I knew studying abroad would be a challenge.
As someone who typically finds comfort in knowing and being secure in my surroundings, this feeling was so terrifying and freeing at the same time. It had been one of the first times in a long time that I had no agenda—nothing to do, nowhere to be, and all the time in the world to myself.
While I was more excited than anything to come to Sweden, I kept thinking about how crazy it was. After 20 hours in transit and finally stumbling into my room with my suitcases, I just stared out the window and could not believe that I had come to a foreign country by myself for five months.
I walked to the city center at 3 p.m. The sun had already begun to set, and I was in awe of how unacquainted I was with everything. I was making every turn with no idea of where I was while passing people who seemed to know the city like the back of their hand.
My usual speed-walk became a stroll as I looked at all the shop names and the towering cathedral that makes its place known in the middle of the city center. There was something so surreal about walking these streets for the first time, streets that I knew would become part of my memory by the time June came around.
At that moment, I couldn’t believe that I’d decided to wander into town without knowing anybody and not having a clue of where I was going, but that has now become one of my favorite memories from being in Uppsala so far.
The challenges only began with learning the city. The school system is completely different from what I was used to, and it made me fundamentally change the way I think about learning and the way I spend my time.
While students here also take four to five courses like at UT, they do not last the full semester. I will only be in two classes at once during my time here. This was so new to me, and I was excited to experience this new way of learning, but, in a way, less school managed to feel like more stress at times.
It takes even more self-discipline to study for courses, since there is so much more free time in the day. I learned what I like to do outside of class because I had the time to do so. I cook often with my corridor mates and take walks in the beautiful forest that is just behind my apartment, and I can’t help but see how much I have grown in the month I have been here.
Before facing all the challenges, it was difficult for me to truly get excited about what my life would be like here. I have overcome some fears that I never saw myself confronting and made time for things that I never would have done if I had not come abroad.
I have learned how to slow down and appreciate everything around me and see how beautiful things can be when you don’t expect them. Sweden may not have been at the top of places I would have visited on my own prior to this experience, but I have developed such a deep love and appreciation for people and the culture I see every day.
No matter where you go, things will be difficult. Doing anything you would have done at home will be much harder abroad, and it can feel frustrating trying to navigate it all. But enjoy the hardships you face along the way. Once you have been there for months and are well adjusted, you will look back and smile on the days when you struggled to navigate the public transit system or were racking your brain, trying to convert to metric measurements.
Know that you will not reach all the expectations you had for yourself when going abroad, and know that is completely OK. While it is a new experience, we are still human, and there will be days that are difficult or where you stay in your room all day.
But along with that, immerse yourself in the culture, meet people you would have never had the chance to meet otherwise, and spend time with yourself, reflecting.
So often we look back on ourselves and see how much we have changed, but we rarely take the time to slow down during those moments of change to acknowledge that it’s happening. Meeting new people is so important, but it’s also important for you to know the person you are becoming in this new experience.
I can see that in one month of being here, I have grown so much. There is no way that I will have figured out everything or be a perfect version of myself at the end of my time in Sweden. But I do know that I will come home and find more joy and hope in the challenges I face, because I know that overcoming those challenges will lead to some of the most rewarding experiences I will ever have.
This post was contributed by Anjali Senthilnathan, a Global Ambassador for Spring 2022. Anjali is a third-year neuroscience major studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden.