John Cole - Gothenburg, Sweden Semester Abroad Spring 2011
When I left North Carolina in January, 2011 for my study abroad experience, I never thought that my home-away-from-home would actually begin to feel like home. I never expected that the people I came to know would become like a family. But because we all shared common ground as international students, we began to fit together like pieces of a puzzle that ultimately came together to form a spectacular portrait of global citizenship. It was an unforgettable experience-an adventure that I recommend every student at this university embarks on to help them discover the world and themselves.
When I first considered studying abroad through UNC-Wilmington, I originally made plans with a few friends of mine to study in Australia together-living together, taking courses together and basically doing the same things we have done in Wilmington for a few years. But complications arose and for various reasons each of us were forced to change plans. I did some further research and chose Gothenburg, Sweden as my destination based on UNC-Wilmington's exchange/study abroad policy, some reading I had done on the country in the past and the relevancy of the offered "courses in English" to the COM studies major. Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, a country of 9 million people (a little less than the state of North Carolina). It is said to be one of the biggest port cities in Europe, sitting on the west coast of the country and facing the Atlantic Ocean.
When the time came to prepare myself to depart for my Swedish adventure, I had dual feelings of excitement and anxiety. This would be the first time I would be spending more than two weeks out of the United States, and this time I had my bags packed for five months. When my plane landed in the Landvetter Airport in Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish), I was greeted by a group of Swedish students who transported me, along with a large group of international students, to the International Offices in the middle of the city. The Swedish students who guided us were called the GISA Student buddies, and they were there as resources for all of us as international students through the duration of our time abroad (GISA stands for Gothenburg International Students Association). It was an excellent first encounter with the international program of Gothenburg and showed how passionate the university is about their international relationships.
Each international student had the opportunity to be paired with a Swedish student "Buddy," to help us with every possible question, from "Where can I get a scarf in this town?" to "What building is my class in?!" Even with these great student resources just a facebook message away, it was hard not to feel the pressure that those first few lonely days could bring. The time change had skewed my sleeping pattern (Sweden is six hours ahead of NC), and it was hard not to constantly think about home. At the beginning of the term, the international program of Gothenburg worked hard to constantly provide events for the international students to introduce us to the city, acquaint us with our fellow students and to simply occupy the time. Facebook made communication about these events easy through the GISA student buddies page-they created events online for all of their parties and events weeks ahead of time so no one who followed them on facebook had an excuse not to go.
The Main University Building
Once classes began, it was easy to meet people with common interests. You could help them learn your language, they could help you learn theirs, or you could meet on some common ground and both practice your Swedish. The university even offered a free class called Swedish For Exchange Students that gave everyone a chance to learn the language and begin to communicate with our Swedish hosts in their own tongue. It was fortunate for those of us who did not catch on the quickest that virtually every Swede in the city spoke excellent English.
Student Ice Skating Trip
When it came to living quarters, I was in the dark on choosing an apartment-I just made a random selection based on some of the information on the student housing web page. Kviberg, my housing choice, turned out to be a perfect fit for me. It had a gym, a billiard room and each room had its own kitchen. Olofshöjd was the student living facility that housed most of the international students. The rooms were a bit smaller and did not have their own kitchen, but the shared kitchen encouraged people to get to know their neighbors even more. If I had the chance to go back, I would definitely choose to live in Olofshöjd to be closer to the city center and to live in the same complex as the majority of the international students.
Although Sweden is somewhat closed off to Europe (with the exception of its Scandinavian neighbors Norway, Denmark and Finland), travelling on cheap airlines was common among international students to access the rest of Europe without emptying their bank accounts. My friends were constantly surfing Ryan Air (http://www.ryanair.com/en) to find a cheap flight to Italy, Germany or whatever European destination they had in mind. My travel experiences while in Sweden were more focused on the Scandinavian landscape-I traveled to see the lakes in central Sweden, saw Stockholm and the surrounding archipelagos, sailed through the fjords of Norway and strolled through the streets of downtown Helsinki, Finland. I also had the opportunity to travel with my international comrades on a few student-organized trips to Riga, Latvia and St. Petersburg, Russia. The trips were cheap enough for students to afford and fun because we traveled with our friends.
Because I lived on an international hall and all of my courses were in English, most of the people that I saw on a regular basis were not Swedish. The majority of my friends were from countries like Germany, Austria, Holland, France, Australia etc. This was an aspect of the experience that I was not expecting-I figured that because I was going to Sweden, all of my friends and contacts would be Swedish. But I am happy about the way that things turned out because it was so difficult not to become friends with someone by the end of the program. Every one of us was looking for the same thing. When June came and people began to leave, it almost seemed like we were saying goodbye to life-long friends. Everyone knew everyone and the community of international students had become so tight-knit that there were no easy goodbyes.
By traveling across the globe, my vision of the world has been completely restructured. I learned as much about myself as I learned about Swedish culture. I made life-long friends from all over the world, for whom I will always have an open couch should they visit. I learned so much about communication, not only from courses and studying, but through observation and interaction. I can keep writing about my experiences, but I will never be able to convey how absolutely wonderful my study abroad experience was or how much it meant to me. They only way that you may truly understand what I am talking about is for you to open your mind, pack your bags and embark an adventure of your own.
~John Cole, COM Studies Major
The Göteborg Opera