Natalia K. Exchange Ambassador
What is one word to describe your study abroad experience:
"I was able to create a life I loved outside of the life I knew."
Exchange student at Lund University, Sweden
Studying Business Communication, Marketing Management
- What is the best thing that happened while you were studying abroad?
Being able to get that breath of fresh air that I needed. I was able to connect with both people and places around the world. I was able to learn things and see things I would have never got the chance to learn or see at Guelph. I was able to create a life I loved outside of the life I knew. It was all so emotionally and physically consuming but all so expectedly refreshing and fulfilling. It was the air that I’ve been wanting and the air that I now can’t see myself not breathing.
- Where was the coolest place you travelled to during your study abroad experience?
Norway was one of those places that left me in awe, sailing through the fjords felt like a dream, but Copenhagen was one of those cool cities you would want to live in. It’s so difficult to choose just one place when every place is so cool in its own way. Russia’s definitely on the top of the list as well as it’s one of those places that not many people think to or get to see.
- What was the biggest cultural adaptation you had to make?
The biggest cultural adaptation I had to make was connecting with the Swedes. It can often be difficult to establish strong relationships with the Swedes as many require quite a while to truly open up to you and much effort is required on your end to establish this.
- What is something that you know now, that you wish you knew before you studied abroad?
Everything will fall into place. That goes for things like your accommodation (which I struggled to find), creating friends, and any other things you find yourself worrying about. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to become adjusted and settled in as long as you’re in the right mindset, which I made sure I was. I wish I knew that the beginning of exchange would be so much more different from the end and that it only gets better.
- What was your best learning moment?
My best learning moment was that sometimes you can't plan everything. Free your mind from that list you’ve created, don’t expect perfection and don’t expect yourself to do everything. Sometimes the simplest things are the best things and a lot of times the simplest things are unplanned. I learned to just look around a realize how lucky I am to be where I am and that the things I see around me are so much more special than they might appear to be. This goes for both day to day activities and future life goals and plans... I think it's great to make lists and have ideas of the things you wish to do but time is limited, and you have to know how to live in the moment. Stop worrying, stop stressing, things will work out, you're doing fine. Everyone has a different experience, but every experience is so unique and exciting in its own way. Grow in your own way, and don't compare yourself or your experiences to others because you may have done something different but even more amazing than the things the people you want to compare yourself to have done.
- Who was the hardest person to leave from home?
The hardest person to leave from home was my mom. As a parent, she undoubtedly had her concerns and was definitely more anxious about me leaving than I was myself. Considering I had never been away from home for that amount of time, it was a shock to her, but I assured her that everything would be fine. There’s not much she could do other than just accept the fact that I was leaving. However, time really does fly and before you know it you’re back home and the experiences you bring back will all be worth it!
- Who was the hardest person to leave that you met while on exchange? How did you deal with that?
There isn’t one single person that was the hardest to leave but my entire group of close friends I created while on exchange was one of the saddest goodbyes I’ve had. Knowing you may never be together again all at once and knowing it’ll never be the same as it was on exchange was seriously heartbreaking. In order to deal with this, first of all, we cried (a lot), but secondly, we agreed to of course keep in touch and also try our best to plan trips to meet up with each other in the future. A reunion is already underway! But again, just a lot of tears.
- If you were to recommend exchange to your best friend, what would you say?
I would honestly say it’s one of the most value-adding, unforgettable, and significant experiences you’ll have in life. Also, not to mention that it’s one of the most fun and exhilarating times of your life. Although it really does depend on what school and country you end up in, based on my experience, I wouldn’t think twice about recommending Lund University.
- Would it be helpful to learn another language for this exchange?
It’s always useful to learn another language, but in Sweden, everyone speaks amazing English and it’s incredibly easy to get around knowing zero Swedish. However, it does help to know another language to be able to connect with other international students and it also gives you the opportunity to practice and improve from what you may already know! For instance, I was able to practice my German with many German-speaking exchange students.
- Did you live on-campus or off-campus? Would you recommend it, and why?
I lived within the campus area in Lund through student-run accommodation called AF. I recommend staying close to campus otherwise it may become difficult getting around and staying in touch with people and events. Lund is especially student life oriented and always has events I recommend being part of. Therefore, the more central you are at any institution, the more involved you’ll be.
- How did you finance your study abroad experience?
Before I left for my exchange, I knew the expenses for everything would be high and so I put aside every paycheck I got to an account I made specifically for exchange. This really helped me control my spending and ensure funding my exchange was a priority.
- What interesting courses did you get to take while studying abroad? What was the title of the course(s)?
Since I was in a Scandinavian country I wanted to gain their perspective on important topics like a course I took called Greening the Economy from a Scandinavian Perspective. I also took other courses that immersed me into the country I was in like Swedish Politics and Food, Tradition, Innovation. And because I love learning new languages I took a course called Diversity of the Worlds Languages. These were courses you wouldn’t be able to take back home, and they really gave me a greater insight into different cultures and international perspectives.
- Is there any other helpful information you would like to share with future study abroad participants?
My advice for exchange is to have no expectations. Know that there is always a solution, know that everyone has a different experience, and know that you can make whatever you wish out of it. Know that someone else is always thinking or feeling the same way as you are and don't feel alone because you're not! I went on exchange with the mindset that if things didn’t turn out well, it would be about dealing with the situation and growing as a person, knowing how to be independent and knowing how to look at it optimistically. The fact that you got to go somewhere and see something different is all that matters. Thankfully, everything turned out beyond what I had imagined, and I had some of the best times of my life in Sweden and all of Europe.