DIS is (Stock)HOME

A long-time favorite song of mine has been “Bucket List” by Mitchell Tenpenny. The 2021 hit from the rising country artist stands out to me because of its catchy melody and lyrical meaning of living life to its fullest and appreciating the beauty of the world and those around you. Not only was “Bucket List” a song that I listened to on my commute to class every day but more importantly was one in which its message resonated with me and best represented my semester abroad in Stockholm.

A view of Södermalm, a southern area of Stockholm. Does this view look familiar? (Hint: scroll up!)

There were many reasons why I decided to study abroad, from the desire to explore a new city and experience different cultures to meeting other students from different universities. I loved my home university but was ready to leave its bubble and the monotonous routine I had developed and challenge myself to live and study halfway around the world. Back in January as time got closer to actually leaving for Sweden, I made an agenda of things I wanted to do and accomplish during my time abroad, my personal study abroad “bucket list” if you will, and I am happy to say that I was able to do just that.

Left to right: Hulan, Alex, me, Meghan, and Mikael in Gamla Stan.

Establishing and growing meaningful friendships was at the top of my bucket list. Perhaps the biggest reason why I asked to switch from the Copenhagen program to Stockholm was that I wanted the smaller student population and to not know anyone in the program prior to coming. While studying abroad with friends and classmates from home sounded like fun, I wanted to have a break from my home university and be fully present in Scandinavia. However, not knowing anyone in an entire program came with the anxiety of having to make new friends and arriving in Sweden not knowing anybody. I knew deep down that I was going to make friends, but I couldn’t help but feel nervous about being alone in Stockholm and thousands of miles away from everyone I knew. The day I arrived in Stockholm, I ended up at Paddy’s Pub with a group of DIS students from my student housing. I was nervous and still overwhelmed by all the traveling and moving in but figured that it would be good to socialize with the kids I would be living with for the next four months. That first night at Paddy’s was so much fun and I distinctly remember thinking to myself that this was going to be ok and that I made the right decision to go to Stockholm.

Left to right: Me, Hulan, Alex, Mikael, Meghan, and Brooke at Paddy’s Pub celebrating the last day of the program.

Since that first night, my friendships with those DIS students, as well as other friends I have made along the way, have only grown and truly made my study abroad experience so much more fun. It is cool to think that we all came from the United States, but it took being in Stockholm at the same time for us to meet and become as close as we did. Like me, because a lot of us came in not knowing anyone, all we knew about and how we perceived each other were what we were like right then and there in Stockholm and how we treated others, which I actually really enjoyed because it allowed us to be ourselves. It was special living next to your best friends abroad and people who you share so many fun and unique memories with. From riding the pendeltåg to DIS together to dancing all night together in the clubs on the weekend to the weekday nights in the common room when we all said we would be productive and do homework together but ended up just talking and laughing together for hours, time with these special people is what I will always first think about when reflecting on my time abroad. I met some of the most down-to-earth, adventurous, and genuine people, and I am so glad that DIS brought us together.

Top row, left to right: Mikael, Adam, Hulan, and me. Bottom row, left to right: Addie, Liz, Maya, and Maddie.

Taking challenging and interesting classes was the next item on my bucket list. The study tour trips to Gothenburg and Athens for my Positive Psychology core course were my favorite academic memories. From performing forum theatre in Gothenburg to Greek dancing in Athens at the foot of The Acropolis all while growing closer with my core course, our study tour trips consisted of memorable moments that I will remember for a very long time.

Sam, Reese, and me on our Long Study Tour to Athens, Greece.

My other classes were Swedish Language & Culture, Power of the Mind: Psychology of Performance, Psychology of Emerging Adulthood, and Public Health Emergencies and Health Crisis Management (DIS sure likes to make their course names as long as possible!). These classes not only challenged me to think critically about topics I had not learned about before but also piqued new academic and potential career interests. My favorite aspect of the classes I took at DIS was the professors and how personable they were. Not only were they truly accomplished teachers and individuals in their fields, but they were also super enthusiastic about our learning and genuinely cared about our well-being both as students and as individuals. I got to know all my professors really well this semester, and I enjoyed being able to talk to them about not just the course material but also their career paths and personal lives. They were a big reason why I enjoyed coming to class every day.

Our Public Health Emergencies and Health Crisis Management class on the last day of class. We met again the next week for a celebratory class lunch.

Immersing myself in Swedish culture was an item on my bucket list I wasn’t quite sure how to go about accomplishing. Because DIS is only made up of students from the United States, I was afraid that I wouldn’t meet any Swedes and just be stuck in an American bubble the entire time. However, DIS provided many opportunities for students to get involved around Stockholm, including being an English Language Mentor at Jensen Gymnasium, a local charter secondary school. Being an English Language Mentor was a lot of fun, and I really valued my time spent with the students and seeing first-hand what a school in Sweden looked like. I truly got to know these students through conversations about their school and their hopes and dreams after they graduate from secondary school. I also enjoyed answering their questions about American culture and what living in the United States was like. It was fun being able to compare our respective experiences and upbringing.

Me and Mr. Ioannou, the teacher for the class that I was an English Language Mentor for at Jensen Gymnasium.

I also immersed myself in Swedish culture through navigating Stockholm’s metro system and can confidently say that I can get to anywhere in the Stockholm area by public transportation. I feel comfortable in my ability to get around Stockholm, and it is neat seeing how things that seemed so foreign in the beginning have become such a consistent and natural part of my daily routine.

Left to right: Addie, Maddie, me, Hulan, and Liz in Stockholm.

Cherishing the little things was the last thing on my bucket list. There are so many parts of my study abroad experience that are not seen on social media or even on this blog but are what I will miss the most. All those mornings when I walked to SATS gym in the cold bundled up in layers asking myself why I chose to study abroad in Stockholm when I could have literally gone anywhere else in a warmer climate. Running into other DIS friends at SATS gym. The pendeltåg rides to class every day and having to run through Stockholm City Station from the pendeltåg to T-Centralen to not miss the next train and avoid being late for class. The time between my Swedish class and Power of the Mind class when I would hang out in the DIS kitchen warming up my leftovers for lunch in the microwave while socializing with friends. My afternoon walks around Sollentuna when it got nicer out enjoying the fresh air and catching up with friends. The night after going to Gröna Lund (Stockholm’s amusement park) when a group of us ate dinner at MAX at 11 pm and just sat and talked. Jumping into Edsviken, the body of water in Sollentuna at sunset on our last day. All the time spent in hostels, planes, and trains on weekend trips. The sushi restaurant on the first floor of my student housing that I ate at so often that when I walked in, they immediately knew my order. My daily snack of the ICA blueberry or chocolate muffins. All these memories are things not captured by photos and on social media but are the little things unique to my time in Stockholm and the people around me.

