Jennifer (Keun Young) Ko is studying Economics at Middlebury College. She spent the Fall 2019 semester in Stockholm with The Swedish Program.
In the blink of an eye, my four months in Stockholm came to an end. I still remember around this time last year when I just started looking for places to study abroad. I knew I wanted to be in a city, somewhere I could explore and get some fresh air after a stressful pace of life in a rural location for two years.
As a student, I had the urge to constantly feel preoccupied with something. The absence of work would make me feel empty and even more stressed. But that feeling of anxiety that I had carried with me stopped the moment I observed the Swedish habit of fika.
Fika is a custom in which people take a break in the afternoon to drink coffee with treats, take a step back, reflect on life and enjoy it. I recall the day I visited the café “It’s Pleat” in the city center on a Sunday afternoon. Every time I raised my head to process my thoughts in the midst of journaling, I noticed the intimate conversations that other customers carried. In that moment, I could sense the calmness and comfort. While I was reflecting on the past and “what ifs” in my writing, I was looking at people living in the present. The atmosphere was calm and heartfelt.
Fika reminded me to focus on the present and not to get too caught up on the triviality of things, because it is okay to let some things go. Soon, I realized I achieved more than the initial goal to spend my “me time” at a café.
There are so many other variables that could have factored into the reason I never felt uncomfortable in Stockholm. Maybe it’s the people that welcomed and treated me with a level of respect and friendliness. Maybe it’s the Swedish language that I could somewhat understand thanks to its similarity to German. Or perhaps, it may be my prior experience of moving from one location to another every two or three years.
I felt at home attending lunch lectures with tall Swedes at the prestigious Stockholm School of Economics; at the research institute where I interned under the mentorship of highly experienced professionals; at the SATS gym where I did the routine I had regularly done back at Middlebury; and on the T-bana train rides to and from home.
I really wish I could stay longer to find the perfect way to express my gratitude before leaving the place that helped me feel at home so easily — but life goes on at its own pace. My study abroad experience may have ended, but the things I learned are and will be lifelong. To the places I go, Sweden will always be a part of me.
Tack så mycket, Stockholm. Du var jättebra. Vi ses.