Reflecting on my year abroad in Gothenburg, Sweden

by Fizz

Or as ChatGPT suggested: “Passport to Personal Growth: How My Year Abroad Redefined Me”

And so, the year ends. After two semesters, ten months, and many, many memories, it is time for me to say goodbye to Gothenburg and head back home to England. And with that, of course, come a lot of thoughts and feelings to work through. The last sememster post was much easier to write, thanks to me having so many thoughts constantly that I wrote them down as I went. This time, however, having settled into my life in Sweden, I wasn’t constantly jotting notes, and now it’s difficult to recall all the feelings I’ve had over this time. But I do have some more observations that didn’t make it into the last post that perhaps belong here.

The “study” part of “studying abroad”

The year ended how it began – studying international politics. These last two courses both related to the EU, and thus made for a nice coherent study pattern. It did end with some challenging assignments though, including some debates and even a UN simulation in class. That was my very last class at the uni, and I was allocated the role of chair. I considered asking to swap, but in the end decided to go with it and finish my time here with one final challenge. And it was…ok? I wish I could say that it was a triumphant lesson in battling through nerves, but in truth, I was just happy that it was over.

I’ve already thought and written about the differences in marking across the two universities. This year has been amazing for my stress levels, not only due to the lower workload but also because I didn’t spend time obsessing over every assignment and worrying about grades. I’ve simply finished assignments and submitted them without much thought. The marking is much more lenient and the workload lower; at Warwick I’d have done a few extra assignments, some mid-term exams, and then end of year exams, but at GU I only had some essays to submit (and two exams which I will admit were hard work, despite the memory of them fading). It will be difficult going from this back to Warwick, and I’m a little bit nervous if I’m honest (not to mention it’s my final year). But, I have also learned lots of reading and time management skills this year that I can hopefully implement next year.

One thing I benefitted from this year was access to two university libraries online, which was useful because many of my textbooks recommended by GU weren’t available in the GU library. I personally find this strange – in the UK it’s not incredibly common to pay hundreds of pounds for textbooks, as generally if a book is recommended for a course it will be in the library. I was therefore in the lucky position where I didn’t have to choose between parting with a lot of money, or just going without the book, because I could use my Warwick library login to access the books online.

In January I did finally get to participate in a Psychology course, but it was so different to what I was expecting. I think it’s unfair to judge the whole department on this one module, but overall it wasn’t very empirical nor did it give a good overview of the field. But then again, it never claimed to be – it was specifically a social psychology and group dynamics class, after all. I just found it interesting to compare to Warwick’s teaching, where the emphasis is on empiricism and critical thinking. Once I shook off this confusion, I settled into what was essentially an applied group dynamics course, which built on social psychology research. It was like taking what I already knew and applying it in new and relevant ways. The section about creativity and innovation was especially interesting, and it was in this course that I sat my first in-person (“real”) exams since leaving school. It did make me realise how rigorous UK education is, so even though we like to complain about the cost, I do appreciate the level of education I’m getting now.

There was a great international atmosphere – not just among the students, but also the teachers are very aware of exchange students and that they want to be making the most of the semester. When we apologised to a teacher for our absence and explained that we’d be in Lapland, his response was “of course, you have to do that”. I will miss the range of backgrounds and perspectives in my classes, as they really added a richness, especially when studying subjects that do benefit from different viewpoints. This was aided by the small class sizes, making every lecture a possibility for discussion (at home my lectures are generally 150+ and discussion is limited to fortnightly seminars). This has the added benefit of helping to commit information to memory. It was daunting too, of course; I generally don’t love participating in group discussion and I like it even less when I feel that I’m the only person in the class who’s never studied politics before.

All in all, I feel incredibly lucky to have benefitted from the Erasmus programme. As you can imagine, Brexit featured a lot in conversations this year, and whatever you may feel about it, it’s a real shame that some international opportunities for students and young adults have been lost. I’m very grateful that my experience felt exactly like what I expected from Erasmus pre-Brexit, and I also benefitted hugely from Erasmus funding. I hope this is the same for other students across the UK, as I personally (and in the least cliche way possible) feel that I’m a completely different person to the one that left her mum Manchester airport back in August 2022.

