Am I Leaving? Or Going Back?

In less than 48 hours, I’ll be arriving in Stockholm for my four-month-long study abroad. Despite all the time I’ve spent this last year planning this trip, it still hasn’t quite set in, and I’m sure that it won’t until I get on the plane tomorrow morning. As I finish packing, I’m reflecting on the events that have brought me to this moment and I’m wondering, “What does this trip really mean to me?”

My name is Kaden. I’m an English major, a Questbridge scholar, a low-income, first-generation college student, an aspiring writer, a nonbinary transman, a martial artist, a proud native Minnesotan, and a third-generation Swedish immigrant. This opportunity to travel and study abroad is one that I have hoped and worked for for so many years, and I am so immensely grateful to have it. However, it wasn’t an easy process. From advocating for myself in my college’s financial aid office to navigating the Swedish visa system, I’ve had to overcome quite a few hurdles to get to this point. Despite all of the stress and complications, this upcoming semester may well be the most important experience in my undergraduate career.

Firstly, like every student who studies abroad, I’m hoping these upcoming months expand my global perspectives, broaden my horizons, etc. I hope I make new, lasting friendships with my classmates and my host family. I’m looking forward to taking some classes outside my major, like psychology and sociology. But I also have a much more personal goal, a quest of sorts: to connect to my ancestral homeland and understand my own family history.

My mother’s grandfather, Erik John Anderson, was born in Sweden in 1888. I never knew him, and neither did my mother. He never taught his children Swedish, and my siblings and I have only a very vague connection with our heritage. I don’t know what I genuinely expect to find this semester, but I would be lying if I claimed I wasn’t hoping for some kind of revelation, a genuine feeling of connection to a place, a feeling of belonging. Maybe I’ll find out where Erik came from, why he ever left, or whatever happened to the sister who supposedly gave him the money to get on the boat in the first place. Perhaps nothing will happen, and I’ll spend a few great months in a dark, cold (though not as cold as Minnesota) country and leave with no more understanding on this than I came with. Either way, it’s an adventure I cannot wait to begin.

As I fold up the last of my sweaters and put them in my suitcase, I’m wondering, “What does this trip really mean to me?” The answer: it’s a manifestation of all of the hard work I’ve done proving that I can have the same opportunities as my wealthy and more privileged peers; it’s a chance to experience the world outside America and to take classes I wouldn’t get to at home; but, more than that, it’s my chance to understand myself, my family, and my history. It’s been decades since Erik left Sweden searching for a better life in Minnesota, and now, his great-grandchild’s opportunities rely on going back. So here I go.

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