*This is the eighth post for the Longhorn Abroad series. Journalism and anthropology senior Tess Cagle studied abroad in Uppsala, Sweden during the semester of Fall 2015.
There are moments from the four months I spent in Uppsala, Sweden that will forever be ingrained in my memory.
I will never forget my first view of Sweden; I was peering out the airplane’s window at mountain caps glazed over with snow through a pink haze as the sun rose. I remember distinctly feeling pretty ambivalent about everything the fresh sunlight symbolized– a new day, a new side of the world, a new adventure. A new beginning that I wasn’t sure I was ready for. The anxiety I had been experiencing for the past week or so had finally bubbled over, making me question every ounce of independence I had ever claimed that I had. Nevertheless, I snapped a quick iPhone photo of the scenery and promised myself that this semester I would reclaim that sense of independence.
A month into the semester, I had found a sense comfort in the city. Like anywhere, time turned Uppsala from a foreign city into a place I could navigate with considerable ease. Then late one Tuesday night I was mugged while heading to my usual bus stop to go home. If you’ve never had your cellphone stolen from you in a foreign country, I’m not sure I can explain to you the kind of sheer terror that sets in. You feel so disconnected and ultimately, very vulnerable. Two days after the incident I had a trip to Copenhagen to look forward to, but I could hardly sleep the night before. The idea of merely walking to the bus stop before the sun rose terrified me. I’ll never forget that feeling.
Aside from that situation, some of my least favorite memories came from air travel. I, unfortunately, will never forget my one and only experience with RyanAir– the endless additional time it took to travel to that particular airport, the disorderly flight, the angry Italians engaging in a screaming match over their baby howling for three hours, sitting at a sketchy McDonalds at 2 a.m. waiting for a bus that almost never came and ultimately not arriving home until 4 a.m. It was a nightmare. That experience is followed closely by going to the wrong boarding gate in Dublin and nearly missing our flight back home after sprinting all the way across an international airport. There were moments during my travels where I felt grown up, but there were also moments where I felt helpless.
For every moment I felt helpless or frustrated during my travels, I also had a moment where I felt grateful and happy. Sure, my experience with RyanAir was basically traumatizing, but it had nothing on the moment I saw the Duomo in Milan and cried. Or the pasta in Italy. And my near-crisis in Dublin was following a weekend spent with one of the most caring families I have ever met. For every negative, there was a positive.
I felt most helpless after the terror attacks in Paris. I first heard the news amidst a game of Cards Against Humanity, late at night. One of my friends announced the news to the group and an unsettling silence filled the room. We returned to our game after a quick discussion, but that unease remained like the elephant in the room. Less than a week after the attacks, I lost my second cellphone the day before another international excursion to Malta. It was also a day after Sweden raised its terror threat level to “high,” which was the highest it had ever been in history. I spent our weekend in Malta constantly looking for WiFi in order to use my shitty iPhone 4 to scour the internet for any news of terror threats in either Malta or Sweden. Let me tell you– being constantly on your guard and in possible fear for your life is exhausting. While I should have been enjoying my mini vacation, I was constantly worrying about our safety. There’s just no way to relay that feeling of discomfort.
Don’t let me fool you– not all of my most vivid memories are also the worst moments, although I do easily dwell on those times. At the top of my most memorable experiences, I discovered fitness, notably yoga. I’ll never forget my big encounter with snow. My stomach still craves the soup served daily at the Vastgota Nation and life isn’t quite the same without a daily “fika” (Sweden’s version of a coffee date.) Nothing will be as awesome as the wide open spaces, Swedish sunsets or the night where the sky was lit up with shooting stars. I miss the forest I spent so much time thinking in and, of course, the friends I made from every corner of the world.
My final view of Sweden was, appropriately, during sunset. Another day had passed, another adventure had come to an end. In the end, I think I did manage to reclaim that independence I had been longing for. However, I learned an important lesson: you don’t find happiness just by changing your location. It’s much more complicated than that. I also learned from what I missed most while I was gone is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Sometimes you just don’t realize what’s important to you until it’s not within your reach anymore.
My study abroad experience was weird in that it wasn’t this cathartic journey where I found what I had been missing, but instead I realized what I already had back home.