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3 Things I Learned During My First Month in Sweden

March 4, 2016

ISEP student Lydia W. is a part of ISEP Voices Spring 2016. She is a new media interactive design major from University of North Carolina at Asheville, and is currently studying abroad at Södertörns högskola in Sweden.

It’s hard to believe that this week will mark one month of living in Stockholm, Sweden. Some days I feel like it was just yesterday that I was packing my bags in suburban North Carolina, but others I feel like I’m on my way to living like a local.

Blue and yellow abstract painting
Blue and yellow abstract painting

So far, my time studying abroad in Sweden has been an exciting, amazing— and yes, cold!— blur. I’ve gotten to know the streets of Stockholm and kind of gotten to know the public transit system. I’ve spent hours exploring art museums and danced in nightclubs until the early morning. I’ve settled into a cozy apartment after two trips to IKEA, and actually managed to get some studying done in between all the fun.

Empty Swedish street with an old red building with yellow trim
Empty Swedish street with an old red building with yellow trim

Even in these first four weeks, I’ve learned a lot about studying and living abroad. Here’s what I’ve picked up along the way.

Different is good

Before going abroad, everyone told me to expect culture shock. Life in Sweden is different, but I didn’t choose to study abroad because I wanted things to be the same. Sure, there are some things I miss from home (mainly my dog), and some things have been difficult to adjust to (almost everything shuts down in the early evening during the week, sales tax is painfully high). But for the most part, I haven’t experienced culture shock so much as culture awe or wonder or ooh, ahh— I constantly find myself walking down the street with a big, stupid smile on my face because I love it so much. If the tradeoff for that feeling is a few moments of confusion here and there, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Assorted Swedish art prints scattered on a table
Assorted Swedish art prints scattered on a table

It’s not about studying

I’m only in classes for four hours each week. Yes, really, four! Of course, some additional time is spent on homework and preparing for exams, but my schoolwork is way less intensive than it is at home. This has really helped me to realize how much learning happens away from school, especially when you’re studying abroad. There are some things to which lectures and libraries just don’t compare – exploring a new neighborhood, spending a day museum-hopping or even people-watching in a cafe with a fika (the Swedish tradition of an afternoon coffee and snack break) – and I’m on a mission to find as many experiences like these as possible.

Looking up a Swedish street
Looking up a Swedish street

Remember: this is real life

In all of the new experiences I’ve had since coming to Sweden, it’s been easy to forget that I actually live here. Everywhere I turn, there’s something new to do: take an overnight cruise to Estonia! Go cross-country skiing for an afternoon! Spend a weekend in Copenhagen! Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember that this is real life, and real life means needing to go to the grocery store, being pickpocketed (RIP iPhone) and occasionally trying to get a good night’s sleep.

But that’s not to say that the realities of everyday life are slowing me down. The best part of being in Sweden was something that I couldn’t comprehend before coming here: I’m 5,000 miles away in a country I had never been to before, with six months to do anything and everything. I can make my time studying abroad anything I want it to be. Here’s to the rest of it being as great as the first month.

View from a bridge of Swedish town and water
View from a bridge of Swedish town and water

*Are you ready for your own adventure? See all of your study abroad options on the ISEP website.

Want to see more from our ISEP bloggers? Learn more about our ISEP Voices Spring 2016 group.*

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