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Winter adventure in Northern Sweden

How is it to live in Umeå? Would you recommend it? What is the city like?

Yes, absolutely recommend! Umeå feels otherwordly, in a way that I can't explain it and it needs to be experienced. it's like an utopia in the most dystopic place ever. Yes, this feels like an adecquate explanation.

Umeå (or Uå, as cool people call it) has consistently ranked as the best in Sweden in a variety of topics. Just a few days ago (June 2024), it was considered the best city to live (Here's why Umeå was just ranked the best place to live in Sweden (thelocal.se)), being the capital of the EU region with the best quality of life, measured by the "EU Regional Social Progress Index", an index that summarizes 50 different aspects of what characterizes a good life - such as health, influence and development opportunities (Region Västerbotten - Humanitera); Umeå is Sweden's best city for sports. In addition, it is among the top three among Sweden's best cities for cycling (10 reasons to move to Umeå - Umeå kommun (umea.se)); Umeå is also the Swedish city where people trust each other the most in an already high-trust society, and you can feel this! (UMEÅ VÄXER. Samverkan och dialog för en hållbar framtid HUSET SOM ENGAGERAR ALLA I STÖCKE. Här växer Umeå Utan bil gav nya bättre vanor 8 - PDF Free Download (docplayer.se)). Also, and I leave this to the end as it's essential, Umeå University is also considered to have the World's most satisfied international students (you can check more here: World's most satisfied international students (umu.se)). I can certainly attest to this, it is indeed a fantastic university and city.

What is the student environment like in Umeå?

Well, as I said before, Umeå has the problem of its quite northern latitude. So, it doesn't really have a lively outdoor student life in the Winter (and late Autumn) like other countries. However, house and corridor parties are very common and for a person which comes from a sunny country I have to tell you I miss those parties!!! Besides, if you are not into that, you can join one of many clubs or organizations catered for international students (tip: this is absolutely the best way to get to know Swedes. That or Friday night at Rouge or Rex eheheeh).

On average, how much did you spend in Umeå?

I lived in a student corridor and my room's rent with private bathroom and common kitchen and living room was 320€, with all included (minus the internet router). I would say most of those rooms cost something between 300€ and 500€. Price difference reflects the size, the area, the conditions of the building, etc. Other than student corridors, there are private rooms and also apartments. Beware, finding housing in Umeå is arguably the most difficult thing when relocating here!!! If you get an offer, take it!

As for the rest, groceries were perhaps 250€-300€ (Lidl was my best friend). Going out to clubs or bars is expensive (a shot in 2022 costed 7€ for example). Drinking alcohol is very expensive in Sweden, overall. As for eating out, if you go to McDonald's you can expect to pay 12€/13€ for a menu and a full course (non-alcoholic drink except for beer + course) at a normal restaurant will be something like 20€ to 25€. There's salvation though: Swedes love lunch buffets and those can cost something between 10€ to 15€, offering a bang for the buckl!

How's the food? What are your favorite delicacies?

Umeå doesn't really have a signature dish let's say but it is famous for its rullkebab, something like "wrap kebab", where a normal kebab is wraped. I tried it and it's quite good. One is relatively close to the Arctic Circle in Umeå, so moose meat stew can be eaten here but is considered a rare delicacy (usually the Buddy Programme does a trip to a moose farm in Bjurhölm and there you can try moose meat, for a cheaper price). Other than this, there is the foul smelled surströmming (sour herring) and the Max hamburger chain which both are famous in Northern Sweden overall (Umeå included). Umeå also has meatballs, at IKEA like every other Swedish city. 

Which places would you recommend visiting in Umeå?

As a city renowned for its gender-equal policymaking, I encourage everyone to go on the free guided bus tour around the city to show “the gendered landscape of Umeå”. This has a very short window and if I remember it's only offered in Swedish (the guides resort to English if they see a sizeable number of Swedish non-speakers, don't worry).

I also recommend visiting the Väven, a cultural center which houses concerts, events, conferences, food and leisure. For example, the European Film Festival has part of its films screened there (if you are a cinema enthusiast, don't hesitate on volunteer there as you get see many new movies for free!) and the Women's History Museum (first of its kind in the World) is also there.

Another place to visit isUmeå Folket Hus, which often has free, interesting shows. Above all, it hosts the severely underrated Umeå Jazz Festival. I volunteered there and I cannot stress enough the spectacular nature of the event, offering an easy way to interact with jazz stars, which have included legends like BB King or Miles Davis. I really had a fantastic time there!

I recommend visiting Skogis Kårhus, a cafe run by SLU students with a great ambiance, and an awesome, cheap, although weird combo of soups and pancakes (you need to get used to this in Sweden ehehe). Kårhuset Origois also worth checking, but I'd recommend it more if you like board games, quizz nights and so on.Sjöbris, a boat-restaurant down by the river near the the city center) andGröna Älgen(literally green elk, it's a cool bar) also have quizz nights but catered for everyone (not students only).

I also suggest taking a stroll around the Ume river and stop by Umeå Institute of Design because it's nothing more than, well, the most prestigious Design school in the region of America and Europe. Sure gives rise to curiosity, at least it did to me. Next to it is Bildmuseet, a free museum where you can check out the latest works on contemporary art.

To end, I highly advise spending at least a day at IKSU, the largest gym in Europe. You might not enjoy gyms in general (I'm not the biggest fan), but at IKSU you can spend a full day there and not be bored. Also, it's the best anti-depressant for the winter darkness. Do visit Nydala Lake, a perfect place for barbecues and to see the Northern Lights.

What advice would you give to future students going to Umeå?

Pack well for the cold, don't fear the cold, and enjoy the opportunities that arise.

First, pack well and prepare yourself for the cold. Embrace this in a cheerful way, though. You are about to spend a semester or two in one of the most unique places on Earth. Don't be afraid of this; take it as the experience of a lifetime that you won't repeat ever again. I know most Erasmus students prefer to go to Spain, Poland, Czechia, Portugal, or Italy for a variety of good reasons (I'm Portuguese, by the way). However, none of these places has the (almost) polar night, the northern lights, the cold, the remoteness, the peacefullness nor the absolute marvelous sound of walking in the snow. It's, as I said before, the most unlikely and unprobable utopia. 

Additionally, take advantage of the various student organizations and activities available. Joining clubs and attending events is a great way to meet people, make friends, and fully immerse yourself in the student life. The Buddy Programme, in particular, is fantastic for international students to get acquainted with local culture and customs. Learn the basics of Swedish, get to know the Sami culture and Sápmi (not Lapland), which is the indigenous culture of Umeå that's honored every year with a festival.

Lastly, don't miss out on exploring the natural beauty around Umeå. Whether it's hiking, skiing, or simply enjoying the Northern Lights, the surrounding nature offers countless opportunities for adventure and relaxation. Winter sports are infamously known to be extremely expensive, but in Umeå you just need go to Fritidsbanken (located at the famous Ålidhems Centrum, best friend of students) and rent the gear for zero. Yes, zero.

Remember, Umeå is not just a place to study but a place to grow, explore, and create unforgettable memories. 

PS: If you are interested, I wrote two chronicles about my life in Umeå. Feel free to read them: 

The Umeå Chronicles 1: Umebor Are Bad Marketers - UMEBO (umeatoday.com)

The Umeå Chronicles 2: A Trip to Vasa - UMEBO (umeatoday.com)

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