Back to School… at age 30, in a different country, during a pandemic

For those of you who missed the update – The Nerdy Nanny is moving. As in ‘I’, Eve Daniels, am moving.

To Sweden.

In the middle of a Pandemic.

To start Grad School.

Right now.

Yeah, so that’s a thing.

As this article is being published I will have already boarded a plane filled with hundreds of other people and traversed three different airports, hopefully not contracting the plague in the process…

10 out of 10, do NOT recommend.

It’s okay, I’m not panicking or anything. It’m sure it’ll be fine, right?

But that’s not the point…

The point, if there even is one, is that I will be joining the ranks of returning students, once again, but this time for Grad School. I will be attending the Linkoping University Masters Program in Experimental and Medical Biosciences. This will be my first experience with international education, my first experience in Grad School, and my first experience attending school as an official card-carrying adult (I’m 30 now, so… grown up? Maybe? Eh, I’ll figure it out).

Considering the different circumstances, I thought we’d do a slightly different kind of ‘back to school’ special. So – here we go. Here are all the things that I, and I feel like most other students, will need to know and what I will be compulsively reminding myself of.

How to Prepare for Back to School

Know your classes

This is more for middle school and up, but apply’s to elementary school as well. Knowing not just what different subjects you are going to have to take but also what kind of learning or content you can expect to see. Is it mostly lectures and notes? Will there be more busy work and bubble quizzes or is it going to be a lot of reading assignments and written responses? A lot of this you can only figure out as you go along but in middle, high school and most college classes you can usually at least get an idea of the expectations based on the syllabus. As for Grad School… I have no idea, I will have to let you know.

Know your schedule

Wait, didn’t we just do this one? Yes and no. Knowing what classes you have and what sort of assignments and time commitments you can expect from them is only half the battle. The rest of it is figuring out, quite literally, when you need to be where. This could be as simple as writing down what days after school you have soccer practice, or as complicated as arranging lab hours in between lectures and trying to make sure you still manage to catch the last bus home.

My schedule on campus will undoubtedly be a bit of a mess, between relying on public transportation for the hour-long commute and partial closures all over campus in an effort to reduce crowding, this will take some figuring out for me. But even in college or high school, balancing class schedules with work/volunteering/extracurriculars and making time to study or meet up for groups required a bit of fiddling.

Remain Rigidly Flexible

This is one thing I always used to have the hardest time with. I’m better now but it still takes a constant reminder to keep me from constantly overthinking and trying to over-plan only for things to need to change suddenly and finding myself unable to adapt.

I used to be so stressed out over the very idea of possibly missing or forgetting something (possibly because I used to miss or forget things a lot) that I would develop detailed plans and schedules, all of which would go out the window as the situation changed. I’d like to think I’m better now, I have adapted fairly well to the idea of moving halfway across the world on two months notice after all.

Don’t overthink, the best-made plans have to be able to adapt. Have contingencies, take a look at the resources you have, and be able to go with the flow when the need arises.

Back to School Shopping

I’ll admit, it’s been a few years since I have done any back to school shopping for myself. As an ‘adult’ I pretty much have everything I need in my desk right now. But as I am moving and cannot take my entire desk with me, I will be doing a bit of shopping myself.

The Basics

One inch binders, dividers, lined paper. There are some things that are actually universal. As I’ve mentioned, I will be moving with only a carry-on and one checked bag, so school supplies were unfortunately not on my list. Whether your teacher has asked for these things or not, standard one-inch binders, a stack of lined paper, and a couple of dividers can’t steer you wrong. I do recommend getting the binders with the plastic cover so you can insert cover sheets instead of writing on the cover so you can reuse them term after term. Also, heavy-duty plastic dividers with pockets – so worth the extra couple of bucks in the long run for the same reason.

Pens, Pencils, and Highlighters. I’m pretty particular about my writing supplies, as are many writers and in fact some students. Ballpoint pens that dry down quickly to prevent smearing are preferred, with pilot G2’s being the current favorite. I like to have a handful of black or blue pens but when buying for the first time I also recommend picking up a rainbow pack as they make note-taking so much easier (I’ll talk about why color coordinating your notes makes such a big difference sometime this fall). As far as number two pencils, is there really anything better than a fresh pack of Dixon Ticonderoga’s? With highlighters I prefer the chisel tip slim sharpie highlighters, they’re less bulky and easier to fit in a pencil bag.

