"Above all, during the trip we learned about looking at the world through a different perspective, one that let us step out of our comfort zones and think more carefully about the people who inhabit those places."
Rising junior and business administration major Lauren Diuco writes about her experience on a short-term study tour of Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. The tour was led by associate professor of history Aaron Goings, Ph.D. and professor of sociology and anthropology David Price, Ph.D.
Sometimes it’s when we’re standing in the space between familiarity and the unknown that we discover who we truly are. During my short-term study abroad tour in Northern Europe, I found a side of myself that I never knew existed: one that was confident in my skills, and that had a longing for exploring the surrounding world.
If you’d asked me a couple years ago if I would go study abroad somewhere, I would have told you that I was “too busy.” I just didn’t see it as a realistic idea. Then, during the fall semester of 2016, as I passed the posters in the halls of Old Main, the one pertaining to the short-term study abroad tour in Scandinavia caught my eye. I had never been to Europe before. My mom had lived in Iceland when she was in high school because her father was stationed there for the Navy, so I thought it would be really cool to see a part of the world that was significant to her life. Besides, if I had the opportunity to earn credit for doing something that I was passionate about, then why not go? Forgetting my fears, I took the leap. The next thing I knew, I was sitting at the terminal at SeaTac, ready to fly to Europe.
During our three-week tour, we visited Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. When we were there, we delved more into the history and sociology that we had learned about during our spring semester class in preparation for the trip, “Sociology and History of Scandinavia,” taught by Dr. Aaron Goings and Dr. David Price. In the class, we’d learned about Scandinavian culture, read two books that challenged us to compare US societal views to those of Scandinavia and we did a lot of planning for our trip. During the semester, we all wrote what we called an artifact paper, which could be written on an item, a place, an event, or a practice that we would make an effort to see sometime during our trip. Over the course of our trip, we were able to see most of the sights that we had learned about during class.
Above all, during the trip we learned about looking at the world through a different perspective, one that let us step out of our comfort zones and think more carefully about the people who inhabit those places. The best advice that I heard prior to this study tour was “Strive to be a traveler and not a tourist. Then know the difference.” Immersing ourselves in the culture of each country we visited was critical to us, and, thankfully, we had our incredible professors, Dr. Aaron Goings and Dr. David Price, to lead the way.
When we were in Helsinki, Finland’s capital, we roamed the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the sea fortress Suomenlinna, watched the funeral procession of Finland’s former president Mauno Koivisto and even enjoyed a Viking dinner. As we headed further north, we spent time at a cabin in the woods with professors from the University of Jyväskylä, who taught us how to make Finnish pulla bread and educated us about Finnish culture, especially about the saunas. We took an overnight train to Rovaniemi, and while we were there we got to see Santa Claus at the Arctic Circle! It was really cold, but Washington really prepared us well for that one.
While in Copenhagen, Denmark, the creative architecture and the colorful buildings along the harbor showed us the city’s character. Of course, we had to visit the Little Mermaid statue too.
When we went to Norway, the natural beauty captivated us all. In Bergen, we walked through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen, the old wharf with colorful buildings and beautiful alleyways and rooftops. We also hiked up the side of Mount Fløyen and explored the troll forest. On our way to Oslo, we took a ferry through the fjords and took one of the world’s most beautiful train rides. The sights were unbelievable! The further we ventured into the fjords along the glassy water, the higher the mountain walls of the fjords grew. When we took a train ride on the Flåm railway, we cut through mountains and passed massive waterfalls. In Oslo, we visited the historic Viking museum and had a chance to explore a Nordic folk museum.
In Stockholm, Sweden, we made sure to visit the Vasa ship museum, sifted through farmers’ markets, and roamed the city with a deep desire for ice cream. Over the course of our trip, we found that ice cream is a really popular treat in every Scandinavian country that we had visited so far. My favorite part was walking through the halls of the Swedish Royal Palace.
Finally, in Iceland, we enjoyed some of the most amazing days of the trip. We visited a tomato greenhouse where we ate what was said to be “Europe’s best tomato bisque,” saw the Gullfoss waterfall which stemmed from a glacier that was miles away, watched geysers erupt to astounding heights and walked around the Þingvellir National Park, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most interesting thing that I observed during the study abroad tour was that most of Northern Europe utilizes public transportation or rides a bike. It’s part of their culture, but they are caring for the environment at the same time. And that care for the environment intersects in interesting ways with the treatment of tourist sites. I was very intrigued by—and even discussed in my artifact paper—the effects of tourism. Tourism is a huge money and foot traffic generator, which can lead to a depletion of resources and quick wear and tear, but it can also help motivate countries to enhance and preserve various tourist-driven cities like Copenhagen and Bergen.
On my way back home, I felt so content with myself. Why was I so scared in the first place? Participating in this study tour was one of the best decisions that I have ever made because I gained valuable knowledge about the world, and made friends that will last me a lifetime.
Additional photos from Lauren's trip are posted on the Saint Martin's University Instagram.