As a first-time traveler, preparing myself to leave for Europe was of the utmost importance. I did a lot of reading online blogs (especially ones from prior DIS students), reached out to CGIS (Center for Global and Intercultural Study) alumni at the University of Michigan, watched study abroad vlogs religiously, and did some good ‘ol Google searches. Yet, I still felt unprepared, but that was a totally normal feeling. I was going to somewhere that I had only seen on postcards, and I had never solo traveled before. Even if I had read every travel blog that has been posted to the internet, I would not have learned everything, and that’s okay. Experience is the best teacher after all, and I wasn’t going to understand how to live abroad until I did it myself. However, having some tips and tricks for the future won’t hurt, at the very least you will have them in your back pocket as a budding or solo traveler. So, as I sit in the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to wait for my 7:55am flight home (it is currently 10:36pm right now, so guess who gets to sleep (or pull an all-nighter) in the airport!), I will tell you five things that were helpful for me living abroad in Scandinavia for the summer.
Get to know the city
This sounds like a given, but I know a lot of friends who went to every tourist attraction on their bucket list, but still felt like a stranger to Stockholm or Copenhagen. Not that going to iconic landmarks is discouraged, but don’t feel pressured to hit every single one of them. Pick a handful (whatever a handful means to you, for me that’s like 5-6) that you must see, but take some time walking around neighborhoods or riding the train. I discovered hidden gems of Stockholm and Copenhagen by just picking a train line and riding to the end of it and exploring. During my explorations, I also got some quality alone time that was much needed. Studying abroad, especially in the summer, is a temporary arrangement, so hitting every landmark is going to be exhausting. In addition, I think it’s difficult to fully digest museums, gardens, castles, or any other iconic place if you are attempting to speedrun it. For me, depending on the museum, I needed 1.5-2 hrs at a MINIMUM, and occasionally when I had the opportunity to revisit, I saw works or exhibits that I totally missed. I spent a whole 5 hours in the Royal Danish Art Museum. Try to take your time exploring what you want, so you feel like wherever you go, the city is yours.
Prepare to experience a lot of rain
As a Michigander, where the season changes every 5 seconds or 5 minutes depending on who you ask, acclimating to any weather type is second nature. If you come to Scandinavia, prepare for the weather to change at any moment. Sometimes the weather app lies to you. If you come in the summertime, keep a windproof umbrella on you at all times. There were several times where it suddenly pours for a long time then stops. Once, it was pouring so badly while I was walking, I had to run into a souvenir shop because the visibility was awful. On the other hand, some of my loveliest times in Scandinavia were in the rain (I’ll upload a picture of me hiking in the rain). Embrace the Earth giving you little water kisses; She just wants to tell you how much she loves you.
Welcome the alone time
Obviously if you are traveling solo, alone time is a part of the deal. But even if you are hanging out with friends often, take some time to wander on your own. I’ve actually loved going on walks alone and having personal experiences (I think I’ve mentioned this previously). Being able to sit and just be is very therapeutic. It has made me realize that self-reflection and self-care in the form of being by myself is very important to me. It is sort of like meditation for me. Just existing and being peaceful. It’s something I want to implement when I’m home and in my regular routine. Maybe it will help my stress levels.
If you feel comfortable, just wander without using Google Maps for a while and see where you end up. You can always find your way back. Just do what feels right. On that note, if something doesn’t feel right, go somewhere or do something that makes you feel safe.
Grocery stores are your friend
Saving money while traveling is great, but it can be a little difficult in cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen, where you breath and spend 20 dollars. Depending on the grocery stores at least 60% of the time for your food will help mitigate costs aka try to at least two meals at your housing. In my opinion, grocery stores are cheaper in Scandinavia than the United States, but I am only buying, cooking, and eating for one. It does require you to cook, but hey, who doesn’t want to get better at a life skill? I got much better at meal prepping, which is something I plan on continuing, as my Thursdays this Fall semester will have seven hours of class time :’) I’m not about to starve myself. Also the produce is pretty good.
It’s very fun to eat out, especially when you’re in a foreign country and desiring to taste different cuisine, but a decent meal will automatically be in the $15-20 range, which is not abnormal. However, if you go to nicer restaurants, sometimes you’ll pay for a good meal but it will be really small portions. A good idea is to keep an eye out for places that offer student or group discounts.
I’d consider myself a calm and collected person, but there were times where I was confused, sad, homesick, frustrated, or stressed on my journey. Not that doesn’t ever happen while I’m at home (except the homesick part), but I naturally feel more grounded at home. There are techniques and people at home that help me when I’m stressed, but while abroad, I was six hours ahead of receiving resources from home. Finding ways to ground myself in a new country takes some practice. This includes spending time with new best friends, going outside, going to a universal safe space (aka the library), or just laying in silence. And what worked for me one day may not work for another day. But reminding myself that things would work out but I just didn’t know how yet, helped me breathe.