The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Sweden

International students make up almost a tenth of Stockholm's total university student population, with many more across the rest of the country, and the experience is likely to stick with you for the rest of your life. Here are the words and phrases you'll need to navigate Swedish student life and make the most of your time here.

The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Sweden
File photo of a student at the National Library of Sweden. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

When you first begin at university, the term starts with nollning, which means something like 'zeroing'. It's the equivalent of British Freshers Week and US orientation, where the nollor ('zeroes' or new students) are initiated into university life. This involves a range of events organized by older students, which often include wearing the studentoverall (student overalls/boilersuit) and sometimes a rite of passage such as jumping in a lake or singing a song.

Some universities have their own unique words for first-year students, such as novisch at Lund and recentior or recce at many institutions.


After that, the termin (term or semester) properly begins. Don't be confused by the word semester, which means 'holiday'. Take a look at your schema (course schedule) and kursplan (course syllable) to find out when you have föreläsningar (lectures) and which are the obligatoriskt moment (compulsory elements) in your course.

And finally, you've probably heard the stereotype of Swedes arriving exactly on time for everything. But students should familiarize themselves with the akademisk kvart (academic quarter), a tradition that means most lectures or events start at 15 minutes past the hour. This dates back to a time when the hourly church bells served as a warning that students had 15 minutes to make it to class.


Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/


You might be confused when you first hear that most Swedish students live in a korridor (corridor) but don't worry, this doesn't mean they actually sleep in the hallway. The set-up is similar to university halls in the UK: students live in a private room (you won't have a roommate), and share kitchens with other students whose rooms are on the same corridor.


Instead of receiving percentage marks or grades, your work will usually simply be given one of the following classifications: underkänd, godkänd or väl godkänd (fail, pass, pass with distinction).

When speaking to teachers, in Sweden you'll usually use their first names. It's also helpful to know a few of the terms used for different members of the faculty: the prefekt is the head of department; the studievägledare is the study advisor who can assist you in choosing which courses to pursue; a professor is of course a professor, but you'll also encounter a lektor or adjunkt, both of which mean 'lecturer', but an adjunkt may not have a doctorate. And a handledare is a supervisor, especially for doctorate students.


You may also want to find out about the studentkår (student union), which works to protect the interests of students and should offer you support if you get into any difficulties.

Photo: Sofia Sabel/


It's not all work and no play: there's plenty to do as an international student in Sweden.

At many Swedish universities, social life revolves around nationer (nations), which are student organizations you sign up to in order to attend their regular events through the semester or year. They are named after different historical provinces of Sweden and traditionally students would join the one representing their hometown, but these days you can choose based on size and the events on offer.

There are other activities on offer, such as joining a sportförening (sports club) where you can take part in a favourite sport or learn a new Swedish one: innebandy (floorball) or orientering (orienteering: the English word comes from the Swedish), anyone? And even if you're not a fan of exercise, there's no excuse not to participate in the Swedish friluftsliv, which literally means 'open air life' and refers to making the most of the outdoors, from barbecues to long walks in the forest.


Photo: Tina Stafren/

At least some of your socializing will probably revolve around fika (coffee and cake – call it a pluggfika or 'study fika' if you'll also be cracking out the textbook) or drinks, either at a korridorfest (dorm party) or a bar. When it comes to fika, it's worth looking for places that offer free coffee refills (gratis påtår) if you plan on hunkering down for the afternoon with your laptop. And two crucial bits of vocabulary for bars: afterwork (referring to after-work drinks, which usually means discounts at city centre spots) and skål! (cheers – remember to look everyone in the eye as you say it).

Be aware of Sweden's laws around alcohol purchase and consumption, which might be surprising if your home country has more lenient legislation. You need to be 18 to buy alcohol at a pub or bar, and some places have their own age limits which might be a bit higher, so be ready to show your legitimation (ID) or leg for short. To purchase alcohol at the state-run monopoly Systembolaget, you need to be at least 20 years old.


When it comes to ordering your drinks, here are some useful phrases to have up your sleeve: en stor stark (literally 'a big strong', referring to a large lager beer), husets rött/vitt (the house red/white wine), en lättöl (a low-alcohol beer, for those evenings when you want to take it easy). Just make sure you don't turn up to lectures bakis (hungover).

QUIZ: How many words from the Swedish university exam do you know?


We'll start with the weirdest: the Flogstavrål (Flogsta scream or roar). Students in the Flogsta area of Uppsala open their windows and let out a scream, each week at precisely 10pm on Tuesday (because Swedes are organized and efficient even when it comes to letting out their angst). No one really knows when or why this tradition began, but it's been going on for at least 40 years.

