Coming to Scandinavia to go to school or study may be a great way to get under the skin of Scandinavia and Scandinavians. If you’re from outside the EU, it’s easier to get a student visa than a work permit or a residence visa but the main advantage of coming here to study is that it may be a perfect way to get to know Scandinavians.
Coming to Scandinavia to work can be a lonely affair as most Scandinavians head out the office (if your job is at an office) doors as soon as the clock strikes four because we have kids that need to be picked up and cabins that need to be visited. We might socialize for “Friday beer” or “pay-day beer” (for some reason our socializing always involves beer) but, in general, you might find it hard to find friends at work.
Not so if you come here to study.
Two main roads
Of you’re over 18 you can pick two main roads (if you’re under 18 you would probably need to go to high school and that’s quite a different topic) – University/college or Folk High Schools. Don’t let the name of the latter discourage you. Folk High School is a poor translation of Folkehøgskole (Norwegian), Folkhögskola (Swedish) and Højskole (Danish) and has absolutely nothing to do with high schools. Folk High Schools are a type of school that you’ll only find in the Nordic countries and they are a kind of free thinking boarding schools.
Folk High Schools
If you skipped the “free thinking” and only read “boarding schools”, you might expect the Folk High Schools to be something like this:
You would be very wrong. Not only are students at Folk High Schools over 18 years old (and some are over 90 – we have Folk High Schools for senior citizens as well) – you would never find a uniform at at a Folk High School.
So what are Folk High Schools? They are a type of school started by a Danish priest and philosopher named N.S.F. Grundtvig around 160 years ago. The Folk High Schools were in opposition to the traditional “Latin Schools” where you learned things only to pass exams. The idea behind the Folk High Schools is Learning for life.
You live at the school (at least in Denmark and Norway – in Sweden some of the schools allow students to live at home), you learn by doing, you decide with your fellow students and your teacher what direction you want the classes to take and you learn about who you are and how to form the rest of your life. No exams – no grades (except in Sweden – some of their Folk High Schools have exams and grades).
Does that sound a bit hippie to you? Well, it’s not. It’s actually a kind of school that a large part of Scandinavians attend. In Norway more than 10 percent of the population has attended a Folk High School for a full year or more. In Denmark the number is higher, but then they have a lot of classes that are shorter than a year. When Folk High Schools brag they claim that they are the backbone of Scandinavian democracy and the welfare state. I’m not so sure about that but that just goes to show that the schools are a vital part of the three Scandinavian countries.
But I don’t speak Scandinavian
You don’t speak Norwegian, Swedish or Danish, you say? Folk High Schools would be the perfect place to learn. You’ll have intensive language classes and a lot of Scandinavian friends who will teach you. Your new friends will probably teach you the swear words first, but hey – they’re good to know too, right?
Folk High Schools aren’t entirely free for the students even if education is free in Scandinavai. They are supported financially by the state but you have to pay for room, board and school trips – Scandinavian prices apply (and no, Scandinavia is not the cheapest place on earth). It might still be a good way for you to dip your toe into the scary world of Scandinavia.
I can really recommend the Instagram account of the Norwegian folk high schools. All the pictures are taken by students at the 75 schools 🙂
Universities and colleges
If you want a degree you need to go to a university or college. A lot of students do this after a year at a Folk High School but you can apply directly at the universities and colleges too. A lot of classes are taught in English so you might get along without learning any Danish, Swedish or Norwegian (that is not recommended if you want to make friends. We do speak English but our language skills are not improved when we’re drunk – though, we seem to think they are – and we’re so often drunk when we socialize).
Universities are free
With a few exceptions, education is free in Scandinavia. This means that all universities and colleges are free to anyone from the EU/EEA. Universities and colleges are also free for anyone participating in various exchange programs. Unfortunately, both Denmark and Sweden have these past years added a price on education if you come from the outside of EU and you’re not a part of an exchange program. You may apply for a scholarship and the Swedish state grants 500 of those each year. In Norway universities and colleges are still free for everyone – even citizens from outside the EU/EEA (hurray!).
Dear Dane, Norwegian and Swede: What would you recommend?
This blog started out as a blog with almost exclusively non-Scandinavian readers but I know it has attracted quite a few Scandinavians as well. So I ask you, fellow Scandinavian: Which Scandinavian University, college and/or Folk High School would you recommend and why?