Staying and Changing

Students in the Stockholm archipelago.

Clare McLeod is majoring in Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. She is studying at The Swedish Program for two semesters in 2019. 

“You’re going to have so much fun! You’re going to find some wonderful Swedish boy to run away with! You’re going to change so much!”

When I told my friends I was studying abroad in Stockholm for the spring 2019 semester, these were the top three most common responses.

To the boy, I told my friends and myself that I was going abroad for more than a potential relationship. To the fun, I knew I would have it and certainly have. To the last comment about the certainty of change, and the one that affected me most, I vehemently opposed the proposition. I remember leaving my home in Portland, Oregon – telling my mom all the way to the airport, “I hope I’m sure enough of myself that I can continue being me regardless of where I am in the world.”

How little I knew. It’s not that being abroad has changed me. But I have changed. Being abroad has allowed me to explore parts of myself that were dormant when I was so caught in routines at Cornell that I couldn’t explore all the parts that made me. Being abroad has allowed me to find ways to connect with people I would never have run into on a closed campus in an isolated town in upstate New York. Being abroad has allowed me to be okay and excited about not knowing where I’ll end up at the end of any given day.

On one such day, after strolling through the city streets with no end goal in sight, I ended up at a cafe with a group of the most unique people I had been with in a while. We talked. We laughed. I listened. I spoke. I thought. I realized this didn’t have to be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

I could come back. I could still graduate from Cornell. I could fit in all the required credits. I could do it all again, explore other parts of myself, meet more new people, and see what Stockholm is like in slightly less chilly weather. I emailed the Swedish Program. I emailed Cornell. That was that. Here’s to the fall 2019 semester: more fun, more change, and maybe – next time – a boy.

All photos courtesy of the author.