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The Aula Medica building at Karolinska Institutet in Solna.

Photo: Henrik Trygg

Categories: Before

Why international students choose Stockholm

Publish date: 7 February 2020

With three world-class universities clustered in the city centre, Stockholm has long been a magnet for young academics from near and far. We spoke to an international student at each university in Stockholm and discovered that while the reasons they chose Stockholm were diverse, their views on life in the city were quite similar – with one notable exception.

Now that Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University have entered into an alliance that will highlight the Swedish capital’s position as a hotbed of research, the expectation is that even more students will come to the city from all parts of the world.

The partnership, known as the Stockholm trio university alliance, is meant to increase collaboration between the three universities and enhance each of their unique areas of expertise - but perhaps even more so to burnish Stockholm’s image as both a mecca for higher education and a city full of opportunities for internationals, both during their studies and after. 

We spoke to an international student at each university and discovered that while the reasons they chose Stockholm were diverse, their views on life in the city were quite similar – with one notable exception. 

“Midway point” between Delhi and Uppsala

For 18-year-old Karolinska Institutet student Inika Prasad, Stockholm is an interesting contrast to Delhi, India, where she lived until her family relocated to Uppsala three years ago. 

“I like the atmosphere here in terms of the people who surround me; there are certain aspects of daily life here that are really nice,” Prasad tells The Local. “For example, the air quality here and women’s safety is also very high. This is one of the best places for both gender equality and general safety too.”

Prasad says that Stockholm is a good “midway point” between her two previous homes because “it is a buzzing city, but not as busy as Delhi and not as calm as Uppsala”. She was drawn to Karolinska Institutet because of its strong reputation in her chosen field. She is in her first year of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedicine and said the university’s location makes it ideal for learning. 

“Karolinska Institutet is right by the Karolinska University Hospital and the SciLifeLab so it’s really a hub for medicine and biomedicine. I have an internship at SciLifeLab right now and that’s super interesting and you can really tell that the research environment is just really strong here when it comes to resources and funding,” she says. 

In addition to citing Stockholm’s public transport system and infrastructure, Prasad points to a somewhat surprising reason for liking the city. 

“The weather here is really nice. People get scared of the winter, but I’ve come to really enjoy it and I love ice skating! It actually gets much colder in Uppsala, so this almost feels warm,” she says. 

“A way of living more suited to me”

Prasad’s enthusiasm on that front isn’t exactly shared by Katerina Kallivrousi, a 23-year-old from Athens, Greece pursuing her master’s in management at Stockholm University (SU). 

“I struggle a bit with the darkness and the weather. Moving here from Greece, this kind of weather is hard to adapt to,” Kallivrousi says with a resigned laugh. 

Although she only moved to Sweden three months ago, Kallivrousi has already learned that life in Stockholm is about much more than the less-than-optimal weather. 

“I really love the nature and just the whole vibe of the city. People here are really kind and open-minded,” she said. “I’m interested in music and Stockholm is a great city for that. I go to a lot of live shows and the music scene here is really good with a lot of options.”

She’s also already begun to adapt to a different daily routine than what she’s used to from home. 

“The hours here are a lot different than they are back in Athens. Here in Stockholm, people are at home by 7pm, whereas in Athens that would be the time we’d head out for coffee before eating dinner around 10pm – which is when most people in Stockholm are going to bed!” she said. “But actually, the way of living here is much more suited to me. It helps me concentrate and focus on what I’m doing. It’s a more organized way of living.”

Kallivrousi was drawn to Stockholm in part because her cousin was already there studying at Stockholm University and her aunt and father both later relocated to the Swedish capital. 

“I did some research on university rankings in Europe for management degrees and discovered that Stockholm was one of the best business schools in Europe, and since I already had family there, I thought ‘why not?’. This programme is perfect for me,” she said. 

Coming to Stockholm with some familiarity with both the city and the Swedish language has paid off, Kallivrousi says. 

“It definitely makes my life easier that I know the language a bit. It makes it much easier for me to get closer to people. Some of my international classmates who don’t have a grasp on the language have a harder time, I think,” says Kallivrousi. “It’s not that the Swedes don’t accept them, it’s more that internationals are naturally drawn to each other.” 

“Swedes are more open than I thought they’d be”

That’s something Andrés Toledo can attest to. The 29-year-old came to KTH from Mexico City knowing little about Stockholm. In his first three months there, he’s primarily bonded with other internationals, both classmates at KTH and flat mates at his nearby apartment. He has made a handful of Swedish friends and he’s confident that will improve along with his Swedish skills, which he admits “suck” for the time being. 

Toledo was drawn to KTH for its master’s in machine learning, something he decided to pursue after working for five years in the automotive industry back home in Mexico. 

“I knew I wanted a master’s degree in something related to data,” he said. “Machine learning and AI are sort of new trendy subjects, so I started searching for options and KTH stood out from the rest.”

When it comes to the weather, he sides more with Kallivrousi than Prasad but is really looking forward to the spring when he plans to buy a bike and explore more of the city. 

“I’ve always loved cities that are surrounded by water or that have some sort of waterfront and there’s water everywhere in Stockholm. I’m a little more used to seeing mountains on the horizon but I think the nature here is very beautiful and I like it a lot,” Toledo said. “Plus, the city is really well-structured so it’s easy to get around. Everything just seems to work here.” 

He said that Swedes have failed to live up to his expectations, but in a good way. 

“My impression was that Scandinavian people keep to themselves a lot and have a wider perspective on personal space than we have in Latin America but people here so far have been really friendly. They’re definitely more open than I thought they’d be,” he said. 

All three of the students said they have found the people of Stockholm to be hospitable and open-minded, and none has experienced any real difficulties fitting in.

“Everyone has been really welcoming and I haven’t experienced anything negative at all. On the other hand, if they said something rude in Swedish I wouldn’t understand them anyway!” Toledo jokes. 

All three also say that, although their future plans are still a bit up in the air, they are considering staying in Stockholm after they finish their programmes. Kallivrousi was the most definitive, saying she “definitely” wants to remain. 

“It’s both because I really like the city and because I can see that there are a lot of job opportunities here,” she says.