Searching for a sense of normalcy abroad

One of the hardest challenges I’ve faced during study abroad so far has been balancing being a tourist in Stockholm, and also recognizing that I’m a student who needs a day-to-day schedule (which may not always include an exciting European adventure for the day). Every time I go straight home from classes to pick up groceries or do homework I feel so guilty, because I’m only here for four months and I always feel like I need to be doing something amazing.

It’s really easy to be hard on yourself abroad, and I’m not writing this post like I’m an expert; quite the opposite, actually. It’s a constant battle between myself and my inner demons to find peace in the fact that some days here can be really hard (and/or really uneventful).  I keep reminding myself that I have plenty of options to do things I wouldn’t be able to do in America, and that on the whole has made getting into a routine here a lot easier (even though I still sometimes feel guilty about doing “normal” things). Here’s a few things I’ve been doing to ground myself amongst the craziness:

Going to the gym

While I’m definitely not an athlete, working out is a way for me to release stress and I knew I couldn’t give that up abroad. When I got here, I was excited to learn that DIS partners with SATS (the biggest gym chain in the Stockholm area) to give students a discounted membership at the activities fair. SATS are literally all over Stockholm, and we even have one about a 5 minute walk from our housing in Sollentuna. I try to go at least 3 times a week, though I (shamefully) don’t always meet that goal. Some people from my housing even go to fitness classes (though everything is in Swedish).

Finding my favorite cafés for fika

Over the past few weeks, I’ve switched my attitude about doing homework abroad. I was initially really bummed that I had to sit and study in a room when I was in Europe (I know, I know, it’s what I signed up for), but I’ve now found a balance of doing a very Swedish thing while also getting my work done. I’ve found some cafés that I am planning to frequent regularly throughout the semester, each unique in their own ways but all having an abundance of fika options. This is definitely a step up from my library’s reading room back home for a study spot.

Spending time with my visiting host family

For anyone not in a homestay, the visiting host family program is an absolute must. I sent in an application about a month before leaving for Stockholm, and a week into the semester, I got an email with my visiting host family’s contact info. I emailed them immediately, and have since met up with them several times. It’s a family of four (mother, father, and two boys) and a dog. They have proven to be such a good support system for me here. They’ve taken me on a few excursions already (one to the Viking Island of Birka), but last weekend, after an overwhelming week, I texted my host mom to see if I could come over for a few hours on Saturday. I didn’t need to do anything special – all I wanted was to relax in a house, and get away from the craziness of DIS for a few hours. Of course, my host family was happy to have me over, and even let me stay for dinner. I definitely got very lucky in who I was matched with, because it’s always so comforting to be with them (it makes me a little less homesick).

Me on Birka (the island/old Viking town)

Planning day-trips

Most people study abroad for similar reasons: to explore new places. While I am so excited to start traveling soon, I have been making it a point to go places outside of Stockholm to see more of Sweden. It helps a lot with my weekly routine to know I have something fun and new planned for the weekend. This past weekend, I visited yet another castle (when in Europe) called Gripsholm Slott about 45 minutes by train from the city center. It was incredibly beautiful, and I learned quite a bit more about the history of the Swedish monarchy. Going to places like this remind me why I chose to study abroad and leave home for four months.

Gripsholm Slott

Watching Netflix

Yes, you read that right. I am watching Netflix abroad, and no, I don’t let myself feel guilty about it. I definitely don’t stay cooped up in my apartment all day watching, but I do allow myself around an hour every night the chance to lie in bed and watch an episode or two of a show (lately it’s been New Girl, shoutout to Kaitlyn for the recommendation)! At the beginning of the semester, I had horrible FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and judged myself every time I chose to stay in bed and not go out. A friend of mine whom I was Skyping (and who has previously been abroad) reminded me that if I don’t give myself the chance to lay low and decompress every now and then, I won’t enjoy anything I do when I am out and about in Stockholm. At the end of the day, she’s right – I can’t go nonstop for four months. So, I’m indulging in Netflix without guilt.

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