Sweden was not my first choice destination to spend my year abroad. Prior to receiving my offer to come to Uppsala University, I was adamant that I would be studying in Berlin, despite the few places on offer and the high competition for those places. Having already visited Germany and Berlin, as well as lived and studied in a massive city for two years, I sort of knew what to expect. Sweden on the other hand is a totally different environment; Uppsala in particular. I’d never visited this country before August but it has increasingly become more like home to me, constantly confirming and flouting my previous expectations of the country and what it’s like to live here.
There are some classic stereotypes of Sweden and the Swedes; they are all tall and blonde, they only listen to ABBA and there are IKEAs everywhere. Sadly, none of those are completely true. After some extensive research (aka Wikipedia) Sweden’s IKEA population is dwarfed by that of Germany- the former with only twenty stores in comparison to the latter’s fifty-three! What is true however, is that Eurovision is incredibly popular here, it gets cold and dark very quickly indeed which leads to many people becoming depressed and it is very expensive to live here. I know that all but one of those things are quite sad, but it is what it is, and thankfully I prepared for it with winter jackets, student loans and lots and lots of happy thoughts.
Anyway, before I moved here I didn’t really know what to expect of Sweden. I sort of knew that Swedes drink a lot of coffee and engage in a sort of tradition similar to afternoon tea called fika. Since arriving, I have heard people label it an ‘institution’ in the sense that almost every single company and establishment are essentially required to allow employees breaks for coffee and a pastry. To me, it does seem a bit over the top, but it is a staple of Swedish life, and who doesn’t like a cuppa coffee and a piece of cake… every day? Another thing I sort of knew about was the cycling culture in Uppsala. What I never realised was how many bikes there were here- it sometimes seems like there are more bikes than people! Because I live fairly close to the city centre, especially in comparison to most students who live a little way outside, I thought that I wouldn’t need a bike and that I would cope just walking everywhere. Now I have a bike, and I no longer walk anywhere.
Meeting new people from other countries is something that I expected to do during this year. Back in first year, I lived with two sets of two American exchange students per semester and from what I remember, they usually hung out with other international students. Coming to Sweden, I thought that I would mostly be hanging out with other Swedish students (not really sure why I thought that, but hey) and only have a few international friends. Coincidentally, almost all of my friends are exchange students as well, from places like America, Canada, Germany, Australia and others from other universities in the UK for example. Turns out that when you’re all nervous and excited in another country where you don’t speak the language, you meet people in exactly the same position as you. The orientation week in which we were all forced to spend time together helped build relationships, but I still clung onto the idea that I will naturally move towards Swedish friends. Almost two months later, and I’m still stuck with my fellow foreigners.
Having been here for almost two months, Sweden continues to confuse and amaze me. It is a country with a surprisingly different culture to the UK, a people who are cautious but welcoming and a language that still makes very little sense to me. Sweden has already left its mark on me, and I can’t wait to see what else this crazy country has to offer.