What About Your Second Home, Stockholm?


Stockholm i mitt hjärta – “Stockholm in my heart” – is a popular song among natives of the Swedish capital. The beautiful city is built on thousands of islands and for those looking, it is full of history and stories. Every year, 2000 exchange students travel to Stockholm to study at KTH. The reason for coming here varies from person to person; some might have wanted to study at this specific institution, some in Sweden or Stockholm, and then there might have been those who just got admitted here. Whatever their reasons were, they now share this northern city as a temporary playground. But what do they really think of their second home? Esset has met students from other parts of the world to find out if Stockholm has stolen a piece of their hearts too.


A map of the spots that were recommended by the exchange students.



  • Name: Mohamed Salih Abaker Ishag

  • Hometown: Khartoum, Sudan

  • Studies at KTH: Transport & Geoinformation Technology

  • Current stay: Lappis, student accommodation


What are the best features of the city?

The first thing I thought of when I got off the plane was the weather, which is very pure here in Stockholm. I came here at the end of the summer, which I think was the best time as it was sunny, and the trees were all green. I would also say that I like that drivers do stop for you at crossroads and that people never seem to be in a hurry. They walk in a calm way so you don't hit anybody. Another thing I like is the old buildings from centuries ago, which are very beautiful and colorful. You never see a block with only one color. In Stockholm, people are also encouraged to ride bicycles, so you get inspired to walk or take public transport rather than having your own vehicle. I would also say that I like how the forests are connected to the city. If you're walking in the city, you can suddenly find yourself around a lake or forest, and sometimes you might even see a deer or rabbit. The streets here are also very clean, it's like someone washes them and it feels like walking inside a room.


"[The streets] feel like walking inside a room."

What do you like less about Stockholm?

Before I came here, I was worried about the low temperatures as the country I am from is very hot, but luckily there are heaters all over the place. Another thing I don't like is the darkness, which affected me the first weeks when I wasn't used to it. I would also say that it was tough with the snow sometimes. When there was a lot of snow, you could not walk properly and when it melted, everything got muddy instead.


Have you found yourself any hidden gems?

There is one place where I like to hang out, which is Haga Ekotempel (1) in Hagaparken. I go there every once in a while, to relax when I’m distressed over studies. The place is very green and there are some lakes and tennis courts close by.


Which is the biggest difference between Stockholm and your hometown?

The city I lived in, Khartoum, and Stockholm are both capitals. I would say that the main difference is the buildings. In comparison to Sudan, the buildings in Stockholm are old and tall and we also live in more open houses in Khartoum rather than having many rooms with separated kitchens like here. Another difference is the streets, where those in Sweden are very wide, which they are not in Sudan. And of course, I would also say the weather. In Sudan, summers are hot where temperatures sometimes reach 45 degrees. Accordingly, winters reach 8–9 degrees, which in Sweden is considered as warm weather. There are actually a lot of differences. In Sudan, we don't use cards for public transport but in Sweden, they barely use cash. I have barely even held any cash in my hands here. I would also say that it's not windy here in Stockholm and therefore, I think it’s so quiet all the time. In Sudan on the other hand, you hear sounds of horns and people talking on the street and it's windy all the time.


Favourite city district?

Gamla stan (2) – as it gives you the feeling like you’re living in ages ago. Slussen is another favourite district with the lake and the bridge. I also love Kungsträdgårdsgatan (3), where I went to see the cherry blossoms this spring.


Favourite food place?

Skärholmen mall (4) for kebab and middle eastern candy. Also, Stockholm Tapas at Torsgatan (5).


Favourite Swedish thing?

I like the cinnamon bun! Before I came here, I heard a lot about fika, so I thought it was some special food. However, I realized it was having coffee and taking a break from work. People here also care about the environment, bicycle a lot and are having healthy lifestyles.



  • Name: Mahum Ahmad

  • Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan

  • Studies at KTH: Sustainable Urban Planning & Design – design track

  • Current stay: Lappis, student accommodation


What are the best features of the city?

I would personally say the architecture. I like the fact that the heritage, old buildings aren't demolished. I really like the KTH Library for instance. Moreover, I like the buildings at Norrmalm, where the facades are kept but the interiors are completely different and modern. Another thing I really like is that wherever you are in the city, it seems that the forest is always about 10 minutes away, which is amazing. So, whenever you feel sad or down, you can go for a walk or if you want to hang out with friends, there are always cool places of nature to explore. I would also say that Stockholm is very accessible and well-connected.


What do you like less about Stockholm?

I don't like the food as much. I would also say the cold, where this winter was some of the worst. As I came from a sunny place, I think the depression that came with the cold was really hard, where November was the worst. With regards to this, I recognized the privilege I usually have, which I haven't realized earlier until it got taken away from me. So now when the sun shows up here, I say “Oh, it's sunny! let’s go out!”, haha.


Have you found yourself any hidden gems?

I really like Brunkebergstunneln (6) in Norrmalm. It is a cool place that not many people go to, with exposed rocks and it’s yellow and narrow. I also like the steps that you find here and there, with the perspectives that are caught out between high and low spaces. I think that the way to go about exploring the city is to go to any neighborhood and just start roaming around. Another thing that I like is the viewpoint at Skinnarviksberget (7). In the winter, you’ll see the frozen lake, which I think is completely going to change in spring. I would also say those hidden places in Gamla stan, where a pocket of an open space suddenly can show up with statues in it. That's the cool thing with exploring, rather than going to the most touristy places.


