UPPSALA, SWEDEN, August 26, 2014 — His mom was born in Finland, his dad’s from Ohio, and Adam Wolf was born in Kalmar, Sweden, so it may not be that unusual for this 19 year old to find himself in college in Scandinavia. What’s a bit more telling is that Adam, who grew up in Florida, is in a six year medical program at the Uppsala Universitet in Sweden, one of only two Americans in the program. And whereas some choose to study overseas because they were not accepted into a medical school in America, Adam had no trouble with undergraduate acceptances.
Wondering what might prompt a young man to leave the comforts of home in the United States for some fairly cold winters, to speak a foreign language that uses very few vowels, and to face a culinary tradition that relishes Surstromming (a pungent Baltic herring dish), I spent some time with Adam, who is just starting his second year there, getting a feel for him and his choices.
Sheryl Kay: Tell us a little about this medical program, what got you interested, and how you got in.
Adam Wolf: I had always had it in my head that I could study medicine in Sweden, but I first researched the details junior year of high school, when I was also looking at American universities. I couldn’t really find a fitting school in the US, and was split between U Chicago and U Miami. There are a few different ways to get into this program, but the majority get in based on a combination of GPA and HP scores (HP is the Högskoleprovet, a Swedish SAT equivalent). Living in America I was unable to take the Högskoleprovet, but was lucky enough to be accepted to Uppsala anyways.
SK: What was it like at move-in when you first got there?
AW: There was a lot of stress associated with moving here, one of the main reasons being that you need to organize living accommodations on your own. My mother and I had two weeks to find a place to live, and I put out an ad on Blocket (the Swedish craigslist). We looked at various apartments. Eventually we decided to buy a relatively new, central, one bedroom apartment, which was perfect for me. Then three days before school started, I went on a four mile journey to Ikea by myself to buy furniture. I managed to make it home with the furniture in one piece, well, several pieces, but at the end of it all, I had forgotten something—a plant. Back at Ikea, I picked out a tropical plant that was as tall as me and reminded me of Florida. This led to the peculiar sight of a young male standing in shorts and flip flops next to a tropical plant in the middle of the station, waiting for the bus!
SK: What about language barriers? I believe you did speak a bit of Swedish, but certainly not medical terms…what’s it like studying such a hard subject in a brand new language?
AW: I had a bit of trouble with the language to begin with. I could understand everything but hadn’t built up a large enough vocabulary to fully express what I was trying to say, which led to some funny moments as I tried to explain the concept of a fraternity to my friends. The exams were in Swedish, but you could answer in English. I tried to answer in Swedish, but as my vocabulary was slightly lacking, I found my answers to be twice as long and drawn-out than if they were written in English. Next semester is anatomy, and all that terminology is in Latin.
SK: How do you think your life today is different than your high school friends’ lives today?
AW: My life is quite a bit different from my friends back in America. Most of them are rooming with somebody and get food from the school. As for the actual program, a good friend of mine is on a pre-med track at Wake Forest, and when I asked about his classes he told me he was taking biology, chemistry, math, history, and Spanish. In Sweden, we don’t take math or history, just medical classes. Last year we studied the circulatory system, cellular biology/chemistry, and the endocrine system. I do admittedly miss calculus, but at the same time I couldn’t stand to take another history class.
SK: What do you do on your down time there?
AW: Down time, if you can call it that, is usually spent at the gym, at home studying, or at a friend’s house. Depending on the weekend, everyone’s at a nightclub or bar, in which case we make sure to have a great time with friends and meet other students in different programs.
SK: Now your parents still live in Florida. How are they dealing with the separation?
AW: My mother is having a hard time, still referring to me as “little boy” and trying to redecorate my apartment at every chance she gets. My dad is a lot more relaxed about it, and seems to have a bit more faith in me, as long as I keep him happy with updates of all the cool new medical terms I’ve been learning.
SK: Any thoughts as to what you’ll do upon graduation?
AW: After five and a half years, you start your residency, or allmäntjänst, which usually lasts 18 months, after which you can specialize. I’m not entirely sure yet if I want to come back to the states for a residency or stay here. It would be a huge benefit to get licensed early in America, and wouldn’t be too hard to transfer the license to a Swedish one considering I went to school there. But I’ve got four years to figure it out.
SK: If you were going to counsel kids who are contemplating doing similar programs, what would you tell them?
AW: For anybody with the opportunity to study in Sweden, I would definitely recommend it. A semester abroad anywhere in Europe is sure to be rewarding and unforgettable. One of the most important things in life is identifying and knowing to seize an opportunity, no matter how far out of your comfort zone it may be. There’s always a leap of faith associated with opportunities, and it’s all about finding the courage to take it.