Festivals, FOMO and friends: Living the international life

Something that categorised the second half of this semester was the way I’d been living out of a bag for a lot of it, hopping around various different places. After a very relaxed start to the semester, it made quite the change, although it also led to some stress and I’m definitely looking forward to spending more than two weeks at a time in one place. I’m not a superstitious person, but after several months of last minute flights, overnight buses, and pushing the hand baggage allowance, I did start to feel like my luck was running out. Indeed, I’ve had two unplanned overnight stays thanks to cancelled or delayed flights. Having said that, I’ve very much enjoyed the somewhat “nomadic” life, and since I know I won’t be doing the same again for some time I tried to make the most of it. Over the course of the year, I’ve taken intercity and international trains, overnight buses, convoluted connecting flights, stayed in a shared dorm for the first time ( and a second time, giddy with excitement after the success of the first), travelled “properly” solo for the first time…lots of things ticked off. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of all this travelling that I realised quite what I was doing. I even travelled for some music festivals and volunteered at one, which isn’t something I’ve done before but I’m definitely prepared to do again. I never saw myself as some happy-go-lucky student traveller, and still don’t, and yet, to some people, I realise that’s exactly what I’ll look like.

Me obsessing over old trams in two different countries

So where did I go? Well, to give the briefest overview possible –

In February I was in Finnish Lapland for a magical few days of snow and the northern lights; in March, I found myself in Spain, Belgium and Poland, which gave rise to many great experiences, including staying in a Boeing hostel (thanks to cancelled flight number 1 of the year), staying in a 19th century fort, and solo travelling in Gdańsk. In May I travelled to stay with a friend near(ish) London – we booked concert tickets a couple of years ago, and after waiting for so long, I wasn’t going to let being in Sweden cancel my plans! Later that month, I visited another friend in Helsinki, and then together we spent a few days in Stockholm. My final outing in May involved cancelled flight number 2 and an overnight stay in Copenhagen (sadly not in a grounded aircraft) before a few days in Belgium, then back to Copenhagen (intentionally this time) to volunteer at Distortion festival. After a few days celebrating Gothenburg’s 400th birthday in June, I travelled back across to the UK, this time to Parklife festival in Manchester. And finally, with a hop, skip and a jump through Oslo, Trondheim and Bodø, I ended up in the Lofoten islands for a few days of hiking, mountain views and midnight sun.

Oh, and then one more festival in Belgium to round the month off.

My mum visited me for my final week in Gothenburg, which was perfect timing as most of my friends had left by then (and she took a suitcase home for me. Thanks mum). It was lovely to spend my last few days in the city sharing my favourite places with her, from the dingiest pubs to the prettiest views. It was strangely bittersweet, as I was so excited dragging her around the city but also sad to leave. It’s also impossible to convey the memories that the city holds – sure, it’s just a pub, but we spent many a night all ten of us in here playing cards!

Dancing in the kitchen on my own

A large part of the year wasn’t the travelling, though. It was the mundane. This was the first time I’ve ever lived fully on my own, no flatmates, and I loved every second of it. I loved decorating my flat to my liking, mostly with avocado plants because they’re free. I do hope someone rehomed them when I left them in the hallway upon leaving. I loved cooking by myself, usually in pjs, with music on. I loved watching the sun go down from my window, watching Netflix in bed with a cup of tea, even cleaning! Because the space was totally, completely, mine.

I loved the winter. Whatever it is that makes me love the cold really had a great year. I loved layering up on a morning, and bracing myself for the first hit of cold air. I loved coming in from the cold, bashing the grit out of my boots, checking my little post box, and trudging up the three flights to my front door – by which time I was all sweaty.

I loved going to the shop (“Willys”, to my endless amusement), having all the cupboard space to myself and filling it with herbs and spices and chocolate and snacks and half a dozen types of tea. I loved buying a yoga mat (though I will never accept how expensive they are) and doing home workouts but I also loved the walk to the gym and even better, the walk back in the dark with some food waiting for me at home.

I loved the island trips, but not enough at the time. I didn’t love 7-Eleven sandwiches and I learned way too late to stick to the salad bars in supermarkets if I wanted convenience food. I loved the coffee culture and the wealth of independent cafes. I loved the nightlife, even though it was a little different to what I was used to. I miss all piling into one room to have some drinks before going out, then frantically running for the tram even though we knew all night when we needed to leave and we literally could not have been in a room closer to the tram stop. It was fun seeing everyone you know whilst out because we all went to the same club on the same day. I don’t at all miss the random dirt bike that always seemed to pass at full speed when my window was open, but I do miss the second hand shops and the other sounds of the city.

