Alone or Lonely?

One of the aspects of doing a longer study abroad term means that I had to find my own housing in Lund. While housing and renting is very competitive, I was lucky and found a room in a two bedroom apartment that I could sublet for the year. My flatmate is a 24 year old named Mo, and he’s been living in Sweden for the past 8 years. When I first arrived, I was very nervous about moving in with a man I had never met before. However, Mo ended up being one of the best aspects of my time abroad. He has been extremely kind, and took time off to show me around Lund and Malmö. On top of this, he helped me get my coordination number in order to open a bank account to pay rent, and has tried to help me learn Swedish.

Two months ago, Mo left on a long trip back to his home country to visit his family. I am very excited for him, as he hasn’t seen them since he left as a teenager. In his absence, he had a cousin coming and visiting the apartment a couple nights a week to pick up mail and collect my rent. In some ways, this is an amazing set up, where I practically have my own apartment for half the cost. For most of the time this has been the situation, I have really enjoyed it. Even when Mo is here, we have very different schedules and I am alone in the apartment majority of the time. Having my own room and restroom, and a kitchen where we rarely overlap, has been amazing.

However, I am starting to realize some of the downsides to living alone during my time abroad. During the first couple months I was here, I would tell my parents that this was the most social I had ever been in my life. From multiple fika meet-ups a week to salsa classes to random Nation events to cultural events to Swedish language cafes, my introverted self was very much in a growth zone. However, these past couple of weeks have made me realize that part of the reason why I’ve been able to be so social is due to the fact that I am spending more time alone than I ever have. I knew going in that studying abroad would be a lot of time alone, and I have cherished getting to do what I want in my free time and exploring by myself. Yet I have never been this alone before. I am a middle child, which means that I was never truly alone growing up. Last year, I was in a 6-person apartment style dorm room in Nelson. While sharing one bathroom with 5 other girls wasn’t the best situation, there was always someone else around for me to spend time with. I spent my whole life knowing that going home meant going to a place filled with my favorite people.

Now, every time I go home, I am completely and utterly alone. Like I said, part of this has been wonderful. I get to relax and recharge without the stresses of other people. But as the holidays are quickly approaching, I believe I finally crossed the fine line from alone to lonely. All of my friends who are in corridor rooms (the same style as single freshman dorms) are enjoying Christmas dinners and international food nights before the one semester students go home. That living situation, where you get close to the people who you were randomly assigned to live with, is one of the quintessential study abroad experiences. It’s hard to not have that, especially as my halfway point approaches.

I know that after I go home for the holidays and travel up to northern Sweden with a friend I made here, I will be ready for my quiet and spacious apartment. I will be more than ready to be alone once more, and prepared to take measures to avoid feeling lonely again. This will include taking a much more demanding course, finding more volunteer opportunities, and developing a better schedule where I force myself to leave the apartment during the dark and short days. It will also include making efforts to build on the friendships with people I met this first semester, as well as reach out to the new semester exchange students that will be arriving. I made so many wonderful friendships during this first semester that I know I am capable of doing it again next semester, I just have the added hurdle of living alone.

While this post can come across as very sad and homesick, I do think that there is some wisdom and advice within it. While there are a lot of factors associated with choosing where to study abroad, I believe that the living situation should be one of them. No matter if you are homestaying, or living with local students, or other international students, or just DU students, or even with a random person who you found through a rental website, this shapes part of your time abroad. A large portion of study abroad is pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and trying new things. The place you go back to every night to unwind matters. I have loved having this apartment to call home. It’s in a residential area and the situation has forced me to make better efforts to participate in social events and activities. On that note, the social life of the university/city you go to also matters. I know that being lonely is okay because Lund has a ton of events that are open to international students. There are things to do every night of the week if I so wanted to. I found a fun group this semester within the Latin American community here, and I am going to begin volunteering at more Nation events next semester. I strongly recommend taking this into account when thinking about what you want to get out of your time abroad. For me, getting to know parts of the community and being fulfilled while in Sweden was one of my main goals. While it’s not always easy, I have no regrets about choosing this program for a year. 

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