Edsviken, the body of water in Sollentuna in which we ran into on the last day of the program.

My time in Stockholm was nothing short of special. I am so grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and to have found a new community of people in Sweden. As sad as I am to be leaving, in a way I am happy that I feel this way because it is indicative of how special my time in Stockholm was and how much of an impact it had on me and my growth as an individual. Taking out everyone’s Swedish phone number from my contacts and replacing it with their American number shows that it’s not hejdå but vi ses. To my friends and all the special people I met through DIS, thank you for making the past few months a bucket list semester and Stockholm my new home. Until next time.

– Chris

Ranking the Top 5 Cities I Visited This Semester

One of the great things about studying abroad in Europe is the easy accessibility of travel to other European countries. When deciding to study abroad, I wanted to study in Europe for that reason, and I am so grateful to have been able to do that this semester. The number of places I traveled to and the experiences I have had in each respective city have exceeded my expectations. While I enjoyed all my respective trips for their own reasons, there were a few places that stood out to me and that I particularly liked a lot. Here is the list of my top 5 cities in Europe that I visited over the past few months.

5. Gothenburg

Gothenburg, Sweden.

Perhaps this is a surprise, but I really enjoyed my time in Gothenburg with my core course. I admit that a reason for that was that we were able to bond and have fun together for the time as a core course, but the city was very pretty, relaxed, and a nice change of pace from the busier Stockholm. I would compare Gothenburg to Stockholm as Boston to New York City, as Gothenburg felt like a smaller version of Sweden’s capital and had a more relaxed and open atmosphere. The canals all over the city were a signature look, and I really enjoyed the walking tour we went on which allowed us to explore most of the city and learn about its history. Our trip also came right when Covid restrictions were lifted in Sweden, so the night scene was a lot of fun, as Gothenburg has the most amount of university students in any city in Sweden.

4. Aegina

Aegina, Greece.

Another place that I went to with my core course, the island of Aegina was about as picturesque as it gets. The magnificent blue water with the mountains in the distance complemented the small-town feel. Because we went before tourist season, most of the island was empty, and we were able to explore the harbor, and streets, and have our fair share of pistachio ice cream and snacks, a signature food of Aegina. After a fun time soaking in the sun at a small beach, we had a class lunch on the water with fish as fresh as it gets. I definitely wish we got to spend more time in Aegina.

3. Vienna

Vienna, Austria.

I have always said that if I was not studying abroad in Stockholm, I would have wanted to study in Vienna. Austria’s capital was one of the prettiest cities I have seen, and just walking around the city highlighted the beauty of the architecture and rich history of the buildings. Since psychology is one of my majors, the trip to the Sigmund Freud Museum and being able to see where arguably one of the most well-known individuals in the field of psychology lived and did his work was a very cool experience. The funny thing about my time in Vienna was that I only did activities that kids would do, which were going to the Prater amusement park and the Schönbrunn Zoo, the world’s oldest zoo. The only reason why Vienna is not higher on my list is that I did not see any of the city’s main tourist attractions and was unable to acknowledge its true beauty and history. This is definitely a city that I want to go back to and spend more time in.

2. Venice

Venice, Italy.

Venice was the city that I was looking forward to visiting, and it did not disappoint. There is nothing quite like a city that uses canals and bridges to get around and experiencing that in person was such a cool experience. It was also the Carnival of Venice when we went, so the city was bustling with excitement and tourists. My one knock against my time in “La Serenissima” was the number of tourists and how crowded all of the streets and bridges were. I am somebody who prefers the smaller cities that are less touristy, so it was a little overwhelming at times. Eating pizza on the edge of a dock on the Grand Canal with some friends at 3 am was a memorable moment, as we were the only ones on the water and could really take in the true tranquility of the water and the city.

1. London

London, England.

London was a fairly last-minute trip, but I am glad I went because it was my favorite visited city. While it was the city that felt most like the United States, there is just so much to do at every turn and so much history to learn about. The coolest part of London was how integrated world-famous landmarks like Big Ben and the Tower Bridge were with new high-rise skyscrapers and housing complexes. The city was easy to get around in, and I found myself stopping frequently to take pictures of the many amazing sights and views. London is by far the most versatile city regarding things to do, from relaxing in parks to visiting museums to taking advantage of the city’s amazing and diverse food scene. On top of that, the weather was amazing and made the entire trip that much more enjoyable and fun.

There are definitely cities and countries that I wanted to travel to but did not make it to, but I am grateful that I was able to visit all of the places that I did. Traveling so frequently helped me learn how to navigate different airports and prepare for trips. From core course trips to weekend trips to longer trips, I made a lot of memories that are a staple of my study abroad experience. I will say that weather did play a big factor in how enjoyable a trip was and how easy it was to get around, so the trips I went on later in the semester had an advantage. Regardless, I had so much fun with friends traveling to new places and experiencing so many different cultures.

Celebrating the end of Winter in… May?

Yes, you heard that correctly. Valborg Day, short for Valborgsmässoafton (Swedish for “the last of April”), and also called Walpurgis Night, is evidently an all-day celebration on April 30 for the long days of winter coming to an end and anticipating the summer months ahead. For high school and university students alike, Valborg is also a day to celebrate exams and spring semester classes wrapping up soon. This festivity that dates back to the 1700s is a big deal in all of the major cities in Sweden and is also celebrated in smaller towns and suburbs.

A view of the number of people in Uppsala for Valborg.

We were taught in our Swedish Language & Culture course that Valborg consists mainly of two parts: the partying by university students during the day and the more “wholesome” celebration of a bonfire with families and children at night. The bonfire is a staple of Valborg and was originally used to fend off evil spirits and witches. The origin still holds true today and has become a public event for individuals and families of all ages and backgrounds.

