an exchange memoir
Annie Winchcombe is studying BA Management with Marketing with European Study and studied abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden. She is the Vice President of the Exeter Erasmus Society.
I feel like life has this funny little way of figuring itself out, muddling through life’s tribulations and teaching you to learn from experience after experience until its ingrained within you. That’s kind of how I ended up in Sweden. It wasn’t planned, I wasn’t supposed to come here. I was supposed to be in a far more glamorous place where the sun shines more than 5 hours a day, and where winter doesn’t last until May. But, here I am, 1400 miles away from my corner, sitting in an idyllic café in the centre of Uppsala.
I took my offer and I went, not looking back or longing for lost opportunities. I arrived in Sweden on the 29th July 2016, little did I know how my life would change, or how the people I was about to meet not even two days later would impact on my life in an unrecognisable way. Looking back and reflecting, it’s easy to say that this year came at a perfect time, as cliché as this is, I was lost and I had lost a sense of who I was, this year has grounded me and changed me completely. There something so thrilling in baring all to the unknown, I literally packed my life into a car and drove across Europe, to a country that I had never been too, a city I had never visited, where I knew no one, where I didn’t (and still don’t) speak the language and started all over.
Multiple people have asked me; why and how. Why Sweden? Was it easy? How easy was it to make friends? When you don’t know anyone, but everyone is in the same boat, the friends you make you cling on to for dear life, they become your survival. They become your support network, from roaming around the city figuring out where everything is, to a shoulder to cry on, to forming your own international family. They are the foundation to your time abroad.
They say friendships often come and go, but sometimes when you find friends that stick with you through the thick and the thin, you hold on to them for dear life. August 1st, little did I know I would meet two people who would impact on my whole exchange in an unrecognisable manner. Two people who would literally see me at my worst, whether that consisted of wiping my tears away over the past or holding my hair back while I was sick (Valborg, was not my finest moment). They would be there for me through everything, and even though all three of us live on different continents and across a series of time zones I know that I found myself within them. I found myself in every member of our ‘family’ and through every close friend that I have bared all too. Every friend that knows my stories and accepts the person that I am, and evolving to be. Everybody that I’ve met here has impacted my life, they have helped bring me back to me; from family dinners and finding my twin, to my first thanks giving and burns night, every little moment and moments of laughter are ones that I fully intend to cherish.
Here’s to all the friendships that I will remember for all my time, and to all the sunset walks that I dragged people on at 2:30pm (Swedish winters = little daylight) in the freezing cold (sorry Nads). Here’s to all the romances and dalliances that lie deep within the Swedish winter. Here’s to all the promises, the promise of love, kindness, reunions, the promise of travelling, foraging at the foundation of the relationships and friendships. Here’s to this city, this magical city, one that so many of us are lucky to call home, even if briefly.
Uppsala appears to be this quaint little city, which in all effects, it is. This city, which I call home, is one that I will leave a piece of myself in. And I will carry a piece of Uppsala in my heart wherever I go. From the crazy nations to the frozen lake, Uppsala has ingrained itself into my heart. I couldn’t have longed for anymore or any less, the city has mirrored any expectations. And when all goes quiet, and the city is empty you will always find comfort in the architecture. Whether it’s the pink castle of Snerikes where you know you’ve spent many a night dancing, letting go of the memories of the past and living in the moment, creating new memories with faces that you’ll remember for so long. Or whether it’s the spires of the cathedral or the arches in the bridge above the flowing river, you always pause and try to memorise every detail because before you know it, you’ll be back in your corner of the world.
So, if I can say anything about taking those opportunities, those which may seem crazy and may scare you completely and utterly, all I can say, is take them. Take them, run and don’t look back. They will be the decisions which you look back on with a full heart and no regrets. They will be the decisions which people will always ask you questions about just to live vicariously though you and get a sense of how you lived and escaped the monotony of daily life. It will be the decision that in 50 years you will be so glad you took, and one that you will dream about on the quiet nights in years to come. I’m not sat here saying it will be easy, because it won’t. And it’s not. This has been the most testing 10 months, it pushes you so far out of your comfort zone that you don’t recognise your surroundings. From heart break to hospital rooms, to car accidents and theft, this year has tested me in every way. Simultaneously experiencing incredible highs, which include cabin trips to the north of Sweden, sunsets that take your breath away, Valborg, Ekeby dinners, gasque’s, and daily fika dates, the list is endless. But that is what makes the year so incredible, you can appreciate the highs. Someone once said to me, when you catch yourself smiling, you know life is good, and no truer words have been spoken. Life is great.
I have spent so long trying to find the right words to conclude not only this post, but my experience over the last 10 months, but nothing seems adequate. Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to bury the hard truth that we are all leaving and going our separate ways, and that I am desperately trying to grasp onto my last days in this country, taking in as much as possible and not taking anything for granted.