After years of uncertainty, it felt very surreal to fly to Stockholm. I don’t know what I expected when I landed, but seeing the fir and pine trees lining the runways as we touched down made it feel like reality. The sky seemed clearer and bluer than I was used to, and it was something I acknowledged the whole time I was in Sweden. It felt like a constant reminder of the new environment I was in and the memories I would make.
Going to another country shows you new experiences and cultures, but it also opens your eyes to an entirely new way of thinking. In academic or social settings, I had so many opportunities to talk to people from other countries and cultures and gain their perspectives on topics that I never would have thought of while staying in the United States. The way classrooms and student-teacher interactions work was entirely different from what I was used to, like having classes fully based on student discussions or the professors focusing the scope of the class for us to learn new material and discuss it rather than be tested on specific concepts. As different as it was to adjust to, the experience provided me with new insight that I can take with me in professional and social settings.
After being in the same environment for a long time, we fall into a routine of how we say things and how we approach situations. It can be easy to get stuck in the cycle and not realize some of the flaws we have in communication. When you surround yourself with people from different backgrounds, many of whom may not speak English as their first language, you learn how to better communicate yourself and learn to understand things in a different context than you may be used to. It was an important reminder that there’s never a set way to approach a situation, and there’s so much you can learn from stepping out of the norm and seeing things from a different lens.
One of the most memorable parts of my time abroad was that I had the opportunity to figure out who I was without all the “roles” I typically fulfill when I’m home. What I loved most about doing a semester exchange program was that I had the chance to make it feel like home. Whether it be exploring other cities in Sweden, finding my favorite coffee shop or walking my routine nature path, there was something comforting about feeling like I had a home away from home across the world.
Sweden will always hold a special place in my heart. Whether it’s thinking about the trips I made or the little moments in the kitchen with my corridor mates, I could not imagine my college experience without this opportunity. I learned so much about the world and myself and will take those lessons with me in everything I do.