Jan Prchal’s Go Global Semester Abroad at Uppsala University
“Learning Swedish history while living in Sweden was a great way to understand the context of the country I was living in”
Jan strategically packed Canadian themed shirts to meet other students and travellers.
He found it was a good way to start conversations with strangers.
In 2017, Jan Prchal, a UBC History Honours student, followed through on a goal he always had — to study in another country. Taking advantage of UBC’s Go Global Program, Jan studied at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden from January 2017 to June 2017.
Now a History Alumnus, Jan also completed a Bachelors of Education and is preparing to begin work as a substitute teacher in September 2019. One day he hopes to teach history at the high school level.
Find out how Jan’s semester in Sweden broadened his cultural view and elevated his confidence — two qualities he will take with him as he pursues his career.
The Planning Process
Jan had his own criteria and requirements for his UBC degree that he referred to when planning his semester abroad.
Two factors encouraged Jan’s decision to study in Europe. First, he has family in Prague and he liked the idea of visiting them on weekends. Second, he has a European Union (EU) passport which allows him to study freely in Europe without any student visa applications.
Jan wanted to study in a region of Europe he never visited prior, and Sweden was unchartered territory. Uppsala University was the right school for Jan for its well established reputation and because it offered enough upper level history courses in English that were required for Jan’s UBC degree. The semester schedule at Uppsala also fit in with UBC’s schedule, and Jan was still able to graduate on time.
Once Jan was accepted to Uppsala University, he referred to the housing information provided by Uppsala and found a room in an apartment complex on the outskirts of the city.
Life in Uppsala
Upon arrival, Jan settled into his new home in Sweden — a large nondescript building with 24 rooms on each floor and 7 floors in total. The building was occupied by students and professionals from Sweden and all over the globe. Each person had their own private room and bathroom, but the kitchen and common area were shared with everyone on the floor.
Jan was content with the set-up of the building and spent many hours socializing and building friendships in the kitchen and common area. He became friendly with people from Europe and all across the world. He recalls fondly sharing food with Kurdish students on his floor and discovering a taste for Iraqi cuisine.
Jan purchased a bike at the beginning of his stay and made use of the excellent system of bike paths around the city. His ride to school took about 20 minutes, depending on the weather conditions. He was initially concerned about biking on icy, winter mornings but found the city was diligent about placing gravel on the bike paths to reduce the risk of slipping.
Jan adjusted well to Swedish culture and observed some interesting differences between Sweden and Canada. Jan noticed that Swedes, for the most part, avoided small talk. At first he missed this custom which he was comfortable with from life back in Canada. Jan learned to adapt and understood that Swedes find small talk superficial and prefer to reserve their social energy for in-depth friendships and romantic relationships.
Studying in Sweden
While at Uppsala, Jan took three history courses: a general Swedish history course, a course about migrants and minorities in Sweden and a course on the Swedish Welfare System. He also took a human geography course focused on Sweden and a basic Swedish language course.
His schedule was simple. At the beginning of the semester Jan took two courses at once, but for the rest of the semester he took one class at a time. The schedule was usually one class for about five to six weeks, two to three hours a day, and five times per week.
Most of Jan’s courses were seminar style similar to those offered in the UBC History Honours program. The classes were small, giving students the opportunity to discuss different readings and topics presented in class. In addition, students participated in various lesson activities including seminar roundtables and writing workshops. According to Jan, this style of learning was a great way to form bonds with professors and classmates.
Jan’s weekend travel was a nice antidote to the long, cold winter days in Sweden. His schedule at Uppsala allowed for several short trips in Europe: from long weekends to short breaks between classes. During his six months in Europe, Jan visited 16 countries (14 he never visited prior).
Jan enjoyed visiting his family in Prague on weekends but also explored places such as Spain and Portugal on his own. Jan also participated in group trips with friends from school including a trip to Lapland in Sweden and St. Petersburg in Russia.
Jan’s Takeaways from his Go Global Exchange
“Learning Swedish history while living in Sweden was a great way to understand the context of the country I was living in.”
Jan thought it was useful to focus on Swedish history courses to gain a deeper knowledge about the culture and politics of Sweden. This helped inform his opinions and perspectives on Sweden in an educated way.
“We are more similar than we are different.”
Jan noted that students and travellers from all over the world were open to friendship and shared many things in common. Even when he ventured off on solo travels, he experienced common ground with other travellers and made meaningful connections.
“I used to be more of a shy person but I am now more of an extroverted person because of Go Global.”
Jan found the experience forced him out of his comfort zone and pushed him to be open to meeting strangers and speaking up in class. Putting yourself into a world outside of your comfort zone forces you to learn about a new culture, meet new people, and navigate life in a new light.
Jan’s Advice to other Students
Do your research before you leave! Take time to go through the Go Global portal and read student reports about their experiences abroad. Consider meeting with students who have gone abroad and ask questions about their experiences.
Ensure the university you are interested in has courses that will not only transfer properly to UBC but will fulfill your graduation requirements in a timely manner. Do they offer enough courses in English? Jan cautions that some international universities have different semester schedules and to ensure the schedule will fit in with UBC’s fall and winter schedules.
Have an open mind! You may experience loneliness or bouts of homesickness, but don’t miss out on the experience. The time will fly by so be sure to take advantage of opportunities to meet others, travel and learn about the history and culture of the country you are in.
If you are interested in learning more about Jan’s experience, email him directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Jan:
Read Jan’s completed History Honours Thesis from 2018
For more information on Go Global Programs: