Molly Urwitz is in her final term at New York University. She is taking a first degree in philosophy and economics. She will thus graduate with a degree in two subjects, something which is unusual if you study at a Swedish university.
When Molly was in upper secondary school, her Swedish teacher got her interested in philosophy. Molly felt at the time that she wanted to study the subject at university level. But she was also a little afraid. How could she get a job on the basis of a degree in philosophy if she didn’t want to become a philosophy professor?
Molly found an answer by deciding to study in the USA. It is easier there to combine different subjects at the university level and to take a multidisciplinary degree.
– I knew that the education system in the USA was different, and that you could study a broader undergraduate programme, and I thought that would suit me, says Molly. In the Swedish university system, this is more difficult, because study programmes are often focused on a specific subject. If you want to include two subjects, you have to study two separate programmes.
Molly felt it was important that if she was going to leave Sweden, then she wanted to be in a big city, and not at a little university in a small town. She didn’t feel she needed to experience a traditional college atmosphere with a campus and associations. Nor did she want to have to live in the college. She wanted the freedom to live how she wanted, but at the same time to be able to be part of a university. She therefore chose New York University.
How was it to begin with, was it difficult to get into student life in New York?
– I enjoyed the actual studying right from the start, although it took me a term to get used to how Americans write essays and do maths. It took a while to become familiar with the system and to stop feeling insecure about what was expected of me.
It took longer, however, for Molly to get used to being away from home, and particularly to being completely on her own in a city without any family or close friends. There were periods when she felt incredibly lonely.
– It was stressful in a way that I hadn’t even considered it might be. Besides having to work hard at school the whole time, I also had to sort out every little thing that needed doing. It might sound daft or obvious, but even if you live alone as a student in Sweden, you probably have family or someone close that you can go home to for dinner, or go shopping with, or just ask for some advice.
When you move abroad, something happens to your perspective. Molly realised that she could move anywhere in the world and would cope with building up a life there too. This insight has given Molly a sense of both security and freedom.
– One incredible thing about going to a university that is as international as NYU is that I now have friends from around the entire world, who have completely different backgrounds. This has affected me in two ways. Firstly it makes you incredibly humble about your own privileged childhood in a democratic and equal society like Sweden. Secondly, you realise how much we are all alike, irrespective of where we come from in the world. We have the same dreams, we think the same thoughts, and we understand each other in spite of having very different origins, says Molly.
During her time in New York, Molly has learned a great deal about herself, about what she is like as a person and the preconceptions she has been carrying around with her, but most of all that she can cope with anything she wants to. When Molly felt things were particularly difficult, she motivated herself by saying that when all was said and done she was studying in a language that wasn’t her mother tongue, in a country a long way from her family, and that she had nonetheless managed to cope with everything.
Do you have any tips for other people who want to study abroad?
– Studying abroad is fantastic, but it requires some planning, and more if you are travelling to the USA than if you’re going to Europe. For the USA you need to do standardised tests, and in my case I had to take them several times in order to get a sufficiently high score. Besides all the practical details, my advice would be to really take time to consider when, where and what it is that you want to study. I don’t regret my choice in any way, but with hindsight I maybe wish that I had spent a little more time really considering what four years abroad would mean. There are fantastic opportunities at both the masters’ level and the undergraduate level, and one may be more suitable than the other. I also wish that I had maybe chosen biology or chemistry as a major instead of economics, given that the college has such fantastic research facilities that I would love to have been able to use. Checking things out in advance reduces the level of stress and enables you to make the choices that are best for you.
Your studies are almost finished now, what are your plans for the future?
– If I knew the answer to that question, all my anxieties would disappear. Now that I am into my final term, I think a lot about what I want to do once I have finished at NYU, and right now I don’t actually know exactly what the future will look like. My goal when I started at NYU was simply to learn a great deal, and to broaden by knowledge. During these four years I have studied everything from art history, to logic and econometrics. I have loved almost everything I have read, and that makes it difficult to choose what I want to do now. My student visa gives me an automatic twelve-month work visa for the USA, so at the moment my goal is to get a job here in New York and to work for at least a year. In the meantime I will be thinking about what I want to do and whether/what I want to continue studying.
Text: Lucella Bergström