So, it turns out hindsight really is 20/20… Who would have thought going on a semester exchange to Sweden in early 2020 would be anything but smooth?
But let’s start from a happily Covid-free beginning and jump straight into a cliché: I saw a semester exchange as a unique opportunity to experience a new way of life. To be fair, clichés are clichés for a reason. The opportunity to get on a plane and leave everything behind but your own self, to explore an unknown city and region, to live in a new culture, to study in a new way, to surround yourself with new loved ones, and to call a new place a new home for an extended time, all in a supported way, and with an old home to return to at the end of it? It was a compelling thought. Stockholm too, was a compelling thought! A Scandinavian and global cultural hub of excellence and beauty (and 70s pop Supergroups). So, a Semester at Stockholm University it was.
On the back of a few weeks wandering through Germany and the Czech Republic, I arrived in Stockholm early January to begin what was a whirlwind induction. The remote was on fast-forward. Everything occurred at breakneck speed, from University inductions, Swedish language lessons, student pub nights, city tours, and our own late-night tours of Stockholm-town. And of course, making new friends. Living at ‘Lappis’, a suburb-like complex of student apartments, was a pleasure, as it played host to a global community of students, Swedish, international and exchange alike.
A small community of exchange students was formed, quickly becoming a wonderful friendship group, with a handful of Aussies joining a crew of North Americans and Europeans. Late-notice dinners, drinks and ‘fika’ were always a walk away. Settling in was a task, with a long list of new normals to normalise. Public transport, healthcare systems, currencies, languages, university expectations, migration offices, supermarkets, cosy cafes, free Monday nights bowling, and the world’s largest IKEA (!) all required some navigation. But with the remote on fast forward, these things happened quickly. In the rhythm of study, and the exploration of museums, parks, cobbled streets, galleries, cafes, harbors and nightlife, Stockholm was feeling like home before long. And it was a beautiful place to call home. Life in Stockholm began to blur with a mix of comforting familiarity and new excitement.
Sadly, at the end of March, with two months still planned, I had to leave Stockholm and return to Adelaide in the midst of the Coronavirus global pandemic. Seemingly overnight, the pandemic went from what seemed an abstract concern of public health officials in shiny buildings on the other side of Stockholm, to everything anyone could talk about. Like much of the rest of the world, the everyday was thrown into chaos, as we adjusted to public health recommendations and tried to balance information from Stockholm University, home Universities, the Swedish Government, and our respective home Governments.
To the credit of all, information and support was as available as could be expected. I never felt unsafe, nor forgotten, though confusion and frustration were just about ubiquitous among our little exchange student community. With some cancelled flights and some unprepared-for goodbyes, I made it home, safe and sound.
I quarantined and continued the Stockholm Semester online. I was grateful to both Stockholm and Flinders that I could complete my semester without setting back my degree. Despite the support, this was a difficult transition, from the excitement and connectedness of Stockholm to the necessary isolation at home. But, with widespread isolation worldwide, this, I think, was a shared experience.
Despite the unexpected end, I don’t regret my decision to go to Stockholm in the slightest. I’m grateful that I still got to experience three months on exchange, and they were three months packed to the brim with intense, exciting experience and genuinely meaningful connection. While I can’t recommend global pandemics, I can recommend Stockholm.
Oliver Russell student of Bachelor of Science (Honours) (Geography) undertook a semester exchange at Stockholm University Sweden in S1 2020