Why I Chose To Study Abroad In Sweden Instead Of The US
Three and a half years ago, when I was applying for university, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted out of my time in higher education. I decided on an English Literature and American Studies program with a year abroad and chose my university based on their extensive list of study abroad partners, specifically in the USA. Studying for a year in the States as a part of my degree had always been the plan. I love the United States and I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to see so much of it already – 17 states so far, plus D.C. thanks to two amazing tours with Trek America.
Fast forward to my second year of university: I’d changed my degree (still English Literature but with Film Studies instead of American Studies) and it was finally time for me to apply for my study abroad year. The final list of partner institutions was released and my friends and I poured over the options: with a whopping 80+ universities spread all over the world for us humanities students, we were spoilt for choice. How about São Paulo? Or San Diego? What do you think about Berlin? Tokyo? Kenya? Maybe Melbourne?
I thought I knew exactly where I was going to apply, but once I saw that list and heard my friends gush nervously over their choices, I started to wonder… what would it be like to study somewhere I’d never been to before? Glancing over the European options, I paused on Sweden. Sweden has a great reputation for progressiveness, flat-pack furniture, catchy pop tunes, and impossibly tall and dreamy actors. But apart from those things, I was pretty clueless about the so-called Land of the Midnight Sun. In the end, this cluelessness ended up being the main reason I changed my plan and put Linnaeus University, Växjö, at the top of my study abroad application.
When I looked over the list of North American universities, I was excited but I wasn’t really nervous, like, at all. And you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, that’s good, right?’ But I didn’t feel that way. I think the reason people say that studying abroad is a life-changing experience is because it’s a challenge. It should push you out of your comfort zone and teach you new things about yourself, and for me, spending a year in a country fairly similar to my own, with the same language, that I’d already seen quite a lot of, just wasn’t a challenge for me. I knew I would be fine.
On my first trip to the US, I left with a lot of great new experiences, but also with a new tattoo, which reads “Sail away from the safe harbor”, as a reminder to myself to do great things, even if they’re unfamiliar and scary. Going back to the US for my study abroad year felt like it would be a dismissal of this idea that I’d committed to in a pretty permanent way. I wanted a change, and I wanted a challenge.
Of course, like most students, I had to consider cost when choosing my study abroad country. As a UK student, I could apply for a travel grant after my year abroad to claim back part of my travel costs so the pricey flights to the States didn’t play a huge part in my decision, but living costs definitely did.
On campus accommodation was required for exchange students at most universities and cost a pretty penny too. The majority of accommodation was self-catering (especially the lowest-costing dorms), making a meal plan compulsory too. Starting at around $1,000, this was a hefty chunk of my budget.
As an economical shopper, I knew I definitely wouldn’t spend that much on food if I was to cook myself, which I love to do, but as an international student this wasn’t an option. Sweden is well-known for its high cost of living, but living in a non-major city meant that it was still far cheaper than all of the options I looked at in America.
The opportunity for further travel was another huge factor when choosing where to study abroad because I knew I didn’t want to take time out after graduating, so I was trying to pack in as much travel as possible during my study abroad year.
In the US, with my generous but finite student loan that would be quickly eaten up by living costs, I would be pretty much confined to travelling within the US. Maybe Canada and Mexico at a push. Had I not already seen a great deal of America already, this would’ve been fine, but I was itching to explore somewhere different, and with low-cost short-haul flights starting from just £10 from Copenhagen (my closest major airport when studying in Växjö), Europe was there for the taking.
Sure, I squirmed with envy when my best friends sent me photos from their trips to Washington, D.C., one of my favourite cities in the world, but would I trade husky-sledding and reindeer safaris in Finnish Lapland for another trip to the capital? Not a chance.
Whilst I was in Sweden, I got to travel to Norway, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, not to mention around Sweden itself, and I still had funds left over after my studies to pay for three more upcoming trips, covering another eight European countries. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
When my friends in the US sent me photos from San Diego, New Orleans, Austin, and other beautiful cities across the US, instead of jealousy I felt a sense of wistful nostalgia, and a hope that they were having as much of an amazing time as I did the first time I went to those wonderful cities.
I’ve been back from Sweden for two months now and I can honestly say that changing my mind was a brilliant decision. Given another chance to study abroad, maybe I’d consider the States, but Sweden came along at just the right time and helped me learn so much about the world and myself.
I have no doubt that where ever you choose to study abroad, it’ll be a fantastic experience, but if you think your mind is made up on where to head for arguably one of the most life-changing periods of your life, take a moment to think ‘What if…?’ because it might be the best question you ask all year.
All photos are my own.