What’s going on?
After months of overthinking, second guessing, panicking, and general anxiety, I finally came to my senses and accepted the fact that I’ve been given the incredible opportunity of studying abroad for the year in Gothenburg, on the West coast of Sweden. This would be a great experience in any case, but it’s even cooler that the chance still came my way even after Brexit. I didn’t have one particular reason for wanting to do a year abroad – I just always accepted the fact that I probably would. Had I known the amount of effort that planning it was going to require, I might have been less laid back about the whole thing, but now that I’m here, I wouldn’t change anything. Well, the courses I’m taking wouldn’t be my first choice, but I’m excited to branch out and learn something extra that my Psychology course back home won’t teach me. And let’s face it – this experience is quite literally handed to me on a plate; and it’s highly likely that I’ll never get an opportunity like it again.
I’m going to write a post about the application process on its own, so that it doesn’t drag down the tone of this post (it was a rollercoaster, for sure). The application process was very strung out and in tandem with my end of year exams, it was a rough time. But eventually, I reached a point where I had no reasonable excuse to stop myself from getting excited, and I started prepping. I applied for my residency permit (also an ordeal), got a pargain pair of suitcases from Matalan and set about packing my whole life for the next ten months into 23kg. Flights also posed a challenge – the tone of this paragraph is just that nothing was straightforward. But eventually, bright an early on a Monday morning in August, I was saying an exhilarating goodbye to my mum and setting off on my adventure (also not true; we waited forty minutes to check my bags in and she had to offer her soul to the devil just to park at Manchester airport).
This is my first time visiting a Scandinavian country (except for Lapland as a very young child) and I’ve heard nothing but high praise for Sweden and its major cities. My first impression of Gothenburg is that it’s a very clean city, busy without being suffocating, and full of green spaces. There are huge parks inside the city itself, and the boulevards are lined with trees. I have a strange love affair for trams, and this city has a sprawling, punctual tram service which makes me very happy! There is no end of cosy cafes and stylish bars to duck into to meet friends, or just shelter from the weather – which so far has been very good. I packed for nippy autumn days, and had to endure almost three weeks of temperatures in the mid twenties before it cooled down. We’ve only had a handful of rain showers, although I’m expecting that to change very soon. I even bought suncream! I live in a lovely semi-residential area on the edge of the city, overlooking some large apartment blocks, with a tram stop about fifty metres away, two large supermarkets, some restaurants and a gym nearby. Ironically, I think this is the loudest part of the city as my window looks onto an intersection and apparently people love their car horns there.
Other than that the people are incredibly friendly, and very stylish – no nipping to the shop in leggings! The level of customer service is what I’m used to back home in England, which makes for a very non-intimidating environment as a foreigner who doesn’t speak Swedish. Everyone – retail assistants and locals alike – speaks freakishly good English, and are only too happy to switch languages in order to help you out (sometimes it’s frustrating if I’m trying to practice Swedish). When I ask someone if they speak English, the answer is either a confident “ja, absolut!” or a tentative “yes…a little” and in both scenarios, the level of english is near native.
Gothenburg University really have it together. It’s a huge, sprawling city university, with buildings spread all over and students from countless countries. Luckily, they’re easy to contact via various “servicecenters” where you can go and resolve admin issues in person. I’m yet to check out the libraries – yes, libraries plural, because there are SEVEN. I’m accustomed to a very small campus, so it’s quite a change for me, but actually I enjoy it.
Getting around and getting fed
The public transport system works like clockwork. It’s pricey – around 2.5EUR for a 90min ticket and £10 for a 24 hour ticket, but when you consider the fact that that includes buses, trams and boats, the price seems more reasonable. It took longer than I wanted, but I got my student discount card and bought a 3-month ticket, which saves a bit of money. I’m still figuring out how to accept packages – I have my own postbox for letters, but parcels is another story. Not only could a courier not enter the building, but I’ve heard that regardless of living situation, it’s fairly normal for parcels to be left at nearby collection points instead of being delivered to the door. I have a slew of parcels arriving over the next few days, so I guess I’ll learn soon!
Groceries and other household necessities are noticeably more expensive than back home, but not by much. It’s also not a strictly fair comparison, because I’ve shopped at Aldi for the last two years, and my local supermarket, while supposedly the second cheapest here, is not as budget as Aldi and Lidl. But, I don’t think essentials at least will break the bank. And I’ve made some of my most delicious meals to date here – highlights being Swedish meatballs, Thai fish curry, and tacos. Even day trips can be very affordable; if you already have a transport pass a trip to the islands is free. The only thing I downright avoid is any pre-made wrap in a supermarket or convenience store (a lot of 7-Elevens here). The first one I bought called itself teryaki chicken, but said chicken had the consistency of tofu and the sauce was overwhelmingly ginger. The second one was halloumi (thought I’d avoid meat after the first experience) but was 90% sliced cabbage, 5% hummus and 5% halloumi. So I either pack lunch or I starve.
