10 Things that happen when you study abroad

Things change when you leave your home country and have to adjust to living in a different culture. The extent of the things that change depends on where you come from and where you go to. I wanted to share my thoughts here with those of you who are coming to Sweden, or moving to another foreign country to study. After living abroad for a while you become integrated to the new culture and might stop thinking about how things are different compared to your home country.

For me, Sweden is the sixth country I’ve lived in (after Finland, USA, France, South Korea and China) and as it is close to Finland I haven’t had any big cultural shocks here. But having lived a year in Asia, I understand that for some, living in Sweden can be really different compared the home country. These are some of the things I’ve come across when living abroad.

1. Practicalities, finding your way

Finding a place to live in, maybe opening a bank account and other things you need to consider at the beginning. Finding housing is probably the first challenge, unless it’s been arranged for you by the university for instance. The earlier you start to plan moving and settling in, the easier it will be. Think beforehand what things you need to bring from home and what you should buy after moving.

2. New friends

You might know some people before moving to a new place, or you might not know anyone. Studying abroad is a great way to make new friends and get to know people from all over the world. As many international students don’t have many friends in the new country, it’s easy to get together with them. Most universities arrange activities for the internationals at the beginning of the semester so they get to know each other.

3. New food

I remember the first couple of times at the school cafeteria back in Korea University. I had to ask my friends what the different foods were, as Korean food was something new to me. We often don’t think so much about the things we’re eating until it changes completely. My roommate here in Sweden comes from Israel and even after living here for a couple of years I still have to explain what some of the foods I’m cooking and eating are. If you’ve followed my previous posts, I’ve introduced some typical Swedish foods, many of which have been new to me as well!

4. Different laws / regulations

Is the traffic on the right or left side? Can you drink alcohol on a public place? It’s better to find out before you do something that’s not allowed and get into trouble. Local people are usually a good source of knowledge, as well as common sense.

5. School culture

Is it okay to be late? How do you talk to the professors? In Sweden the university culture is quite laid back and no one will judge you for walking in and out of the classroom in the middle of a lecture. However, Swedes respect each other and for instance, being late for a group meeting is considered impolite. You can call the professors by their first name, unlike in some cultures, where you have to speak in a formal way.

6. Transportation

Getting around depends a lot on the location. Especially in bigger cities you’ll probably need to use the public transportation to get from one place to another. Umeå is the first city I’ve been able to live in without taking a bus or train on a daily basis. Biking is really convenient here, but I sometimes miss taking the train every morning and having extra 20 minutes for listening to music and browsing through the news.

7. Recycling

Swedes take the environment seriously and recycle as much as possible. Unfortunately it’s not the case in all parts of the world and I’ve never sorted out as much of my trash as here. Luckily in Sweden it has been made really easy.

8. Learning a foreign language

In Sweden getting along with English is extremely easy, but learning the native language is helpful in some situations, especially if you’re planning to stay after studying and look for a job. The native language of a foreign country will also give you a better understanding of their culture and I haven’t met anyone who would regret studying languages.

9. Homesickness

You’ll probably leave some people behind when moving countries. Staying in touch with family and friends in your home country is important and made quite easy with the technology we have today. Also, home is not just the people, you might miss the culture, the language and foods as well. I had problems with Asian food every now and then, and cooking all the western dishes I wanted to eat wasn’t possible. Getting to know others from your country living abroad might make living slightly easier.

10. You change

We tend to adjust to the cultures we live in, even if the culture we come from would be very different. You might adjust to the way the locals dress, talk and greet each other. I didn’t like Korean fashion when I moved there, but a couple of months later I started dressing like the Koreans, and liked it! In Paris no one went to school wearing a hoodie and sneakers, and neither did I. I greeted my friends by kissing them on the cheek, but not here in Sweden, the nordic people like their personal space. You’ll also get used to the possibly different climate, working hours and patterns of daily living. Returning to your home country will most likely feel strange after living abroad for a while. And for sure, gives you stories to tell to your friends and family!

Featured image credit: Ola Ericson


Written by Leonilla

31 May 2016