What classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
I took two upper-division classes for major credit: Immunology and Animal Behavior—both were taught in English. Lund University runs on a pseudo-quarter system: its semester is split into two periods, so I took Immunology during the first period (January to March), and Animal Behavior during the second period (March to May). Unlike UCSB’s curriculum, where I am accustomed to juggling several different classes in different subjects, my entire workload during one period at Lund was dedicated to one class in one subject matter, allowing for more in-depth knowledge of what I was studying. My classes at Lund had small numbers of students and involved a lot of hands-on laboratories, discussion seminars and sometimes even field trips. Overall, I feel that my prior coursework at UCSB appropriately prepared me for my advanced coursework in Sweden.
What was your favorite class abroad?
I really enjoyed my Immunology class, which was actually a graduate-level course, because it involved a lot of interesting laboratories that taught me a range of useful molecular biology lab techniques. The course even included a brief field trip to a local biotechnology company near the university’s campus. I grew close to all of my classmates in that course—both Swedish and international—through working together in lab and in discussion seminars; I’m still in touch with some of them! This course definitely helped kick-start my interest in a career in biomedicine.
Did you intern, conduct research, or volunteer abroad?
I did not, although Lund University has plenty of additional research opportunities for its biology students.
How would you describe your host institution?
Similar to UCSB and its surrounding community of Isla Vista, Lund University has an intimate college-town atmosphere that emphasizes the value of balancing academic work with leisure time. Lund has a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming student community that is composed of both Swedish and international students, so not only did I have the opportunity to meet Swedes, but I also got to socialize with students from a variety of different countries.
Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
Lund University has several student-run social organizations known as Nations that all Lund students can join. These Nations hold a variety of social events, including pubs, communal meals, recreational activities, excursions and dance clubs. Even though you sign up for membership of only one Nation, you still have access to the events of all of the other Nations. Students can even volunteer to work at Nation events, which is a wonderful way to get involved and meet new people. Each academic department, known as a Faculty, also hosts its own social events and activities for students as well.
Describe your housing situation.
I lived in a university-owned building that was a short distance away from campus by bus or bike. I stayed in a corridor, which can be described as a sort of cross between an apartment and dormitory-style living. I shared a kitchen and a common area with five other students, but I had my own bedroom and bathroom. The building I stayed in was really modern and nice, and I grew close to my corridor-mates, who were all international students as well.
Where did you eat most of your meals?
Since eating out in Sweden tends to be a little pricey, I cooked most of my meals at home in my corridor’s kitchen. However, the student Nations regularly serve meals at discounted prices, with each Nation serving a differently themed meal at various times and days per week. My friends and I would often grab lunch at Sydskånska Nation after our Immunology lectures. Each academic building on the Lund campus also has its own café, so if I didn’t feel like preparing lunch that day, I could always grab a bite at the Biologihuset (the Biology Building) café during a study break. I also enjoyed a lot of coffee and falafel when exploring the town with friends—both types of shops are very common around Sweden.
How much was the average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
The average meal (when eating at a café/restaurant) was probably equivalent to about $8 for lunch and then about $13 to $16 for dinner. While it’s definitely a great experience to try local restaurants, eating out frequently can definitely burn through your budget, so it is a good idea to cook your own meals when you can, and eat elsewhere during a special occasion. Eating at student Nations is also a great way to save money while enjoying a fun, social time with friends—the average meal at a Nation costs only $3 to $6 and they serve you a generous amount of food. You can even obtain free Nation meals if you volunteer at some of their events! Interestingly, despite not being Swedish in origin, falafel is a widespread and popular food item in Sweden and is also sold at a cheap price. There are a lot of falafel places in Lund that are very affordable and open late at night.
Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
Not at all; Swedish supermarkets carry most of the same items that US supermarkets do, and there are plenty of meat-free meal options around town and even in some of the Nations.
Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
On some Saturdays, after a night of dancing at Östgöta Nation’s club, my friends and I would walk to Mårtens to get some falafel. I would always order a falafel with halloumi cheese (also known as a halloumirulle) and it was definitely a nice, warm treat to have after several hours on the dance floor. Since Mårtens stayed open until 4am and the buses back to our living areas ran until 3am on weekends, there was never any rush to return home so we would often hang out there for a while, laughing over and recounting the events of that evening.
What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I definitely miss Swedish desserts and pastries, which we often enjoyed with our coffee. In particular, I miss the chokladboll, which is basically a ball of oatmeal, chocolate, vanilla sugar, and butter covered in coconut flakes. It was ridiculously sweet, but so delicious.
Describe your host city
The city of Lund (the university’s namesake) is intimate and charming with gorgeous European architecture everywhere you look—it is straight out of a fairytale! The city itself is very interconnected to the university so sometimes it is hard to figure out where the campus ends and the city begins. Since Lund’s population is mainly composed of students, it is easy to feel right at home when out and about—many local stores even offer discounts for students. Since Lund University is a major scientific research hub, a lot of technology companies are also present around the city of Lund, so it is definitely interesting to see their elegant, hyper-modern buildings scattered amongst the town’s older, more traditionally-styled structures.
Was it easy to get around?
It was very easy to get around—Sweden’s public transport is excellent. Lund’s bus system is super efficient and even comes with a mobile app that is easy to use and understand. Similar to UCSB, biking is also a common form of transport around town.
Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
I felt extremely safe in Lund—safer than in any American city! If you practice normal safety precautions while you are out and remain aware of your surroundings, you should be fine.
What were some interesting/fun things you did in your city?
Exploring the city of Lund and its various shops and restaurants on foot or by bike was a great activity—especially in my first few weeks there. Lund has good thrift stores and plenty of adorable coffee shops to hang out at with friends. I greatly enjoyed going for a stroll around Lund’s botanic gardens as well as exploring the inside of its massive cathedral—a central landmark in the city. Lund is also surrounded on all sides by beautiful nature and even some farms, so going for a hike or walk around these areas was a refreshing study break. If I ever wanted to experience a more urban and bustling Scandinavian setting, I could always take a 20-minute bus ride to Malmö—Sweden’s third largest city, or hop on a 40-minute train ride over the sea to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
In general, Swedes tend to be way more reserved than Americans and tend to avoid small talk in public settings. However, they are usually quite receptive when you strike up a meaningful conversation with them—I found this to be especially true in my classes, for course discussions with my Swedish classmates often flowed easily and then quickly segued into fun exchanges about our lives and cultures during free time. In general, one can say that Americans are easier to talk to than Swedes, but when you do speak with a Swedish person, the conversation is often more sincere and genuine.
How did you handle culture shock?
While I did experience a lot of cultural differences while interacting with Swedes and students from other countries, I wouldn’t necessarily call it shock. This was mainly because English is widely spoken in Sweden, so communicating was quite easy. In general, I tried to keep an open mind and to research Swedish culture prior to departing (speaking to returnees was particularly helpful). I also observed the habits and mannerisms of the locals whenever possible and did my best to be receptive and self-aware. In general, it never hurt to simply ask the Swedes about their customs, and I actually found that most Swedes I interacted with ended up being quite curious about American culture as well!
What is your favorite aspect of the host culture?
I really loved how the Swedes took the idea of work-life balance to heart. My professors always talked about the idea of lagom, which is a Swedish word that roughly translates to “just enough.” The phrase basically means that each day, you should always try to have “just enough work” and then “just enough fun,” so it is a perfect balance of productivity and leisure. My classes were constantly filled with fika, or coffee breaks, where my classmates and I could go treat ourselves to coffee, sweets and good conversation before returning to our studies. Back in the US, especially with UCSB’s fast-paced quarter system, it is easy to get overwhelmed with obligations, but in Sweden, I was really able to have plenty of time for fun while still feeling productive each week. I will definitely take the lagom mindset with me wherever I go.
Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
For the weekend of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I took a trip to Marseille, France. It was my first trip outside of Scandinavia, and it was wonderful to experience the idyllic weather, food, and architecture of the French Riviera. While there, we visited a boba teashop and ended up bonding with the Vietnamese-French family that owned it because one of the friends I traveled with spoke Vietnamese. Their son ended up taking us on a spontaneous mini-trip to the neighboring vacation town of Cassis and he ended up being our guide around Marseille for our last night there (of course we all got some pho together!). It was definitely the best birthday celebration I could ask for.
What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
My main fear about going abroad was that I would have issues making friends due to cultural differences. Ultimately, I ended up making a lot of friends—American, Swedish and international—because right from the get-go, the university organized a ton of welcome events and activities for incoming international and exchange students; it was almost kind of overwhelming (in the best way!). I was also pleasantly surprised to have made so many friends in my classes as well, thanks to the small class size and the multitude of hands-on lab exercises that involved plenty of teamwork. I found that a lot of non-American incoming international students were in the same boat as I was: they didn’t know anyone and were also looking to meet people.
What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge was simply arriving to my host city. During the whole flight from the US to Scandinavia, I was riddled with anxiety because that was the moment I realized there was no turning back and it was the farthest I had ever traveled on my own. Battling jet lag, asking foreign strangers for help and directions, and having to drag heavy bags everywhere in dark, rainy weather was definitely mentally taxing. However, when I arrived in Lund, there were plenty of orientation staff to guide us, and everyone I interacted with was quite nice. This was overall a huge growing experience and confidence boost for me, and it made me a more capable and responsible traveler. Before I knew it, I was happily planning trips left and right while living in Sweden, and I aim to plan many more in the future—post-college!
How have you changed as a result of being abroad?
My time in Sweden helped me define my career path as a biology major: prior to going to Lund, I didn’t quite know where to take my studies. However, my wonderful experience in my Immunology class made me want to pursue a career in biomedicine and I am really excited to start on that journey now that I am back in the US. Overall, I think I have become a stronger and more adaptable person as a result of being abroad. My experience navigating a new country on my own has made me more ready to face challenges head-on and has expanded my perspective of the world by exposing me to the nuances of international culture, politics, and relations that I was not privy to back in the US. I have also become more adept at working with people who are completely different from me, and I feel more in tune with who I am as a person.
What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
I would definitely advise saying “yes” to things more often—some of my greatest memories from abroad have come from agreeing to someone’s invite or spontaneously joining in on activities and events that fit into my schedule. Keep an open mind and do not be afraid to put yourself out there. While there may be some challenges, take them as they come for they each make you a more a capable person and are simply part of the experience. Most of all, live your best life while abroad, and don’t take any moment for granted!
Where were you when you received news of your program’s suspension?
We received the email detailing our program’s suspension the day that Donald Trump shut the US borders to anyone from the EU. When I received word of the border closure that morning in late March, I instinctively knew that this was the beginning of the end and my other UC friends knew it too. In order to escape the day’s tension and support one another, we all agreed to meet in one of our corridors to have dinner and watch The Bachelor together. Sure enough, at around 9pm Swedish time, in the middle of the episode, we received the dreaded email from UCEAP. Since it was late, we decided that we would just face reality in the morning and decided to go to a pub to enjoy each other’s company while we still could. In spite of the stress and sadness of that day, I look back on it with a strange fondness because that was when I realized how close I had become to all of these people and that I was not facing this crisis alone.
If you chose to stay abroad after programs were suspended, what led you to that decision?
Unlike some other programs, EAP Lund students were given the option to leave or stay. While we all celebrated the decision at first, it soon became agonizing as we realized how hard the decision actually was, because both options seemed valid. Staying in Sweden was tempting because it was one of the only EU countries that did not enter a full lockdown, and I so desperately wanted to hold on to what was left of my study abroad experience. However, leaving seemed equally valid because most of my friends from different countries were heading home and there was always the looming possibility that Sweden could enter a lockdown last minute. At first, my parents wanted me to stay in Sweden because its healthcare system was highly advanced and accessible, I was in a relatively rural area, and they did not want me catching Covid on my flight back and spreading it at home. However, when the US travel advisory was raised to the final level, and flights back to the US were getting grounded all over, we both decided it would be best if I came home to avoid getting stranded. I ended up flying back to Los Angeles with another UC friend of mine a whole week after most EAP students had come home.
