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Ellie Riggsbee

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Economics (BA), Philosophy (BA), Spanish for the Legal Professions Minor
Program: DIS Stockholm (Danish Institute for Study Abroad)
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Term: Summer 2022


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I've always loved to travel and was set on studying abroad in college from a young age. I'm a huge proponent of experiential learning, and I feel that stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring new cultures is one of the best ways to develop during your college years. So, study abroad was a no-brainer for me – the hard part was choosing where to go! When I began my study abroad R&D, I started by searching on UNC's study abroad site ( for summer programs, which are generally more limited than semester options. I was set on going during the summer due to several obligations I have on campus during the academic year that I didn't want to leave behind. The second piece of criteria I sought out was the ability to enroll and engage in courses and activities geared toward one of my degrees. As an Economics major, my interest was quickly piqued when I stumbled upon "Exploring Economies in Scandinavia," which combined UNC faculty-led instruction with a third-party education center called DIS. This particular program is well organized through UNC, but the additional structure of DIS also provides applicants with the freedom to choose a) what they want to study, and b) where they will do so – whether in Stockholm, Sweden or Copenhagen, Denmark: the contested capitals of Scandinavia. Lastly, I wanted to go somewhere I had yet to touch ground in – ideally somewhere not too touristy or too quiet. After researching the program and its home countries more, I decided this was the study abroad experience for me! I promptly reached out to the program coordinators and began my application. I would encourage anyone remotely interested to do the same!


What did you learn about yourself?
Through this experience, I learned that I am more adaptable to new situations than I initially thought. When I first arrived in Stockholm, I was extremely anxious. I was over 4,000 miles away from home, and I thought I'd never get over the learning curve of ordering food that both fit my diet and was listed in Swedish. Our program began while Finland and Sweden were hoping to join NATO, and I had no idea whether Russia had plans to retaliate. I didn't know anyone from my program, and I had to sleep in the kitchen of the small, somewhat unsanitary housing unit that I shared with one other student. Even so, I made friends quickly. I reached out to my professor and told her how I was feeling. I used some simple technological innovations to ensure I figured out how to live in a country that primarily runs on a language that was foreign to me. I realized that I had all the tools in me to function independently and successfully, I just needed to dust them off.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
Since my return to the US, probably to the disappointment of those who ask, I've struggled to pinpoint one key monument, person, excursion, or mishap from my time in Sweden. What stuck out to me the most was not a single highlight, but rather a culmination of the aspects that constituted my way of life in Sweden. Each day, I tapped myself into Stockholm's beloved metro, or "the T," to commute to and from class. And it's beloved for good reason. To us students, our public transport access cards were our lifelines, providing us with access to virtually any mode of transportation needed to navigate the city on islands. Each transportation method was clean, quiet, and pleasant to use. On the island of Södermalm where myself and my classmates resided, I felt safe walking alone, probably for the first time since I was 10 years old. After some time, it was hard not to feel that way. It was always bright out. The children flocked safely to and from school through the public transportation system. The weather was enjoyable, even in the last days of June. The air was clear. The locals were kind, but they seldom initiated conversation if I did not first. It was an introvert's happy place. Lastly, the people are happy. In my classes, I learned that Sweden is typically ranked among the top ten happiest countries and best places to live annually. Certainly, not everyone is happy, and not every culture, ethnicity, or experience is represented accurately by the data. But, for instance, even though Swedes pay high taxes, I have yet to meet a Swede who complains about it. They are taken care of – medically, sure, but they also trust their government. They have a fun and lighthearted holiday in the summer that I was initially horrified of, but that I learned to love. They even take time for themselves daily – away from even discussion of work – to have a quick break, a drink of tea or coffee, and maybe a cardamom bun. For more concrete memories, I have constructed a list! Some things that I particularly enjoyed were: perusing the local food truck market on most weekends, celebrating Midsommar, discovering my favorite boba shop to date, seeing Dua Lipa in concert, visiting museums, taking a weekend cruise to Helsinki, having class in a castle in Fjäderholmarna, making a day trip to Uppsala, watching the national Swedish and Norwegian teams face off in soccer, singing karaoke with Dr. Staub, and eating way too many cardamom buns (which I learned to make herself from a local baker)! I also got the chance to visit Athens and Aegina, Greece for a few days as a part of my second course’s study tour.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
You are smart, sensible, and courageous! It's amazing that you've chosen to put yourself out there and even consider studying abroad. When you first arrive, you may feel nervous or even doubt your decision to leave the comfort of home. Studying abroad is expensive, unpredictable, and sometimes scary. But when it comes down to it, you are far from the only person who will feel this way. It's exactly how I felt! Social anxiety in college is persistent enough, and taking those sentiments overseas can be another level of nerve-wracking. As for advice, I'm a big fan of communication. It's always better to be overly communicative than to be in a communication deficit, especially when you're out of the country. That being said, I'd really encourage you to reach out to anyone you feel comfortable with. I talked with my professor, but I guarantee you that there are many, many more people who would love to help you, even if just to listen – your fellow classmates, respective study abroad advisors, program coordinators, housing directors… the options are plentiful. You've got this! We can't control each and every situation, but we can control how we handle them and mitigate hardships.