The University of Iowa

Gasques, Singing, and Nations, Oh My!

July 1st, 2014

By Kelsey Frisk*

Cocktail dresses, traditional Swedish drinking songs, and four course dinners are three things I didn’t expect to experience during my semester abroad, but ended up being a highlight of my time in Sweden. Through the thirteen student nations of Uppsala University, I was able to attend Gasques, hang out in pubs with fellow students, and grab lunch at a student discount in one of two universities in all of Sweden that offer these activities and events through student run nations.

two men watching hockey

Watching Sweden play Canada in the Olympic finals at Stockholms nation. Unfortunately it ended up being a room of very sad and disappointed Swedes and a few very happy Canadians!

Student Nations, which are in many ways comparable to fraternities and sororities, are also different and offer much more.  There are thirteen student nations that represent the regions, or counties, in Sweden. Historically, Swedish students were required to become a member of the region they were from, although currently it is neither mandatory nor necessary to become a member. Nations are so popular in Uppsala that it is also common to see the lone young professionals who sign up for one course at Uppsala University, become a member of a nation, and then drop their course simply for the benefits of inexpensive beer and cider, club nights, and the chance to meet others in a friendly and fun setting. Bursting with all of the new sights, my somewhat successful attempts at deciphering the language, making friends, and moving into my corridor, my first week in Sweden was packed. To pile on the stress, I was also expected to decide which nation of thirteen I was going to join. Although it seemed very stressful at the time to decide which region to select, as a member, you could take part in any activity set up by each nation.

Just like the Greek system, each nation is different. The nation I joined, Stockholms, or also known as ‘Stocken’ (which means “the log” in Swedish. The city was given this name because it was a site for logging and a port where they would ship the wood to other nations and countries) had daily breakfast, lunch, Fika and my favorite club on Thursday night where I would dance to Swedish house and electronic music. Along with these activities they also had a library where you could study, as well as sport clubs you could join like soccer, volleyball, and many more. During the beginning of the spring semester they even plan a trip to the impressive and beautiful Åre, Sweden at a discounted, student price.

Although I took advantage of all the opportunities each nation had to offer, my favorite was attending Gasques. Gasques were by far the most intriguing and fun aspect of student nations, and I have made many memories I will not easily forget. Each nation generally has a Gasque every month and can be themed for new members, student workers, or the coveted Spring Ball just to name a few. Each Gasque has a dress code that can range from a simple cocktail dress to a floor length ball gown (along with the male equivalent), a three to five course meal, Swedish drinking songs, and entertainment throughout the night. Gasques are an all day and night event. They can start as early as five with aperitifs, and end with a dance club at four the following morning.

three students in formal wear

Two friends and I (middle) at the International Student Gasque at V-Dala nation.

Having access to Student Nations during my semester in Uppsala dramatically enriched my social, cultural, and educational experiences, and allowed me to meet other international and Swedish students alike. They also allowed me to stay on a budget in an expensive country like Sweden with their student prices. Even once I’ve left, I will always remember the nations’ founding fathers looking down upon me in the many beautiful, historic buildings of Uppsala.

I participated in Model UN at Uppsala and had a Diplomat Dinner at the end of the week to celebrate our accomplishments. When toasting it is custom to look to your partner on your left, on your right, across the table from you, to your right again, and to your left again before taking a sip of your snaps or akvavit!

*Kelsey Frisk, of Magnolia, Iowa, is a University of Iowa junior majoring in interdepartmental studies with an emphasis in global health science. She is currently conducting research in Sweden courtesy of a Stanley Undergraduate Award. Kelsey also recently completed a semester of study in spring 2014 though the CIEE program at Uppsala University in Sweden