Feature Friday: Meet Alice R.

Being a student is hard. Being an international student is harder. Come learn about Alice’s college journey in the U.S.

When I went off to college, I didn’t realize how long it would take to adjust. Thinking about now, I know I wasn’t that far from home; however, at the time a 6.5 hour drive home seemed forever away. Freshmen year I watched most of my peers go home at least every other weekend. It was heartbreaking that I didn’t have the option to do the same. As time passed, each semester got easier being away from home and I started making more friends who also didn’t have opportunities to go home often. I befriended many international students, and as I began to learn their stories, I realized I was very luck in my college experience. I thought about if I would ever consider going to a different country for my undergraduate career and my thoughts led me to this conclusion: International students don’t get enough credit. Not only do they have to {potentially} start conversing in a different language, they are thousands of miles away from their families and their homes. Alice is one who had to endure those extra trials and tribulations, as well as being a student-athlete. Let’s find out what she has to say about travelling from Sweden to go to school in the United States!

My name is Alice Rigbäck and I img_8870am born and raised in Sweden. When I was 8 years old I started swimming and that has impacted my life tremendously. In Sweden, there are no college teams, and so when I graduated high school I made the decision to move to the states so I could continue swimming on a high level while still getting an education.

When I first signed my NLI, I really did not know what I had signed up for. It was probably not until a few months in freshman year that I fully grasped the whole college life. Actually, I don’t think anyone will ever grasp the full picture of a college life because it is so different from each individual. But, I will try to tell you mine

img_8862I flew here with my mom, dad, and older brother Andreas. I think we arrived to Campbell University almost a week before classes started. It gave me enough time to figure things out such as getting an American bank account, a PO Box, a phone, and all the things you need to move into a college dorm. I remember having to check in at the International Admissions and the lady that worked there had the thickest southern accent that had ever heard. I had such a hard time understanding what she was asking me to do. I think I said “What” 100 times. I was really embarrassed at the time, but everything around me was out of my comfort zone so there was really no calm minute for me to reflect on those embarrassing moments. Today, I just smile and laugh a little when I think back on those moments.

Before actually moving in, my family and I had dinner with my becoming roommate, Olivia Dwyer, and her mom. We ate at this weird little restaurant in Lillington, and Olivia order chicken fingers. Never in my life would I have ever classified that meal as a proper meal. I looked at her as she dipped the chicken fingers in some sauce, or if it was ketchup, and just thinking that that is not really food.

After dinner we went to Walmart to try and find stuff for our dorm. Olivia alreadyimg_8873 had everything, but I needed pretty much everything. I remember being very confused by the bedding. In Sweden, we use duvet covers, and I was trying to find anything like that but it was hopeless. We also had a hard time understanding the measurements of the beds. In Sweden, we go by how wide the bed is in centimeters. A single bed would be called a 90 bed, hence it is 90 centimeters wide. But here, there were sheets for a twin bed, and for a twin XL? I can easily say that the first week, or even month, was filled with new things to learn and a whole lot of confusion. Olivia helped me out a whole lot and I will be forever grateful for that.

During my first semester I counted the days and the weeks that I had been in the states. I remember posting on Instagram after 1 month of living in the states. That was huge for me then. My dad always told me to give it a fair chance, meaning I “had to” stay for at least one semester. Obviously, if it was completely horrible they would just buy me a ticket home. But, I stuck it out. I think I only got really homesick a few times. I remember that I missed home and I missed my friends and family, but I only got “crying my eyes out” homesick a few times.

School was rough, but I ended up with nice professors and the only class I struggled with freshman year was Western Civ. It was terrible. Math wasn’t fun either because my teacher had a thick Asian accent, and I really couldn’t understand him. Also, Swedish people and Americans use periods and comas differently, and I think I figured it out well enough then to get a good grade, but I can’t tell you how to use it today. Another thing that tripped me was when we started talking about decimals. If something was 0.5, the professor would only write .5 on the board, and I didn’t realize that until after midterms. And this whole thing that math is suppose to be a universal language is not true, I’ll tell you that.

img_8868Swimming was hard and very different. I had never been a part of such a big team before. Our coach at the time also had a thick southern accent, and I could never hear what he was saying. I was in the same lane as one of our captains, and I’m so happy she never got fed up with me for asking what the set was several times every single practice. Further into the season our coach started to print out the workout on smaller pieces of papers so each lane had one to look at and that helped me SO much. I don’t know if it was specifically for me or not, but either way it made my life a lot easier (and probably my captain’s life too).

