Postcard from Abroad – Uppsala University Sweden

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Anastasia is a third year History and English Literature student currently spending her Erasmus year in the picturesque Swedish city of Uppsala. Sweden has shown her that there’s no escaping her Russian descent, with every silver birch tree reminding her of the Motherland. Although she may come across as condescending with her Royal County Berkshire accent and overzealous passion for history, in truth she is as lost as the rest of her generation. Her passions include Korean High School dramas, Jane Austen novels, Swedish cider and a newfound love for documentary photography.

After four months spent in the tiny fairy-tale land of Uppsala it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. I began to believe that Stockholm was the very epicentre of the universe; a massive, glorious and varied city. You can imagine the shock then upon returning to genuinely large capital cities. Most of my Christmas holiday was spent in London and Moscow, where I was drawn to for a traditional New Year’s celebration. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to cover it. The dozens of Moscow theatres alone were enough to keep me occupied for weeks. Despite how miniscule and underwhelming Uppsala is, it does have one thing going for it: it’s squeaky clean. Only when you leave the safe haven of Scandinavia and return to grotty Reading do you really appreciate how beautiful and well dressed the people are, as well as the sensationally spotless streets.

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So what have I actually been up to? Very little studying. The end of last semester saw my most amazing trip to date: Lapland. Whilst in Sweden I’m trying to see as much of Scandinavia and the Baltics as possible – perfectly justified opportunities not to study. Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden was an experience I couldn’t turn down. It feels very much like the last frontier, especially as you step down from the plane onto the snow outside a living room sized airport. What could possibly drive someone to live in such isolation, and in such proximity to bears, is a mystery to me. It’s usually difficult for me not to reduce everything to silly witticisms but that seems impossible to do with something as life changing (forgive the cliché) as witnessing the Northern Lights. It’s true that they are simply breathtaking. Being me I was stressed for the entire week beforehand about not seeing them, wasting my student loan and general pre-travel stress which I’m so prone to. And it was all worth it. While being a Muscovite meant that the snow didn’t impress me much, I’ve now fed reindeer, I’ve been dog sledding and I’ve seen the Aurora Borealis.

And to add to all of that, Lapland is the home of the Sami people. During my trip to Gothenburg earlier in the year, on the west coast of Sweden, I attended an exquisite art exhibition on the violation of their land rights, eugenic studies and the general discrimination against the Sami by the Swedish government. Visiting the Sami village near Kiruna not only gave me an opportunity to feed some very aggressive and terrifying reindeer, but also to talk to a member of the community about the modern Sami way of life. An all round sensational trip – add it to the bucket list, kids.

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Nonetheless December was mostly about revision and drunken One Direction sing-alongs as a means to de-stress. The low point was the realisation that pretty much all of my friends were only in Sweden for one semester, including my best-friend (only in Sweden, as I know it’s a highly contested position) Livi. Life is now clearly meaningless. However her departure did mean that we got to do all the things we had planned to do for so long. And number one on our to-do-list was of course the ABBA Museum. Now, any sane person might realise what a completely absurd place the ABBA Museum really is but for me it was a dream come true. Where else can you dance and sing alongside holograms of the ABBA members? Or record your own ABBA video (which I will treasure forever).

Livi and I also attended Luciagasque together. Lucia is Scandinavia’s festival of light, held on December 13th, with light decorations twinkling everywhere to combat the crushing darkness by 3pm. And of course any celebration is reason to have a gasque; a traditional formal dinner at a nation. What better excuse to get highly inebriated than being dressed up, being served steak and wine and failing to join in with confusing Swedish drinking songs? As far as send-offs go, looking after a drunk me was probably not what Livi was hoping for.

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All too soon my first semester came to an end. Many tears were shed when everyone left (mostly by me) but I now sit and await postcards from Australia, America and Germany. Returning for the second semester was wildly daunting and only a visit from my best friend temporarily lifted my spirits. After drunkenly falling off my bike into a pile of snow (cycling drunk in winter: the one thing I swore to never try), I’ve taken to my bed, in theory to complete copious amounts of work, but in reality to watch every TV series in existence.

Life in Sweden, and particularly in Uppsala, runs at its own pace. An agonisingly slow pace. What I have come to refer to as the ‘Uppsala Curse’ is, as it transpires, a not altogether unique thing. All work is now totally unmanageable. If you set out to read a 20 page article it will take days. What precisely causes this phenomenon I do not know but I do know that I will never again consider myself lazy for taking a weekend off to watch Game of Thrones repeats once I return to Leeds.

Moreover, I’ve somehow been registered onto a MA module on modernist literature which I actually have to pass. There is nothing more humiliating than Swedish people being able to express themselves more eloquently than you on the themes of Mrs Dalloway (which you were so sure you knew by heart). The stakes have never been higher and my energy levels have never been lower. But looking out at the snow covered pine trees outside my window, I can safely say Sweden feels like home.

Anastasia Kennedy

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