From Church to Research

The University of Uppsala is the oldest in the Scandinavian peninsula as it was founded in 1477, even before Columbus discovered America. Few people know the reason why Uppsala was chosen as the ideal location for the first academic centre in this northern part of the old continent. As many things back in the day, it was strongly connected to the presence of the Church and as it was pre-reformation, the church in Sweden was Roman Catholic.

When Christianity first arrived in Sweden back in the 800s it’s first centre was on the island of Birka, approximately 58 kilometres south of Uppsala, on lake Mälaren. It was a strategically important place as a lot of trade at the time passed through there. However, Sweden’s first Archbishopric (the place where the Archbishop, the most ‘important’ Catholic priest of the region, has his headquarters) was instituted in Gamla Uppsala in 1164. Why Gamla Uppsala out of all places? The reason is simple – just as the Catholics have done throughout history when trying to expand the fellowship of their religion, they tried to ‘localise’ it and adapt to the previous cult of the region. In this period  this was connected to the Vikings Norse religion which had its most sacred centre in Gamla Uppsala. This is also where the great men (stormän) of the time (“kings” per se didn’t exist at this time, they were other great men) resided – so both spheres of power, religious and rule of the land were located there.

If you have a chance Gamla, Uppsala is surely worth a visit. Located 5 kilometres north of Uppsala city centre, it is the Mecca of many Swedish school children who learn about the Vikings in the well presented museum and surrounding area. Outside the museum, one can see the mounds, artificial hills, in which previous great men were buried and also the spot where sacrifices to the gods were made; in fact, historians are still debating whether they also conducted human sacrifices on this site.

The choice of Uppsala as the site for the centre of the Catholic religion was obvious and the transition between the Viking culture and Christianity can be observed if one looks at the Viking runes situated in the garden in front of Universithuset (University house) which is located between the Gustavianum museum and Snerikes nation.

The importance of the connection between Church and university can also be observed by looking at the oldest university building in Uppsala, which is currently the site of ‘Gustavianum – Uppsala University Museum’, located in front of the cathedral’s main entrance. When the university was founded, it consisted of four faculties:

  •      Philosophy – taught in academic circles since ancient Greek times, it was the study of the world, a science before Galileo invented the ‘Scientific Method’ which then distinguished philosophy as we know it today from scientific studies.
  •      Law – to educate future lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and rulers of the land.
  •      Theology – to teach aspiring priests the knowledge and skill set they needed to become an active part of the Church.
  •      Medicine – which started being studied at the beginning of civilization but in late medieval times was studied more methodically in many universities.

These are the four categories mentioned in ‘O Gamla Klang’ an old student song that has it’s original version in  German (O Alte Burschenherrlicheit) a Swedish version of it was written by August Lindh, the founder of Uppsala’s ‘secret’ student society ‘Juvenalorden’, in the early 1900s. This song is normally sang at the end of all gasques/ formal dinners and students from the different categories  stand up and sing their part according to what they study and for the last few verses of the song everyone is standing on their chairs and toasting. Once the song is over people must not sit down again as if they do, it is said that they will not graduate. Everyone follows this rule with the exception of Västergöta Nation members who for some reason have a tradition of sitting down again and singing one more song.

When you tell your friends that you study in Uppsala University, mention some of the above facts. You are after all, part of a small group of students who study in an environment full of quirky traditions and student madness that strongly influences the rest of the city surrounding the university.

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The Concept of ‘Student Nations’


Uppsala is world famous for its particularly awesome student life and what makes it so are ‘Student Nations’.

History:

The nations are student organisations that date back more then 400 years and originally when their function was for older student to support freshmen from their region to settle into life in the ‘university city’. They did this by providing help with accommodation, support and places to socialise (pubs and cafes). ln the past there were more then there are today and each organisation corresponded to a different region in Sweden.

Now 13 student nations still remain, some have merged together and although geographical regions are not that important anymore, you still choose to be member of one of them and someway you identify yourself with the organisation.

Historical photo

Stockholms’ Nation’s Main Hall

What does a nation have?

It depends on its size but generally they each have:

  • A Student Pub where you can find cheap drinks that are taxed less than in normal  laces (you can find beers for £3/€3.50, which in comparison to standard £5 is a bargain).
  • Norrland Nation's Pub
  • Student Club night once a week. Yes, that’s right, just for students so cheaper prices and unlike Saturday nights at ‘Tiger Tiger’ in Manchester, you will not encounter horny lasses celebrating their A-levels 40 years too late…
  • student club
  • Restaurant once a week. A la carte menu with really nice food where you can easily have a 3 course meal for £12 (and food in Sweden is generally more expensive).

Resturant

resturant 2

  • Student Cafe – study lounge:  where you can have hot drinks, milkshakes, sandwiches, salads and delicious pastries all of which is home-made.

cakes

 

  •  Formal dinners once a month (called gasques) where food is particularly  good, everyone dresses-up, there is entertainment during the meal (although most of it is in Swedish so I just nod and pretend to sing-along). Food + drinks + club/after-party  =  300kr (so approx. £30/€35).
Formal dinner

Västgöta Male quire performes as part of the entertainment provided during V.G.’s Gasque (formal dinner) in April 2013 .

  • Sport teams, societies, film-nights, culture nights and so on…
  • Student housing (cheap, good quality, bills included and you don’t have to deal with dick-headed agents who try to capitalise on your misfortune of having signed a contract with them).
  • Library and study area

 Stockholm's Nation's Library

How is all this even possible?

Thanks to the time dedicated by loads of student-volunteers that do not get paid and 4 one-year interns that work weekdays 9-6 in their offices and often even during weekends and get paid minimum wage. Everyone works for the benefit of other students in the ‘students for students’ spirit that should and wise administration of the funds and reinvestment of them in creating benefit for the students.

What do they get?

A great social experience. You meet so many people and interact with them in a different environment from the standard study or party one. Whether you are flipping burgers in the kitchen or pouring shots during the club you have an awesome time.

workers

Staff Dinner at ‘Östgöta Nation’. Once a month, after voluntarily spending a Sunday cleaning the entire venue, all who helped are invited to a 3 course meal with drinks and after-party included, all of which is paid by the nation.

You learn loads and no previous experience needed. From how to make cocktails, to baking pastries, recipes in the kitchen and if your colleague has good tunes on his iPod, you get to broaden your musical repertoire (before working in nations I thought Justin Bieber and Marco Carta were the best artists in the world #mindblowing).

I you have a position of responsibility you have staff discount on all food, drinks and formal dinners,  +1 club-night pass that allows you to skip the cue and get free-entry and earn ‘accommodation points’ that help you work-yourself up the waiting list to get student housing with the nation. You get a point for each semester you are member of the nation and if you take a position of responsibility you get, at least, one extra one per semester (I believe it varies on the level of responsibility and the number of hours you’re required to do every week).

Put stuff on your C.V. This works a treat especially if you hold a position of responsibility instead of being a casual worker.  This is a list of most of them (that I can think of):

–          Club master

–          Pub master

–          Official photographer

–          Magazine Editor

–          International Secretary

–          Bar Manager

–          Librarian

–          Kitchen master

–          Head waiter

–          Breakfast host

–          Lunch host

–          Café host

–          Weekend Brunch host

And I think there may be more..

Could you imagine something similar working in other parts of the world?

I tried to: Click here to read the idea I had to try and improve Manchester’s Student Union.

 

Useful Links (in English):

Student Nation Guide

Uppsala University

Facebook pages of some of the nations:

Stockholm’s

Västgöta’s

Varmland’s