For Gabi, George Washington University, coming to DIS Stockholm meant opting for experiences across the board that introduced new concepts and ways of learning. Gaining perspectives, exploring unfamiliar outlets, and forging deep connections went hand-in-hand with securing academic credit and relevant skills toward her degree in International Affairs and Computer Science with a minor in Arabic, as well as propelling her career trajectory.
During her time in Stockholm, Gabi was looking to branch out – taking the time and space to engage with activities and topics that she cares about but does not always have the capacity to delve into in substantial ways. This exploration took many different forms, from participating in a Research Assistantship without a research background, living in the Outdoor LLC despite being someone who is self-proclaimed as “not super outdoorsy,” or taking a photography course and being able to explore cities with a different eye. This all while getting credit toward her International Affairs and Computer Science majors that she is pursuing at her home university.
A through line in Gabi’s experiences? Embodied, experiential learning. Whether it be going out in Stockholm for an assignment to take a portrait of a stranger for her photography course, interviewing experts on illegal organ trade as part of her Research Assistantship, or meeting Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian students in Vilnius, Lithuania on Study Tour with European Security Dilemmas.
This tactile learning is not always so structured or planned though; it’s steeped into every aspect of life as a DIS student, according to Gabi.
“You’re learning so much through the experiential learning about one: Stockholm; but two: learning in general and how to learn. There are things that you just pick up. When we were in Latvia and Lithuania, we didn’t spend a lot of time in a classroom. But I learned so much about history that I didn’t know.”
Throughout her semester, Gabi was part of a group of four students participating in a Research Assistantship about Illicit Organ Trade. While the focus was shared, each member of the group brought a varied background to the role: whether a knowledge of statistics and data visualization, nursing and patient privacy in healthcare systems, or, in Gabi’s case, international relations and the role of government and policy.
These combined interdisciplinary and complementary knowledge sets paved the way for substantial collaboration within the group. Beyond just technical collaborations, Gabi points to the comradery of the cohort members as being impactful – not just working together but spending time with one another around Stockholm and checking in about all that was happening in their lives.
The practicalities of the work and instruction were also new – and valuable – to Gabi, and the skills remain applicable far beyond the confines of their specific research question from the semester.
“I had never done formal research before. So, I had no concept of what it looked like. And Polina has set us up so brilliantly. She’s, first of all, fabulous and wicked smart, and has done so much research herself. So, to be able to talk through this process — if I ever want to research again, or research on my own — I feel like I understand this is how you do that.”
Getting Creative: Exploring Photography
Developing skills in this way was not an isolated event in Gabi’s time at DIS Stockholm – she also leaned into her creative side by way of photography. In the Ways of Seeing: Storytelling Through Photography elective course, Gabi spent time each week viewing her time abroad through a new lens – literally.
Beyond the technicalities of how to adjust an f-stop or use an external flash, the class focused on narratives, theory, and more that can all interplay within photos. That meant going out and photographing locals while discussing their life story, or taking photos of city landmarks that skewed a classic touristic view; looking at them from a different angle or telling a different story of an iconic location.
The opportunity to take an elective class like this is one that Gabi seized in Stockholm, especially since this type of learning does not always fit within semester plans at her home university.
“I love to be creative. But I feel like I don’t ever give myself time to be creative. Normally my creativity is like, ‘Oh, maybe I can make this code do something cooler.’ So, I never get to do things with my hands, like photography. It’s been difficult but this also really fun to be able to explore that side.”
Deepening Previous Knowledge: European Security Dilemmas Core Course
At the same time, Gabi dove into topics that were a bit more familiar, but through new avenues and approaches. Being an International Relations major at her home university, European Security Dilemmas as a Core Course was not all so unfamiliar. The course focuses on how international policy and political theory impact modern-day dilemmas that Europe is facing today – from growing right-wing movements to cyber warfare, and much more.
Despite familiar themes, the pedagogical approach was new – learning about human experiences and the impact of policies not through simply textbooks or news articles. But, instead, by pairing that theoretical background with talking with members of parliament on a trip to the Swedish riksdag, or discussing the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine with students who fled the conflict.
As part of a week-long Study Tour, the class headed to Latvia and Lithuania. Being on the ground in these post-Soviet states, the group was able to engage with their coursework in a whole new way.
After the School Day Ends
Engaging in new ways extended beyond the school day and was woven into all aspects of life for Gabi. She points to living in the Outdoor LLC as an example of that, beginning on move-in day. She discovered activities she had never tried before, while surrounded by a community of peers who valued taking the time to explore Swedish nature. There’s a certain level of connection that is inherent in the structure – if you’re spending one of your first weekends in Stockholm sharing a tent or cabin, you are bound to bond with the group. Beyond their structured outings though, the group forged relationships and created community in the day-to-day.
“The LLC is a really neat experience. We met on the first day. And so that took away a lot of my worries of ‘what if I don’t like my roommate,’ ‘what if everyone already made friends or people come in with friends from school, and I don’t know what to do.’ So, we all met together and went on this very large walk around Södermalm, which was so nice … And we do so many things beyond our (structured) activities.”
Paired with her time in the Outdoor LLC, Gabi was a part of the Visiting Host program – through this she was able to connect with a local family, turning to them with questions, learning from them about Swedish food, and simply getting to experience life in Sweden with locals showing her the ropes.
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