Max is a New Mexico State University student who studied abroad in Växjö, Sweden in Fall 2015. This wasn’t Max’s first trip out of the country. Max visited the Faroe Islands, a country that sits just north of Scotland, after graduating high school. He had wanted to go back ever since.
I have always been fascinated by Scandinavia since I visited the Faroe Islands the summer after high school. This region is full of natural beauty and serenity. Växjö is a city of lakes – the area is abounding in natural beauty, and I am thrilled to walk in the wilderness in my free time. I am most looking forward to exploring these lakes and parks that surround Växjö.
I am also excited to make new friends and professional networks through the school. I often think about relocating abroad permanently, whether it be in Sweden or another country. A sense of adventure has boiled in me since I was a little kid. I used to look up airfares and imagine I would take trips to exotic places. I always knew I wanted to study abroad.
The beauty of Scandinavia isn’t the only thing drawing Max to study in Sweden. Max is a double major in Agricultural Extension Education and Agriculture and Community Development, with minors in Agriculture Communication and Government and Industry.
I chose to study abroad at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden to immerse myself in sustainability. Växjö is one of the most sustainable cities in Europe. I wanted to experience sustainable development firsthand. I hope to learn aspects of sustainable development that I can teach to fellow students and professors at my home university and then apply as I implement community development as an agricultural extension agent.
This city provides such a phenomenal model of the new direction cities can take. The citizens of Växjö noticed the devastating effect pollution had on their natural resources. Instead of debating it, they took action and developed a 30 point plan to be fossil fuel free by 2030. Even if my classes will not be focused on sustainable development due to prerequisites, I will try to learn as much as I can from the people who developed this plan and from watching it in action. They have set a precedent for sustainable development.
Max is excited to learn more about Växjö and the sustainable lifestyle they have created there. He has spent time researching and reflecting on his time in the Faroe Islands to help prepare himself for studying abroad.
To prepare for this experience, I have been researching everything about Sweden. I have been playing Swedish language apps on my phone and searching for some comfortable snow boots and rain pants. One of my greatest regrets in the Faroe Islands was bringing only one pair of shoes and no waterproof clothes. It will rain less in Växjö than it did in Tórshavn, but I want to be better prepared this time.
No matter how much preparation, there are still things students studying abroad are going to worry about. As a transman, Max is worried about some of the challenges he may face. Despite this, he is also looking forward to learning about the LGBT culture in Sweden and paving the way for future LGBT members looking to study abroad.
As a transman, the airport itself makes me the most nervous. I am becoming more and more comfortable socializing since my transition. I am a lot more confident and open to meeting new people. These skills will be incredibly useful in a foreign country. In a way, I am accustomed to feeling out of place. I expect Sweden to be more open and accepting of LGBT people than my own college, which is the conservative enclave on my campus. There will be people in every place who look at my funny or who do not understand me, but I view myself as an educator in LGBT issues, especially gender identity issues. I use these uncomfortable encounters as opportunities to educate people about issues they may have never considered. Though under the scrutiny of airport officials, it is difficult to educate and persuade when your identity is being picked apart.
In some respects, I view myself as a pioneer. None of my LGBT friends have studied abroad. Oftentimes in my transition, I have been the first to do things in my neighborhood. This forces me to have to explain and repeat myself until some understanding has passed between me and whatever official or law stands in my way. I have made a hobby of breaking barriers and crushing stereotypes. But being first, although exciting, is not easy. Sometimes I wish somebody would have carved a path for me. At least then when I have questions or doubts, someone could provide answers. Instead, I have to find the answers for myself.
I am excited to learn the differences in LGBT culture in Sweden compared to the United States. Every culture provides different perspectives which are so critical to our own growth and understanding of the wider world. It will be very interesting to compare and contrast the positives and negatives.
Like most students looking to study abroad, financing the trip was a top concern for Max. Receiving the Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship has reduced some of that pre-departure and financial stress.
Receiving the Fund for Education Abroad scholarship has relieved many of the financial worries for me and has made this preparation period less stressful as I count down the days to August 26. Although I always knew I wanted to study abroad, it did not seem financially possible. My parents, never having traveled further out of the country than Ensenada, Mexico, told me that studying abroad was something we couldn’t afford. It was something that I really wanted to experience, but it did not seem feasible. I have never been a person who was discouraged by the impossible. Many people say my very existence is impossible, but I prove that notion wrong when I wake up every day.
So far my schooling has been paid through scholarships and federal grants, but I wanted this opportunity to study abroad so deeply that I was willing to take out my first educational loan. I am thankful that I do not have to go that route.
Recently, I have had difficulties with my federal financial aid due to my transition. If I did not receive this scholarship, it would have put huge amounts of stress on me to fix this situation before I leave for Sweden. I may have had to call the entire trip off. Now I do not have to worry about these issues until I return to the U.S. in January.
For anyone looking to study abroad, but worrying about how feasible it is, Max has some advice to help.
For other people who are planning to study abroad, I would advise you to apply for as many scholarships as possible. Start researching and applying for scholarships early. Complete the paperwork for your study abroad program as soon as you can, so you have more time to apply for scholarships. Put substantial time and effort into each scholarship to make sure you are explaining yourself well. Write clearly and with confidence. Explain your goals and decisions thoroughly. Know what you want to get out of your study abroad experience. Talk about what makes you and your experience abroad unique. Apart from scholarships, know what your financial aid situation is early, so if there are any misunderstandings, you can correct them quickly. Money does not have to be a barrier to this incredible experience. Believe that you can make the impossible possible.