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Isabelle Richards

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Advertising and Public Relations
Program: DIS: Study Abroad in Scandinavia
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Term: Summer 2023


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I never, ever saw study abroad as an option for me. Like so many college students, I work multiple jobs to pay rent, different insurances, groceries, etc. I struggle with depression and PTSD, so traveling the world seemed very tricky. Luckily, as I serve beers at Top of the Hill or make TikTok's for UNC Social Media, there is always time for dreaming. I have always dreamt of studying abroad. I revisited college admissions essays in which I mentioned studying abroad was something I looked forward to, so during the Spring 2023 semester I glanced at the UNC Study Abroad website. UNC has so many programs to choose from, but there was one that fit my budget, offered scholarships, superb location, and offered classes that thrilled me: DIS Stockholm. The class that I yearned to take was Storytelling Through Photography and Travel Writing. As I peered through the class websites, I saw that both of those classes were taught by published writers and photographers. I remember sitting at the Carolina Coffee Shop bar looking through the DIS website and smiling from ear to ear. My dream was so close to becoming a reality.


What did you learn about yourself?
On the train home one night, a man approached me in broken English asking for directions to a part of Stockholm. I advised him in the best way I could, but I told him I was learning as well. He sits down with a shocked look on his face. "You're American," he said looking puzzled. "Yes, I am," I said hoping this was not going to be a bad situation. "My apologies, I thought you were from here. You look like you are from here. I have never met an American." My immediate response to him saying he had never met an American was " No, you must have." I did not say this and instead looked surprised. I took no offense to his statement by assuming I was a Swede. He told me he was on a business trip from Algeria and loved Sweden. Our interaction was brief, but I could not stop thinking about it. I was ignorant in thinking he must have met an American, but I knew he was telling the truth. I do not know anyone from Algeria. The world is a lot bigger than I ever imagined. I learned to listen and look at my time abroad. There are a lot more people in this world than beyond the borders I know, and I itched to learn more.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
What I did not expect from the DIS program was that my second session class, Travel Writing, was going to Croatia for a week! I am not talking about just one place for a week either. We traveled to Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, and my instructor even surprised us and took us to Bosnia! I documented my thoughts everywhere I went, for my class, but it also served as a great reflection on my time there. I also happen to be a huge Game of Thrones fan, so going to Croatia was a big deal for me as a fangirl. The friends I made along the way were great sports in helping me recreate scenes at the filming locations from the show. My ultimate favorite memory has to be in Dubrovnik, Croatia. At the end of a long day, my friends and I swam in the crystal waters, ate pizza, grabbed gelato, and ended the day by listening to the Dubrovnik Symphony perform the Game of Thrones theme song. I remember looking at my friends and then back at the musicians and thinking to myself, "I can not believe this is real life." In that moment, I was changed forever. Dreams do come true.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Write. Down. Your. Address. And. Phone. Numbers. Abroad. One unfortunate night I was coming back home by myself and my phone died in the middle of transit. It was early in the morning, and the sun was up (because it never set) and I was lost. There was no one I could ask for directions because I did not have my address memorized or written down. Luckily after walking for a while, I saw a cafe I knew was near my residence and I found my apartment My advice to future students abroad is to listen to your study abroad instructors. They are not telling you safety protocols for fun. If they advise to write something down do it. They are vital for your safety. Trust me, I never thought that would happen to me, but best believe I never made that mistake again!


How do you identify?
First Generation College Student, Military/Veteran/GI Benefits, Student with a disability, Scholarship Recipient


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
There were some nights were I had to stay in to care of my mental health. I still went through depressive episodes while abroad.


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
Emotions, depression, and anxiety do not go away once you're abroad. It is okay to feel your feelings and take time for yourself. I am so glad I took the pressure off of myself for wanting to stay in to take care of me. Trust me, you are not alone.


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
I turned to let my professors know my conditions when I arrived as well as my roommate. I also expressed my concerns to my support system from America, but with the time difference, I did not rely on this. I did feel well supported and brought some healthy practices to do while there.