While family heritage initially drew Alicia Nyblade to Europe, the healthy lifestyle and friendly people makes her want to go back again. Though her father is from England, it was ancestors on her mother’s side that made her decide on Sweden for a summer study abroad experience before her senior year at the University of California-Riverside.
“I was confident and wasn’t afraid. It was always something I wanted to do, so I was looking forward to it. Everyone was really supportive and went through the step by step planning process with me.”
Although she was going to be living with other summer study abroad students in Lund, Sweden, her flight overseas was on her own. Alicia, who has low vision, moved often growing up, so she knew how to arrange for assistance at the airports, but she had never traveled so far away from home. So she contacted the Swedish university’s department of students with disabilities ahead of time to make arrangements.
“The staff said they would meet me at the airport and take me where I was supposed to go. With my visual impairment it is difficult to get place to place if I didn’t know where I was going, so that was a great comfort.”
They also oriented her to the campus, but it took walking around with other study abroad students and picking up the language to learn her surroundings. While the locals often knew English, she found the public transportation announcements in Swedish were hard to understand. More than once she ended up on a lost adventure, and had to text a Swedish friend to find her way back or rely on the friendliness of others.
“People would come up to me and ask me, ‘Do you need help? You look lost.’ In the United States I usually have to approach someone to ask for help and I don’t always get such a friendly response.”
During Alicia’s six week experience she earned general course credits, and received the same classroom accommodations as at her home university – large print and seating close to the instructor. When she explored tourist sites, like historic castles, Alicia, who uses a cane, had to be extra careful not to take a wrong step on stairs that often had no safety stripes or handrails.
“Being blind or visually impaired, we rely a lot on feeling things out with our feet. It helps knowing where there are steps and other things. When I’d get home my feet would be so sore from the amount I walked and the uneven cobblestones.”
Despite her sore feet, she enjoyed the long summer days and saw the advantage of walking everywhere and eating like the locals.
“There are a lot of fresh ingredients in the stores. You eat more healthily because it’s the only choice you have and you get a lot of exercise.”
Though, Alicia admits, she had to wait until she got back home to California to enjoy a reasonably priced avocado once again.