On the day of Valborg, a group of friends and I woke up fairly early and made the trip up to Uppsala, a college town and home to Uppsala universitet about a 45-minute train ride north from Stockholm City Station. We arrived in time for the famous Uppsala River Rafting Event at the Fyris River that cuts through the middle of the town. This river rafting event has been long organized by a student engineering organization at Uppsala universitet and consists of participants constructing their own homemade raft and floating it down the river where thousands of spectators line the entire length of the river and cheer them on. The majority of participants are university students at Uppsala or other nearby universities. Because we arrived before the start time, we were able to have a front-row view of the rafts. While it was cool to see the majority of rafts make it down the river intact with everyone in it (there were a handful of groups whose rafts did fall apart), I was very impressed with the effort put into the decorations. Raft designs with complementary costumes from the participants ranged from Vikings to beer cans to Lightning McQueen.

The famous Uppsala River Rafting Event featured some pretty cool raft designs and structures.

After we watched the river rafting event for a few hours, we decided to walk around Uppsala and stopped for some delicious Greek food from food trucks that were all over the town. We, as well as what seemed like all of Uppsala and Stockholm combined, went to Ekonomikumparken, a large park where everyone was socializing, playing music, and having fun in the nice weather. Because we were a group of seven, it was nearly impossible to find a spot to sit down, but we eventually did and then met up with another group of DIS students.

It seemed as if the entirety of Sweden was at Ekonomikumparken.

After some time at the park, we followed a herd of people to the university’s famous library Carolina Rediviva for the donning of the caps celebration. Right at 3 pm (Fun Fact: Swedes are known to be very prompt and on time), the vice-chancellor of Uppsala universitet and other high-up members of the university walked out of the library entrance and raised their white caps which the sea of people below responded by waving their white caps. For another cool fact about Sweden, all graduates of gymnasium, or high school, receive a white cap that looks like sailor hats at graduation that they keep and wear every year for Valborg. After that, traditional Swedish music and choirs began playing music in celebration. Despite me not knowing quite exactly what was going on or what was being said the whole time, it was a very cool and unique experience.

The donning of the caps celebration at Carolina Rediviva featuring the famous white caps.

We then continued the celebration at a local bar in Uppsala before heading back on the pendeltåg. After regrouping for a little bit at our apartment, we headed down to Stockholm for the big bonfire at Skansen. Despite the scene and environment being a lot less wild and crowded as Uppsala, there were still tons of people celebrating at Skansen and were ready to see the bonfire.

The crowd of people at Skansen ready for the bonfire.

After a few musical performances of an Elvis Presley song as well as Swedish music from student groups at Stockholms universitet, a choir came on and began singing more traditional Swedish music. A few individuals with fire torches walked across the stage and around the large pile of sticks that was adjacent to the stage ready to start the bonfire. It took a few minutes for the bonfire to really start, but once it did it was an amazing sight to see. The flames and smoke rising up with a distant view of Stockholm in the back was a great ending to a day full of cultural festivities.

The bonfire with Stockholm in the background was a great sight.

One of the best parts about studying abroad is immersing yourself in the local culture and not just learning about traditions but going to be a part of it as well. While we laugh that Sweden basically skips spring and jumps right to a celebration of summer because of the unpredictable cold weather, it was very cool to see how important Valborg was to Swedes and their culture. For me, it was a very fun day with friends and learning about one of Sweden’s most celebrated days. This weekend is one full of festivities and celebrations, as today is May Day. Or “red day” (the country’s version of Labor Day in the United States), where everyone takes off work to celebrate the rights of workers and the work that they do. Swedes tend to celebrate and party even harder on Valborg because they know that they always have the next day off of work and school. As I write this, I can see a celebration with red flags outside my window and can hear a band playing and a choir singing! As tiring as this weekend was, it was well worth being a part of such a fun weekend in Sweden.

Derby of the Twins

This past weekend, a group of friends and I attended a professional soccer match between two cross-town rivals Djurgården IF and AIK at Friends Arena in Solna. We were told by two Swedish high schoolers who are part of our DIS – Jensen Gymnasium mentorship program that we needed to go to this game because it would be the craziest soccer match of the year in Sweden. So, trusting what some 17-year-old high schoolers told us to do, as one does, we bought cheap tickets online (they were roughly 200 SEK) and took a trip to the Djurgården team store for some apparel to wear and blend in.

For a quick overview of these two clubs, Djurgården and AIK were both founded back in the late 19th century and are two of three football clubs located in Stockholm, with Hammarby being the third. This match between these two storied franchises, called Tvillingderbyt or the “Derby of the Twins”, is generally considered to be the most important and anticipated derby, or local match, in Sweden, as both clubs have a history of success with a plethora of championships and Swedish Cups. Djurgården fans make up the Östermalm and southern area of Stockholm and play their home matches in Tele2 Arena south of central Stockholm. The AIK fanbase makes up the northern region of Stockholm and plays their home matches at Friends Arena in Solna, thus making the game this weekend a home one for them.

Djurgården vs AIK is the fiercest football rivalry and derby in Sweden.

With no prior relation to either team or knowledge of the history of the rivalry, we decided to root for Djurgården, as we had attended a Djurgården hockey game back in February and had a lot of fun there. Djurgården also had an arguably better color scheme with its two shades of navy and light blue with red and yellow, as compared to AIK’s black and yellow combination.

Decked out in our Djurgården blue, we hopped on the pendeltåg and headed down to the Solna station where Friends Arena was. When we got off, we were quickly met with a sea of fans of both clubs wearing team jerseys, scarves, and hats and belting chants in Swedish. However, we encountered a problem when we encountered security guards directing Djurgården fans to the right entrance and AIK fans to the right entrance. We had previously realized that we bought tickets in the AIK section but did not realize how fierce a rivalry it was between these two clubs and that, unlike for games in the United States where you can theoretically sit anywhere regardless of who your team is, for European football matches you have to sit in your club’s designated seating area. The security guards saw us Djurgården “fans” going to the AIK entrance we were assigned to and called us out. This is how our dialogue went:

Security guard: Hey! Djurgården fans go to the left to enter that side of the arena!

