Beyond UH Hilo

Spring is Coming

By Taylor “Uʻi” Barongan

image of swedish fika pastryTraditional Swedish “fika”, which is essentially having pastries and coffee

image of uppsala cathedralUppsala Cathedral in the city center

image of kanelbullea, a swedish cinnamon rollKanelbulle, a Swedish type ofcinnamon roll

In my kitchen sits a whiskey glass with an unassuming twig with a few fluffy pods. Though there are no roots starting from the cutting, a white flower peeks out from the beige, fuzzy pod to greet the spring sun. April is Valborg month in Sweden—which means everyone is looking forward to storing their winter coats, finding cheap booze, and enjoying the spring season. Valborg is the celebration of spring which lasts for a week at the end of April and welcomes people from all over Sweden. Here in Uppsala, there are 13 nations—sorority/fraternity groups belonging to different regions of Sweden—that put on Valborg events for all of the students. Events can range from outdoor concerts and clubs, to banquets and town-wide scavenger hunts. As spring comes in, events pop up like flowers, and people from all over the world come to celebrate—people like me.

Despite COVID being a big concern while going abroad, paying the same tuition as I normally would while taking classes in a new environment sounded like a pretty sweet deal. In May of 2021, I was finishing my IS 393 class when I got the approval to study abroad. I had applied to UH Hilo’s study abroad program months before, as they require applications a year in advance. What many students don’t realize is that studying abroad takes a lot of planning and time.

In fact, these are all the steps one must take to study abroad:

  1. Fill out an application to the UH Hilo Center for Global Education and Exchange (CGEE)
  2. Attend a semester-long class (IS 393) about what to expect when traveling abroad and how to prepare
  3. Get funding
  4. Apply for a VISA
  5. Apply for housing
  6. Select courses
  7. Get bank affairs in order
  8. Book tickets
  9. Pack
  10. Enjoy the journey!

Applying for scholarships abroad is well worth the while for any student. I was lucky enough to receive the national Gilman scholarship which required me to create a project for me to relay to my Hawaiʻi community after my journey. My project for the Gilman scholarship was to draw inspiration from my online ecology class abroad and create a small guidebook with paintings based on my host country’s wildlife and scenery. There are a variety of other scholarships out there for students which can help pay for flights, tuition, food, course materials, travel essentials, and even housing.

After receiving my funding, I had to choose my classes. It is important to remember that classes abroad are different depending on each university. Uppsala University requires students from the U.S. to take at least 30 credits. Many classes are worth 7.5 credits, some are worth 15—and all of them are at different points in the semester. Though I wanted to take courses specifically counting towards my degree, Uppsala’s courses required classes I hadn't yet taken. So, the majority of my courses were incredibly unique (looking at you, Irish Love Poetry) and transferred back as humanities credits or strange versions of electives. So when looking to go abroad, make sure you spend time looking at a course list and meeting with your advisor to figure out what your courses will transfer back as.

One main thing I needed to apply for was housing in Sweden, as all of my classes were now in-person and in the city. Initially, I had to apply months ahead of time - which I’m grateful I did because many of the corridors like mine filled up fast. Had I not, my bike rides would have been at least twenty minutes each way. For a town like Uppsala, biking is essential, so ensure to research how far your classes are from your accommodation as well.

After tickets are booked and bags are packed, all that’s left is to enjoy the journey. This is where many people may actually have trouble as studying abroad strikes a unique duality between offering fantastical journeys while also keeping a student grounded in their schooling through new experiences. My trip to the island of Gotland for Easter was a great example of enacting this duality.

Though originally not intending to go to Gotland, my roommate presented my boyfriend and I the opportunity to come celebrate in the town of Visby. In our first three days, we spent the afternoons with my roommate and her friends. However, it was through traveling with others that I realized that I have perfected the way I like to travel. If you’re looking to adventure during your time abroad, the three things you must remember are to research, abandon your plans when your instincts tell you to, and prioritize your destinations.

St. Karin church ruins in Visby, Gotland

Making sure to research a place beforehand is one of the most important things you can do. Obviously, you can find a lot of attractions this way, but also finding where to eat, how much items cost, where to find local crafts/souvenirs, and how far your lodging is from the places you want to go is essential when planning your route. The three other girls on the Gotland trip did not carefully research their route to the nearby nature reserve. My boyfriend got us to the edge of the forest in no time. However, the other girls gave up and decided to turn back right before getting there. Luckily, my boyfriend and I walked five minutes and ended up in a flower filled forest next to the number one-rated bakery in town.

There is an art to knowing when to give up and when to keep going. Once you’ve planned out a day, always make sure you have some cushion. As an example, we really wanted to try one of the well-known restaurants in town for Easter dinner, but it was all booked up. Instead, we ended up finding a cheap, but incredibly delicious, shawarma place for takeout and ate it on a high street that overlooked the city at sunset. Additionally, it’s important to remember that transportation can be iffy, things may come up, and shops may be closed, so having a backup plan is necessary. Or, you could have an awesome plan, but something even better may come your way.

Making sure you and the potential person you are traveling with have the same goals is also something that isn’t widely talked about but equally important. I’ve had some experiences in which my trip was miserable because of the company I was in. I’ve had travel partners who complained the whole way, never wanted to try the local cuisine and instead opted for McDonalds, or wanted to buy cheap China-made souvenirs. In Gotland, I bought some cheap but local felt, tried the vast majority of the island’s craft beers, and shopped at a local tea shop. Those are all things I enjoy—and coincidentally are all things my travel partner enjoys. Had I not researched the town ahead of time, prioritized and spaced out my days according to how I felt, and evaluated what was important to me, I would have never had such a successful and enjoyable trip.

Uppsala Cathedral in February

With the coming of spring, I’m looking forward to celebrating Valborg after having learned so much traveling abroad. When living in a new country, you quickly learn who you are and what you want. You fall in love with certain aspects of the culture and integrate what you know with what you are just becoming familiar with. Going abroad truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I certainly blossomed into a different person after this experience and recommend this opportunity to everyone. Anyone who studies abroad need not worry, for part of getting good at traveling is learning from mistakes and improving on the successes. With the lifting of restrictions, the world is opening up and beckoning all to explore.

If you are interested in studying abroad, students accepted into CGEE are eligible to attend partner schools all over Europe, Asia, South America, and Oceania. There are also a variety of summer programs available for students looking for short-term travel.

Spring semester: Mar. 1 (previous spring)
Fall semester: Oct. 1 (previous fall)

Students can defer as long as they want and are encouraged to apply early.