern cities.
Five things you need to know about Swedes and Sweden
Winter is coming
If you want to strike up a conversation with a Swede, talking about the weather is always a safe bet. The thought of making the most of the daylight is always on a Swede’s mind, visiting the closest park for a picnic or a game of football as soon as the clouds part. And in a country with such varying climate, every season offers something new to see and do.
The academic year at KTH starts in September together with the arrival of autumn. The temperature drops to around 8 degrees and nature puts on a magical display of colours, changing from green to yellow and red. This is the perfect time to get to know your new classmates over a cup of tea and a cinnamon bun in one of Stockholm’s many cafés. As Christmas approaches, so do the cold and cosy winter months. The darkness can be quite a shock for first-timers, but the landscape lights up as the first snow falls. Swedes have almost 50 words for snow, which can be quite useful when hitting the slopes or building a snow lantern.
Although the winter may seem long, when spring arrives around Easter it will be worth the wait. Nature starts to return to green as the snow melts and people fill the streets. Enjoying a long walk in the forest or a drink at an open-air café might almost seem mandatory at this time of year. Spring quickly turns into summer as the end of the semester approaches. As soon as the temperature hits 25 °C, all Swedes shed their clothes and head for the nearest beach. The days are long as the sun barely dips below the horizon in the evening, setting the scene for memorable summer nights.
Getting to know a Viking
Swedes have a reputation for not being the most outgoing people, and the main reason might be the country’s historical seclusion in the north. Around fourteen thousand years ago the first settlers came to Sweden as the ice cap covering the Scandinavian Peninsula melted. Pre-historic ages, the Viking era, Christianisation, kingdoms and industrialism passed as these settlers made their way into modern society. During the last century, Sweden has gone from being among the poorest nations in Europe to being a prosperous welfare nation.
Today, Swedes are exploring the world and different cultures as Sweden itself has turned into an open and multicultural society, with almost one fifth of its population having roots in other countries. Still, the Swedes can be perceived as a bit reserved and it may take some time to get to know them, but once you do you will find them as friendly and warm as anyone else. Most Swedes speak excellent English, although learning Swedish is a great way of meeting new people.
Tradition of innovation
Even though Sweden is a small country, home to just 0.13 per cent of the global population, it is a world leader in innovation, ranked number 2 in the Global Innovation Index 2019. Sweden’s entrepreneurial spirit is fuelled by a historic tradition of inventors, a supportive start-up culture, and a close collaboration between research and industry. In addition to being the origin of companies such as IKEA, Ericsson and H&M, Sweden is also the birthplace of life-changing innovations.
One billion car passengers have been kept safe by the three-point seatbelt since its launch by Volvo in 1959. The modern pacemaker keeps one million hearts beating across the world, as music streaming service Spotify drops the beat for over 500 million listeners globally. Sweden is also the world’s number one exporter of chart music in relation to GDP, and home to classic acts like ABBA and Roxette, as well as modern pop heroines Icona Pop and Zara Larsson.
One for all, all for one
Sweden is a free and open society, with a tradition of trying to provide equal opportunities for everyone. All Swedish citizens are entitled to basic social security through the tax-financed welfare system. This means that the state is responsible for all or most of the costs related to education and healthcare, for example. Apart from social security, Swedes have the right to take part in demonstrations, freedom of speech, a free press and the right to scrutinise those in power. In fact, Sweden became the first country in the world to write freedom of the press into its constitution in 1766.
Equality in general – and gender equality in particular – is another cornerstone of Swedish society, aiming to ensure that women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life. Sweden is well on its way, being ranked as the fourth most gender equal country in the world in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. The 480 days of paid parental leave to which Swedes are entitled are shared between the parents, so expect to see a lot more men walking strollers than in most other countries.
The grass is greener
Recycling is so sacred to Swedes that it might almost seem to be a religion. Swedes recycle an impressive 90 percent of all drinks cans and bottles at the recycling machines found in every grocery store. From a young age Swedes are taught to protect nature by keeping it clean, and to save on energy and resources in order to limit their impact on the environment. Today, Sweden is considered one of the greenest countries in the world, making environmental technology a growing export industry. One example is in the area of waste management where, thanks to innovative solutions, only one percent of municipal solid waste is put into landfills.
Transportation is another big challenge being tackled. Trains in Sweden are mainly powered by renewable electricity from hydropower or wind power, producing minimal emissions. The newest trams in the sustainable city of Stockholm run on green energy and are at least 98 percent recyclable, and the fleet of green busses runs on biogas and ethanol. Carrying your recycling to the nearest recycling station may be an effort, but staying hydrated is both easy and free of charge, as Sweden has one of the cleanest and most refreshing tap water supplies in the world.