I’m going to be honest with you — When I was deciding where to study abroad, my main focus was not the academics. I knew I wasn’t just going abroad for a European vacation (as I had been told over and over again by every study abroad advisor on the planet), but I also knew that a lot of my learning was going to take place outside of the classroom. With that being said, I had no idea that I would become so interested and invested in my academics here at DIS. When I made the choice to come to Sweden, I really lucked into an amazing program without fully realizing it.
In my classes I’m learning about care, connection, and community. How humans are such social animals that it is written into the very fabric of our DNA. That mental and physical wellbeing are inextricably intertwined and both are in need of greater attention in politics and personal life. I’m learning about Swedish customs, culture, and how to poorly order lunch from the cafeteria. I am learning about the history of television, and the complex interplay between industries, audiences, and technology. I’ve gotten guest lectures from psychologists, mindfulness instructors, the head of Exit Sweden (a rehabilitation organization for people who leave violent extremist groups), a film director, a forum theater expert, and so many more. I’ve been inspired, encouraged, had my perspectives challenged and my curiosity sparked.
Coming abroad I had been hoping for a reprieve from the constant onslaught of stress and schoolwork that characterizes my home school experience. And I’m happy to say that I definitely do less work now than I do in the US. But the truth is that the DIS workload is still substantial. I usually have around 50 pages of reading a night, along with language exercises for Swedish class. But what I really appreciate is the lack of busywork. Most classes have only four components to the final grade: participation, a group project, an essay, and a midterm. There’s a big emphasis on in-class discussions and group work. While I normally detest group work (let me fail on my own!), it’s actually gone surprisingly smoothly and has allowed me to get to know my classmates a lot better. If all of this is freaking out any potential DISsers, I will also say this: You get out of your classes what you put into them. It’s perfectly possible to not do the readings for any of your classes and still get by in class discussions (as my friend Evan often does). But when you really engage with the material, and invest your time and attention in your work, it makes for a much more valuable and embodied experience. The teachers are incredibly passionate and always willing to offer more support or resources on any topic of interest.
But what I appreciate the most is how DIS takes us beyond the classroom into Sweden and around Europe. We have field studies every Wednesday in which we visit different organizations and institutions around Sweden to see how our studies play out in the real world. I’ve been to the national library, a school and youth center, the royal palace, and a mindfulness institute so far. In two weeks I will travel to Greece with my Positive Psychology course to learn about wellbeing in a different societal context. The ability to get to know my teachers and classmates in more informal settings has been a big part of why I feel so comfortable and engaged in my classes. We all call our teachers by their first names, have heard stories about their personal lives, and have had discussions with them at class dinners about everything from movies and music to serious political issues. I am thankful for the fact that I spent my 21st birthday with my Positive Psychology class, eating some bomb-ass pasta in an underground restaurant in Gothenburg after going curling and learning about different types of altruism. When everyone sang happy birthday and surprised me with a cake I felt happy and secure in a way I didn’t expect to feel this far from home.
Ok, that’s enough gushing for now. And I promise DIS isn’t paying me to write this. I mean, it’s still school. It’s not fun all the time and there are definitely times I wish I had a little less homework and a little more time to explore. But I just really appreciate how thoughtful and thorough the DIS program is, even when it does get in the way of my European vacation.