Sweden: Sharon Yang

Introduction (January 2022)

Hi everyone!

Welcome- this is my first time blogging so it’ll be short and sweet. To start this thing off, I will just give you the typical boring introduction. I’m Sharon and I’m currently a senior studying Environmental Sciences with a certificate in Global Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’ve been dreaming about the possibility of studying abroad for the last three years-ever since I’ve watched some of my closest friends study abroad. Due to Covid-19, I am now finally able to study abroad! I will be attending the Swedish University of Agriculture (SLU) Exchange at the Uppsala campus. 

This study abroad experience would not have been made possible without the help of the Global Gateway Fellowship. It will help me cover the expenses of studying abroad (which is not cheap!). I was lucky enough to talk to a past student (Craig) that had went on this same exchange program. He told me about his experiences studying abroad at this exact school and I knew it would be a great fit for me. However, in my mind, studying/ living abroad in a country like Sweden is not something I could’ve afforded. Craig told me about his Global Gateway Fellowship and I was shocked at the opportunity he was given- I knew I had to apply! 

I chose to study in Sweden as I’m a lover of nature and consider myself to be quite spontaneous. Moving to and experiencing a different country by myself will allow me to become more independent and push myself out of my comfort zone in ways I haven’t been able to previously. I’m excited to meet new people, study in Sweden, and see what all happens on the other side of the world! 

Cheers, Sharon 

First Impressions (February 2022) 

Saying a big Hej and Welcome Back!

Time has truly been flying by— the saying is truly true. It’s been a little over a month that I’ve been living abroad, so I will now take you back with me to the start and give a little rundown of my first impressions.

If I’m being honest, my arrival in Uppsala was an overwhelming experience. It was a sensory overload and a culture shock. 

I first arrived in Uppsala at around 3:30 PM. However, the sun had already set and it was already dark. I thought I was mentally prepared for the lack of sun in Sweden but, …. Spoiler alert- I wasn’t!  This was a very interesting experience as it really threw my sense of time for a whirlwind the first two weeks. 

As a person that is extremely directionally challenged, the dark did not help my navigation skills on that very first night. I was lost in a completely different country while attempting to drag my two large suitcases through the gravel covered roads of Sweden (more on this later). It took me back to feeling like my seven year old self separated from my mom at the grocery store. At that moment, I remember feeling so anxious but yet so alive. This was for me, a small but big challenge. 

Fast forward to today-  I’m quite shocked and amazed that I can now get around town (somewhat) without my maps. I honestly wasn’t sure at first if I would be able to figure out how to take the bus/ train to anywhere at all! 

Now that it’s been over a month since I first arrived, the sun has started to set later and I can somewhat navigate the bus system and get where I need to be! I’m super duper pumped to have the sun stick around for much longer as we head into the spring! 

Are you ready to join me for a full immersion of the five senses into what Uppsala is like? Alrighty then- lets go!

Colorful buildings and cobblestone streets

SIGHT- The architecture and buildings are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. It feels like a picturesque Europe that I’ve envisioned in my head but not at the same time. There are lots of bright colorful buildings in shades of pink, yellow, orange, and corals. They come in varying heights and shapes. I especially enjoy walking the streets and going past these cute and colorful buildings on cold dark days- they’re almost an instant mood booster.

Uppsala is home to the largest church building in Scandinavia. And let me tell you guys– it’s huge! The cathedral is captivating and beautiful. The church along with the Uppsala castle hold a very dominant feeling and are great sights to see.

The Cathedral

The other big thing I saw was the abundance of bikes. The roads are frequently filled with bikers and bikes. Biking along with walking is probably one of the most common ways to get around Uppsala. The sidewalks have a larger portion of them dedicated for biking in comparison to walking if that tells you anything. However, on some snowy, slushy days, I am in awe of those that make biking look so effortlessly easy- because from my experience it’s definitely not! 

TOUCH- This is probably very cheesy, I was so stoked to experience the cobblestone roads. I desperately wanted to walk on the cute cobblestone roads. Upon telling this to my European friends, they laughed in my face. To them, the cobblestone was rather a bother. In their defense though, there are good reasons for this. The rough patches and broken stones can make it hard to bike and roll your luggage over. 

