The Beauty in the Struggle: Experiences as an Exchange Student in Stockholm

If you’re someone who feels like they haven’t experienced living a life full of constant emotions (the good and the bad kinds), spontaneity and adventure, and new people and surroundings, you just might want to choose to travel outside of your comfort zone.

This may sound daring and make you feel a bit anxious, but believe me, this decision is worth it. It can not only teach you more about the world around you, but also so much more about yourself.

“I realized that I was now on my own and that I no longer had the comfort that I constantly felt back in America.”

I’ve made the choice to leave my hometown and familiar surroundings behind and live across the world in Stockholm, Sweden. As I’ve only been here for a short period of time, I’ve already been exposed to a new way of living and many cultural differences.

I am definitely no longer in my comfort zone and I understand that along this journey I’m going to face many hardships.

When I first arrived in Stockholm, I was greeted by students from Stockholm University and other international students. And at this moment — bam — it truly hit me that I was actually going to study at a new university in a foreign country with students from all around the world. We were taken from the airport to the university to pick up our accommodation keys and then I was on my own to figure out how to get to my place.

This is definitely where the struggle began for me, the exchange student.

I realized that I was now on my own and that I no longer had the comfort that I constantly felt back in America. A sense of loneliness settled in as I looked around and saw that everything was different. I began living in an unfamiliar culture and it was something that would take time and experience to grow accustomed to.

As I’ve been here for a longer period of time, I’ve taken time to settle into Stockholm and learn more about the city and Swedish culture. There are a few things that have stuck out to me:

Fika
This is basically a coffee and pastry break that is very popular here. Swedes love taking time out for Fika, which is actually really nice during a busy day.

Public transportation
This is widely used by most people in Stockholm. Buses, trains and the tunnelbana (metro system) can easily take you to your destination. The public transportation system is extremely organized! I use the app Citymapper which can be used in different cities around the world, and it helps me navigate transportation here.

Going green
Stockholm — and Sweden in general — has a strong interest in sustainable living. This country is thriving in sustainable living with renewable energy being used to heat homes, green electricity to operate the public transportation’s underground system, a strong biking culture, constant use of recycling and even sustainable fashion with vintage clothing.

Weather
The weather ranges from sunny with some humidity to gloomy with some wind and rain. As fall is approaching, I’m expecting to experience dark and rainy days.

Introversion
Here’s one way many people in Stockholm differ from those in America: “small talk” is very uncommon here. I’ve noticed that many people here tend to keep to themselves, constantly with headphones in, only talking to others when it is really necessary. This is new to me, but I’ve made friends with someone who has always lived in Stockholm and it has been awesome to get to know them. We have conversations about each other’s culture and opinions rather than common “small talk” that usually occurs back home.

Overall, it has been a new experience exploring Stockholm and attending a new university in a foreign country. I have already been able to meet different people, learn new perspectives and travel (I recently went to the Lollapalooza music festival in Berlin, Germany, which was a once in a lifetime experience — 10/10 recommend). 

It is only the beginning of this journey for me, and I’m looking forward to the many experiences that will come along with it!


Emily Estrada is a public administration major attending SDSU Imperial Valley in Calexico, Calif. She is participating in an SDSU exchange program at Stockholm University during fall semester.

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