Waking up for the first time in a new country and realising that you’re going to be there for the next nine months conjures a strange mix of emotions. Excitement, confusion and nervousness immediately springs to mind.
My flight out to Sweden was at 5:40am on 18th August. I was accompanied by my parents, who were, and I mean this in the kindest way possible, essentially pack mules for all my luggage. I slept through the entire flight, looking out the window as soon as I woke, seeing a vast landscape of nothingness. Sweden. It was raining, which, coming from the UK, was relatively comforting.
“Waking up for the first time in a new country and realising that you’re going to be there for the next nine months conjures a strange mix of emotions…”
Our transport from the airport to Uppsala was organised by the university. There was a cluster of other international students aboard the coach, so I went out of my way to mingle with them- the number one rule of being an international student: be proactive. Upon arrival at the university, we were herded through various administrative stations before being transported to our various accommodation areas all over the city.
“…it’s these differences that constitute the reason why I am here; to experience something completely unlike what I am used to.”
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. Goodbyes to the parents, unpacking and trying to get my head around the fact that I was in Sweden, generally sums up the day. The main thing was that I had made it, home for nine months.
In our welcome packages was a leaflet listing all the activities provided by the thirteen Student Nations. In Uppsala, the Nations (representing the thirteen main regions of Sweden) act as social institutions ran by students, for students. They are usually situated in large buildings near the centre of the city that house pubs, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, libraries and even accommodation. Alongside this, the Nations organise formal events and run sporting clubs and whilst joining one is not compulsory, it is highly recommended. This is probably the main difference between the UK and Sweden in terms of university social life, and it’s these differences that constitute the reason why I am here; to experience something completely unlike what I am used to.
The day after arriving, I met up with some German students to go to the IKEA to grab some bits and bobs which we needed. After feasting on some Swedish meatballs (because when in Sweden…) we drove to Gamla Uppsala, the pre-Christian centre of the city. As a history student, going to places like this instantly attracts my attention. Although the site was literally just three large mounds, it was great to be around people in the same situation as me, talking about absolutely anything in the vast Swedish countryside.
On the Sunday, the International Committee organised a walking tour around Uppsala. I was meant to meet my German friends there, but we got split up so I ended up chatting with some Americans, one of whom happens lives very close to me. The city is fairly small, but there is a huge student population. The combination of old Swedish city and student hub is a strange one, but it creates a vibrant place to live and study in. The tour really helped me find my bearings around the city, but it also placed me in a cauldron of thousands of other confused international students- a comforting, if not baffling experience.
Throughout the week, I noticed the many differences between Swedish and British culture. Firstly, everyone (yes, everyone) speaks almost perfect English. Whilst this is very helpful, it does mean that learning Swedish is rather tough, as they all seem to want to talk to you in English to practice. Secondly, Swedish people are unbelievably nice, albeit generally quite reserved. Thirdly, the drinking culture here is very different. Alcohol above 2.5% is only sold in state-run shops called Systembolaget. These shops have very strange opening and closing times, you have to be 20 years old to purchase alcohol and none of it is refrigerated. Compared with the UK where you can wander down to any off-licence or store and grab a litre of vodka at will, this was one of the most baffling things to me about the country. Last (but definitely not least), it is very expensive here. Food when translated to pound sterling, is about double the price of the UK.
The Nations ran loads of events throughout the week ranging from club nights to games afternoons. It was here where the settling-in process took shape. Meeting people from all over the world and realising that we were all in the same positions, sharing these experiences with each other and trying come to terms with the fact that you are in a foreign country, completely out of your comfort zone essentially sums up my last few weeks.