Jordan Zaffke just returned from Sweden. He is 21 years old and in his third year at the U of M as a double major in international business and accounting. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, so I emailed him to find out about his trip:

Sherry: Why did you choose to go where you did?

Jordan: I chose to go to Sweden because I grew up following Swedish traditions, and I have family over there. I grew up in a Swedish culture, and wanted to experience it first hand. I also decided to go there because it would have been a great experience to learn a different culture and practice the Swedish language.

Sherry: Was it weird being away for so long? From your friends and family?

Jordan: It wasn’t so much weird being away; it was just different. It forced me to make new friends. I still was in contact with friends and family via skype and facebook, but I didn’t see them everyday. In the end, it was for the best, because I met many new friends from around the world, and that is something I am proud of.

Sherry: What was it like there?

Jordan: It was somewhat similar. The weather was similar (rainy, somewhat chilly), and the country has many of the same things we do–H&M, McDonald’s, and the like. However, their grocery stores and and government run businesses were vastly different. In grocery stores, we were forced to buy our own bags everytime; they were not provided to us for free. Also, waiting in queues was big in Sweden. At the bank, you took a number and stood in line. The same goes for the post office, restaurants, and the like. People were also very friendly, which is different from the US. They would be more than willing to go out of their way to help me out, and would switch languages on the spot to help accommodate me. They were very helpful. Schooling was also different. There, we took one class at a time for 4 weeks, took a final, and moved on to our next one. This made the semester a lot less stressful and I learned a lot more using this method than the one practiced in the US.

Sherry: What cultural differences stood out to you?

Jordan: Some cultural differences that stood out to me involved the kindness of everyone and nationalism. In the US, many people are not too friendly to strangers. This is not the case in Sweden. They were very helpful to strangers, even visitors, and treated them with respect. Also, nationalism is not a big thing in Sweden. They do love their country, but they do not go around hanging flags everywhere and shouting that Sweden is the best country in the world, like they do here in the states. They tend to hide their pride for their country; they are a very neutral and modest country. Also, they believe in the common good of society, which makes them a socialist country. This is much, much different from the capitalist country we live in. Also, generally speaking, Swedes are more laid back than Americans. They like to drink and have a good time, and tend not to get stressed about school and work as much as Americans do. Of course, this is just what I noticed.

Sherry: Is there anything you would want to tell someone that is thinking of studying abroad?

Jordan: For anyone thinking of studying abroad, I would say: do it! It’s the best decision you will ever make. Period. Also, I would say catch up on their history and culture–it makes the transition much more easier. And, as odd as this sounds, study our own US history and how we vote. Many cultures do not vote in the same way we do (i.e. electoral college) and many will ask you to explain how it works. It happened to me often in Sweden. Also, don’t let the thought of it being expensive turn you away from studying abroad. Most programs are around the same price as a semester at the U; plus, many scholarships are available to help with funding. While the trip as a whole may turn out expensive, it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you will not regret it. You will come back a different person.