Back to square one- Reflecting back on my first year at KI

Now that summer break is in full effect, I am taking some much-needed time to rest. Just kidding! I have been busy with my summer job, visiting guests, and traveling. But in times like these, it is important to take a breather. This is to ensure I both reflect and celebrate the accomplishment of completing year one of two at KI! Sometimes we forget how different a perspective and concerns we had this time around last year, and I was reminded of them as I took the time to reflect.

This time last year, I was working daily and in the ocean by the afternoon in Hawai’i, USA. It had been two years since I was in Sweden and six years since I lived in Stockholm! Because of this, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to adjust to life back in Stockholm after spending my adult life in the U.S. Would I get accustomed to being a student again? Am I smart enough to study Epidemiology? How will I balance my social life, and will I be able to pursue extracurriculars? Although I don’t have perfect answers to these concerns, I can safely say that I can now navigate through them with more certainty. In light of this, I will share my top five concerns I had the summer right before my first year (summer of 2023), and what I would tell myself now to address them.

1. Readjusting post-transcontinental move

Starting on a practical note, I would firstly tell myself to be punctual. Living on a Pacific island, “island time” was a real thing and I was very lax with being on time! Swedes tend to be on time for most occasions, and I had (or rather have) trouble with this when meeting up with friends and showing up to morning lectures. As I only started actively addressing my lateness during the last months of the spring semester, I would tell myself to keep a good track record already in November. Even leaving the house 5 minutes earlier would have made a difference!

In terms of my concern with getting used to speaking multiple languages each day, I would tell myself to give it some time, especially with my Swedish. Even though I am fluent, I couldn’t always describe, say, or remember specific words during my frustrating first month! Looking back, I would tell myself that there is no rush. It’s completely normal, and tell myself to take baby steps. For instance, I would maybe recommend making a habit of reading 10 pages of a Swedish book per day to refresh my vocabulary.

2. Am I good enough to be in my track?

My previous job required regular collaboration with both state and federal epidemiologists. Despite my exposure, however, the high competence of my epidemiologist colleagues always intimidated me. They seemed to effortlessly manage and analyze data, apply theory, and use niche lingo that I was not familiar with. So when I applied for the Public Health Sciences program and chose the Epidemiology track as my first choice, there were immediate waves of doubt.

I simply could not see myself being on the same “level” of expertise as my colleagues. Looking back, I would reassure myself that epidemiology is not as scary as it sounds. Sure it’s not always easy, but I would tell myself that I am perfectly capable of understanding both public health and epidemiological concepts. And although it might be hard to take, I would tell myself firmly, that I deserve to be here.

My former colleague and I hard at work at headquarters! Photo credit: Risa Goto

3. Can I keep up with the courses?

A pleasant surprise was that I was better at Biostatistics—a course rumored to be challenging—than I thought. When I first glanced at the course syllabus a year ago, I was fully ready to cry myself to sleep every day in the winter months. Why? Because we had not one, but two Biostatistics courses in our first year. In contrast, I found it to be a very useful and interesting course! There was no crying involved either. I even found myself reading some of the long lengthy course books written by mathematicians (who should never pursue writing) “for fun”. As someone who barely passed math in high school, this was a miracle. On that note, I would tell myself to study hard, expect the unexpected, and celebrate even the smallest of wins!

While I had some unexpected wins, I also had harsh reality checks while studying for, and taking some course finals. In some exams, I found myself staring blankly at questions on concepts I strategically decided to skip while studying for the exam. This showed that I had missed some key concepts of certain courses. I would therefore tell myself to not let my guard down, and understand the bigger picture when revising course material. But while this has cost me higher course grades, I would tell myself to not obsess over grades. This isn’t high school after all. Instead, I would recommend identifying and focusing objectively on specific things I did well, and specific areas that need improvement.

4. My social life

In August of last year, I was nervous about two aspects of my social life. First off, will I get along with my new classmates and have time to hang out with them? Secondly, will I be able to make time for some of my older friends in Stockholm? So out of sheer excitement and somewhat of pressure to address my two concerns, I think I was overly busy with social plans in the fall. This led to me having multiple weekends booked, and sometimes resulted in multiple hangouts per day. At one point between late November and February, I didn’t feel well-rested after the weekend. Looking back, I would tell myself to not overbook myself. While it was fun, I think prioritizing some alone time should not be overlooked.

Saying no or postponing is acceptable at times. I would tell myself that my friends are not going anywhere and there are many weekends to come. Also, many people in their 20’s (my age) face similar struggles when making plans with friends. Sometimes we are so busy with “newer” colleagues or friends and have to compromise spending time with older ones. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe work and/or school is exhausting and most of your free time goes to resting by yourself. As these tend to be common experiences, most friends are understanding if you sometimes postpone or raincheck plans! Your sanity and quality of hangouts are not worth sacrificing over the need to constantly hang out with different friends.

5. Extracurricular activities

Even before my time in the U.S, I was used to working out weekly. It’s just something that keeps me sane and disciplined. This is why I really wanted to keep a similar level of physical activity in Sweden. Luckily for me, KI has a very fresh and modern gym on campus (Solna), and I also got a gym card for a commercial gym. Overall, gym access turned out to be great! I would often go after school and went for shorter sessions in the morning if I wasn’t too grumpy. Depending on the week, I would try to go about 2-4 times a week. Here, I would pat myself on the back for setting a realistic and flexible goal for weekly gym “frequency”.

I also started to train karate. As I had trained karate for most of my childhood, there was no hesitation in getting back into it in the fall. I trained 1-2 times in the fall but increased the frequency to 2-4 in the winter semester. This is because I decided to compete/make my senior debut in sparring that semester. Restructuring my gym sessions to this new schedule while also balancing studies and a social life was hard! Overall, it was quite tough, but I saw a lot of progress in my karate, cardio, and strength training aspects. The training schedule became a routine I could follow towards the spring, But I’ll admit it, it came at the cost of my sanity between January and March, where I wasn’t used to the level of physical activity. Training after school daily was often mentally challenging, especially in the darker months.

Looking back, I would tell myself to take more time to adjust to this new schedule. For instance, I would tell myself to start by increasing one training session weekly and increase after two weeks. This would also give me time to address other challenges like not beating myself up for being unable to complete planned workouts, incorporating recovery, and incorporating nutrient-dense foods. I would have also been able to save some money by preparing multiple snacks throughout the day a little sooner! For more tips on being both healthy and budget-friendly when getting/planning meals, check out Yagmur’s post on thriving on a student budget.

To sum it all up…

If I could tell myself one thing this time last year, it is to be kind to myself. Balancing multiple aspects of your life both as a student and as a private person is tricky. So staying patient, trusting yourself, and taking it day-by-day, are key! Even through the toughest of weeks, nothing is worth sacrificing your sanity. It’s important to recognize that you can be both goal-driven and still take time to relax and rest. I hope some of the prospective students starting in the fall got more realistic insights into some concerns of a KI master student. It is not all sparkles and rainbows (as it could sometimes be portrayed online), but if you find yourself relating to any of these, know that it will be all ok! For now, enjoy the coming months leading up to the fall semester, and stay tuned for more summer-themed blogs.

Risa-Public Health Sciences

Risa-Public Health Sciences

Hej! I am Risa, a Japanese Master's student in Public Health Sciences starting my studies in 2023 at Karolinska Institutet. Having been interested in the multidisciplinary, globally applicative, and cooperative nature of the public health field, paired with my familiarity with KI’s global reputation, I’ve always had the desire to study at KI. I enjoy curating playlists, petting cats, and going on scenic walks around Stockholm in my free time.


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