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Me in front of a fence

Kayla Lee

she/her/hers
SFU Student Undergraduate
Applied Sciences › Computing Science
Study Abroad › Exchange

Program:
University
Location:
Experience Faculty
Going on exchange was the best decision I have made during my time at SFU. I studied at Uppsala University from August 2023 to January 2024, and now that I’ve returned to Canada, I have more direction for what I want to pursue after I graduate and I feel much more independent, confident, and comfortable navigating new experiences and surprises.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2023
Introduction + Preparation
Financial Preparation

One of my first concerns in preparing for my exchange was how much it was going to cost and how I was going to afford it. I highly recommend looking into the funding opportunities that SFU offers such as the Suite of Study Abroad Awards and the Global Skills Opportunity Awards, as there are multiple options available and the awards significantly helped me during my exchange. Before my exchange, I used a budget tracking app which was valuable to see what I was spending my money on and assisted me to figure out ways to save more.

Packing

I made the #1 mistake of overpacking and taking way too much stuff with me. I probably only used 3/4 of my clothing throughout my exchange, wasting precious luggage space! If I could go back, I would only bring essentials as you can buy what you’re missing once you arrive in Sweden. Since I was going to experience 3 seasons, I brought clothing that I could layer and wear during each month. Vacuum seal bags ended up being a huge saviour to me to squish everything down into a more compact form when coming home. 

Travel and Transportation

My journey first began with a flight to Stockholm. I monitored flight prices on Google Flights and Skyscanner, and ended up choosing a flight with a layover in Amsterdam. Once I was in Sweden, I was surprised to see how much everyone biked in Uppsala. There was a huge bike sale in the Flogsta dorms during the first few weeks where most international students bought their bikes. There are also buses in Uppsala that I used every day to get to classes and transit around the city, they ran frequently but were more expensive to use. Uppsala is only a 40-minute train ride to Stockholm so I ended up regularly going to Stockholm and exploring Sweden’s capital city! Since Uppsala is fairly close to Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport and Stockholm Centralstation (train), traveling and going on small trips was also quite convenient.

Preparation Tips for Future Students
  • Don't feel pressured to buy a bike - I bought one and only used it a few times because I underestimated how difficult it would be for me to learn how to ride a bike. It may feel like everyone is biking, but many students also use the buses to get around. 
  • Sweden is a mostly card-only country. Many vendors and stores don’t accept cash and would only accept card payments or Swish (Swedish bank), so you won’t need to bring much cash with you.
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The first weeks were some of the best memories of my time in Uppsala. I arrived during the recommended Arrival Days where the university provided a shuttle bus to drive students from Arlanda Airport to the Uppsala University Welcome Centre and then to our dorms. Arriving on the Arrival Days along with so many other students helped me make friends much easier. I met some of the best friends I made at Uppsala at the airport while we waited for the shuttle bus. 

Once I was settled into my dorm and ready to explore, I used the Nation’s guide to see what events were happening. The Nations are similar to student clubs that all have their own building and run their own restaurants and events - like karaoke, sports, and formal dinners. There were also welcome events hosted by different faculties throughout the week to help introduce students to one another and provide information on what classes and student life is like in Uppsala. One of the highlights of these events was a Sorting Hat Ceremony! 

Accommodation and Living

I ended up living in the Flogsta dorms which are located around the outskirts of the city and are known for housing thousands of international students on exchange. I applied for the dorms through the Uppsala University Housing Office. Living in Flogsta was difficult at times (you share a kitchen and cleaning schedule with 11 other students), but well worth it! My corridor mates became very close and had dinners and games nights, and even went on some trips together! Flogsta also offers the famous Flogsta scream - a tradition where every night at 10 pm, students will literally open their windows and scream at each other (it’s supposed to be stress relief).

Learning and Adaptation

At SFU I study Computing Science, however, I decided to take elective courses that I found interesting while on exchange, with my favourite 2 being Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament and Human Struggle for a Better World. I found school and classes at Uppsala to be very different from SFU with much more participation and discussion expected in class and fewer assignments and exams. There are also retake exams and assignments if you don’t pass, so I was able to spend more time learning and understanding the content with less stress about failing. The class scheduling system is also unique in that the schedules change each week, so some weeks I would only have 1 class and some weeks I would have class every day. The semester is split into 4 periods so some of my classes ran for only 1 or 2 months, and some courses only started in November or December rather than at the beginning of the semester in August. 

Accomplishments and Challenges

I found the first few weeks to be extremely rewarding but also difficult as I put a lot of pressure on myself to make friends and experience as much as I could. If you too experience this, don’t worry, it will be ok, everything will work out. Many other students I met also had a hard time adjusting initially since everything was foreign, new, and many people were feeling nervous. One of my biggest personal accomplishments was being able to make amazing friends and build my community from scratch. I began the exchange being extremely worried about making friends and being alone, but I ended it by making some of my best friends for life.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

My favourite activities were going to Nations’ events with friends, visiting some of the touristy spots in Uppsala or the surrounding towns, or grabbing an afternoon fika and chat. I met many of my friends initially through participating in Nations events like walking tours and dinners, we would then we’d spend more time together going on day trips to other Swedish cities/towns like Stockholm and Sigtuna. I fell in love with fika - a Swedish tradition of an afternoon coffee break with a treat, like kanelbullar- a Swedish cinnamon roll! I went on countless fikas during my exchange and will continue the tradition in Vancouver.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

I cannot recommend participating in an exchange semester enough. While there were many sacrifices, challenges, and fears, everything I gained and experienced was completely worth it. Going on an exchange semester was the best experience of my life and has truly transformed me into a more independent, outgoing, and self-assured person. I went on a few solo trips which built my confidence and made me feel much more comfortable being on my own and navigating different situations. I made amazing friends from all around the world, which taught me how to interact and communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures. I traveled and saw places and things I’d only ever dreamed of seeing, which made me realize that the world is bigger and more amazing than I’d ever imagined it to be. Living in Sweden has lit a passion for travel, adventure, and making connections that I will carry with me throughout life. 

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

The most valuable aspects of my experience would be the unique opportunities and friends I would not have encountered otherwise. The lessons I learned and the life experience I gained from my 5 months in Sweden are life-changing and have helped me further develop and grow as a person. 

Advice for Future Students
  • Try new things and try to make the most out of your time abroad! While it may seem like a long time, the time flies by quickly.
  • Be open-minded to living in a new culture and meeting people from different countries. I found it fun to try learning phrases in different languages from everyone I met! 
  • Keep a travel diary! I documented the everyday mundane things I did and saw, and now it’s nice to read it over again and remember what I did and how I felt at the time.

Author

Me in front of a fence

Kayla Lee

she/her/hers
SFU Student Undergraduate
Applied Sciences › Computing Science
Study Abroad › Exchange
visibility  120
Apr 24, 2024

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