Me: Yes, I know we messed up, but our tickets are in Section 329 which is on the AIK side.

Security Guard: Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. That’s dangerous.

Me: Really? Why do you say that?

Security Guard: Because they will attack you and beat you up if you sit there.

Me: I can’t tell if you are messing with me or not.

Security Guard: I’m serious. You can talk to the police when you get to your seats about safety, but I would go at your own risk.

With the fear of being beaten up for rooting for a club that we blindly decided to cheer for at the game days ago, we decided to just find seats in the Djurgården fan section after entering through the AIK fan gates. We found open seats in the fan section behind the goal. Every seat had a blue flag for fans to wave while the players walked onto the field before the game. Right from the opening kick, the stadium was deafening and roaring from opposing chants between the fans of the two clubs. The AIK fan section behind the other net was jumping up and down for essentially the entirety of the first half which was pretty impressive. Djurgården controlled possession for the majority of the first half and generated a few scoring opportunities, none that really tested AIK’s goalkeeper though. With a few minutes in the half, an AIK player streaked down the right wing and crossed the ball into the box where it was headed by another AIK player and over the arms of the diving goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Friends Arena erupted in joy and approval of the first goal of the game. I have been to few sporting events where the noise level was that high.

All fans in the Djurgården section were given blue flags to wave at the beginning of the match.

The start of the second half was delayed as both club’s fan sections set off pyrotechnic smoke and fire that covered the entire stadium and made it impossible to see the field. Despite announcements from the PA announcer asking fans to not use pyrotechnics in the arena, both fanbases continued to use smoke and lighters throughout the half. None of that would have been allowed at any game in the United States, so it was cool to see and experience as a spectator.

The pyrotechnics from the fan sections made it impossible to watch the gameplay from the stands.

Perhaps that was the most interesting part of the second half, as the gameplay was pretty uneventful with both teams failing to muster any scoring chances. Despite a late offensive surge from Djurgården, AIK’s defense held strong and preserved the 1-0 shutout victory. Maybe we should have picked to root for AIK instead.

Are we at a football match or a music festival? Unable to tell or see.

As a sports fan, I enjoy attending any type of game or sporting event, and this derby between Djurgården and AIK did not disappoint. As expected, the crowd was lively, and both fanbases chanted the entire game. I am glad we moved to the Djurgården section and did not risk getting beat up by a bunch of AIK fanatics and, although we didn’t see a Djurgården goal, it was a fun experience cheering on the team. A nice thank you to the high schoolers at Jensen who told us to go to the game because I am definitely glad that we went.

London with my Best Friend

Buckingham Palace in the Westminster area of London.

The irony of this trip is that London was the one city that I told everyone I wouldn’t go to because it was a European city that I felt that I could visit after my study abroad semester. To me, London was a place that seemed so globalized and metropolitan that it would be a better use of my time if I spent my Easter break going somewhere warm or to a city that I would not necessarily visit if I wasn’t already in Stockholm. However, after weeks of looking for places (mostly in Spain) to go to during the week off, my best friend from school Anna-Grace, who is studying abroad in Paris this semester, and I decided on London because it was the only city that traveling to wouldn’t break my bank account at that time.

Anna-Grace and I at Borough Market.

Because Anna-Grace’s Easter break started after mine, I spent the first day in London by myself. This was the first time this semester that I was traveling and exploring a new city alone, so navigating my way from the airport and walking around the city was solely on me, which was a new experience. My first stop was a ride on the London Eye. The weather was clear and sunny, so both the walk to and on the world-famous Ferris wheel was quite pleasant and a nice change from the colder weather in Stockholm. The view from the top lived up to my expectations, as I was able to see many of the city’s famous attractions that I see all the time in pictures and more.

A view of the center of London from the top of the London Eye.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the park next to the London Eye listening to the live artists performing Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi, watching street performers, walking along the River Thames, orienting myself around the city, and eating Chipotle for dinner. While Chipotle in London was good, it doesn’t compare to the ones in the United States!

A view of the London Eye and Big Ben on my walk across the River Thames.

Anna-Grace joined me the next day and we began our day exploring the Borough Market, one of London’s most popular food markets, and walking across the Tower Bridge. After a quick break for lunch at a riverside café, we took the London Underground metro system, also known as the “Tube”, over to Covent Garden. Because we arrived too late for a walking tour that I had signed us up for, we decided to just roughly do the tour ourselves, which included stops at Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Sir Winston Churchill Statue, Buckingham Palace, and Carnaby Street. Out of all of those stops, Big Ben was my favorite, as it was really cool seeing such a famous landmark in person and being able to admire the architecture and all of its intricate designs and details. It is crazy to think about how much older Europe is than the United States and how buildings like the Big Ben have withstood centuries of time and history.

Me in front of Big Ben.

Our next day did not get off to the greatest start, as we were awoken to the fire alarm in our hostel that forced us to evacuate and stand outside until everything got sorted out. It turns out that the fire alarm went off just because somebody was smoking in one of the rooms, which is about as European as it gets. After a pitiful sleep, we began our day with breakfast at The Breakfast Club, a diner that finally offered meals up to my American portion standards. We then took an Uber Boat down the River Thames to Chelsea which was in the southwest area of the city. For my older readers out there, our first stop on our walk was the house from The Parent Trap, which looked exactly like it did in the movies with some minor renovations. Walking in Kensington was very relaxing and took us past luxurious London neighborhoods and parks, and Anna-Grace and I definitely stuck out like sore thumbs lugging around our heavy bags, or rucksacks as the people there call them. I guess that is the beauty of metropolitan cities, as you can have tourists like us strapped up with our bags and proper English individuals wearing carefully ironed Ralph Lauren sweaters and niche dresses walking the same streets.

The house from The Parent Trap.

We spent the next few hours of the day seeing the luxurious department store Harrods, relaxing at Hyde Park, and making our way back to Battersea Park for dinner where the Uber Boat dropped us off earlier. Because both our flights out of London were at 6 am the next day at different airports, we needed to find a way to pass the time and not fall asleep before then. Thankfully, a mutual friend who was studying abroad in London offered to let us hang out in the common room of her apartment building, so we walked all the way back to the center of London and relaxed there for a few hours until it was time for Anna-Grace to leave for the airport and me to go to the bus station (which was back in Chelsea) where I would wait for the bus to take me to the airport.