You'll also hear it at many other student areas, where it might be named after the local student residence, such as Lund's Delphivrål, or simply called the tioskrik or elvavrål (the ten o'clock scream or the eleven o'clock roar). Listen to it in all its glory in the video below.

The biggest student night of the year is Valborg (Walpurgis) on April 30th, an evening of bonfires (valborgsbål or majbrasor) and merriment just before the big exam season. Part of the celebration sees students don their student caps (studentmössa) in a special ceremony.


As a student there are savings to be made. Look out for the magic words studentrabatt (student discount) or ungdomsrabatt (young person's discount) to cut costs on everything from food to concert tickets. To be eligible for the former, you may well need a studentkort (student card).

You'll probably want to download payment app Swish if you have a Swedish phone number and bank account: this allows you to send money to other app users, whether that's when you're splitting the bill with friends or buying secondhand furniture at a loppis (flea market). The app is so widely used in Sweden that it has become a verb, as in kan du swisha mig? (can you send me the money via Swish?)


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


INTERVIEW: International students ‘vulnerable’ to Swedish housing shortages

People moving to Malmö to study now have to wait as long as a year to receive accommodation, Milena Milosavljević, the president of the Student Union in the city, has told The Local. The situation, she says, is "urgent and acute".

INTERVIEW: International students 'vulnerable' to Swedish housing shortages

The Sofa Project, run by the Student Union Malmö, received 80 applications this year from students who wanted to rent short-term accommodation, showing just how acute the current housing shortage is.

These 80 applicants were vying for one of seven spots, ranging from a spare room to a sofa bed – from hosts who sign up to offer their spaces to new arrivals.  As the programme only had seven hosts registered this year, the project had to close its application page to others, otherwise the number would have surpassed 80.

“They are ready to come to Malmö and sleep on a sofa bed at a stranger’s house before they find accommodation,” Milosavljević told The Local. 

Malmö recently received a red designation from the Swedish National Union of Students, which publishes an annual report assessing the housing situation in university towns and cities across Sweden. A red designation means that finding suitable accommodation as a student takes more than one semester. The report found that 61 percent of students live in a city that has been designated a red ranking.

READ ALSO: Sweden’s student union warns that housing shortages are back this semester

“The reality of Malmö and the reason why it became red is that to find suitable accommodation you have to wait up to a year,” Milosavljević said.

Some individuals, she said might have to wait up to three years to find their own accommodation, making do with second-hand contracts, long commutes, and living with family members in the meantime. For newly-arrived international students, who lack personal numbers when they move here and so cannot join Swedish housing queues, looking for suitable housing becomes a complex task.

“International students are more vulnerable because they don’t have a personal number to enter the system before they come to Sweden,” Milosavljević explained.

Milosavljević herself moved to Malmö as an international, fee-paying student. Because she paid tuition, she was offered housing by Malmö University. Based in part on her own experience, Milosavljević explained that the housing issue cannot be reduced to a shortage in the number of flats and rooms. There is also a shortage of appropriate housing options for different needs.

“They offered me accommodation in a student building,” she said. “Not an apartment, but a room – and I came with my husband. The room was not enough for two of us.”

Student accommodation must accommodate the different needs of different members of the student body, Milosavljević said, including those who move with partners or spouses, or even with their children.

In the past year, one new student apartment building was built in Malmö, with 94 new spaces for the city’s student body. This is inadequate, Milosavljević said. While Malmö is growing, and there is residential construction being carried out around the city, it is unclear how many of those new buildings will prioritise the city’s student population.

The city’s student population, too, is growing. As the pandemic era ended in Sweden, students returned to campus. And new students joined them. While student ranks grew, housing options remained stagnant.

“From our perspective from the Student Union, we have talked about, in the previous years, how the situation after the pandemic is going to get even worse for the students,” Milosavljević said. “There’s an increase of students coming back, new students, and already not even enough housing.”

Milosavljević has fielded calls and emails from students who say that they cannot move to Malmö because they cannot find housing.

“They are already working on it,” Milosavljević told The Local of the university’s response.

There are plans to create more housing for international students, but these proposals focus mainly on students from European Union, leaving other international students out. All international students should be given priority for student accommodation, Milosavljević said, because none of them have access to the Swedish housing market.

“I do believe strongly that the City of Malmö and Malmö University need to have urgent negotiations and start building straight away,” she said.

Because Malmö University is a public university, it must follow the lead of the Ministry of Education and Research. Milosavljević acknowledged that in the aftermath of Sweden’s recent elections, which put the right-bloc in power, student housing shortages might not rank highly on a list of national priorities.

“The Student Union Malmö considers this situation quite urgent and acute,” Milosavljević said. “We are more than prepared to sit down and talk so we can actually do something, instead of just having meetings. The students will continue to suffer if the living conditions and the bostad [housing] situation in Malmö is not improved.”