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A Home Away from Home

Randall student reminisces on studying abroad

Kaitlyn Hawley
This is from a trip Kaitlyn Hawley went to in Copenhagen, Denmark with an exchange student from New Zealand.

Fatimah Dixon, Staff Writer

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Studying abroad is something many people dream of. To experience another culture, learn a new language and see the world is often an intangible wish for many. However, for senior Kaitlyn Hawley, living abroad is more than just a dream; it became a reality.

Hawley first heard about about foreign exchange programs from an Italian foreign exchange student who went to Randall and was good friends with her older sister. From then on, her interest in travel piqued and she set her eyes on Sweden.

“Most of the people who live in Sweden are fluent in English, but I still had the possibility of learning a new language,” Hawley said. “I was also interested in Sweden’s equal rights policies.”

Finally, after deciding on her destination, she was faced with another challenge: paying for the trip. According to Hawley, the total cost of the trip–including air fare, tuition, insurance, spending money, etc.–was around $14,000.

“I worked and did a ton of fundraising to raise the money,” Hawley said. “My parents helped me out a lot, too. I didn’t want to miss getting my driver’s license when I turned 16, and I wanted to be back home for my senior year, so junior year seemed like the best (time) to go.”

There was not much of a language barrier because Hawley knew Swedish and Swedish people knew English. However, it took many months for her to truly feel confident in speaking Swedish. In the beginning, according to Hawley, the pronunciation and grammar made it hard to learn Swedish, but once she mastered that, it became much easier. Now, with a destination, money to get there and a way to understand the language spoken there, Hawley was set to study abroad.

“I visited so many art museums,” Hawley said. “ I went to an art museum in almost every city I went to. I also went to an amusement park in Copenhagen called Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is the amusement park that inspired Walt Disney to design Disney World. Every few weeks, I took the train to different cities to visit other foreign exchange students in the area.”

Hawley said while there were many things that made Sweden memorable, it was the people she met and learning Swedish that made it unforgettable. If there was one thing she could change about her time overseas, Hawley said it would be to spend more time with her host siblings, rather than in her room. As for the meals there, Hawley said her favorite was Swedish meatballs, but the chocolate cakes called “kladdkaka” or “sticky cake” were also delicious.

“I loved riding my bike to school everyday and taking the train when I went out of town,” Hawley said. “It was so different from Texas, where we pretty much have to drive everywhere. I also miss speaking Swedish with my friends and family. It felt so special to understand and speak a language only 10 million people know.”

For Hawley, spending a year abroad has made her miss out on some things, such as her junior prom and certain classes. Now in her final year of high school, Hawley is taking Pre Calculus and Physics, when her friends took that their junior year. Despite the sacrifices she has had to make, Hawley said the “experience was totally worth it.”

“(In) Swedish high school, you have to pick a “major”, so I chose to major in visual arts. I took several art classes (oil painting, sculpture, graphic design, etc.) and my only core classes were Swedish, English and Culture History,” Hawley said. “The schedule was a lot like a college schedule, so I only went to each class once or twice a week.”

Now, having returned from Sweden to start her senior year of high school, Hawley faces the challenge of settling back into her old life here in the States. Nonetheless, she will remain changed from her experiences in Sweden, which she says has given her a better understanding of how people in different parts of the world live and has led to her being more open-minded.

“You only get one chance to be young,” Hawley said. “I would experience traveling before you settle down. It can be pretty intimidating to go to a foreign country, especially alone, but it adds to the excitement. If you are a bit nervous, there’s more to overcome which means you will most likely appreciate the trip even more.”

To this day, Hawley remains in touch with the friends she made in Sweden and the foreign exchange students she met there too. When time permits, they get together for an occasional Skype call.

“I am planning on traveling back before I graduate from college,” Hawley said. “It’s like my second home.”

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A Home Away from Home