Us walking around London strapped up with our travel bags.

The stresses and beauties of traveling, especially when abroad, are figuring out how to navigate different cities and have fun while staying safe and mindful. As tiring and stressful pulling an all-nighter and finding ways to get to the airport safely and efficiently was, it was worth staying in London a little longer and seeing the city at quite literally all hours of the day. I had a lot of fun reuniting with Anna-Grace and walking 65,000+ steps over two days exploring such a fun and vibrant city. I am glad I went to London!

Being honest

A few weeks ago, I had an assignment for my Psychology of Emerging Adulthood class in which we put together a PowerPoint presentation highlighting our study abroad experience thus far. The goal of the assignment was to allow us to share how our time in Stockholm has impacted us as both students and individuals. I really enjoyed creating and presenting this presentation, as I was able to truly reflect on my abroad experience and evaluate the positives and negatives of navigating a new school, new city, new country, and new people. This assignment was also right around the halfway point of the study abroad semester, so I used that as an opportunity to assess how I was doing and think of how I wanted to spend my second half in Sweden. Because this assignment has had such a profound impact on me, I wanted to share what I told the class with all of you.

A view of Stockholm with the sunset in the background from Skinnarviksberget, a lookout rock in Södermalm.

I think it is important to acknowledge that studying abroad is not all happy and positive every single second of every single day. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a lot of fun in Sweden thus far and cherish all of my experiences and memories, but there is this ideology and belief that studying abroad is easy and full of crazy, fun experiences. Essentially like a non-stop party, to put it bluntly. Social media plays a key role, as every day on Instagram, Snapchat, or other platforms people document their time abroad and make it seem like they are having a perfect time (to clarify, there is nothing wrong with doing that and social media should be a fun place to share cool things you have done with others, and I admit that I have done this too). And while we all know that social media doesn’t paint the entire picture, it is impossible not to get caught up in that and feel that your study abroad experience has to be like theirs and just as fun, if not more than theirs.

It is important to understand that everybody’s semester abroad is different and unique to themselves. Listening to my classmates’ presentations was very refreshing for me, as I quickly learned that a lot of us could relate to each other and were going through similar challenges. I found refuge in this class to be vulnerable and share various personal struggles I have encountered during my time in Stockholm.

Me on a hotel rooftop overlooking Stockholm.

A big struggle for me has been finding a balance between experiencing the social scene in Stockholm while sticking to my routine and prioritizing the important aspects of my life. The first few weeks of being in Stockholm consisted of me going out and hanging out with people most nights of the week. As a fresh-faced kid in Sweden trying to get the “abroad experience”, I didn’t want to miss any social function or opportunity to go out and meet people. As fun as those nights were, it would affect the following day and throw off my schedule and routines. From lack of sleep to just getting my day started later than usual, I knew that this was not me and that I needed to adjust my priorities.

The turning point of this was after my week-long trip to Italy, Austria, and Hungary during the first long study tour week. As much fun as that week was, I don’t think I have ever treated my body worse than during that time. From the lack of sleep to terrible eating habits and schedules, I got off the plane in Stockholm after the trip knowing that I needed to change my lifestyle. I kept justifying my lifestyle habits that were just not what I was used to by saying that I was only abroad once and that just a week of poor lifestyle choices was worth the fun I would have on that trip. Over the past few weeks, I have made an effort to cook more meals, take nights in and be to myself, and stick closer to my routine of exercising, healthy eating, and prioritizing my mental and physical health, which I have genuinely enjoyed. This past week, I withstood the burning temptation to go out with a lot of other DIS kids because I knew that I needed to take the night to work on an assignment for my home institution that was due that night and just relax. I was proud of myself for that.

Balancing friendships and family back home with newfound friendships in Stockholm has been a challenge that I really struggled with at first but have been improving with as of late. It was very tough being fully present and making new friends abroad while trying to maintain friendships from my home university. One night, I texted in a group chat with some of my home friends in which they all responded by saying that it was about time that I said anything to them since they had not heard from me in weeks since arriving in Stockholm. From then on, I have made a substantial effort to keep in touch with home friends and family and check in on them as well as update them on all that I am doing abroad and the new friends I have made. Social media has been helpful for that. This blog has also been a nice way to keep those back home updated on my time in Sweden!

Religion is a very important part of my identity and daily life, but since coming abroad I have struggled to keep that as much a priority as I did at home. Sweden in general is known to not be a super religious country at all, so I have found it challenging to relate to others when it comes to my religion and be super motivated to incorporate it into my life when the religious scene is next-to-none. Earlier in the semester, I looked up churches near my housing that I could go to on Sundays. After finding a church where services were spoken in English, I decided to just go see what it looked like during the weekday one day. However, there was no church to be found, and I wound up at an outdoor square. After that, I decided to continue my church searching, but it was hard to actually find the time to go to church since I was traveling to a new city every weekend and spending my Sundays flying back to Stockholm on an airplane. Recently, I have been prioritizing incorporating religion back into my daily life and have found it to be very instrumental in my well-being.

Typical architecture in downtown Stockholm.

I hope that this blog post has shown you that studying abroad is not all the constant gleam that you think it is and that it is ok to go through personal challenges while abroad. As I mentioned earlier, there is this notion that because you are only abroad once, you need to move at a million miles an hour and do all these things and have that “abroad experience”. While that lifestyle could truly be for some people, which I applaud (and envy a little bit), I have learned that my abroad experience is finding a routine and being able to balance my priorities and personal goals in a new setting. I have learned things that span well past the walls of the DIS classrooms and am excited to put those new pieces of knowledge to use in my remaining time in Stockholm.

A.T.H.E.N.S.: Long Study Tour Week

Our Positive Psychology Core Course with a view of Athens in the back.

For Long Study Tour Week, our Positive Psychology Core Course traveled to Athens for five days. Similar to our trip to Gothenburg last month, our time in the capital of Greece consisted of interactive lectures and workshops on topics related to positive psychology, such as well-being and mindfulness and how it is incorporated into Greek culture. We also visited popular tourist spots and engaged in the best that the city has to offer. To best recap our trip, I have turned Athens into an acronym and will share highlights from the trip using each letter.

