Studying abroad was always an aspiration of mine, so once the time came for me to embark on my spring semester exchange, at Uppsala University in Sweden, I was overcome with immense excitement. I will never forget the numerous incredible people I met, who quickly became friends for life, the challenging but worthwhile courses I took part in, and the incredible countries I had the privilege of exploring. Eager to begin exploring the fascinating cities of Europe, I began planning trips within weeks of arriving in Uppsala; the city that would become a place I can now call home. Before I even embarked on this study abroad journey, I had the idea that to make the most of my time abroad I needed to travel to as many places as possible. I neglected my home country a great deal. When I had a free weekend, I almost never spent it in Sweden. Reflecting on my time abroad, I have discovered that the most meaningful memory of mine is one that took place within my home country, where I was surrounded by people that I will forever be grateful for.Photo (2)
After around a month in Uppsala, and trips to Latvia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, a friend of mine suggested we go on a trip to Lapland, which is the northernmost region of Finland, Sweden, and Norway. I never dreamed of going there, I was not even aware of what Lapland was. That’s the funny thing about studying abroad; you never know what you’ll experience and that’s part of the thrill of it. I quickly agreed to the trip, and we got some of the best people to come along the journey to Lapland with us. The trip began on March 16th, 2016, and I had plenty of time before then to dream about the vast winter wonderland that awaited me.
The day finally came for the roughly fourteen-hour bus ride to Korvala, Finland. It was not as miserable as it sounds. Of course sleeping on a bus is far from pleasant, but spending time with some of my favorite people made the bus ride worthwhile. The first day of this Lapland adventure was full of firsts, which included trying a bit of ice fishing, struggling to trek through the woods in snow shoes, gazing up at one of nature’s most beautiful displays; the Northern Lights, attempting to withstand a Finnish sauna, and jumping into a frozen lake. The first full day of this trip solidified my love for the Scandinavian countries, and gave me confidence to say that choosing the study abroad program I did was the best decision I could have made.

Photo (5)We then set off to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi Finland, then to Kiruna, Sweden. While staying in Kiruna we made dinner together and watched the Northern Lights dance about across the sky. A tour of the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden was in store for us the next day. The Icehotel was phenomenal, and one of those experiences that will forever be ingrained in my mind. This day was another day of firsts as I ate reindeer pizza, went dog sledding, and went snowmobiling. Each and every experience I had on this trip was a phenomenal one that I will always cherish deeply. The days that followed involved a visit with a Sami family and their reindeer in Rensjön, Sweden, a day of exploring the Norwegian city of Narvik, gazing upon the fjords of Norway and the Arctic Ocean, exploring Abisko National Park, attempting to cross the frozen Torneträsk lake, and drinking glogg together under a teepee. The bus ride back to Uppsala was filled with reflecting on what an incredible trip this was, and talking with people whose friendships with me grew immensely stronger through the shared experiences we had.
Trips to The Netherlands, Norway, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Ukraine, Denmark, and Iceland followed this trip to Lapland. Each trip opened my eyes to the wondrous world we live in, and each trip brought me closer to the people I went with. I will always cherish the memories made throughout the different adventures I embarked on during my study abroad program. Yet I will value my travels around Sweden the most. I discovered that exploring your host country is just as rewarding as any other country, if not more so. I realized that you do not need to travel far to make amazing memories. Most of all I discovered that the true magic of studying abroad is finding a second home halfway across the world, and the family of friends that develops along with it.Photo (4)

-Taylor Barnhart Uppsala, Sweden