Last year I had the opportunity to study abroad for four months at one of DU’s partner schools, Stockholm University in Sweden. You may ask, “Why Sweden?”, and I’ll answer, like George Mallory’s comment about climbing Everest, “Because it’s there!” The whole point of spending time abroad is the experience, and the new ways in which we view the world in light of these experiences. Here are a few of my stories from my time there:
I arrived on the 21st of August after traveling, by a conservative estimate, for about 5,000 hours. I was promptly launched into orientation for international students. Swedes clearly have a very different sense of propriety than Americans. No fewer than three of the orientation speakers, all members of the administration, made a point about the potential of meeting a future spouse while there.
One of them, the assistant dean of the university, said “You could be sitting next to your future husband or wife right now!” On my right was a delightful new British friend who was, inconveniently for me, a man. To my left was: the stairway. I spent some time hoping this would not prove somehow prophetic about my future romantic trajectory. Moral: Opportunities are all around us, but not every opportunity needs to be taken.
Stockholm is an archipelago city, composed of 14 islands. I lived in student housing on the lightly-populated island of Lidingö on the east side of Stockholm. Because my classes didn’t start for a couple weeks, I spent a great deal of time exploring the island, walking more than 10 miles a day on average. It was all aggressively beautiful, much like Colorado, with water everywhere, much unlike Colorado.
Increasingly I ran into a problem with the locals, who were very friendly. I look extremely Swedish, and repeatedly people would try to strike up conversations with me. I was forced to confess that I did not speak their language. So they would apologize (though I never understood why) and change to flawless English without a moment’s hesitation. Moral: Appearances can be deceiving; always have a backup plan.
October, I learned, is when things get very dark. Sunrise starts about 8 a.m., and sunset happens around 4 p.m. The typical weather was cloudy and cold. Both problems would only get worse as the year wore on. A lot of my time was spent in the dark, and I started to get a sense of why Sweden, the entire country, essentially shuts down in July: people are on vacation because there is finally sunlight. There’s probably a huge demand for vitamin D supplements in Sweden. Moral: Colorado’s 300 days of sunshine are even more amazing than they seem.
My final class in Sweden was about cross-cultural management. Being an American taking a class in cross-cultural management from a Chinese professor speaking English in Sweden was incredibly fascinating. As with my other courses, there were representatives of at least a dozen countries in the room. Their experiences and perspectives were often very different from mine. I felt as though I learned as much just from engaging with them as I did from any class. Moral: There are some experiences you can only have by living abroad.
The classes I took in Sweden reminded me of my classes at Daniels in two important ways: an emphasis on global business, and an emphasis on ethical business. Neither of these is a luxury. An increasingly global marketplace means that even domestic opportunities will often involve foreign stakeholders, while strong ethics are a growing source of competitive advantage both at home and abroad. While I was sad to leave Sweden, I was happy to return to an institution that I knew better than ever would provide a relevant education that equipped me to thrive in the world of business.