The Nations – A Student’s Home Away from Home

Although the flight doesn’t take too long from Zurich to Stockholm-Arlanda, I was quite tired upon the arrival. The university’s welcome desk at the terminal and the coach bus standing ready to take the newly arrived students to Uppsala was most appreciated. After all the administration had been done at the university welcome center in Uppsala, each student was brought to his/her residence – what a luxury!
What until now had begun in a very satisfying and promising way got at least a brief setback as soon as I opened the corridor my room was in: A smell of insipid air and rotten food was lingering in the hallway, the yellow linoleum floor was covered in stains. The kitchen, a run-down little room covered in dirt and expired food did not look more promising. Two of the five fridges standing in the kitchen and corridor were not running, covered in fungus. One even contained green meat, emitting a smell of carcass. Entering my room wasn’t much better, a stain-covered sheet on the bed, rusty water dripping from the faucet in the little sink and dirty windows and a dust-covered floor describe my new home pretty precisely.

After two and a half days of cleaning work, I did manage to clean the worst things. Nevertheless, I did not want to spend too much time in the corridor – ugly and dirty as it is, the other cohabiters only arrived shortly before the beginning of the new semester. Luckily, the student city of Uppsala offers institutions run by students for students – the so-called Student Nations – the solution to my problem!

Dating back to the 17th century, the nations were originally founded by groups of students originating from the same region. That is why all the nations are named after different provinces in Sweden. Their goal was to offer the students an all-round service for networking, meals, libraries, studying places or just a cozy place. So to say a home away from home.

While the identification with the name-giving geographical region has diminished, the social aspect of the nation is still central for the students. I was most grateful to have the possibility of joining such an institution to participate in social events, make new friends, have the possibility to get a warm meal for a student’s price and even work for some loan. I am now a member of Västgöta Nation, the oldest of the 13 Student Nations in Uppsala. With its 1’000 members, this nation is rather small, compared with the bigger ones (8’000 – 10’000 members). Nevertheless, the activities are great fun! The big advantage of a smaller institution like this is the familial environment, where people know you by name.

Although quite some things have changed since its over 300 years, some special – one might even say odd – traditions have survived. Back in the old times when fencing was not just a sport but a competition that could lead to serious or even mortal injuries, the nations all bought their own graves at the city’s graveyard to bury deceased members that could not afford to have their corpses brought back home. The right to be buried in the nation’s grave exists to this day.

Some less morbid traditions like the nation’s own songs (there’s even a hymn!) which are sung from the songbook at every so-called Gasque, the way of cheering and the uniforms worn by the elder men also survived all this time. The mentioned Gasque can be compared to a banquett, where the nation’s kitchen equipe prepares a several-course dinner and cultural groupings as the nation’s choirs and theatre groups preform in the nicely-painted main hall of the nation’s building. Dresscodes here must be strictly followed as a participant, ranging from casual all the way to formal where women dress up in the evening gown and gents showing up in smokings.

In my opinion, nothing in Uppsala is more characteristic for the students’ life than the 13 Nations with their broad offers. After all, they represent your home away from home, especially when your housing is off-putting as mine is!

Yannick Hunziker

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