Why Stockholm? I’ve been asked this question a lot in the months leading up to my departure. I can rattle off statistics about life satisfaction, work-life balance, and universal healthcare, but the real answer to this question comes in my every day lived experience. What does it mean to live and think like a Swede? How does this affect my native cultural presumptions? While I don’t expect to have all the answers by the end of this semester, I do hope to share my musings and my unique perspective with those who have never been to this part of the world, and maybe even those who have.
As a Psychology major preparing to enter the field of mental health, Positive Psychology and Public Health Policy in Practice: Scandinavian Case Studies are perfect gateways into a deeper understanding of structures, relations, and experiences contributing to well-being and life satisfaction in a cross-cultural context. My prior psychology coursework focused on the “disease model” – basically, assessing what can go wrong in order to put the best Band-Aid on the resulting problems that arise. While the diagnostic model is important, it tends to ignore aspects that make our lives fulfilling and meaningful. Being abroad is an ideal time to reevaluate what I’ve been taught and the assumptions I bring to my studies. A big aspect of this is cultural immersion.
What better way to immerse in a culture than live with a family? I knew a homestay would be a critical aspect of my study abroad experience, while also nerve-wracking because there’s so much uncertainty (What if they don’t give me enough free space? What if I don’t like the food they cook? What if I’m far away from the friends I make?). My anxieties dissipated the day I arrived from the airport. Pulling up to a picturesque house surrounded by ripening apple trees, I realized I got the best of both worlds – the urban bustle of Stockholm and the serene, nature-filled outskirts; the ability to explore the city on my own or with friends, but also to participate in family life. I suddenly found myself welcomed as the sixth member of a family of five.
The night I arrived, my host sister and I went on a walk, exploring the neighborhood and the nearby lake. The simple pleasure of appreciating one day’s good weather without worrying about tomorrow’s, admiring the way the water reflects the sun, and bonding over shared music tastes provided me perfect reminders: home is not a physical place but a feeling. Sure, this is a trite saying; but the weight of this sentiment cannot be underestimated when away from the comforts, securities, and certainties you take for granted.
Joining in on daily fika (I’ll definitely be writing more on this favorite Swedish tradition of mine!), baking kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) from scratch, and rambling around, picking fresh blueberries on the archipelago, I began to feel myself not only an observer, but a participant in daily Swedish life and culture. Just like that, I felt grounded and part of a home and the world informing it.
I love my hometown and my college. Yet, it’s travel that allows us to truly see what’s in the mirror we hold up to ourselves. In this blog, I intend to write down my observations, conclusions, open questions, and one person’s take on cultural immersion. I hope to learn what makes people tick, and what makes Swedish people love their country and culture as they do.
Here’s to exploring autumn, and Sweden, and Study Abroad 2016.