Look at the gravel!

Now, circling back to the gravel roads. Gravel is used in Sweden for traction. It is very slippery and icy here as you can imagine. Shoveling on walkways and sidewalks is not common on every street, which is where the gravel stones come in. There are always stones either stuck outside or inside my shoes. The presence of gravel will be known and felt to you! 🙂

HEAR- In total, I know about five words in Swedish. It’s an awfully strange feeling to be somewhere where you don’t understand the language at all. Uppsala is generally pretty calm. You can find people roaming the streets during the day, but it’s pretty quiet at night. 

Walking along the streets, you can hear the sound of gravel making contact with cars, bikes, and feet. The people are not overly loud so there is only a light chatter of passing conversations. 

After a fresh snowfall, the sound of boots stepping into fresh powder makes me feel right back at home in Wisconsin. The sound of the flow of the river in Uppsala, also brings me right back home. It reminds me of the rivers and lakes in my hometown and Madison.

Fyris River in Uppsala

In my time here, however, it hasn’t been terribly cold. There have only been a handful of days where it is brutally chilly. It is hard to walk when the snow has frozen over as it gets very slippery. The sound of shoes sliding across gravely ice reminds me however, that I am in fact not back in Wisconsin. 

TASTE- As a lover of eating and food, I am happy to share that Sweden hasn’t disappointed. I’ve been able to eat a lot of mashed potatoes (my favorite style of potato) and enjoy lingonberry jam.

Lunch with mash potatoes of course!

The culture of fika is one that I am shamelessly indulging myself in. 

What is fika you might ask? Great question, let me tell you!

Fika is essentially the Swedish coffee break. It usually involves drinking coffee (or tea) with an amazing tasting pastry. The cafes here all have soo soo many cute and delicious pastries and cakes. However, it encompasses so much more than that. It allows for people to really take the time in a day to slow down and be present. It can be a time to gather with friends or just sit with yourself. 

I find that fika really allows me to slow down and take a refresher in what I’m doing. All too often, I think that as humans we are always on “go” mode. While this is not necessarily always a bad thing, it’s important to take breaks and relax for a bit. I am a strong believer in fika, and will definitely be bringing this cultural tradition back with me to the States.

Getting fresh air on hikes.

On another note, my time spent in nature here has been breathtaking as well. The air tastes fresh and cool when you breathe. The views are breathtaking and it does wonders for my mental health as well. 

SMELL- This world is filled with lots of interesting and unique smells. Thankfully, Sweden is one that doesn’t smell (bad). There aren’t many cars in comparison to Madison. The streets are very clear and clean. The environment feels clean with fresh air. 

The abundance of kebab shops and cafes bring in the delicious smell of food. I love the sensation of walking into a cafe and having the amazing smells hit you. There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly brewed coffee with sweet pastries. 

I hope everyone is able to take some time to fika and breathe as we head into March! 🙂

Hej da, Sharon 

A Day in Uppsala (March 2022)

Hello everyone and happy spring!! I hope you’ve had a lovely month of March!!

This month’s blog post will be about my daily life in Uppsala. The days just seem to be flying by. I am absolutely loving my time here in Sweden and am feeling super thankful for this opportunity. 

Women’s March

Classes in Sweden are a little different in comparison to back home. A semester is made out of two periods.  It is more so of a block schedule- where you only take one or two classes each semester. We have the option of taking anywhere from 7.5 to 15 credits per semester. For my semester, I chose to take two 15 credit courses. The first course is entitled “Soil Biology and Biogeochemical Cycles” and the second course is entitled “Global Food Systems and Food Security”. We are now officially onto the second period, meaning that my time here in Uppsala is already over half way done. It doesn’t feel real!!

Biking to school with my friend Leonie

As we already know from the previous post, Uppsala is HUGE on bicycles. I have finally acquired my own bicycle. I think I’ve used my bike here in Uppsala more than the one I have at home! For the first two months, I had to take the bus to campus as I didn’t have a bike. I think that this actually worked out perfectly for me, as the weather was very cold and the roads were slippery. I’ve had a fair share of wipeouts on the icy paths. Luckily, I was able to get some tips from my lovely new Dutch friends that are basically professional bikers. The bike to campus takes roughly 25 to 30 minutes from my apartment. I usually find some friends to bike with as it makes the ride faster and more enjoyable. It does feel really nice to know that I’ve already been active first thing in the morning. I have a feeling that my bike back home will definitely get more use when I’m back home! 

