The way you feel when you’re packing your bags the week before leaving for a whole new country is so overwhelming. You’re excited yet so nervous, jumping between telling your mother not to cry when she misses you to being on the verge of tears yourself because you’re going away for such a long time.

In my case, I was leaving for two whole years. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

But here I am now, and I’ve only just managed to blink twice and somehow most of my time in Uppsala is over. I have barely five months left before I graduate (if my thesis gets done on time, and I’m hopeful that it will be), and judging by how the past year and a half have gone by, five months is nothing.

I think about it really often nowadays – the fact that I am leaving. I think about it as I wake up in my room in Flogsta, as I cook in the kitchen I’ve shared with so many other students over the past semesters, as I travel in buses and look out the window at a landscape I have now come to think of as a normal part of my life, as I marvel at the way the snow sparkles under street lights at night. I think about leaving often because while it is so sad, I want to make the most of every living, breathing moment I get here because coming to Uppsala and being a student here was by far one of the most novel, transformative, and beautiful experiences of my whole life, so far.

You expect so much when you know you’re going to a new country to study, but the final experience is always so much more than what you could have imagined, and it is also so much more than the sum of its parts. For me, Uppsala was the first place where I felt truly independent. It was the closest I got to “running my own house” what with doing all my own chores, keeping a budget, buying all my own groceries, decorating my space the way I wanted to, and pretty much managing every aspect of my life. Coming from India, where our lives are way more family-centric, all of this was so new to me, and even though it didn’t take long to get used to it, I can feel it in my bones that it is going to be difficult to go back and undo this independence as I move back home after I graduate.

But, despite knowing that it will be difficult, I am so glad and grateful that Uppsala taught me to be independent because my entire perspective on new experiences has changed. I no longer feel even half the fear and anxiety I would feel because if I could radically change what my life looked like in a country with no support at the start, and be responsible for every move I made, I can do a lot more than I think, and I am way more capable that I believe.

I remember having a heartfelt conversation with a friend I made in my first year here, as she neared the end of her one-year exchange. She was from Japan, and Sweden gave her just as much of a culture shock as it gave me. We sat in the warmth of the late-setting sun, at the wobbly kitchen table of our Flogsta corridor. Her knees tucked under her chin, she spoke about how difficult it would be to go back and re-adjust to a place where she didn’t feel as much freedom. While I empathized with her, I didn’t feel the extent of her words, perhaps because I still had a year left to contend with the same idea. But now, the depth of her words is certainly felt in my body.

But just as I am grateful, so was she. Uppsala gave us freedom, responsibility, accessibility, courage, safety, and nothing can undermine the growth and learning we have encountered and embodied here. 

Even the way I approach relationships has changed. Being able to meet and get close to people from so many different countries has been such a rewarding experience. I think an experience like this does something to you; not only are you more open to people with vastly different histories, you are also left more capable of using this openness to create something really lovely. A lot of people I made friends with did not have English as their first language, and the way we built our ways of understanding each other and making space for each other is nothing short of beautiful. Our languages evolved together in our little circles, as inside jokes and shared memories transcended culture to create our own. Things like being patient, loving, sharing, and caring take precedence over first-level understanding of someone else’s tongue.

As a student of Philosophy (Aesthetics), I’ve seen how my personal research interests have evolved so much here, with my assignments and ideas for future research circling around love and empathy in politically helpful ways. I can clearly see how the relationships I’ve garnered in my time in Uppsala have inspired a lot of that, with my personal life and my academic life running parallel to one another in a way that feels so fulfilling.

All of this to say that I owe the person I am today to the time I was gifted in Uppsala. While I feel relieved that I still have one last semester here, I know it will go by so fast, and I intend the make the absolute most of it. But I am sure that if the past year and a half could change me so hugely, my last five months have a lot in store too and despite knowing I will miss this experience terribly; I can’t wait to see what I learn!