Julian (he/him), Middlebury College, spent the semester making the most of his time in Stockholm; forging connections with locals, pursuing life-long passions in new environments, and studying sustainable engineering in a city that is (quite literally) constructed for it. Read on for more about Julian’s semester with DIS Stockholm.
Just weeks into his semester in Stockholm, Julian found himself pacing back and forth in front of a barn in Hammarby, early (perhaps too early) to join rowing practice. He pulled up Google Translate to prepare any Swedish phrases he might need: “Hey, I’m new here” “Can I enter this way?” “Are you also here to row?”. They didn’t end up being necessary; he was quickly greeted in English by a coach, and just as soon after was on a boat in an offshoot of the Baltic Sea alongside a man from Scotland.
The reality of being at a rowing club is nothing new to Julian; he’s on the crew team at his home university and rowed growing up. So the muscle memory and comradery of the situation were familiar, but the site was new – several thousand miles away from what he was used to.
That first day of practice was just the beginning of his experience: after the fact, Julian joined Hammarby IF:s Roddförening (Hammarby IF’s Rowing Club) for practices and races against other local teams, including a regatta against Stockholm University’s rowing club.
“It was a lot of fun because it felt so familiar, but it was in Sweden, with a bunch of Swedish people.”
Not only was Julian able to row and race with members of the club, but he was able to get to know them on a personal level too. Through these conversations, he connected with local Swedes as well as people from around the world, all bonding over this common interest. He also found a sense of familiarity, discovering a few weeks into practicing with the club that another member was friends with his crew coach from high school.
This type of immersion into the local community is a significant part of what brought Julian to DIS Stockholm in the first place. In searching for a study abroad program, he wanted to strike a balance between feeling supported by an institution while also having the autonomy and experiences that come with living in the city, rather than having all aspects of life at a single insular campus.
“It’s not like I’m just another college kid at a campus in Europe somewhere. I’m living in Stockholm, and I happen to be commuting to classes for a couple hours a day.”
The content within those classes was also a major draw. While not a declared engineering student at his home university, the framework of the Engineering Sustainable Environments in Scandinavia Core Course caught Julian’s attention immediately.
“I’m interested in sustainability and renewable energy. I saw the Core Course and I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is perfect. All of this is exactly what I want to learn.’ So that was when I decided, ‘Okay, I’m doing this.’”
His excitement for the course was compounded by its direct relevance to the location – something that he didn’t fully grasp until being in the city and seeing the implementation and innovation first-hand.
“Going into my semester, I didn’t know the nitty-gritty of how sustainable Stockholm is. I had heard that Sweden uses a lot of renewable energy, and society in general is a lot more environmentally conscious than a lot of other countries in the world… Since being here, I’ve realized that there’s so much sustainable infrastructure in place, and so many new projects that are being implemented that I’ve been able to visit with my classes, and learn and see firsthand, which has been really interesting. And it’s not anything that I would see in the U.S. because we just aren’t doing it.”
Those visits within Stockholm include the Royal Seaport, wastewater treatment plants, a guided tour of the Meatpacking district, and more. In addition to his Core Course, Julian enrolled in elective classes that were also especially relevant to his Stockholm as a location: Energy Cloud: Engineering Localized, Digitized, Sustainable Networks, Smart and Sustainable Cities, Data Visualization, and Swedish Language and Culture.
As a student, Julian was introduced to and positioned in areas throughout the city – living, studying, socializing, and learning in a variety of areas.
While DIS is located in the northeast of Stockholm, Julian lived in a Studentboende to the south in Årsta — a commute that only takes just over 20 minutes on the T-bana, but stretches across four islands and hundreds of years of development in Stockholm.
“It’s in a great location. It feels separate from the bustling of the city. It’s nice, because there are families out and about, and we’re right by a school and it very much feels just like a cute little city-adjacent suburb.”
While Julian shared a room with a fellow DIS student, Studentboendes have DIS students housed alongside students enrolled at local Swedish universities – cooking, socializing, and living amongst one another.
The connections made here often extend beyond simply the apartments they form in, but one particular special aspect that Julian notes is the community created around a shared kitchen – cooking and sharing “family meals” together. Such as a chili night with his floor, pooling money for ingredients, pulling out the largest pots they could find, and cooking up pounds of chili to feed a dozen people all gathered around tables they pushed together.
Another place that Julian found these local connections was through the Stockholm Run Club – something he initially got introduced to through a DIS staff member wondering if any students were interested in running the Stockholm half marathon. Julian and a friend were, and it ended up being their second outing with the club. The race is a city-wide event —weaving through some of Stockholm’s most iconic sights, with the finish line having the backdrop of parliament.
Since the half marathon, Julian continued to join the group for many of the twice-weekly runs in the city – those oftentimes take the form of pretty standard runs, but there are also events to highlight special events in Stockholm, such as a run passing through Nobel Week light displays throughout the city.
Being able to speak enough to form meaningful connections isn’t necessarily easy while running, so many of those relationships are forged over social events following runs. Julian has formed connections with Stockholmers hailing from around the globe while going out to grab a drink or sit and chat after a run with the group.
The club highlights an aspect of Stockholm that has proved a through line of Julian’s experience; it’s a large city with a global draw while simultaneously being a connected one. Just as his time in the rowing club came with serendipitous “it’s a small world” moments, so did the running club. One day at a post-run event, Julian was discussing his trip to Croatia planned for Long Study Tour – the Australian man he was sitting across from had lived in the exact town Julian was headed to, and was able to pass along recommendations for Julian’s trip.
The sentiment of Stockholm simultaneously being full of community and crowds is one that he felt in these local clubs just as much as on vibrant pedestrian promenades.
“Coming from farmland-adjacent Minnesota and farmland in Vermont, I think my favorite thing about being here has just been being in bustling pedestrian areas. Like going to Kungsträdgården and seeing people there. There was a big food festival there early on this semester — going there and just having it shoulder-to-shoulder packed with people, it was overwhelming. But it was also a realization that there’s so many people here, from all different parts of the world, all hanging out and eating each other’s food. That’s not a thing that I had at home, and it was just a really cool experience.”