One of my biggest fears coming to the Karolinska Institutet was whether I would be able to make any friends. I had previously only ever studied in my own country, with people from my own culture. I knew that I would be going somewhere where the class would be people from a completely different language and culture.
Needless to say I spent many months thinking about how it did not matter if I did not get along with anyone else, or if everyone only wanted to speak Swedish- I have to interject here and say that I assumed that the majority of students would be Swedish who would be speaking Swedish only and that it would be difficult to interact with anyone. I told myself that I had my best friends at home and they would keep me grounded. I was extremely nervous.
Then I met my classmates. It was honestly overwhelming. I had never met so many people from so many languages, cultures, backgrounds, and ages all in one room before. It was intimidating. We had a group chat and I barely spoke because I did not want to feel called out. Then someone invited everyone to a hike. I went thinking that it was a mandatory class activity, only to find out that two students had planned it and just decided to invite everyone. Soon, activities were a norm in the group chat. Someone would send a message saying “Hey we are going bowling tonight, does anyone want to join?” And people would go, or not go. It was surprising. I went to a few events which eventually helped me to shed my awkwardness and form actual friendships.
Some of my favourite memories of my first couple of months in Sweden was getting a message at 6pm in the group saying that everyone would be meeting for dinner that night just for us to relax and get the stress of school off. It was a true bonding experience.
However, the pinnacle of our solidarity as a class came when we took a class trip to Haninge to spend the weekend at a cabin. Most Master’s programmes go to Solvik, which is the cabin owned by MF, however it was booked for that weekend by another programme already.
Contrary to our plans, it snowed extremely heavily for the first time that weekend forcing us to stay inside and do activities together. Not that we minded, I spoke to some people for the first time on that trip. I realised that everyone was lovely, and I came away from that trip feeling 100% comfortable with my classmates. My only regret is that the trip wasn’t done earlier to build more unity at an earlier date.
So some advice for building friendships or bonds with your classmates who you only have one year with are:
Be friendly and open. Extend invitations to everyone if you would like to do an activity but do not want to go alone. Also, try to attend other people’s activities to give them the support you would like for yourself. It is easier to bond with people when you accept their culture.
Make an effort to speak to everyone
Something that I regret is running away from campus as soon as classes ended. I just felt so shy and really had to put myself out there to speak to everyone. Now that I know my classmates well…I realise there was nothing to be worried about. Now I can be put into a group with any combination of my classmates and work well/get along with everyone. I feel comfortable messaging anyone in my class.
Of course this also comes down to their personalities. These are some of the nicest, most chill people that I have ever met.
Plan dinners together
The language of food transcends cultures. Not only did we have impromptu Thursday night dinners, but we also pre-planned huge dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We did coordinated potlucks which were a lot of fun. Everyone was able to contribute so the pressure was not only on a few people and we were able to try foods from many different cultures.
Nothing bonds people like physical activity
The class had many rock climbing, hiking and marathon activities. Truly nothing forms a friendship like wheezing as you hike up a steep hill, while shouting ahead for people to slow down because you have trailed behind to pick wild blueberries, then panicking when you think that you are lost (that may or may not have happened to me).
Share your culture
The Global Health class is lucky to have so many people from many diverse countries around the world. This means that everyone can share their culture, especially through food. One of the students from Thailand (Jane who was featured in my earlier blog) held a cooking class to teach us how to make Thai green curry. We all went to the Asian market to learn about the best ingredients to use. Then back to the KI dorms to use the huge kitchen. There were three dishes and we all split into three groups to try cooking one type of dish each. It was super fun to cook together and of course have this cultural exchange. The best part was trying each other’s dishes at the end, an impromptu dinner in the middle of the week that was the best stress reliever.
If you hide who you are then you won’t find the people who understand the real you and that is a connection not worth missing out on. I know it can be hard especially if the majority of the class comes from a different country than you. Or friendships seem to spring up quickly while you are still trying to learn names. Take your time, get to know everyone and be nice.
This list is not to say that all 40 of us always hang out every weekend as one big happy group. There are smaller groups within the class that have closer friendships with each other and people do hang out one on one. However, I think almost everyone can hang out with anyone and we generally just look out for each other, which is something that I hope that the class of 2024 can also have. 🙂
Hi, my name is Zaynab and I am from Trinidad and Tobago, a country in the Caribbean. I am currently studying a Master’s in Global Health here at KI and am a blogger for the DA team. I look forward to sharing my experiences at KI and I also hope to expose students from the Caribbean to university life here in Sweden.