This post was contributed by Kai Fleischman, a Global Ambassador studying at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan in Stockholm, Sweden. Kai is a computer science major in the College of Natural Sciences. Read his first post.
As this is my last post for the Education Abroad Blog, I decided that the best way to wrap up my series of posts would be to reflect on my time abroad in Sweden. Particularly, I review my reasons for studying abroad and the relevance of those reasons to my real experience. In addition, I cover unanticipated, prominent experiences I’ve had, such as gaining a greater understanding of self. To my dedicated readership, thank you for following along with me on this journey. I hope that the descriptions of my international experience have inspired, and at the very least, entertained you. Lastly, to Texas Global, my deepest thanks for providing the resources, guidance and patience for helping make this journey a reality.
The option to study abroad had been brought to my attention numerous times during my first two years at UT. I wasn’t convinced, however, having baseless preconceptions about studying abroad, including that doing so was unaffordable. On the other hand, I had just begun to settle in at UT, having developed a solid social circle and a good routine with my coursework. I was generally content and didn’t quite grasp the opportunity that studying abroad offered. Nearly a year later, as a junior, my entire opinion on the matter had flipped.
Beyond the discovery that an exchange semester is comparable in price to a normal semester, I cannot definitively trace a line back to the exact forces that polarized my opinions about studying abroad. A series of gradual changes in my personal life and through external sources propelled me to a point where leaving behind the life I was so familiar with and chancing it in a foreign country felt right. I didn’t have much reason to back up this feeling. Mostly I believed I wanted to go to Sweden to take interesting courses and to expand my perspective. These words seemed entirely cliche, like something everyone says about studying abroad. I didn’t truly believe these words – they mostly felt like a cover-up because I actually had no idea why I wanted to go to Sweden; I only had that gut feeling.
Three months into my program, mulling over my answer to the question “why did I come to Sweden,” I’ve come to find that my words were true. In the basest form, I came to Sweden because I believed it would make me happier and this is due to several reasons. First, studying in Sweden offered a normal semester experience when my only other option was to suffer through another semester of online education and an inability to visit campus or be around my friends normally. Of course I would choose Sweden over a quarantine nightmare.
Second, I genuinely wanted to take courses relevant to my interests and felt that I had exhausted the options at UT. Ultimately, taking interesting courses has led to a feeling of greater fulfillment, which is in itself a variable to my function of happiness.
The third reason has been the most important and impactful. Studying abroad has truly expanded my perspective on people and the world. By communicating with a wide variety of people from different countries, cultures and experiences, I’ve come to possess a greater understanding of the opinions and viewpoints outside of my hometown. This change allows me to communicate with others in a more effective way, which contributes to my happiness as well.
There are other aspects to studying abroad that I did not anticipate. Mainly, a greater understanding of self. I believe that people change throughout their life, but I also believe that change in people occurs at a slower rate when the environment people are in is stagnant – running through the same routine with the same people day after day. I’m not bashing routine; routine is valuable and provides a foundation for stability and comfort in life. The issue is when you feel stagnant, want a change, and are curious about what else life and the world have to offer.
In one way, this issue may be solved by drastically changing one’s environment – the people, the location, the culture, the language and the routine in general. In this way, people change much more quickly and are exposed to many new opportunities and experiences, just as I have been. Being around new people in a new place has catalyzed great change within me and has additionally made me more aware of who I am and what my values are. In a way, by getting to know so many other people, I have gotten to know myself better. This realization and knowledge of self then lead to a chain of introspection, planning and betterment. “Who am I? Is this what I want to be? Well, how can I improve this about myself?” and so forth. Cultivated in the right environment, this process is an extremely positive experience and a priceless component of the study abroad experience.
In many ways, studying abroad was exactly what I expected: the personal change, the wonderful memories with many great people, the dutiful and rewarding studies. However, these generalizations have no value compared to actually experiencing their implications. In reality, I didn’t know what to expect at all, and I was constantly surprised. The personal change could have been anything, positive or negative. The people I met could have been vastly different and may not have encouraged or influenced me as much as those I ended up with. My courses could have ended up being extremely demanding or entirely unfulfilling. I could’ve had an awful experience and actually become more shut off from the world. All this is to say that there were a million and one factors at play, and the dissatisfying conclusion I’ve reached is that you really need to go abroad and experience it yourself. There really is no replacement for the study abroad experience.