A Swedish Experience

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics

A Swedish Experience

Scholarship Sends Student Abroad to Study Sustainability


Lindsay Rothschiller, Class of 2015, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN

Gustavus Adolphus College

 The author  (center) poses for a snapshot with her host family. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Rothschiller.

I am a city dweller who spent the summer interning in the middle of nowhere, Sweden. When I arrived at the airport, I was picked up by someone I had talked to only once, via FaceTime, the night before. As I was driven farther and farther away from the city, I wondered for a moment if he was taking me somewhere to murder me. There weren’t any coffee shops around, or anything familiar at all. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying. It was tough at first.

Now that I’m back in the United States, I would absolutely recommend that every student spend time abroad. One way to do this is to study at a foreign university and be surrounded by other students. I did it through an internship in which I experienced the daily life of a nonstudent while doing research. That made it hard to stay in my comfort zone. That’s when you really grow. You become more patient and independent. You learn to listen, both to your own thoughts and to other people. You learn to appreciate every moment because you know the moments are only temporary.

I was able to intern in Scandinavia after being awarded a scholarship offered by my school, Gustavus Adolphus College. Named for Sweden’s King Gustav II Adolf, Gustavus offers Swedish courses and has a strong network of alumni and partners in that country. The scholarship, funded by the Wallenberg Foundation, pays for meals, housing, transportation, and a stipend—all meant to provide recipients with a “Swedish experience.”

To apply for the scholarship, I had to find a research project. Fortunately, my advisor connected me to Magnus Fredericson, who works for a group of municipalities in Sweden doing research and planning related to sustainable development. He suggested a project on carbon lock-in, which means a society’s dependence on energy sources, such as oil and coal, that produce carbon pollution.

I didn’t use physics directly in my internship, but the problem-solving skills I have acquired as a physics major were invaluable. Being in physics has taught me to pay close attention to detail and think of everything that could affect an experiment, or in this case, all of the factors involved in carbon lock-in.

During my internship, Fredericson and his family hosted me in their home. I had my own guest cottage, complete with a bathroom and a personal sauna. The family included me in everything, inviting me to come out with them and their friends and even helping me to relearn how to drive a manual car. They made me a part of their family.

There’s a special connection that you make with people you meet overseas. You learn to communicate despite the language barrier. You begin to let your guard down and start to realize who you really are, what you value, and who you want to be

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