A is for Aegina. Arguably my favorite day of the trip, we traveled to Aegina, an island an hour boat ride away southwest of Athens in the Saronic Gulf. We could not have picked a better day to go, as the cloudy and rainy days that we had previously gave way to warmth and sunshine, a perfect backdrop for an island day trip (studying abroad in Stockholm made our day in Aegina feel like it was summer!). Walking off the boat onto land to our bus, I had never seen water so blue before and the mountains and hills in the back were absolutely picturesque.

The water was very blue in Aegina.

We spent the day going on a guided tour of the hills of Aegina and stopped at a few churches to learn more about the importance religion plays in Greek culture. We then made our way to the beach and did some mindfulness meditation there and relaxed for a little bit. Despite it not being very hot out, I definitely made sure to spend some time in the water!

A church that we visited on our tour of Aegina.

Our group lunch was at a restaurant right on the water overlooking an amazing view of the water and surrounding mountains. On top of that, our meal was freshly cooked fish that had been caught earlier that day (we really had to dissect it and take out the bones before eating). It was a great lunch minus the stray cats that kept going underneath our chairs and tables. We capped off our time in Aegina by exploring the port and sampling the island’s signature pistachios.

Our lunch in Aegina was a cooked fish that was caught earlier that day.

T is for The Acropolis. Perhaps Athens’ most famous attraction, The Acropolis has served as a home to the Gods, a religious center, home to kings, a citadel, a fortress, and a popular tourist spot to capture the best views of the city. The rocky structure is so tall that you can see it from essentially anywhere in Athens, especially from the rooftop of the hotel we were staying at! Despite the weather being cloudy with occasional rain making the walk up to The Acropolis potentially slippery, I was still very excited to go on our guided tour and visit a famous location. On our way up, we passed by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an ancient theatre whose structure has held up through the centuries. I think it would be really cool to either perform or be in the audience for a concert, play, or show there!

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus with Athens in the back.

Once at the top of The Acropolis, we walked around the Parthenon, a famous symbol of Athens and its wealth and power. Definitely a little bit older than the one in Nashville! After the tour, we spent some time taking pictures and just enjoying the 360-degree view of Athens and the surrounding mountains and water. The sun even came out while we were at the top of The Acropolis which complemented the view even more!

(Left to right): Sam, me, and Reese at The Acropolis with the Parthenon in the back.

H is for Happiness. Many of our workshops and activities focused on happiness and how that plays a role in Greek culture. One activity that was memorable was mini-interviews in which we split into smaller groups and went around Athens asking locals how they incorporated meaning and well-being in their lives. Our questions asked about the importance of region and food in their lives, what role Filotimo plays in their lives (filotimo is a term encompassing the way of life in Greece and is about helping others intuitively without someone having to ask you and necessarily returning the favor), and things that they do for their well-being and overall health. We found that the younger generation in Greece does not value religion in their lives as much as the older generation, an interesting finding as our learning of Greece before the trip made religion seem like it was a big part of their culture. All of our interviewees said that filotimo is simply a way of life and that they don’t really think about that term in their daily lives, they just live it out. When it came to the food question, all of them said that food plays a large role in their culture and families as they use food as a way to come together and enjoy each other’s company. One interviewee compared eating together to mixing different ingredients together when making a dish and it all coming together to make a wonderful meal, an analogy that stuck with me. Similar to us Americans, our interviewees said that hanging out with friends, going on walks, and just spending time together outside was important for their mental health and well-being. I really liked this activity, as I enjoyed conversing with locals and learning about their different lives and perspectives on Greek culture. I was a little nervous going up to strangers to ask to interview them, as we had a difficult time with the random acts of kindness activity in Gothenburg, but all of our interviewees in Athens were excited to talk to us and gave us thorough and insightful answers.

E is for Energetic dancing. Another favorite group activity of mine was our Greek dance lesson and getting the opportunity to learn the basic steps of various Greek dances. Having no dance experience, I came into this lesson open-minded and fully ready to make a fool of myself. Our dance instructor had us all stand around in a large circle. She went over basic steps and counted out the beat to guide us. Once we got the hang of each move, she played classic Greek dance songs. One fun moment was when she played a song that sped up as it went, forcing us to quicken our steps and see if we truly knew the dance moves. I was impressed that our entire class was able to follow along and not outwardly mess up! At the end of the lesson, she allowed us to dance in groups, as more challenging Greek dancing involves the dancers holding each other’s shoulders and dancing together. I, unfortunately, do not have any pictures of our class dancing (or maybe that is for the better so people don’t have to see our terrible moves?), but I may just start Greek dancing the next time I am out.

Not a picture of me dancing, but here is me at The Acropolis with a view of Athens in the back.

N is for New foods. We went on a Food Walking Tour around Athens and tried different classic foods in Greek culture. I will rate each memorable food that I tried while on the walking tour. Our first stop was at a small shop for some Tiropita, a Greek cheese pie. While the cheese pie is the most popular kind, this shop also sold pies with various meats, onions, and spinach, so there were options for everybody. While I am not the biggest cheese fan, I was certainly a fan of cheese with a breaded pie around it. 8/10.
For our main meal, lunch, we started off with Papoutsakia, which is baked stuffed eggplant. I do not like eggplant at all, but the baked aspect of it made it better. 6/10.
Tzatziki is an appetizer I am sure many of you are already familiar with. As the trip went on, I grew to really like tzatziki with my bread with some olive oil on top. 9/10.
Greek Salad was probably the one dish from the walking tour that I was not a fan of. I will say that I do not like tomatoes at all, so any salad with tomatoes is already a salad I prefer not to eat. I know I sound unapologetically American when I say this, but I wish the salad had lettuce or some sort of leaves to go with it, as this salad really felt like I was just eating salad toppings. 2/10.
Horta was the dish with greens that I liked, as it consists of lightly broiled vegetable assortments with vinegar and olive oil. Definitely prefer this over the Greek salad. 9/10.
Calamari and Mussels were two fish dishes that I am very familiar with and eat a lot during the summer, so I was a big fan of them. 10/10.
Greek yogurt with honey was a classic dessert and no, this is not your classic Chobani Honey-flavored yogurt. However, this is a dessert that I am now going to be eating a lot. In fact, I am pretty sure I ate it for dessert every day on the trip. 10/10.
We concluded the tour with a walk through a flea market and a stop for some black coffee. I very much recommend a food tour if you are in Athens, as it is a great way to familiarize yourself with and learn about the food, the culture, and the city!