INDEX CARDS and tabbies. Slightly worrisome – Sweden doesn’t seem to have index cards, which is absolutely terrifying to me. I mean, forget about moving during a pandemic, not having index cards as I start Grad School?!? It actually got to the point that I’m so worried about this I have sacrificed bag space to ensure I have index cards available to me in Sweden. Stick on tabbies as well, although as those are smaller it was less of a concern.

School Bags

Backpack. Mine is still pretty solid and since I’m using it as my carry on I thankfully won’t need to get a new one. Once students get to middle school / high school I really recommend investing in a good quality backpack that is going to hold up for a while and not go out of fashion. Mine is a Swiss army bag. It is blue/black, has a padded laptop pocket and padded shoulder straps. I have had it for 10+ years now of college plus international travel and it hardly shows any signs of wear.

Lunchbag. Eating out constantly gets expensive, so even if you only pack a snack, having a lunch bag to keep it cool is a really nice option. Again, once you’re in middle school / high school it’s a good idea to get something that is going to hold up. These don’t need to be overly expensive or over-engineered. I prefer smaller lunch bags that can fit a decent amount of food and fold up when not in use so you’re not carrying around anything big and bulky when you don’t need to.

Tech

Phone. We live in a digital age, and part of that is being able to communicate with each other. I am still one of those people who recommend getting kids ‘dinosaur’ phones (the ancient indestructible Nokia for example) until they can prove responsible enough to handle a real phone and develop good phone habits. But after that, I am not one to recommend going all out or upgrading every five seconds. If you aren’t filling your phone with 23 different games and if you are backing up your photos to a cloud then you do not need all the storage in the world. And you can get a pretty solid phone with a decent camera, enough storage, and an extra SD slot for more storage from most Walmart’s for $200 or less.

Laptop. Thankfully, my laptop is coming with me. It was a $400 Hp which, honestly, works just fine but could use a bit of an upgrade sometime soon. I will definitely put that off as long as possible though, in the hopes that this laptop will last me through at least my first year of Grad School. While computers can definitely get over the top needlessly expensive, by the end of high school it is definitely worth investing in a decent one. Look for sturdy construction in a size you are comfortable with and a decent screen, but plenty of processing power.

Other things to remember

These are the things which I claim to know and yet, over the last few weeks and coming months, I will need to constantly remind myself of.

Take it Easy. Balancing staying on top of your schoolwork, managing your schedule, and not getting run into the ground is so much easier if you aren’t constantly panicking. Take a deep breath and try to spend less time imagining potential problems and more time focusing on the information and resources that you already have at hand.

Take care of Yourself. School is so much easier with food, sleep, and proper hydration. Make sure you are getting enough rest, eating healthy (even if it means just packing a healthy snack for midday) and drinking plenty of water. It is also important to include regular time off for socializing, hobbies, and to destress, even if you have to schedule it in.

You Got This. You have, in all likelihood, been going to school every year since you were five years old. This year may be different from the last, it may be harder than the last. But each year had been more difficult than the one previously and each year has been preparing you for the next to come.


I hope my little back to school ramble has provided you with at least some entertainment, if not actual value. Back to school is always a stressful time of year, this year more than most with everything going on in the world right now. But even at the best of times… it can be a little intimidating.

I’m 30 years old, WAY older than anyone else in my program. I’m in a country where I barely speak the language. I have a raging case of imposter syndrome and am just waiting for them to realize that I am not good enough or smart enough to be in this program and I am so nervous I think I am going to be physically sick.

If I can do this, then you definitely can.


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1 thought on “Back to School… at age 30, in a different country, during a pandemic

  1. I think it is amazing and also scary at the same time what you are doing, or actually already did. Even if the world was normal, whatever that means, I still would think moving to an entirely different country to go to grad school would be scary. Heck, I think Grad school itself is scary. All that to say: good luck!

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