By | Karintha Lowe ’16

After a week spent hiking up glaciers, boating through fjords, and exploring cities throughout Norway, Charlotte Martinkus ’14 stood at the peak of Bergen, Norway’s second tallest mountain, and observed the landscape. “It was incredible,” Martinkus says. “I was on a mini-tour with a group of students and Bergen was the last stop. We were exhausted but mustered up everything we had and hiked up the mountain, found a place to sit, and just looked at the spectacular view.”

Martinkus had been traveling with friends she met through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) Study Abroad Experience at Uppsala University, Sweden. Along with 18 other students from various U.S. liberal-arts schools, she was enrolled in Swedish language and culture classes and other courses at Uppsala University.

Having studied German at Macalester, Martinkus found Swedish grammar and vocabulary relatively easy to learn. Speaking the language, however, proved much more difficult. “Swedish is a beautiful and musical language,” Martinkus says, “but learning where to put the inflection on a word requires a talent I did not possess. Luckily, most Swedes speak English better than I do. It’s actually kind of amazing.”

Martinkus lived and took courses among native Swedish students as well as other exchange students—living in Uppsala University’s dorm-style housing, Martinkus was in fact the only American student on her floor. “I got to know a lot of people outside my program by cooking and eating in the dorm,” Martinkus says.

A physics major with an astronomy concentration, Martinkus enrolled in classes in nuclear physics and planetary systems. “The courses were very different from the ones at Macalester,” Martinkus says. “At Macalester we do weekly problem sets and have several exams but in Sweden, in one science class I read articles and wrote essays and in the other I took just one final exam.”

Many of Martinkus’s favorite experiences occurred outside the classroom, however. “You can basically camp wherever you want because the Swedes believe every person should be able to enjoy the earth,” Martinkus says.  “So I was able to wander through the forests and fields without consequence—besides getting lost!”

During the afternoons, Martinkus often enjoyed taking a fika, the Swedish term for afternoon teatime. “You went to a café with a friend or two, drank coffee that makes American coffee taste like brown water, and ate some of the most delectable sweets created by mankind,” she says. “The deserts were freaking incredible.”

Martinkus also traveled through Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Hungary while she was abroad. “Each place has its own character,” she says. “Budapest, for example, is a very raw yet stunning city. It has a dark history and doesn’t try to hide it. This can be seen in the ruin bars, or bars created from buildings that had been bombed out. They took the building and had local artists decorate it. It’s pretty much a hipster’s paradise; very eclectic, amazing atmosphere, and chillingly beautiful.”

Martinkus, a self-described “shy girl,” might have found such adventures in Europe unthinkable before her study abroad term. “I’m a reserved person who’s incredibly picky about food,” she says, “but I went abroad and realized that I couldn’t be that way because if I did, why would I go abroad in the first place?”

Because Martinkus had never before gone abroad alone, she wanted a guided rather than a direct enroll program. The CIEE Program, which manages housing, course signups, and transcripts for its participants, provided the support Martinkus sought. Their orientation week, complete with tours and an overview of the basics of living in Uppsala and Sweden in general, Martinkus says,  “took a lot of the stress off.”

One of the only European programs that would also help her fulfill her science major requirements, CIEE Sweden seemed like the logical choice when Martinkus decided to study abroad. “The Sweden program did end up sort of being the default option, but I’m so glad I took it,” Martinkus says.  “Honestly, one of the most important lessons I learned was that studying isn’t what life is all about. You’ve got to go out there and make something of it.”  

June 2 2014

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