I’ve mentioned the nations a whole fuckton of times to people back home but I think I’ve only actually explained them a couple of times. They’re kind of hard to explain to people in the States, whose only even remotely comparable thing is the frat/sorority system, but I hate making that comparison because it’s not really a comparison at all. For one thing the nations are significantly more inclusive (border-line mandatory, in fact), are the focal point for ALL student life, not just the parties and occasional philanthropic bake sales, and while frats a (statistically proven) relationship with rape, concern about sexual assault in the nations is no more severe than it is anywhere else. Which is why I detest making the comparison, but it’s hard to think of what else to compare it too –
Wait. I guess…it’s kind of like the houses in Harry Potter. Only, instead of only four we have thirteen, and instead of being told by a magic hat which one to join we have to figure it out for ourselves.
The reason the nations are border-line mandatory is that every aspect of student life (outside of actual classes, of course) happen through the nations. You aren’t technically required to join a nation, but if you don’t, you don’t get to be part of student life. The nations organize events for students, including parties, yes, but also including events like mushroom picking, fika, and groups like clubs/societies and sports teams. They also have student-ran pubs, cafes and restaurants where members can work (depending on the nation you may get a bit of money or you make get free food or some combination thereof). All of these things are (in theory, I hear) important when it comes to researching which nation to join (I honestly just stumbled into mine, having done zero research. Don’t judge me). Joining a nation isn’t free – it requires a fee upon registration, but without a nation card proving your membership a lot of student activities aren’t open to you – or if they are, they are more expensive.
And we have coats of arms! Hey…since I’m in Östgöta and
we have a griffon…does that mean I’m a Gryffindor?
The nations are old. They’ve been around since the 17th century (some are older than others, though) and are a (obviously) deeply engrained part of the whole being-a-student-in-Sweden thing. They’re based on regions in Sweden – except Stockholm, because apparently Stockholm is too hip for this whole this “regions” business and went ahead and decided to have its own nation despite only being a city (albeit the capital city). Back in the day the nations were a hell of a lot more like gangs than student groups, and they were banned for a while due to the bloodshed (remind you of anyone? Anyone say…with a lion and a snake for their coat of arms, respectively?). Once that was under control they became an integral part of student life
Västmanlands-Dala nation used to be two separate nations. But since they refused
to stop killing each other, even after all the other nations took their chill-pills,
the administration forced them together to eradicate the sense of competition
and animosity by making them one and the same.
Some people get super into the nation scene – these are the people whose faces you see pretty much every time you stop in to fika. They’re in the kitchen, at the cash register taking orders, or bringing your food out to you. To an extent I can understand why – being in the nation can be a lot of fun. Though I’m not drinking myself, I’ve been working in the pub a lot. It’s one of the best places to make friends and meet people, especially if, like me, you’re not doing the alcohol, clubbing, and copious parties thing. I doubt, however, that I’ll ever get as deep into it as some people do, especially since I’m only here for a year, and hot damn do some folks spend huge chunks of their time just working there.
So there you have it: the nations. More similar to the houses in Harry Potter than to fraternities. You have to be in one (more or less) and a lot of people identify themselves by what nation they’re in just as much if not more so than by, say, what they’re studying or what they do for work (true fact. They said so in the international student welcome reception, so I have to believe them). And, if you develop any real affinity for your nation (as I have) you’ll probably spend a decent portion of your time hanging out in your nation house (and the nation houses here are fuckin’ fancy).
So yeah. I’m basically at Hogwarts. I should be starting Defense Against the Dark Arts any day now.