Monday, July 4, 2016

Final Thoughts

Ten months ago, I was sitting in Dallas/Forth Worth airport, waiting on a flight that would change my life forever. Whenever we started boarding for the flight, I recall thinking to myself "What the hell are you doing?! Why are you willingly leaving behind your life and everything you know?" I wouldn't admit it to anyone, but I was terrified. You can read all the study abroad blogs and listen to all the advice your classmates and professors give you, but the fact of the matter is that you are never really sure what to expect out of the next few months or, in my case, year of your life whenever you're boarding a plane to study abroad.

So this is my life: Swedish-style
taco nights and Snapchat filters.
Little did I know, I would have the same feeling at Stockholm Arlanda airport waiting on my flight to return to the United States. Although I cried plenty during the days leading up to my departure, I managed to hold back the tears at the airport until the wheels of the plane left the ground. I started full on, ugly crying, screaming at myself in my head "This is wrong! This is where you belong, what the hell are you doing?!" 

Now that I've been back in the States for a few days, I don't quite know what to think anymore. I'm back in the environment I grew up in; everything feels so familiar, but at the same time, it all seems sort of new. Not a single moment passes by that I don't think of Sweden or the experiences or people I encountered there, but at the same time it all feels so far away. I feel like I'm stuck in limbo, somewhere between Sweden and the USA. I'm experiencing culture shock here the same way I experienced culture shock when I first arrived in Sweden. I'm in a constant daze, wondering when I'll snap back to reality.

I hope it's soon.

My girlllll
In a sense, so far I'm spending my days asking myself "okay, now what?" I left my life and so many of my friends behind in Sweden, so I almost feel like there's nothing left for me, which, again, is just how I felt during my first days in Sweden. I know that a lot of people were thinking that I took the easy way out by going to Sweden, a pretty homogeneous society that speaks English just as well as they speak their own language, but there's no such thing as easy when studying abroad. Some of the hardest, most difficult and frustrating days and moments of my life occurred when I was in Sweden. There were times when I wanted to give up, just pack up my things and come back to the States and never look back, but I had a solid support system that convinced me to do otherwise. 

January and February was really hard for me, and everyone knew that. I spent most of my time looking at the prices of flights back to Texas, telling everyone I would go home just for a visit, but most people knew that if I went just for a visit, I wouldn't come back. So instead, I went to Finland to visit Ida and Pauliina, and being with both of them made me feel like I was at home, safe and sound. (I just want to note I've started crying thinking about how much I miss both of them). 

After that, things got easier. I felt happier, but I still had to fight off some dark demons. This entire second semester was nothing short of an uphill battle, one I almost lost. 

I went to Finland for Ida's high school graudation,
now it's her turn to come to the USA for my
college graduation!
But I did it, I survived, and looking back, there isn't a single thing I would change about this entire experience, because it's shaped me into the person I am now, as cliche as that sounds. Now, I have to look forward to the future and consider how this amazing, life-changing experience will impact my life. Next year, I'm finishing up my degree, then, if all goes well, getting a job, ideally one at a university assisting students looking to study abroad and international students at the university (yes, I really did decide what I want to do as a career while I was abroad! I thought that only happened in stories!). Pauliina might visit in the winter, Ida might come to my graduation, and I'd love to go back to Europe to visit all my friends next summer. 

And none of this would be possible if I hadn't taken a shot in the dark and gone to Sweden for a year. 

So thank you, Sweden, for everything. You have a special place in my heart, now and forever.

En sista gång,
hej då!

- Lee

I miss you already, Sweden. I'll be back soon, I promise.