For Isabel (she/her), Southern Methodist University, faith is an important part of life back home. When coming to Stockholm with DIS, Isabel found herself struggling to combine her faith with the experience of being abroad. Read about Isabel’s journey to finding a home in a religious community in Stockholm and the positive impact this had on her semester abroad.
Maintaining Good Habits Abroad
One of the best pieces of advice that I received before I left for Sweden was to try to maintain the habits and practices of your daily life at home while studying abroad. This might look like going to the gym every other day, studying at the library when you need to get work done, or FaceTiming your parents at least once a week. For me, this looks like going to mass on Sundays.
When I first arrived in Sweden, I got very distracted by all my new surroundings, new classmates, and new routines, and I admit that I fell out of this practice for a while. When my semester routines finally felt like they were falling into place, I realized that something was lacking, and I started to really miss home. If I couldn’t go home, I needed to bring some of home to me, and that meant finding the Catholic Church in Stockholm.
In Stockholm, I had to learn to be more independent and take charge of my own faith life.
Practicing Faith in a Secular Country
Adjusting to life in a very secular country like Sweden provided some challenges that I did not anticipate. At DIS, I felt like I stood out from the crowd as someone who was actively seeking a faith community in Stockholm. My classmates and close friends here rarely spoke about religion, and for a while I felt as though I needed to suppress that side of myself because I was unsure if anyone would understand my perspective.
One day, I was having fika with one of my closest friends from my Core Course and I decided to share with her that I was really missing my Catholic community from home. Admitting this out loud helped me understand just how important the Catholic faith is to my identity and eventually I was no longer shy about sharing that part of myself with my friends at DIS. Studying abroad also helped me realize how much I relied on my friends and family at home to maintain my faith practice and hold me accountable. In Stockholm, I had to learn to be more independent and take charge of my own faith life.
Finding a Parish
At my home university, SMU, the Catholic Campus Ministry is an important community for me. I met some of my closest friends through SMU Catholic and eventually, my involvement there extended beyond just going to mass each week. I really appreciated the opportunity to grow my faith while surrounded by other students my age who were going through similar life experiences; I never realized how unique this community was until I found myself across the ocean without it.
I decided to do some research and find a parish to go to in Stockholm. I stumbled upon St. Eugenia’s Catholic Church located in the center of Stockholm. They offer a 6:00 p.m. mass in English on Sundays and you can receive some of the sacraments in English throughout the week too.
I admit that I was very nervous to go to a brand-new parish community. What if I didn’t understand their customs? Would they allow visitors? Would there be anyone there my age? I was so used to my community back home and doing things their way that the thought of switching things up scared me a bit.
I was so used to my community back home and doing things their way that the thought of switching things up scared me a bit.
A Diverse Community
I am so glad that I found St. Eugenia’s because it turns out that I had nothing to be nervous about. Their parish community is very diverse with adults and children coming from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds. They also had visiting priests from around the would that celebrated mass with us. During my second visit to the church, I was able to have a one-on-one conversation with one of their priests and he was very welcoming. He invited me to join their fellowship group for university students and young professionals that meets every week after the English mass.
I can’t even describe how wonderful it was to observe mass through the lens of a different culture, and it is an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
One of the things that I enjoy most about the Catholic church is that it provides us with a universal structure so that no matter where you are in the world, mass looks very similar. It was so beautiful to see the Catholic church bringing people together from so many different walks of life and I am grateful that I got to be a part of it at St. Eugenia’s. I can’t even describe how wonderful it was to observe mass through the lens of a different culture, and it is an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Study Abroad is Not Only a Team Sport
While studying abroad, it is easy to fall into a pattern and base your decisions on other people. I fell into a ‘herd mentality’ and found myself only doing things that I saw others around me doing. However, as much as study abroad is a team sport, it also needs to be an individualized experience. Finding ways to practice my faith abroad has taught me so much about the importance of staying true to myself and my values. If I could do this semester all over again, I would have incorporated these practices from home into my daily life even earlier as they have made such a difference in my happiness while abroad.
Finding ways to practice my faith abroad has taught me so much about the importance of staying true to myself and my values.
Learn more about Isabel’s time in Stockholm
Learn more about DIS Stockholm