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. 


Taking Care of Business

Finals are upon us at the University of Glasgow. Even though the University of Glasgow is on a semester school system we only have classes for nine to ten weeks like the University of Denver’s quarter system. However, the semester extends into December due to two weeks of “reading/study weeks” before finals. The actual classes could end in week 9, 10, or 11 depending on the subject and professor. Some of my classes left the last week or two open in case they were absent for a week and had to cancel a class. The last week would then be a makeup class for the missed material. However, if no classes are missed, the seminars (in-person classes) would end early. I believe I mentioned in my first couple posts that grades are decided with only a couple assignments. There are no weekly quizzes or participation/attendance grades. It is purely your performance on a few major assignments. It’s nerve-racking for many and coming from a school system where my grades in the past have relied heavily on the small assignments and participation grades, it was difficult to adjust. Halfway through the semester when we were submitting our midterm papers, I thought about how at that point in the quarter at DU I would have already had a couple major projects, papers, or tests. Probably a quiz or two on weekly readings, as well as participation grades throughout. Thus, finals week is stressful. Not stressful because we know the pressure, it is stressful because we know we should be more stressed than we are.  I am used to wanting good grades on my finals but also knowing that the smaller assignments will boost and cushion my grade if I end up not doing well on final assignments. I know that my finals are worth 40, 50, and 100 percent of my grade out here but I find that I am having to remind myself of that every time I want to take a break from studying or I put off writing my papers. In my classes, other students expressed their stress, frustration, and worry about finals and midterms. They seemed flustered and asked each other so many questions. It seemed like everything that came out of their mouth started with a “What if…” and ended with a “I’m just worried.” I remember sitting silently observing their stress, asking myself if I should feel more nervous or worried. I remember sitting, trying desperately to think of a question about the assignment or something I didn’t understand about the instructions, but I always drew a blank because the assignment seemed fairly simple to me. I was worried that because I was a foreigner I was going to be blindsided and the assignments would be extremely difficult and painful to finish. But, everything is going smoothly. I am sure that if I had gone to school in the UK for a long time I would put more worry into the daunting finals, but I have been socialized to not put too much weight into finals because they only make up about 20 percent of your grade and it is still possible to get a good grade in the class overall without perfecting the final. I should be stressed, but I’m not. 

Blog Post Nine
University of Glasgow

Finals in Glasgow are not too difficult in the first place. In High School and college finals consisted of presentations, timed/closed-note exams, extensive research papers, and still the typical small assignment course load like quizzes and participation. In Glasgow, finals weeks consists of no in-person classes. All of my public policy and law finals are online and you have a week to work on them. Let me explain:

• Making Public Policy: This class was once a week for two hours. I wrote a 2500 word policy brief for the midterm which we were given information on in the first class. The final is five questions but you only have to answer two of them. The questions are released a week before the final is due and each question must be answered in 750 words or less. Just two short essays decide 50% of your grade.

• Education for Citizenship (Public Policy): This class had three assignments: a midterm paper of 2500 words, a reflective learning log that bullet pointed how the student prepped for the class and participated with a 500 brief reflection of how their learning will help them in the future, as well as a 750 word final paper. For the papers, the professor would send out a list of four topic questions and the student would pick one for their essays. Each paper was worth 40% of the final grade and the learning log made up 20% of the final grade.

• Law of Contract: The law class was different from all the other classes. It had a midterm that was not worth a grade. It was basically a trial run of the final. The final will consist of a problem question with multiple parts and it is worth 100% of my grade. It is timed and I will have two hours to complete it which is very reasonable. 

The assignments are broad and students have a lot of flexibility in how they structure their answers, but we are still given rubrics and the graders tend to be less harsh from what I have seen so far. I have heard rumors about exams having a different format before Co-vid but no one really knows because everyone in my classes are the same year as me and have never attended college not in the era of Co-vid. This is an interesting concept in itself for 3rd year students but also for international 3rd year students because it makes you think how my experience differs from study abroad students in 2019 and before. My finals conclude on December 16th and then after a brief trip to London I will return home on the 22nd of December. My time in Glasgow is coming to a close, but I am just focusing on finals at the moment and learning to live in the now.