I am sitting on the plane with some tears in my eyes, reading the notes of the people I have spent the past 11 months living, laughing, and loving by. By the time I publish this post, I will be in Southeast Asia, beginning travels throughout Thailand, Myanmar, and Japan.
The idea of my time in Sweden being over is still a distant thought. I cannot process what has taken place these past few days, in the farewells I bid and the departure I just completed.
It is hard for me to fathom the concept of leaving Sweden altogether, because it became a part of my life so smoothly and so naturally. The exponential joys I experienced in Lund, the friends that turned into family, and the small details of every day made it as if I would live there my entire life, or rather, had been in the first place.
Sweden filled my heart in ways I knew not possible. And I am forever grateful for the people I grew so close to.
Looking back on this entire year, there is not one detail nor one day that I would change. The first semester I was able to become painstakingly close to a group of friends from California; the second semester I was able to become painstakingly close to a group of friends from Sweden and beyond. Both semesters I was able to travel throughout Europe, and witness beauty that left me in awe.
Before studying abroad, I had no definitive conception of what the experience would be as a whole. I wanted to travel, so I did. I took me a while to materialize what I was doing until I was physically on the plane: Moving to a different country and learning who you are in an entirely different place. I could not wholly understand what studying abroad meant, or the miracles it could give rise to.
But now I do.
I was always a firm believer in the idea that no experience should give an individual any privileged sense of life or living; we all experience different things, and can relate to different aspects of those things. I thought this then, as I do now.
So when people would say that travelling changes you, or that studying abroad changes who you are, with an emphasis on themes of growth and learning, I was skeptical. I protested the idea that I would be any different leaving Sweden than when arriving to Sweden. I would grow just as I normally would, but in a different environment. And to an extent I still believe this.
But to say that studying abroad does not change who you are, would be to lie for the sake of consistency.
There is a big change, deep in character, that accompanies living abroad.
Because when you relocate into an area that you simply know less about than you think you do, witness ways of life among different people in different places, and build a life of your own amidst the unfamiliarity, something takes place.
You begin to understand that life means different things to many different people, but underneath each way of living lies a string of consistency: in the ways we can laugh and the ways we can love, the ways we can create and the ways we can share. You begin to form what life means to you.
The cultures I have encountered and the people I have loved – from the first five months in Sweden to the last – have given me far more than I can accurately communicate through gratitude.
They have taught me things about life and living that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and given me confidence in what I believe this world to be, alongside who I can be within it.
The confidence in knowing that life is made of miraculous moments, and humanity is inherently good.
It is an optimism that I have tried to channel ever since I was a kid. But I lacked the confidence of experience or example to form it into a philosophy. This is what I have learned about the world, and what I hope to act upon every day.
Traveling gives you new ideas to build upon your own.
In reflection of this past year, I feel many things. But amongst those, I feel most lucky. Most thankful. And most content. To know that I have these people, these places, and these experiences alongside me throughout every moment of this life, whether with or apart from them.
To be able to share life with people who give me immeasurable joy, and to know those who make goodbye so heart wrenchingly difficult.
I do not know what I did in a previous life to deserve this, but not a moment will be spent without appreciation. I am inexpressibly thankful to those who have shown me companionship and love – from the very beginning of my life to the present moment.
Among those I have spent this past year with, I must also express the love I have for my friends and family at home. It shakes the core of my being just thinking about how much has been given to me along every stage of my life: in opportunity, in friendship, and in learning.
Because truthfully, I owe every friend and family member who has ever participated in this life my full expression of gratitude.
Mom, Dad, grandma, brother, best friends, and family altogether: I love you more than one can say in words. It is the people in my life, you, who give me joy, who teach me insight, and who help me develop every aspect of my character.
Thank you home, and thank you Sweden. Thank you everyone, for confirming my initial thoughts on life as a journey worth living.
I have fallen utterly in love with this world, the people in it, and the experiences that form our joys.
I leave behind this chapter of my life that can be considered “study abroad” with an eagerness to live and learn. I hope that I will always be studying abroad, learning ideas in places that are new, and finding things new within the familiar.
The next leap for this ordinary individual will be set in Southeast Asia. I will be travelling and working for the next two months: in Thailand for three weeks, Myanmar for one week, and Japan for two weeks, before meeting my family in Tokyo for a two-week trip. After that I’ll be headed back to California.
To be quite honest, going to Thailand feels almost as unreal and unprocessed as leaving Sweden. Knowing that I will be landing in Bangkok within the next two hours is, well, quite intimidating.
A part of me is scared to do all of the above, for travelling solo is something I have never done before. But I guess that is why I am doing it.
I am excited to share the ordinary and extraordinary of these next two months. Entering the unfamiliar, and learning the love and connection that makes things familiar.
I love you world – the people in it and the miracles of every day – more than I ever knew possible.