“Studying abroad provided me with a second home and a new set of eyes through which to see the world.”
The realization of a dream is a surreal sensation. Reminiscing now, the memory of that realization is made of various fragments - the feel of a YFU lanyard around my neck, the travel pouch resting in my lap; the numbness in my toes after long hours of sitting; the melody of the song I was listening to when it happened.
Sweden seemed like a very abstract concept, merely a dream, until I first looked out the window of the airplane as I descended into Stockholm. Looking out over the beautiful archipelago, it hit me full force - I was about to spend ten months living in this foreign country. The song “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing” by A.A. Bondy came up on my shuffle and a feeling of awe transformed my small airplane seat into a holy place. Reverently I let my eyes trace the cobalt curves where the water hugged the land. My worries and fears quieted as the peace I felt told me I was where I was meant to be.
It was the first of many similarly momentous realizations. My entire exchange year was a series of eye-opening experiences. Every day was a new adventure filled with discovery; boredom only meant I wasn’t making the most of my time. I learned about the wide array of food the Swedes enjoy, everything from surströmming (pungent fermented herring) to kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). Not to mention the rules - like how one mustn’t stir the porridge, or how anything that fits on a piece of bread can be called a sandwich. I learned to be more reserved in public like a Swede, but similarly just as warm and welcoming in close quarters. I was adopted into an incredible family I love with all my heart. I discovered a love for the people, for my beautiful city Göteborg, for the culture and for the language.
Studying abroad provided me with a second home and a new set of eyes through which to see the world. I learned more about myself and became my own favorite travel companion as I navigated the emotional rollercoaster that is an exchange year. It was a transformative period in my life and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have studied abroad with YFU. My experience made it apparent to me once I returned home to the States that I had a responsibility to help other students get the chance to learn and grow the way I did, if for no other reason than to remember that sacred feeling of seeing Sweden for the first time from thousands of feet above ground.