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SPS student voices and experiences
Martha’s Swedish Sojourn: recounting a Scandinavian year abroad

Martha’s Swedish Sojourn: recounting a Scandinavian year abroad

One of the unique elements of studying at Edinburgh is that many of our students choose to study abroad in Third Year. Our student blog writer, Martha, spent her third year in Sweden, and has recounted her experiences. You can find out more about exchanges at Edinburgh here

As part of my degree in Scandinavian Studies and Social Policy, I was required to spend a full year abroad in Sweden. So, in August 2022 I moved across the North Sea to begin studying at Uppsala University, the oldest University in Scandinavia, and here’s how it went!

Moving abroad was undoubtedly the most daunting and challenging thing I have ever done in my life. I remember sitting on the plane thinking, what have I done? Despite studying Swedish, I had never been to Sweden before – would I like it? Would I be able to speak enough Swedish? How could I live so far away from my family? But after only a couple of days in Uppsala, I knew that I’d made the right decision.

Due to the large number of exchange students hosted by Uppsala University every year (there were over 2000 in my accommodation alone), my first week was filled with orientation and social events to get to know the city and the other students who had also left their homes to come to Sweden. An important thing to know when you go abroad is that everyone else is going through the same thing – and I mean everyone. You are all far away from home, all hearing a new language, all learning to navigate a new city. This creates the perfect opportunity to bond with people from all over the world – nationalities in my flat ranged from Malaysian to Dutch to Canadian!

Going abroad also allows you to travel to and within a totally new area of the world. When I was in Uppsala I spent time in Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Tallinn, and the Swedish wilderness. After only three weeks, I went on a roadtrip with some new friends to Fulufjället National Park and hiked 25km, seeing the world’s oldest tree and Sweden’s tallest waterfall. I tried the Scandinavian sauna experience, plunging into Oslo harbour, where it was so cold that they had to break the ice to make a hole to jump in. Being abroad is the opportunity to say ‘yes!’ to everything and experience some really cool things that the people left in Edinburgh won’t get to do.

Martha and her friends hiking in Sweden.
Martha and her friends hiking in Sweden!

Of course, a year abroad is also about the studying. While most of my courses focused on the Swedish language, I was also able to take elective courses in Sustainable Development and Swedish-American Relations. Being able to look at these subjects through a new lens broadened my existing knowledge and has led to me considering studying a masters in Sustainable Development, possibly even in Uppsala. I’d also recommend getting involved in student organisations, as meeting native students when studying abroad can be quite difficult. I auditioned for the university orchestra, and through this I got to meet native Swedish people and go on tour to Stockholm, also playing regular concerts in the very fancy Universitetsaulan!

The Uppsala university orchestra playing a concert on stage in the ornate Universitetsaulan.
The Universitetsaulan!

However, it’s important to know that not everything was perfect in Sweden, and I certainly struggled at some points with the language and feeling homesick. The long winter was no joke, and Edinburgh winters now feel warm and light in comparison. Now that I’m back in Edinburgh, I can see how much my year away benefitted me – I am far more independent, outgoing and resilient. Dealing with the hard moments when in a foreign country makes you grow as a person, and as cheesy as it sounds, it’s true! I also loved travelling when I was away, so now have now incorporated a bi-weekly daytrip into my Edinburgh routine – expect more blog posts on that later.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad, don’t hesitate – say yes and apply! You will never get this experience again, and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best and most important things that has ever happened to me. I would do anything to go back and relive it – but that pleasure is all yours.


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