I did not highlight this, but some other dishes we had on the food tour were chicken soup and some beans.

S is for Smile of the Child. We visited The Smile of the Child National Center for abused and exploited children. The Smile of the Child organization was founded by a child named Andreas Giannopoulos with the help of his father and some TV publicity in 1995. Andreas, unfortunately, passed away at the age of 10 due to health issues, but the organization has continued to expand and help children in need. At the center, we learned about how psychologists, social workers, and volunteers work with children who have experienced traumatic events and situations and help them rebuild strength, confidence, and trust in a supportive and nurturing environment. This organization has a 24/7 hotline and has children living in various centers around Greece that are actually homes run by psychologists, social workers, and volunteers for The Smile of the Child who support them when they are not at school or their afterschool activities. After a general overview of the organization, we split into groups with various workers and got to know the different roles and departments of the organization. I learned from the different workers that they learn so much about the resiliency of these children and how happy and optimistic they are even after having gone through such challenging events at a young age. The Smile of the Child organization is doing such incredible work, and we are happy that we were able to learn all about the work they are doing and the many lives they are helping.

A view of Athens from The Acropolis.

Our trip to Athens was another great opportunity to explore a different culture while bonding as a core course. Thank you to our professor Susanna as well as our assistant Amanda for being so on top of the schedules and organization of the trip. The great thing about class trips is that you can really learn about the local culture and engage with locals and people living there, and we were really able to do that there!

First Day as an English Language Mentor

I have always been curious to learn what learning English looks like in a classroom setting, so when I saw that DIS was offering a joint program with JENSEN gymnasium Norra, a charter secondary school down the street from DIS, I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of that.

I was assigned to Mr. Michael Ioannou’s Eng7 course on Economics and Law. This class was taken by students in their third year of secondary school, the equivalent of high school seniors in the United States. For some quick background on how the Swedish education system works, gymnasium means high school in Swedish and covers grades 10 to 12. Learning the English language is an important component of secondary school, so Mr. Ioannou’s course is supposed to be taught in all English to prepare the students for post-gymnasium, whether that be at university, in the workforce, or elsewhere.

JENSEN gymnasium Norra, a charter secondary school near DIS. (Image URL: https://www.jensengymnasium.se/sites/jensengymnasium.se/files/Norra.jpg)

I was fairly nervous for my first day, as I did not know what to fully expect. When I first signed up to be a mentor, I assumed that my role would entail acting as a side tutor for the students and working one-on-one with them outside the classroom. However, that was not the case, as Mr. Ioannou informed me that I would be helping him teach his class of 25 students. As a student myself with no prior teaching experience, I was afraid I would not be doing my job correctly or worse embarrass myself in front of a bunch of new Swedish faces. Regardless, I knew that seeing what an English language class at a foreign school looked like would be a very interesting and valuable experience.

Upon arrival at JENSEN, Mr. Ioannou greeted me and showed me around the school building. The hallways and classrooms resembled those of American high schools and the way the students acted and behaved while hanging out made me feel like I was back in high school. Before the class began, Mr. Ioannou warned me that the students in this class were feeling a bit stressed about grades and graduating and were generally a little tired of being in high school (I called that “Senioritis” when I was a senior in high school, so I could definitely relate to them!). The lesson plan for today’s class was to just allow the students to get to know me and learn about American culture by going around and each asking me a question about literally anything they were curious about. The student who had the best question, according to me, would receive a small prize at a later date. After a brief introduction of myself, I went around the room and called on students to introduce themselves and ask me a question. I had a mixture of basic questions like, “What is your favorite color?” to more inquisitive questions like, “What is one thing that surprised you about studying abroad in Stockholm as someone coming from America?” (the student who asked this won best question). I thoroughly enjoyed giving them a little overview of my life and my study abroad experience thus far as well as some information on what living in the United States is like.

While Mr. Ioannou was correct in that it definitely seemed like some students were ready to graduate, the class overall was very engaged and listened intently to everything that I said. They were polite and did not interrupt me and seemed engaged to what I had to say. I mentioned that I liked listening to American country music, so for the next class, I am presenting a brief presentation on the history of country music and what my favorite songs are. I am looking forward to that!

Swedish Krona to Euros to Hungarian Forint

I apologize for not posting a blog last week, as I was busy spending the first study tour week by going on a small European tour to four cities and three countries: Milan and Venice, Italy, Vienna, Austria, and Budapest, Hungary. The travel group, which consisted of Adam, Alex, Isabel, Reese who joined us halfway through the trip, Sydney, and me, traveled via planes and trains, including an overnight train to Vienna which was quite the experience, to the different cities and filled our schedules with tourist attractions, activities, and outings in-between. While I could go on endlessly about all the amazing things we did and saw, I have decided to just share one highlight per city.

Milan

The Duomo di Milano in Milan, Italy.

The first stop on the trip, we spent less than a day total in Milan but still were able to see the city’s main attractions. It was Milan Fashion Week, so the city was bustling even more than usual. While it would have been cool to see so many celebrities and icons in the fashion industry, I don’t think Kim Kardashian and Rihanna would be staying at our hostel. Coming from Stockholm, the weather was unbelievably sunny, so we did a lot of walking outside to the different attractions. The highlight was seeing the Duomo di Milano, arguably Milan’s most popular spot and most photographed location. The Catholic church and second-largest cathedral in the world was a lot bigger than what the pictures on Google Images suggested, so it was really cool to see it in person.

Venice

(Left to right): Isabel, Sydney, Alex, me, and Adam on the gondola ride down the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.

Venice was the one city in Europe that I had put on my list of must-see places to go to while abroad. Ever since learning about Venice and Marco Polo in 3rd grade, I have always wanted to see “The Floating City” and bask in its sheer uniqueness and history. We came at the tail end of this year’s Venice Carnival, so of course, we had to buy a Venetian Carnival Mask. My favorite part of our stay in Venice was the gondola ride we went on. Riding through the Grand Canal and the many side canals of the city while soaking in the warm weather was an unbelievable experience. Our gondola tour guide, Manuel, was very nice and gave great information and history on the city. One fun fact that I remember is that Venice is made up of 122 islands separated by 170 canals, and every island has its own distinct and unique features and its own church. As touristy as the city was, there was nothing quite like Venice.