img_8871Even though swimming was hard, and school was rough too, I think the hardest thing was to see myself as an English speaking person. I knew English moving here, but my vocabulary was very very limited, and grammar was tough too. I felt like I repeated myself all the time, and I couldn’t make any jokes in English. I tried to say some well-known phrases and sayings in Swedish but, as it turned out, many sayings don’t translate directly. You know the saying of killing two birds with one stone? In Swedish it’s to kill two flies with one hit. I made a fool of myself many many times, but most of my friends found it interesting and encouraged me to keep venturing out and learning more English, and that helped me a lot. Another difficult thing was to be a part of a group of people and try to hold conversations. Often the conversation would speed up and sophisticated words would be used, I would find myself knowing what they were talking about one minute, and then completely out of the loop the very next minute. I remember rolling my thumbs a lot during this time. I tried to engage, but it took so long for me to process the English, translate it to Swedish, find a good answer, translate it back to English, and then finally say it out loud, that the conversation had already taken another turn, and I was, yet again, unaware of what was going on. It took me a while to figure out how to be funny in English too. I listened to how people were speaking, how they were saying things, and what phrases seemed to be funny, and then I tried to copy them. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes no one knew what I was talking about. Often, people would try to understand me but a few times it was too complicated and too tiring to explain so I would just tell them that it wasn’t a big deal. However,img_8869 someone that would always tell me to finish my joke, thought, or sentence was the amazing person behind this blog, Larissa. It didn’t matter if everybody else lost interest in me trying to explain something that would never make sense to them, Larissa kept asking until it made sense to her and I knew how to explain it better in English. Some words were just so different that I needed a short description. Other times, google translate came in very handy. And sweet sweet Larissa, would even try to learn the Swedish word. I must admit, sometimes it was annoying when she wouldn’t let whatever weird thing I said slip through and move on with the conversation, but ultimately, it brought us much closer and I know English and American culture (and Haitian culture) so much better thanks to her.

10250343_10152402612041869_5265164672442232045_nAfter living in this country for almost four years now, there are some things that I think Sweden does better, and there are some things that I think America does better. Sweden is good with equality between men and women in the work field, we have great insurance, school is free, and taxes take less than 30 seconds to complete. America, however, have chocolate chip cookies that are soft (!!!), they have beautiful beaches, mountains and lakes all in one country, and they have some of the nicest and politest people I have ever met. When I go home to Sweden over the summer and winter break, I miss all the polite people in the CU community. People have manners here. People say thank you, excuse me, and they hold the door open even if you are a minute walk away. In Sweden, you should be thankful if anyone holds the door open for you, and don’t expect a thank you back, expect a little awkward soft smile and maybe a head nod. It should be known though that we treat our closest friends and family with all the love our hearts can hold. Generally, though, I would say Americans are much nicer to strangers and are more willing to reach out to people in need. Swedish people like when it is safe and convenient.

The last thing I expected when I moved here was to finish all four years, and to be able to view this place as a second home with people who I now consider family. Americans have a funny reputation and it differs from who you talk to, but never would I think I would be so comfortable here. The sentence “I live in USA”, took a while for me to accept and fully commit to, but now it seems obvious. I love America and I love Americans (especially my Americans). Has it been easy? From this post, I think it is clear that is has been more than difficult. Has it been worth it? Oh yes, No doubt at all. Will I be sad to leave? You bet. Will I be back? Oh, you bet!

Thank you Alice for sharing your story with us and for being a part of Feature Friday! I’m so happy you chose to come to the U.S. for college. Not only did I get to learn about Sweden and the Swedish culture, but I also made a lifelong friend!

Did you experience college as an international student? What was the hardest part? If you haven’t, would you consider it? What do you think the hardest part would be? Let us know in the comments!

23 thoughts on “Feature Friday: Meet Alice R.”

  1. What an amazing experience to share! Thank you for sharing that with us Alice. I know from my travels translating american sayings so other cultures understand is often difficult. So I totally get the whole “two flies with one hit” saying! Glad you enjoyed your stay in the states!

  2. This was a really interesting article. In college, I lived on the same floor with many international students, and it opened my eyes in ways I never thought possible. I have stayed in touch with students from all parts of the world, and I feel so enriched as a result. Thank you for sharing this story!

  3. What a inspiration. It’s heard for any student to adjust to being on their their own but especially is your moving thousands and thousands of miles away!

  4. This was super interesting to read! I love the comparisons between America and Sweden. Your post taught me a lot about Sweden that I didn’t know, so thank you! 🙂

  5. Sweden to the USA is a big move!! I’m not convinced I’d ever have the courage to do that on my own, but it sounds like it really worked out for Alice, which is great news. I love the swimming pool selfie pick – she looks so happy and has clearly made some fantastic friends in the states! Aww, that’s made me all smiley myself now!! 😀

  6. Such an interesting article, learning to love our “neighbors” can be so hard sometimes, but once we open our hearts and eyes, we just can’t get enough of one another.

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