What have you learned from this experience?
Although I would never wish a pandemic on anyone, getting to witness such a historical, global event in a different country was an unforgettable experience that I think about often. It was definitely ironic that I was learning about disease management in an Immunology class right as the coronavirus was making its way across the world. In this way, I was observing what I was studying in real life, and it left a profound impact on my perspective as a biologist. I have also learned how to operate in the midst of a crisis thousands of miles from home, which is something that I feel not many people get to experience at my age. Additionally, having my study abroad program cut short so suddenly and having to say such rushed good-byes to people taught me—in the most unflinchingly harsh way—to truly live in the moment and to not procrastinate on doing things that I want to do, whether that is reaching out to a friend, going on a trip, or seizing an opportunity. You simply never know when the world could change.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
My main challenge was staying calm when everything seemed to be changing at the last minute. When our program was suspended and countries began shutting their borders, there was massive panic amongst my friend group and student community over what to do next and it was so tempting to get swept up in it. However, I am familiar with my own nature, and I know I do not make my best decisions when I am panicking. Despite the nasty feeling in my stomach, I told myself over and over that this hysteria is temporary and to just wait it out before making any important decisions. Sure enough, it did die down, and I was able to have methodical discussions with my friends, family, and advisors about the next steps to take, which ultimately resulted in me making a safe journey home while still enjoying my last few days in Lund.
Do you have a homecoming story to tell?
My homecoming brought up a mixture of feelings. I was lucky enough to be on the same flight home as one of my UC friends, so it was nice to have emotional support during the whole journey. I remember staring out the plane window in disbelief as we took off from the runway at the Copenhagen airport, not quite processing that I was leaving Scandinavia for good. The flight home was something straight out of a sci-fi film, because everything was so empty, all of the flight/airport personnel were dressed in protective gear, and we had to disembark so carefully. Admittedly, it was kind of a relief to be back home safely and being quarantined in our guesthouse with my parents bringing me my meals was a fun mini-vacation. However, once the initial relief faded and my quarantine leisure time ended, the reality of the pandemic’s uncertainty, isolation, and damage eventually set in, and my mental health really suffered for several months. Leaving my program early was a little bit like experiencing a withdrawal and I ached for my past life in Sweden constantly. However, with the (virtual) love and support of all of my study abroad friends, I made it through this low-point and was able to realize what an amazing adventure the whole experience was. Now, although I still miss Sweden dearly and lockdown can still be quite difficult, I am mainly filled with gratitude for my time there and for the fact that all of my friends and loved ones are staying safe and healthy.
Would you like to return to your host country in the future?
I would definitely love to return to Sweden in the future. I absolutely adored my time there and was grateful for the few months I still had. Since I had such a wonderful academic experience at Lund University and especially given the university’s huge international community and prestigious research reputation, I would even consider returning to Lund University for graduate school. Thanks to my experience abroad, I now realize that earning an advanced degree in a different country is now an option for me, and I now know that I have the experience and grit to make it possible. It gives me hope and motivation during these months of lockdown!
What advice would you give to students who are interested in studying abroad but have COVID-related or other health/safety-related concerns?
I would tell students to still go for it and apply! I know things are super uncertain and frustrating right now, but it costs literally nothing to fill out an application and it is better to be prepared than to automatically give up all hope of studying abroad by simply not trying. Ultimately, the EAP office is a great support system with a vast global network that is constantly monitoring the situation abroad. They would never send students anywhere that would endanger them, and are there to offer guidance if something does happen overseas, so do not be afraid to reach out if you need help or have questions. Be sure to also follow the advice and guidance of local officials in your host country as well, and always be self-aware and attuned to your surroundings. Most importantly, just know that you never have to face any crisis alone.