As my study abroad experience comes to an end I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a few things I have learned during my time abroad. Some are broad, some are super specific to me, some are giant life lessons, others are things I probably should have learned long ago. So without further ado: What I learned while studying abroad:
- Being halfway across the country is different from being across an ocean.
Before I came to Sweden, I didn’t think I would have any problems with homesickness. I live in Iowa, so it isn’t like I can drive home for a weekend trip while at Swat. But being one hour ahead versus being seven hours ahead makes a big difference. Waking up and having 99 percent of the people you know still be asleep for another seven hours is difficult.
- I am not a good cook.
For a long time I referred to myself as a good cook. Being abroad and having to cook for myself has taught me that I am not. I have learned that being able to follow a recipe in a fully stocked kitchen is very different from being able to meal plan, buy groceries, and prepare a meal for yourself. I am good at the first one, but very bad at cooking on a daily basis for myself. But don’t worry, I’m not a savage — I put my pre-prepared meals in the oven, not the microwave.
- Booking a laundry time is actually awesome.
In Swedish apartments, you have to pre-book a time to do laundry, and then you have the laundry room to yourself in that time. This requires a little bit of planning ahead but is awesome because you are guaranteed a machine, and no one will take your clothes out and throw them on the dirty floor.
- You can’t try to change yourself.
You have to find what you like and stick with it; you cannot force yourself to like something that you do not like. If I find Swat parties too loud and crowded, I am not going to like going to clubs in downtown Stockholm.
- American college students dress like shit compared to Swedish college students.
Maybe it is just because I have been studying at a business school, but everyone in this country dresses like they are on their way to a job interview at a fashion company. What happened to leggings and a T-shirt? I am all about dressing up and presenting yourself in a positive manner, but sometimes you just need a lazy day.
- Foreign languages are hard.
I feel like I already knew this, but I was once again reminded that there is no such thing as an easy foreign language. Svenska är svår (Swedish is difficult).
- Cafés are far superior to libraries
Why would you want to study in McCage when you can make friends with the lovely barista at the café across the street from your school and study in comfy chairs next to big windows with delicious coffee and pastries? Hobbs is fine, but being able to find a beautiful café on every block is amazing.
- Study abroad Instagrams are a lie.
There is no way that someone who is abroad is always traveling or doing something culturally rewarding. People who are studying abroad need lazy days too.
- Fika is amazing.
Fika is a Swedish custom where people take breaks in the afternoon to go get coffee and a pastry. This idea is built into school and work schedules and is truly amazing. Having an entire country take time off in the afternoon to drink coffee and eat pastries is something that every country should do. I will most definitely be drinking a small cup of coffee every afternoon at 3 when I return to the States.
- Public transportation is amazing, and the U.S. needs to be better at it.
Being able to consistently rely on a train coming and taking you to within a 5 to 10-minute walk of wherever you need to go is an amazing convenience for city living. The fact that the U.S. hasn’t learned how to develop a reasonably effective transportation system that is clean, safe, and reliable is a national disgrace.
- Having a commute of over 30 minutes isn’t actually that bad
Having a commute in the morning gives you time to catch up with friends or on podcasts and to take some time to relax and prepare for your day. My commute was just over 30 minutes and I learned to enjoy the people-watching and the time to collect my thoughts before going to class.
- Swarthmore really isn’t that bad.
As miserable as Swarthmore may seem at times, taking classes at a different university for a semester has made me appreciate how much the professors at Swat push me to be my best and that my fellow classmates make class discussion productive and rewarding.
- Trust the journey.
I may as well end this beautiful listicle on an extra cheesy note. Every experience you have is not going to be a positive one. You are going to find things that you don’t like and embarrass yourself massively when you cannot do basic things in another country. But that is okay — set your expectations at a reasonable level and trust in yourself and the people around you. Because no matter how lousy something seems on any given day, tomorrow is a new day.
Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity that allows you to see and learn new things, but it isn’t always easy. Some days you wake up and just really wish you could be somewhere familiar and safe, but other days you get the opportunity to walk around and realize how beautiful your surroundings are. I am glad I chose to study abroad; I got a lot out of it and truly enjoyed myself. But as for now, I am ready to go home and teach as many people as I can the wonders of fika.
Thanks for sharing your experience and learning.