Vienna

A view of the city from the Wiener Riesenrad at the Prater amusement park in Vienna, Austria.

Going from Venice to Vienna was quite the change-in-pace but a change that was needed. One cool activity that we did was go to the Prater amusement park and ride the Wiener Riesenrad, the world’s oldest Ferris wheel that offered an amazing view of the city. After seeing all of the amusement park rides from the Ferris wheel, we decided to stay and go on them. While the roller coasters were not open due to Covid restrictions, there were still many other rides to partake in, such as bumper cars, a twisty pendulum mechanism, and a giant swing that took you up even higher than the Ferris wheel and had you in a seat swinging around a tower. I was able to see all of Vienna and the surrounding hills and mountains.

Budapest

(Left to right): Reese, me, and Adam at the Buda Castle overlooking the city in Budapest, Hungary.

Staying on the topic of high viewpoints giving a great view of the city below, a highlight of our time in Hungary’s capital was climbing up the Buda Castle at sunset. After a few wrong turns that led us down old tunnels and pathways that Hungarians in the 14th century also certainly walked down, we eventually made our way to the top that gave a wonderful view of the Danube River and the Pest side of Budapest. Because we went at sunset, we were able to see all of the lights turn on in the Buda Castle as well as the city once it got dark enough. It was pretty cool to be where Hungarian kings centuries ago were.

Visiting so many cities in such a short amount of time was a combination of hectic, tiring, exhilarating, and plain fun. We had a great group, and I really enjoyed getting to know everyone more and seeing all of these historic landmarks and wonderful views with them. There were a lot of currency exchanges, Google Translating, and learning of different public transportation systems, but that is all part of the study abroad experience and immersing in different cultures. I highly recommend going on a European tour!

Boys in Berlin

(Left to right): Mikael, Hulan, Adam, and I in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

In all honesty, a trip to Berlin was not what we were originally hoping for. After many failed attempts to find reasonably priced tickets to other European cities, Adam, Hulan, Mikael, and I just used the “Explore” feature on Google Flights to find the cheapest European city to fly to, and that weekend it just had to be Berlin, so in 10 minutes we were booked to go to Germany’s capital. While Berlin was not at the top of my list of places to visit, I was still excited, as my dad had been many times and spoke very highly of the city. It would also be the first plane trip of my study abroad semester and a time to get to know the guys even better.
The trip got off to a shaky start. Literally. After a lengthy delay in which we started planning activities to do in Stockholm that weekend if the trip was canceled, we finally boarded the plane. Because we were flying into a hurricane warning zone in Berlin, the descent and landing were quite rough with lots of sudden drops and unsteadiness. Nevertheless, we landed in Berlin well after midnight and went right to see as much of the city as we could.
The next morning, we started the day off with a delicious breakfast at Steel Vintage Bikes Café in which we were so hungry that we got two meals each. We then made a pitstop for photos in front of the Brandenburg Gate. We got the ingenious idea of riding electric scooters to get around the city faster and took them to see other famous tourist spots like the Berlin Cathedral and Fernsehturm Berlin, a tall television tower sticking out over the city that looks similar to the CN Tower in Toronto.

Breakfast at Steel Vintage Bikes Café. My second dish had not come yet.

We then explored Museum Island and, because we did not have time, decided to go to the Pergamonmuseum, a three-wing complex highlighting Greek and Roman art. My favorite part of the museum was the panorama in which you could climb up many flights of stairs until you reached a lookout and could see a beautiful artistic panorama of a Roman scene. Lighting and musical effects made it seem like you were going through a day in the life in Rome.

The view of the 360° panorama of a Roman scene from the lookout tower at the Pergamonmuseum.

After the museum, we stopped at a German pub and then rode our scooters to see the Berlin Wall. Because it was getting dark, we were not able to spend too much time there, but it was still very cool to see such an important monument in German history. We finished off the night by having dinner at a restaurant much fancier than anticipated called MIO and some time exploring the city’s nightlife. We capped off our time in Berlin the next day with a stop at a gift shop for some souvenirs and a train ride back to the airport

Me in front of the Berlin Cathedral.

Here are some takeaways from our trip to Berlin that I thought would be useful for anyone looking to travel there:
• Riding electric scooters was a gamechanger! Because Berlin is so big with a lot of its main tourist attractions so spread out from each other, we would not have been able to see them all if it were not for the scooters. Adam, Hulan, and I used the Bird scooters and got a day pass for less than 10 euros that allowed us up to 10 rides in 24 hours. Mikael used the TIER scooters which also allowed him to ride for a cheap price.

Adam, Mikael, and Hulan riding scooters around Berlin during sunset.

• If you have the DIS phone plan, Germany is one of the countries that does not allow you to use cellular data. Because of this, we had to constantly try and find WiFi to help us navigate the city as well as park the scooters. I will say that not having cellular data was nice at times because it forced us to use our senses to get around Berlin and familiarize ourselves with the city. I am honestly impressed with us for navigating ourselves to the airport from the city center in which we had to take three different modes of public transportation: a tram, train, and express train.
• Berlin should be the windy city of Europe. While Saturday turned out to be a really nice day weather-wise, we were welcomed by harsh winds and occasional rain in the morning. Definitely pack a rain jacket or windbreaker.
• Berlin is a very cash-based city. This was something that we were not used to, as in Sweden I do not think I have had to use cash at all. If you do not have cash, there are ATM machines all over the city for you to take out cash.
• Germans love their beer! It is not uncommon to have a beer to accompany every meal, and the options for types of beer are endless.

A view of the Fernsehturm Berlin in the distance sticking out over the city.

Like every trip, not everything goes smoothly logistically, especially when four guys are running the show with no cell service, but regardless I had a great time visiting Berlin and spending time with Adam, Hulan, and Mikael. There are many things to see and explore in Berlin, and I highly recommend the city to those looking for a place to visit during a weekend or study tour week!