Macaroons for fika- made by Anne, Dirk, and me!

A typical school day for me usually starts at 9:15 and ends at around 3 or 4 in the evening. We usually have two lectures each day or laboratory work/exercises. As I stated in my last blog post, the swedes really take time to indulge in a “fika”. This still holds true for class. For every 50-60 minutes we are in lecture, we get a short 10-15 minute break to “fika”. This allows us to either go for a short walk, stretch, coffee, or chit chat. Sometimes a coffee is much needed to stay awake for a long day of lecture!

There is usually always a scheduled lunch break of one hour. Being a slow eater, I am especially grateful for this long lunch. The restaurants that are on campus serve extremely nice food. It is unlike our typical dining hall food. The entrees are plated and feel elegant. The salad bar is amazing and has great hummus- 10/10 recommend!

After school is over, I bike back home with my friends. After coming home, I usually go to the gym for a workout. I was lucky enough to get a semester-long membership at a nearby gym! There are a variety of gyms to choose from right here in Uppsala- so that is not a worry! There are many active things to do in Uppsala which is very nice! At campus, there are certain days designated for different sports. For example, on Tuesdays there is usually basketball and football (soccer), and on Sundays there is volleyball. I’ve had the chance to play some volleyball and basketball here which was very fun! It was a great opportunity to meet new friends! 

Since being in Sweden, I’ve also had the opportunity to try out new sports. I’ve gotten the chance to play padel with some friends. When my friend Eike first brought up padel to me, I thought they were trying to say pickleball. To me, padel is really similar to tennis but with elements of racquetball and pickleball. I also had the chance to try bouldering as well. It was a really new experience. Bouldering was a tough experience as it utilized muscles that I normally never use! 

My roommate Anne is really big into yoga. She discovered a hot yoga center right here in the city that we are living in. I’m excited to attend some classes with her in the coming weeks!

First time trying Indonesian food- Thanks Teun!

I am super duper thankful to have amazing roommates that double as my personal chefs- shoutout Janne and Anne!! I think I’d be starving to death by now if it weren’t for them. They are some of the most incredible cooks that I’ve ever met in my life- not even kidding! I’ve had the opportunity to try many different cuisines and learn about the food in the countries that my roommates are from. I think my mom will be impressed with my new baking and cooking skills that I’ve picked up from the roomies.  I learned from my Belgium roommates that the term “french fries” is coined wrongly… but rather it should be “belgian fries”. 

I especially love hagelslag- a type of dutch chocolate sprinkle. It’s eaten on either a cracker or slice of bread with butter and then sprinkles on top. It is a crazy combination but super delicious!

Dinner made by Wietse

On nights that we don’t make dinner at home, me and my friends go out to the nations. The nations are a type of student organization group. They are a place to gather for food or drinks as they have restaurants, bars, and sometimes even a club! 

And now we will move onto everyone’s favorite part of the week…. The weekend. My weekends differ quite greatly from each other. Some weekends, I stay in Uppsala while others I leave the country. Uppsala is very close to Stockholm, so it’s fairly easy to make a day trip on the weekend to the capital.

Barcelona with friends visiting from home 🙂

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Stockholm, Malmo, Copenhagen, and Barcelona so far! It is crazy how efficient the public transportation and train system is here in Europe. This month,

Trip to Copenhagen!

I’ve been able to have some friends visit and show them around my new home. It’s so so nice to be able to show my old home people my new home!  

Sidenote: Some of my best moments abroad have been pretty normal. Eg. just sitting in the kitchen talking and laughing with my friends, watching sports or reality tv squished together on a tiny bed/ couch. I truly believe that it is the people and energy that we surround ourselves with that make times great! 🙂 Thanks for sticking around to read a day in my life in Uppsala- hope it wasn’t too boring!