While the darkness and cold were familiar to Fairbanks, just about everything else in Umeć was new and exciting. I took two master’s-level courses, one at a time, for two months each, with long, intensive lectures and labs in which I met great classmates and learned new laboratory techniques like how to work with human cells and how to extract antibiotics from sewage sludge. I joined the Buddy Programme to meet Swedish “buddies” and other international students. We had tons of fun going out dancing, playing soccer (inside), having barbeques on a frozen lake (outside), watching Swedish movies, having fika (coffee break), going bowling, and much more. The international students got to explore Sweden outside of Umeć a few times to go downhill skiing, visit the Sami winter market in Jokkmokk, and relax at the adventure bath in Örnsköldsvik. When it got really cold outside, we all enjoyed playing at the beach volley court located in IKSU, or stayed inside to watch my very first Eurovision contest while eating lots of lösgodis (loose candy). I rented a bike for the semester and was so happy to be able to explore the area through the city’s multitudinous and well-maintained bike paths. There are surely more bikes than cars in Umeć! I was also pleased to be able to recycle almost everything – not only was it expected, but it was really easy!
I was also met with unprecedented opportunities to travel to (relatively) nearby countries in Europe. During the time I was in Europe, I traveled for about 40 days, mostly by myself, and it was an incredible way to independently discover the world. I had such freedom to go just about anywhere! Long nights spent trying to sleep in airport prayer rooms under my jacket were totally worth all my unique experiences, which have now evolved into fond memories: finding my way in a new city, learning the public transportation system, hoping to stumble upon a cheap local eatery, meeting new friends in hostels, being able to visit some of the world’s greatest art and architecture, and just enjoying a pleasant walk in the sunshine to smell the flowers (or freezing rain to smell the hot springs). I found that traveling is quite addictive, and I can’t wait to plan more adventures to go on when I move back.
It’s hard to describe all the ways in which going on exchange was the best thing I’ve ever done. The passing of time while on exchange was unique – it felt like I was in Umeć for many wonderful moons, but it ended much too soon. My experiences were so positive; I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else to study. Every time I traveled and came back to Umeć, it felt like returning home. In the end, when I was really pressed to think about it, I couldn’t actually come up with a good reason as to why I shouldn’t return to Umeć. After exploring several options, I now have plans to return to Umeć to work as an au pair after graduating from UAF. Here in Fairbanks I’ve met some amazing Swedes studying on exchange who are happy to fika and talk in Swedish with me for practice. Some of them are even from Umeć, so I will get to see them (and my other Swedish buddies) when I move back! Who knew that my experiences in a single semester abroad, only five short months, would change so much – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.