I made the somewhat spontaneous decision to study abroad for a year in beautiful Gothenburg, Sweden. As you’ll hear from most people who have studied abroad, it was absolutely one of the best decisions I have ever made. I brought numerous things back with, more than just a dala horse, winter coats and a ghostly white skin tone, but learnings that i’ll keep forever.
New culture and experiences:
Exchange is a really unique way to learn about a new country by completing immersing yourself in it. My thoughts about Sweden before going were probably mainly; Abba, cold weather, social utopia and meatballs. While these all proved to be pretty valid, exchange gave me an opportunity to personally experience and gain an understanding of a new country through exposure to new language, environments and traditions. Going to Lapland in Northern Sweden for the first time and having my first experience of snow, a white christmas and seeing the northern lights is something I will never forget. I learnt about Swedish traditions including fika (a brilliant and popular Swedish concept of having coffee and something sweet), numerous national cake holidays (Kanelbullar/ cinnamon buns, semlor for ‘Fat Tuesday’, Waffle Day and Crayfish parties) and After Work (where you buy a beer on a friday afternoon and get free dinner). Obviously I’ve opted to bring a lot of these traditions back with me. Living with so many international students meant that I also got to learn a lot about their countries and cultures, and of course by being in Europe I was able to visit a lot of them while there.
‘Personal growth’ was probably one of the cheesey selling points from the university, but it’s totally true. I learnt a lot about myself, my limits, my motivations, how I deal with and adapt to new and different situations. I learnt new ways of problem solving and gained a lot more confidence with who I am. Exchange throws you in the deep end and forces you to make new friends, try new things, and build new support networks. I quickly realised that it was up to me to make the most of my time over there and because of that I found myself actively looking for new opportunities and things I usually wouldn’t do at home. I think I generally gained a more ‘go get em’’ attitude which I know I can adopt in Adelaide or wherever I live in the future.
A new lens:
Exchange gave me exposure to a new language, practices and perspectives. It gives you new world views and makes you question your own and the assumptions you may have. Living in a new country showed me new possibilities and ways of living. I not only learnt about Sweden but about Australia too. Whether it was my simple longing for vegemite or witnessing an election in a new country, I found myself comparing differences, from food, people and fashion, to gender politics, and welfare and education systems. I came to love so many of these things but I also gained a new appreciation for Australian culture and people. Generally, exchange gave me a more worldly perspective and helped me to understand my own values.
I think I underestimated the friendships I would be able to make in such a short period of time.
When you go to a new place where you don’t know anyone you find that everyone in the same boat bands together. The students I met there were literally my family, my support networks, the people I laughed with, went to with problems and had new adventures with. I was also lucky enough to have a Swedish family I met with regularly to do different activities and help their daughters who were learning english, and if you get any such opportunity I would definitely recommend it! That family and the other students I met really defined my time abroad and made it the amazing experience it was. I now have really special friendships with people from all over the world which I know will genuinely last a lifetime.
The memories I have from exchange are absolutely invaluable. I recall indoor snow fights, coming out of lessons excited about learning new things, a lot of fika, laughing and crying with new friends, walking around a new city and feeling completely at home, and travelling a new continent. I’ll treasure these and so many more, forever.
I would absolutely recommend studying abroad to anyone that gets the opportunity. Do it and experience it for yourself!