Which is the biggest difference between Stockholm and your hometown?

There are plenty of differences, I can’t even compare. Stockholm is spread out and the population is quite small in comparison to Karachi, which has almost 20 million inhabitants. In Karachi, it's a hustle bustle. The traffic is crazy and it's a concrete jungle, where we don’t have forests like in Stockholm. We're missing out on these nature spots where it is possible to go and relax before getting back to city life. However, Karachi is close to the coastline so we have the sea instead. Another difference is the attitude of people, where Swedes are really chilled out. They keep to themselves as we all know, but they are also really nice if you talk to them or ask for help. The best thing is that everyone speaks English here, so you never feel lost or terrified. In Pakistan on the other hand, people are always warm and welcoming. There's actually so much warmth there that I sometimes feel like “please, give me some space”, haha. I would also say the food, oh my god, I don't even want to begin there. I'm so happy that Stockholm has such a good Pakistanian and Indian community with hidden grocery stores and places where it is possible to find special ingredients. I always feel such excitement when I get something I usually have in Pakistan, as it reminds me of home. I think those are the little happy moments that you get along the way here.


Favourite city district?

I like central Stockholm. I also enjoy Huddinge (8), which I think has the perfect balance of nature and neighborhood community.


Favourite food place?

Mr Cake (9) – I really like their desserts. Vetekatten’s semlor is also very nice, I really like semlor. I also really enjoy kladdkaka. I think Swedish sweets are really nice and I'm usually hanging out with friends for fika rather than going for dinner.


Favourite Swedish thing?

I would say that it’s the fika. I like the idea of a food tradition where everyone is taking breaks and are more chilled out in terms of work. I think that taking breaks a lot and then completing work in time will stay with me in the future.



  • Name: Carrie Malone

  • Hometown: Bellingham, Washington, USA

  • Studies at KTH: Sustainable Urban Planning & Design

  • Current stay: Lappis, student accommodation


What are the best features of the city?

I'm going to be an urban planning dork and say that it's the buildings. I'm not a city person traditionally, but I think I like the buildings here as I grew up in the US where cities are very new. Therefore, I like to walk around in Stockholm to see all these beautiful pastel painted and old buildings. They're so pretty and make me really happy. I also think that Swedish people are really good about green space, so there is a great integration of parks and nature here, which I like as I can go hiking!


What do you like less about Stockholm?

I would say two things, where one is super obscure and the other might be my fault. With regards to the second, I've had a really hard time to find a cheap and authentic international cuisine and I find the food scene here kind of hard to navigate. The other thing I would say is this weird fashion trend that people have in Stockholm, which is to wear baseball caps with the New York Yankees logo, which is a super bougie and terrible baseball team. I actually think that the people wearing them think it's a brand logo. However, they're representing the worst team in baseball, where rich Wall Street guys buy out other teams and get their players hooked on steroids. So, the fact that 30 percent of the population wears them annoys me so much, haha.


"[One thing that I dislike] is this weird fashion trend that people have in Stockholm, which is to wear baseball caps with the New York Yankees logo, which is a super bougie and terrible baseball team."

Have you found yourself any hidden gems?

At the very beginning when I moved to Stockholm, I was constantly at the tax agency to fix all this stuff you have to do when you move to a new country. While I was there, I had to wait for them to let me in and at that time, I found a cute little cafe called Café Bullen (10) close by. So, as I waited for my appointment, I would go to Café Bullen to sit in the sun with a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant. I would still say that it's my favourite cafe here in Stockholm. Another spot that I like is actually on campus. Off the main quad where everyone is lounging in the sun, there is a shady little spot behind the stairs with a big tree and a little circular bench around the trunk. No one is ever there, so it's a really nice and quiet place to read and study at.


Which is the biggest difference between Stockholm and your hometown?

I would go back to architecture and say – just how pretty Stockholm is! I would also say that the snow is a big difference as we never get it back home. If there would be even a half inch of snow in my hometown, we would have a snow day because the infrastructure would not be prepared to handle it. So, to come here this winter with snow everyday from Christmas until almost the middle of March was a big, exciting thing for me.


Favourite city district?

The area around Stadion (11) is the prettiest to wander around. Slussen for things to do. It's where most restaurants and bars are.


Favourite food place?

Omnipollos hatt (12) – pizza and brewery, at Slussen. Café Bullen at Thorildsplan.


Favourite Swedish thing?

I think it's the fact that some people cross country ski around the city in winter. When it was snowing here, I often saw two smooth tracks along with the footprints and I always thought “oh my gosh, they are skiing, like as a mode of transit”. It is my favourite thing. At the beginning, when I heard a clacking sound from outside, I didn’t know what it was because when I came to my window, it would already be gone. But once I caught it, I saw these guys pushing themselves on cross country skis, and I thought that was amazing.



While the exchange students are here to gather new knowledge and experiences, I think Stockholmers and Swedish students can take the opportunity to learn from them too. It might be difficult to hide from the snow or run away from the darkness, but we can look up and appreciate the pretty buildings, water and greenery that surrounds us, and enjoy the peace that comes with our fikas. Finally, it seems like Stockholm brings both light and darkness into the lives of the exchange students. However, the light of the colorful buildings, fikas, calmness and clean streets appears to overshine the darkness. So luckily, it seems like Stockholm actually has stolen a piece of their hearts too.


Anja Ericson

Writer

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