I am driving home for Christmas… I literally am, while writing these lines. In my case that means an approximate 12-hour train ride from Sweden to Germany. Not too bad, if everything goes according to plan (usually not the case). However, it makes me start thinking why I decided to live and work abroad in the first place? Yes, there were of course obvious factors such as my interest in the lab’s research focus, the overall working environment at Lund Stem Cell Center and to a great extent also the fact that I got to know the group beforehand through a 6-month internship.
But setting aside each of these excellent reasons, it still is a huge step to leave your home country and start somewhere else all over again. I am totally aware that moving abroad is not very uncommon anymore, people do it all the time for various reasons. Moreover, the overall difference between Germany and Sweden is (from my perspective) not as big as it might be for other nationalities, especially for people from outside of Europe. Nevertheless, it was a huge change for me. On top of the excitement, fears and self-directed doubts that come with starting a PhD, I also had to deal with applying for a Swedish identification number, the housing market and a foreign insurance system. Now at some point in life one has to deal with one or more of these things anyways. The challenge is bigger though if you are neither used to the system nor fluent in the language (although the majority of Swedes speak English, most official documents are in Swedish). Of course, I got a lot help and support from my colleagues as well as from our HR office, but it takes time to figure out how things work. It was for example quite a surprise when I had my first dentist appointment here, because although healthcare is free in Sweden, dental healthcare is not.
Eventually, once most of the issues accompanied with immigrating to a foreign country got solved I started paying attention to the positive effects! One of the greatest side-effects of a PhD abroad for me, is getting to know a new culture. It is more than just visiting a country for a holiday trip. Living abroad offers insights into the values, traditions, and idiosyncrasies of a foreign nation. Ultimately, it expands your horizon and lets you reflect on who you are and become more aware of your own cultural background. One great thing about moving to Sweden is that you do not necessarily have to learn Swedish (at least when you work in a research lab in Lund). I get by very well with English in my daily life. Depending on the point of view this can be both a convenience and a hurdle to mastering a new language. With more SFI language courses and everyday practice though, I’m hopeful to complete my Swedish experience by becoming fluent.
In short, moving abroad has offered additional life experiences beyond the PhD that I would not have had in my home country. So far, I am pleased with my decision and recommend everyone to broaden their horizon from time to time.