Getting some zzz
I’m amazed that I managed to keep up a very busy social calendar for the first few days, as anyone who knows me knows I like my alone time. Luckily, even if everything else went terribly wrong, I’ve got a fabulous apartment to relax in (but I shouldn’t take even that for granted – the keys have already gone walkabout for one night). I think it’s the best accommodation I’ve ever had as a student; clean and homely, it didn’t take much to make it feel like home. After two years of sharing a kitchen gross enough to give even the toughest people nightmares, I’m loving having my own kitchennette, so dancing around in my pyjamas to questionable music while cooking up a feast can go ahead uninterrupted. And either I’m the noisy neighbour, or the walls are thick like us Brits wouldn’t believe…I don’t hear a peep from outside the room, apart from the occasional jangle of keys. Even inside the same room, you can barely hear the shower running.
Aside from a mattress topper and a fitted sheet, not one single thing was left in the flat (that sounds dramatic – it was a furnished flat). I even had to buy my own router, unless I was happy to use cable for the year. That adventure took me to two different shops (everyone was out of the cheapest router, clearly I was just one of many many students in need of one) but it did get me a very good friend – cheers to chance meetings. Some people arrived to their rooms to find the previous tenant had left a router, cleaning supplies, and other useful things, but sadly my predecessor cleaned out thoroughly. On the first night, after the coach arranged by the university dropped me at the door, I met the two other students moving in that evening. We Ubered to IKEA, grabbed the essentials, then stocked up on food. We’ve been friends ever since, which I guess is to be expected when you navigate IKEA’s kitchen section within an hour of first meeting. I returned to IKEA a few days later to pick up everything else and finally complete a functional kitchen.
Name, country, subject (and cheap beer)
The other students have been the best part of the experience so far. I haven’t met many Swedes, but other Erasmus students are the friendliest and most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. Within the first day I’d solidified a small group of friends which has only grown since then, comprising German, Swiss, Spanish and more. My ability to introduce myself decreased as the first week wore on, so it’s a good job I managed to find friends early. There’s only so many times I can explain my name, maybe spell it out, hear that everyone loves the (singular) English accent, and discuss university courses. Luckily, we’ve found an excellent selection of pubs (some very intentionally trying to be English pubs), memorised the cheapest beer, and played enough games of Uno to last a lifetime (no, you can’t play if you just had to pick up two). We’ve already queezed in several visits to the archipelago and a flight to Stockholm, although I ducked out of that trip early and spent the high-speed train journey back in a feverish haze. But we’ve all got a similar bucket list of cities to visit while we’re here, so I’m looking forward to many more trips in the future. The only struggle is finding people who are staying here for the full year, as it’s much more common to only do one semester, and most of my close friends will be leaving in January.
Een kaffe, tack
The Swedish language is mind-bending, but I picked up basic words very quicly – open, close, stop…the sort of things you see in shops and on buses (do refer to my Twitter for a selection of rude or otherwise amusing Swedish words). I have on a handful of occasions managed to order coffee without the barista switching to English, which I consider a win. Speaking of coffee – I can’t comment on whether “fika” is as prevalent as they say (although I have no reason to doubt it) but I can say that within our group, we’ve all embraced the custom, and I’m loving it. I don’t think the concept is particularly unique to Swedish culture, although maybe they covet it more than other countries, but it’s fair to say that every country has its way of enjoying a coffee break. I’m very happy to say that “let’s do fika” is a common phrase among us and it’s almost guaranteed that when I leave a lecture, I’ll have friends in the nearby cosy district of Haga already drinking coffee waiting for the rest of us to join.
Putting the “study” in “study abroad”
I genuinely almost forgot to write about my classes – you know, the part that I’m supposedly here for. I’m in the lucky situation that this doesn’t count towards my degree in the same way that it does for everyone else here, but obviously I still want to do well! It’s a challenge as I’m currently taking an introductory course in International Relations. It’s created for first years, so it’s interesting comparing it to my early experience at university – lectures and workshops about academic writing, referencing etc. But content-wise, I’m a bit lost! It’s going to take a LOT of extra reading and asking the other Erasmus students in the class, many of whom are also in their third year and so this is just recap for them. It’s nice to study something different, and I’m glad I’m not in their position of just repeating their first year, but I do miss my Psychology comfort zone! Everything is so different, from the format of papers, the language used, and even the lecture syle. Luckily, it feels like the university are very supportive and I’ll be able to seek help should I need it.
I’ve been here just long enough to start thinking about things I might miss from home (apart from my friends and family obviously, who I already miss dearly), but so far nothing too drastic. Honestly, I’m more unsettled by being unable to make small talk with cashiers than the fact that I can’t find Yorkshire or Ringtons tea. All in all, it’s been an incredible first month (and I am wiriting this one month to the day since I arrived) and I’m looking forward to many more. That said, I know that a lot of variables outside of my control have contributed to my enjoyment. If by chance I hadn’t met the people I met in the first week, if the weather wasn’t so lovely, if my apartment wasn’t in such a convenient location and in a building where four other friends live…everything could be different. But for now, things are good, and I’m enjoying that.