I loved meeting up with friends almost daily, just trusting that there’d be plans to join in on, and seeing what other students – to whom I was only connected by status as an Erasmus student – were getting up to on the group chat. I loved our cold winter fikas, as darkness fell outside. I loved the occasional miscommunication, which is the joy of life when you put five or six different nationalitied together. I loved hopping on a tram almost without paying attention because the system was so intuitive. I loved calling my mum for a catch up every so often, usually while I was shopping, even though one time I way overshot my tram stop because I was distracted.

I really loved that day we skipped our lecture and went to the lake instead, because it was the first time we’d seen sun in what felt like forever. It was still freezing, only two degrees or something, but the sun made it feel warmer. That was the first time I swam in a freezing lake, and after we had Semlor (Shrove Tuesday buns) and hot chocolate. That evening I went to the cinema, and warmth radiated from my very bones as if I’d never be cold again. An early morning showing of a truly harrowing film as part of the Gothenburg Film Festival was made slightly better by the fact that it was in a very cute old theatre, and we went to a street food market afterwards. There was one time we had a super cosy fika after visiting the museum, because I’d been ill for about a week and missed everyone, but that was all I was up to doing. Then there were the city trips in semester one, all traipsing round the city in a big group like school kids on an excursion. I think I won’t miss the bus terminal too much though, because I arrived there one too many times in the early house of the morning, bleary eyed and hungry. I did enjoy cycling home after those arrivals, because no trams or buses were running at that time, sun already up because it was getting into the summer, and bike paths completely empty.

Leaving Gothenburg

Leaving the city behind was hard for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, because I’m just that sentimental, and I get attached to places pretty easily – and when you’ve made as many memories in a place as I did in Gothenburg, it’s an even stronger attachment. The city is a very easy place to settle into, and I had everything I could possibly need on the doorstep – which, for someone who grew up in a small town, was pretty awesome. But also because the “Erasmus bubble” was a very special experience, and I know that even if I return to Gothenburg in the future, it won’t feel the same because it will be under different circumstances. My workload and stress levels have been lower than ever this year, and it’s been easier than ever to meet people, because international students are so happy (desperate?) to make new friends. Finally, I was sad to say goodbye to my little flat, with my tiny kitchen, excessive cupboards and lovely city views. It was by far my favourite student appartment. I’ll miss my solitary evenings of listening to music and cooking , but I’ll also miss having my own space to welcome friends into.

On our last night out in first term, before almost everyone apart from me left, we all got a copy of a group photo and wrote messages to each other on the back of them. The next day we did our final fika, which got very tearful and we probably got some concerned looks. In second term, everyone left in dribs and drabs. Before one friend left, we had a little picnic. I missed saying bye to another friend because I got my calendar mixed up and was away when he left. One friend I said goodbye to in northern Norway after our Lofoten trip. And I gave one very lovely friend a hand cleaning her flat before walking her to the airport bus in torrential rain.

But one leaving story I don’t remember is my own. I barely remember waving my mum off, but I’m fairly certain that was the day before I left. I’m assuming I felt some sort of emptiness, some sort of “this is it” after that, but I really can’t remember.

It’s sort of coming back to me as I write…I remember taking my keys back to the office, conveniently located a 10 minute walk on cobbles from and public transport stops. I remember trying to look around and commit everything to memory, but it’s hard to take extra special notice of a place you’ve appreciated for a year. I definitely don’t remember how I spent my last night. I thought I’d be more tearful the weekend after I left, but honestly it still feels like it hasn’t quite hit yet. I did get a bit tearful writing this section though.

Last dinner with a friend in the flat: leftover wine, comfy clothes, bare walls

What’s next

I’m currently back in my hometown, which I hope to feature a lot on the blog in the future. It’s strange to be back because I always feel like I settle in very quickly – it’s my childhood home, after all – but actually I’m probably not settled at all. I’ve got all my uni stuff in boxes which don’t quite fit anywhere and it’s all disorganised. I’m still getting used to sharing my space with other people again, even if they are my family, and having my friends live a little bit further away (in Gothenburg a lot of my friends lived in the same building). It’s also quite a change being in a small town and needing to drive or take a bus to the next town when I need something – especially after a year of not needing a car.

But apart from that, it’s good to be home. The town I live in is a beautiful one and I’m very lucky to have a home base here. I’ve got an awesome job which will keep me occupied all summer and I’m feeling refreshed and – dare I say – enthusiastic about tackling my final year of uni. I know, if nothing else, I’m a very different person to the girl who got on that plane bound for Gothenburg this time last year.

1 comment

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