Reflecting on my Swedish Program Experience

Reflecting on my Swedish Program Experience

By Jack Lawrence V

School: Bates College, Class of ’24
Major or concentration: Sociology and Political Science
Semester abroad: Fall ’22

Chilled air brushes swiftly over my face as the cross country skis on my feet glide through the snow, pushing me forward against the Polar winds. The sky is mostly dark while only the faint glow of dawn is present to illuminate frost covered pine trees of the surrounding tundra. It is 8AM and the barking of sled dogs from the nearby lodge permeates all silence. Yet while I am alone at this moment, it will take only minutes of cruising back through the trails to reach the dining hall. My peers and I have a delicious breakfast waiting for us. This moment in the Arctic Circle is an example of how the Swedish Program made my study abroad experience memorable.

At the Swedish Program and the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), I found that course lectures, activities, and field trips were unlike anything I could find at my American liberal arts college. Among many examples, during my Sociology of Food class, instruction about concepts like “gastro-nationalism,” the cultivation of culinary profiles to form national identities, was often accompanied by the sampling of traditional Swedish snacks like pickled herring, tubed caviar, and Princess Cake. Our class also dined at a bistro and toured a brewery to learn about the science of “commensality,” the act of eating together. In my epidemiology course about the COVID-19 pandemic, my professor organized multiple field trips to the world famous medical school, Karolinska Institute. There we attended lectures that expanded on course material surrounding planetary health and the history of pandemics. Lastly, during my Swedish language class, my peers and I were often treated to cultural activities like meeting students at a local high school, guided walking tours of Stockholm, and visits to museums. I should also add that while my Swedish is limited, I was able to learn many basic words and phrases to enhance my overall immersion experience.

In addition to top-rate educational opportunities, the Swedish Program also provides free-of-cost, unique extracurricular experiences that most students can only hope for when studying abroad. For me, some of the best moments that I had in Sweden were created by the organization’s dedicated, kind and supportive administrative staff. Thanks to them, among many highlights, I had the opportunity to ride rollercoasters at Gröna Lund, Sweden’s historic amusement park; watch a Swedish football game (go Hammarby); visit Sandhamn, an island in the Stockholm archipelago; attend a concert at the Royal Opera House; and participate in the Swedish tradition of Fika. Aside from their abilities to organize excellent activities, the administrators themselves are also fun to be around. You can learn so much about Swedish culture and receive tips for things to do by simply stopping at their offices to chat. Oftentimes, I obtained suggestions that led me to places I would never have located myself, such as the unicorn exhibition in the Royal Armory Museum. As a student at SSE, one is also invited to activities provided by the university’s student association. I regularly attended “padel” and badminton practices and there are countless other sporting activities and events to choose from.

As I mentioned earlier, most people study abroad because they want to travel. The Swedish Program understands this reality and actively encourages students to explore Europe beyond Stockholm. During the two weeks of break provided, I was able to visit four countries and five cities. Yet aside from independent travel, the Swedish Program also offers two optional excursions to the Island of Gotland and the Arctic Circle, destinations I would never have considered adventuring to otherwise. Put simply, I highly recommend people join these trips because they are a great way to see more of Sweden with guides who know the country well. Among many things, in Gotland, I went mountain biking and also swam in the Baltic Sea; and in the Arctic Circle, our group was fortunate to snow shoe, cross-country ski, and even go dog sledding.

I will remember my semester abroad with the Swedish Program for the rest of my life. Studying at an international university in an immersive environment extraordinarily different from home provided me with the opportunity to grow as a student, to gather new perspectives about the world, and to develop my sense of independence in ways that I never could have imagined. The dedication, kindness, and welcoming nature of Program staff is largely responsible for creating this outcome. I cannot thank them enough for making my four months in Stockholm a fulfilling experience. No matter the learner, traveler, or personality, I believe everyone has a lot to gain from choosing the Swedish Program.