Making friends is, without a doubt, challenging and somewhat stressful. Going into college, we all had to make new friends, find our group, and we did not expect to have to do that again. Now, we are abroad, needing to make friends and find a comfortable group. Abroad programs can be big or small, so we experience different challenges. My program at DIS Stockholm is around sixty students, so it is manageable.
There are two housing units within my program, so each apartment has a group of around twenty students. The group in my apartment has become extremely close. We live about a thirty-five-minute commute to the city, so we usually just do something in our apartment if we have social events. I typically see two to three of my classmates at least once, just running into them on an ordinary day. It is normal to bump into someone you know in the city!
This time abroad is short; four months go by so quickly. So, everything is more intense and heightened (in a good way), friendships, experiences, and so much more. You have a certain amount of time to make friends, and in “real life,” you would not have a set time limit. I have gotten extremely close to the friends I have made here. We have traveled to different countries together and bonded over the experience of being abroad.
My program is small, so my classes are also small. I know most everyone by face and name. The DIS program incorporates academic travel into their curriculum, so I traveled with a few of my classes to different places in Stockholm and even went to Greece. Not only do we get to experience new learning and culture, but it also allows us to build friendships within the class setting. I have created great relationships with my friends and even my teachers because of these opportunities.
Swedes are challenging to get to know; they are reserved and keep their tight-knit social circle. It would be hard to approach someone on the street and just make small talk. In Swedish culture, that would be considered strange. Luckily, my teachers arrange field studies where we can interact more with locals and have a chance to chat and learn more about the culture. Two young medical students visited for a psychology class to talk about life in Sweden. My teacher even arranged an end-of-the-year dinner for my class and invited some young Swedes. These small events have allowed me to connect even more with the Swedish culture.
Overall, building relationships can be complex. It is vulnerable and sometimes hard to step out of our comfort zone. I can say that the friends I have made abroad will be friends I will have forever. These new friends quickly became my chosen family. My friends have experienced such a strange, exciting, scary time with me. We have gone through the ups and downs of traveling, homesickness, and studying. We have connected on a deep level that I do not think could be achieved in such a short four months at home. I would not trade my experience or new friends for the world.