Saying Goodbye to Uppsala
Tomorrow I head to Stockholm airport with my luggage in tow, postcards down from my walls and safely packed away for my next destination, as I’m leaving Sweden. It’s exactly 4 months since I arrived in Uppsala and already another semester of my Master’s has passed, so it’s time to head off to pastures new. I would have happily stayed for another month to catch the Midnight Sun and the Swedish midsummer, but I’ve now submitted all my papers and assignments, so I’ve a summer (almost) free! I’m heading off to London and elsewhere in Europe for a busy summer of adventures before my next semester starts in August.
I’ve enjoyed living in Uppsala, establishing a new home in Sweden and exploring Scandinavia, although at times it’s also been hard to appreciate it objectively instead of comparing it to Groningen in the Netherlands, the city where I spent my last semester. The difference with Groningen is that I knew I would be returning before too long, with two separate visits and 2017 and another semester in 2018, while I write my thesis. On the other hand, I’m really not sure when or if I’ll be returning to Uppsala… I shall certainly return to Scandinavia, I hope, as there are some stunning places I’ve left to explore, but there isn’t much in Uppsala itself to call me back.
I haven’t had a bad experience here at all, but in Uppsala I know mainly other international students, all of whom are also moving on to other countries and universities. It’s been really hard to make any close Swedish friends, so there isn’t anyone to pull me back to Uppsala.
Here’s the blog post I wrote on the day I moved here (Hej Sverije!) and also a post of my first impressions after three weeks of living in Uppsala (A Student’s First Impressions of Uppsala). I’ve also been writing a monthly ‘Diary of a Master’s Student Abroad’ about my experiences in Uppsala to collect all the memories I’ve made here.
Here are a few of my reflections while looking back over the last 4 months:
- Sweden really is very cold! I loved the snow and the crisp winter days with sunny blue skies in February and March but I’ve really missed the spring. Tree blossom and spring flowers have only recently arrived in Uppsala and we’ve had the odd scorching day to stay outside late into the evening, but we still get the odd snowfall in May and its’s nothing like the sunny warm spring temperatures I experienced on my brief trips back to London and Italy. It’s been fine for one semester, but I’m not sure I could cope living permanently in Sweden year-in, year-out.
- You need your own means of transport to properly explore Scandinavia, as the distances are so big and the countryside landscapes are more interesting than most of the cities. We’ve rented a car and a moto at times to get around, and it really is worth it! Although don’t underestimate the distances… it took us a whole 15 hours straight to drive 1,000km from the west coast of Norway to the east coast of Sweden!
- Stockholm is a fantastic city. Just a 45-minute train from my house, I’ve adored re-exploring the various islands of Stockholm’s city and archipelago and it would be an amazing place to live (pending a Swedish salary of course!). Having Stockholm so close encouraged a lot more friends and family to visit me than did Groningen (which is 2.5 hours from Amsterdam), but its proximity also perhaps hinders Uppsala developing a community and identity of its own. Groningers are so proud of their city precisely because of its isolation and (relative) distance from the most famous, densely populated parts of the Netherlands. There doesn’t seem to be the same sense of Uppsala community, as many commute to and from Stockholm, or have other links to the capital.
- I’ve learned a lot about an area of Europe that I barely knew at all beforehand: the Baltic Sea Region. Comprising Scandinavia, Finland, Russia, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Poland, it really was a bit of blur on my mental map of Europe in terms of lifestyle, politics and societies, and not a region that had ever featured in my education before. It’s been so interesting to research and learn more about the region, which I really want to explore properly. I still haven’t managed my trip over to the Baltics though, so will have to find time to see them first-hand instead of just through academic books and journal articles!
- The university culture is too laid-back for my liking. I deliberately decided not to overload myself with extracurricular classes this semester like I did in Groningen, limiting myself only to learning Swedish. This, combined with two reading weeks and only 6 hours per week of classes, certainly gave me more time for travelling and exploring (which I loved!), but in Uppsala at times I did feel restless and (dare I say it) a little bored. And while it sounds bizarre to complain about a small number of assignments, I do wish the university and the course had pushed us harder and got more out of us. Groningen stretched me to my limits but I learned a huge amount from it, while in Uppsala I had time to spare and I feel I could have achieved and learned a lot more with more contact time with my lecturers. I also received zero feedback or grades during the semester itself, which kind of made me lose motivation to aim for the high grades I was targetting in Uppsala. Fingers crossed this won’t have totally annulled all my hard work in my 1st semester!
- It’s important for me to live close to a major airport. Uppsala is perfectly located for a quick getaway from Stockholm’s largest airport, Arlanda, and I think that’s why I travelled so much, as it was all so easy! It’s something I took for granted in London but which I missed in Groningen. But in fact it could be one reason why I integrated more and feel more of a connection to Groningen than to Uppsala, because I spent more time physically in the city. Here in Uppsala, I’d pop into nearby Stockholm or home to London for the weekend, or to Norway, the Netherlands or Italy, so I was barely here. While I was much more ingrained in Groningen and invested more of my time into the city rather than travelling elsewhere.
- My Swedish has almost directly replaced my Dutch! To be fair, I haven’t had that much spoken practice of my Swedish (as I don’t have any close Swedish friends here) but I’m pretty happy with my level of reading Swedish, from film subtitles to signs to websites, it’s a relatively quick language to pick up. The pity is that I probably won’t continue with my Swedish, as I’d rather continue with my Dutch. But I enjoyed learning Swedish anyway and who knows when it may come in handy in future!
- Sweden has utterly robbed me of my savings! Never before have I felt so impoverished by a simple supermarket shop, nor have I ever gone so wildly over budget as I have done in Sweden. There’s a balance between living frugally and dying of boredom, so I resigned myself to spending savings in order to make the most of Scandinavia with expensive trips to Norway and Gotland, and enjoying myself generally. But it is seriously expensive – one reason that sadly puts me off returning here to Uppsala.
- Gotland is a hidden gem! It’s the largest island in the Baltic Sea and honestly has a micro-climate of its own. I got back yesterday from a long weekend exploring the beaches and cliffs there and it really did have a Mediterranean climate and feel to it. It’s no.2 on Lonely Planet’s travel list for 2017, so the word is slowly getting out, but it really was beautiful!
Sweden has been fun, although different from what I was expecting. As I had a lot less work than in Groningen, was able to travel around lots and met mainly other international students from across Europe, my time in Uppsala resembled more closely my first Erasmus year in Spain and Italy during my Bachelor’s: incredibly enriching culturally and really fun, but not necessarily very academic. This surprised me as Uppsala University has a fantastic reputation internationally, but in the end didn’t live up to the hype.
I was also disappointed not to integrate more into the Swedish lifestyle, but I can also blame myself slightly for this… True Uppsala students are supposed to live in ancient, grubby shared corridors in an area outside of the city called Flogsta, which I dodged by living in a studio apartment right in the centre. True Uppsala students are also supposed to volunteer to work in the ‘nations’ as bartenders/cooks/etc, but at the age of 27 I didn’t fancy unpaid work of that type. Both places are where you meet actual Swedes. Maybe it’s snobbery on my part that I didn’t live in Flogsta nor work in the nations, and I confess that I probably did miss out because of it, but ultimately I’ve still spent my last 4 months with some fantastic people and it’s been a great experience overall!
In the end I will miss Uppsala, or more likely the freedom I’ve had and the people I’ve spent my time with. I have felt an odd sense of dread at the idea of leaving, a desire to not give up the comfortable routine I’ve developed here. Ultimately the process of moving country is always a hassle that I dread, but at the same time I am also excited at my busy summer ahead and of course my next semester: in Mexico!