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Studying in Europe: Scandinavia vs. Iberia

Francesca Martin

This post is also available in: Spanish German

I’ve moved to Portugal. I can’t say I’m a complete stranger to this country, because I’ve been coming here since I was two years old. Or rather, to one small village where my grandparents lived in for most of their lives. Despite the numerous visits, I don’t think that quite prepared me for life in the capital.

For a start, I am English despite everyone refusing to believe so. Secondly, the Algarve is quite literally “Little England”, and I’d say that the town has more Englishmen than Portuguese people in it now, so having to know Portuguese sadly isn’t really necessary. Then there’s my grandparents, who never spoke a word of English, so I have a basic grasp of the language, but don’t hold me to that.

 

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I moved to Lisbon and suddenly felt like I wasn’t in Portugal anymore. I knew it existed, but I’d always assumed Lisbon would feel just like the Algarve. Lisbon was big, and a little scary at first. Almost every street is cobbled, which was expected. There are also a lot of tourists in sandals, socks and bum bags flashing cameras and walking really slowly, and a lot of traffic (I really don’t trust Portuguese traffic, but then again the same can be said for traffic in general). The trams look like something out of a fairytale though, and appear exactly like they do in pictures, so being here is really something quite magical.

I decided to split up my Master’s degree by living in two different countries. Despite being enrolled at a Swedish university, I had the option to do Erasmus for my final year, so here I am in Portugal. There are differences, that’s for sure, and I’m fascinated in the way in which these countries differ with regards to student experience. I thought I’d compile a little list of Scandinavia vs. Iberia because, well, I guess it’s worth knowing should you consider studying abroad in a completely different country in Europe.

 

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1. Portugal is warm and Sweden is kind of cold

This is an obvious one. Being in the Northern Hemisphere, Sweden naturally gets little sunlight during the winter. I struggled with the short days and long, cold nights, but nevertheless Christmastime is kind of enchanting. That’s something I know I will miss as I patiently wait for snow in Portugal knowing it’s never going to arrive.

2. €1 beer — but only here

This is the biggest shock when moving from Northern to Southern Europe. Only a couple of weeks ago, I attempted to pay for my drink when a friend was willing to pay for all of us. “Here’s €5, that should be enough right?” and he looked at me like I’d bought him a cake. I wasn’t quite sure why he was so grateful for me to pay for my own drink, but it turns out I’d actually paid for everyone’s with €5 and got change in return!

In Sweden it would have barely covered my own drink, never mind someone else’s. There’s also the strict rules held in place in Sweden over alcohol; you must be 20 to purchase and only one chain in the entire country sells alcohol — the government-owned Systembolaget. Anything bought in a supermarket had a 3.5% maximum alcohol content.

3. I can cycle everywhere in Sweden, not in Lisbon

It’s known as the city of the seven hills, so you have to laugh when someone mentions that they want to buy a bike here, purely because Lisbon looks incredibly stressful to try and cycle in. Some hills are so steep that they require a tram to climb to the top and I’ll never make the mistake of climbing that hill by foot ever again. I guess that’s one thing I miss about Sweden: flat surfaces!

4. Friendly people, friendly people everywhere

The Portuguese are super social, quite the contrast from the Swedish. That’s not to say that Swedish aren’t friendly, they’re just far more reserved than the Portuguese. You can expect the Portuguese to approach you first, start a conversation and go in for the two kisses on either cheek (get used to physical contact). Back in England, strangers give each other a handshake for formality’s sake or a simple nod of the head and that’s it. In Sweden, you mustn’t make eye contact with anyone or they’ll think you’re crazy — ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration…

5. People smoke a lot more here

I’ve noticed people like to light up in Portugal, and it’s not uncommon to see almost everyone with a cigarette in their hand. Maybe that’s because they have relatively warm weather. I know in Sweden, or even England, that having to go outside for a smoke is rather unpleasant as you battle with the freezing winds or rain. In Sweden, more people use snus, a small bag of tobacco that they put on their gums. It wasn’t uncommon to see my lecturer with a mouthful of snus whilst teaching, and it was perfectly acceptable.

6. Food is delicious and so cheap

“Be still my beating heart”, that’s what I tell myself every time I enter a café. All food tastes good, it seems, and the best part is that it’s so cheap compared to what I’m used to. I can come home loaded with shopping bags having only spent €15, and I feel no guilt at taking two Nutella jars off the shelf rather than one.

 

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Water is also super cheap at maybe 15 cents for a small bottle, and I’ve found Cadbury’s Chocolate that’s even cheaper than in England… I can’t say I enjoyed a lot of Swedish food (except for their chocolate), and the real good stuff was always pricey. In fact, I ate so much dairy out there that I almost became spherical, so it’s good to leave that behind. Chocolate aside, the fruit and vegetables are always very fresh and tasty, so I’m definitely feeling a lot healthier here.

7. Both countries have their pros and cons

Everyone is different. I myself thrive in sunshine, so Portugal is obviously my favourite choice. For some, they prefer colder climates. Sweden is very clean and organised, you feel 100% safe, even at night, and the education is exceptional. Portugal wins when it comes to value for money and if you’re looking for an amazing experience. Both my cities, Lisbon and Uppsala, are absolutely stunning, so you’re not short of things to see wherever you go.


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Which part of Europe do you prefer: Scandinavia or Iberia? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation in Europe, you’ll find the student home you’re looking for on Uniplaces.

This post is also available in: Spanish German

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