October 4, 2017

2015 SCA Swedish Language Scholar – Charlotte Manning

My name is Charlotte Manning, and I would like to begin my story with an excerpt from a blog post I wrote during my semester abroad in Jönköping, Sweden. 

From “These Stepping-Stones”:

At this point, all I can do is process and self-reflect. Allow nostalgia in and realize that no matter how much I don’t want to leave, the positivity gained from this experience is a realization that comes upon it ending. Things are different for me. Whether or not it will be seen or known by the people I return to, things feel different. I feel different in knowing that I, on my own, came to the very country I promised by four-year-old self I would one day return to. And not only was it educational and fun, but the people, the kind-hearted people, changed my life. And, although the study abroad aspect of this experience was temporary, it will never be a forgotten life-experience, for that would be waste. –October 15th, 2015

It is always strange to read old work, but to read those old blog posts and know that this May I will be graduating from North Park University is inexplicable. I will receive a Bachelors of English in Creative Writing and a Bachelors of Global Studies with a minor concentration in Scandinavian Studies, more specifically the Swedish Language. Whoa. I guess times flies when life is rich in growth and knowledge.

Now, before I tell a bit of my favorite story, one that I like to call my “Repatriation Story”, I want to take a moment to say thank you SO much to the Swedish Council of America and everyone affiliated. Thank you for providing me with the SCA Swedish Language Scholarship just last fall, thank you for engaging deeply in my endeavors abroad and in helping me to process upon return, and finally, thank you for this incredible opportunity in speaking tonight. The support of your council has been incredibly uplifting for me as a student, and this- all of this, is truly an honor. So, tack så jätte mycket.

Now, for my story:

When people ask me what my major is, I always wish I could just say “Sweden.” Not “Swedish” or “English.” Not “Scandinavian influenced Global Studies,” rather just Sweden. I say that because although my studies at North Park have been extremely eye opening, fruitful, and helped me to grow as a student, Sweden has been- and always will be my biggest teacher of life.

For some back-story:

My family emigrated from Stockholm, Sweden in April of 1999- I was 4. So, what did I know of Sweden, right? I could hardly speak, let alone understand much of anything before I was already living into my “American-ness.” My family was immediately blessed with incredible neighbors, schooling, friendships, a church community, etc., and at a young age I fell in love with the English language and writing in it. Yet, even in that abundant American life I knew to be well, I always felt a constant tug at my heart coming from the other side of the world. Something very real and very necessary to my growing life was missing…and you see, that is the difficulty of being an emigrant at a young age.

Remembered life begins in your new culture, before you have the maturity to even understand who you were or could have been, had you stayed in your old culture. And maybe for some emigrants, that constant tug of the heart can be been easily put to rest…but that was never the case for me. If anything, that tug felt harder and more aggressive as I got older. I yearned, and I mean yearned to go back to Sweden, and no amount of Swedish meatball Christmases or IKEA runs could ever make that yearning go away. My mother and father did a brilliant job of keeping our Swedish roots in tact, but I yearned to know the language, the culture and the people again.  I yearned for the repatriation of my own heart…I yearned to once again call Sweden, by name: home.

Now, fast-forward a bit to my life as a University student. North Park was in my blood since birth and I loved the spirit of the community- a part of me always knew I’d end up at North Park and I am so glad that I did. It has provided me with blessing after blessing. Before my first year, I was well aware of the connections between North Park and Sweden, and I was positive that somewhere in my four years, I needed to go abroad on my own, and study in Sweden. I declared my second major as Global Studies and my minor in the Swedish language right around the time that I submit my application for Bi-Lateral Exchange at Jönköping University’s School of Education and Communication (Jönköping Universitet’s Högskolan för Lärande och Kommunikation). All at once I began recognizing my strengths as a student. I realized that adding a global context to my studies, in any way, made me a more engaged, excited, and passionate student. And everything else sort of took off from there.

When my Global Studies professor, Charles Peterson, called me into his office later that semester, I had no clue that I would leave having been told I was nominated for the SCA Swedish Language Scholarship. What an honor it had been to be thought of; it was affirmation that my yearning was made visible through my academic endeavors. It made me feel valued and understood as a student, and when I applied for the scholarship, it was affirmation that I was capable of putting in the time and effort in order to achieve my goals. And when I received the scholarship it was affirmation that the constant tug on my heart was indeed a calling to Sweden, to language, to writing, to my Global Studies, and to breaking the barriers of my own identity. Receiving the SCA language scholarship was more than just a stipend, rather it was the support I needed in knowing that I was ready to explore my life and my career path in the country that always had my heart.

And, that’s my favorite part of my repatriation story. In the struggle of coming to know my Swedish-ness, and not wanting to lose sight of my American-ness, I was struggling to find that balance, because it is surely too hard to come to that understanding of balance on ones one. When I gained support from professors like Charles Peterson, from Gregg White and SCA, I realized that my connections with the greater Swedish-American community was the unifying center of support that I needed to push me in the right direction. The Swedish Council of America’s support of my story was the push I needed to enter into my Swedish experience with full confidence as a student, and I can honestly say that my semester abroad in Sweden was the absolute best decision of my young adult life.

As of December 23rd, it will have been exactly a year since I left Jönköping, and since then everything has moved seemingly fast. Transitioning back to life at North Park was a bit difficult at first, but understandably, considering my mind was in a place where all I wanted to do was either dwell on my time abroad or plan for the future. It was hard to focus on the “here and now” after experiencing life in Sweden. I had learned so much about myself as an academic and as a person, and that was enough for me to know that I wanted to use this final year at North Park as preparation for moving back to Sweden, once and for all.

In my Globalization course, we as students had the opportunity to meet and discuss career options with people in multiple realms of work in International Education. It was a helpful set of discussions in learning more about the many fields of work in which a Global Studies major like myself could successfully go into. One woman by the name of Ida Hiben spoke to us about how her study abroad experience and how her studies eventually lead her to her position in North Park’s international office. I resonated so much with her wanting to work alongside students after experiencing life abroad, and by the end of that class discussion I had chosen to apply for an internship in the same office. I got the position and am currently the Intern to The North Park Office of International Affairs. Safe to say that this semester has been yet again, a time of immense growth in learning more about my calling into the world of Global Studies.

As an intern I have had the opportunity to plan and coordinate our schools Study Abroad Showcase in which we successfully recruited an abundance of new students into going abroad. In addition to event planning, I have helped to enter International Student information into Government databases, I been trained as an official study abroad advisor, and am in the current process of being trained for academic advising, in which I will work one-on-one with International Students, helping them to feel as supported as possible in their areas of study while at North Park.

Having this internship consistently reminds me of how important it is for students to be invested in. Without external forms of support, it is really hard to feel as if our skills, and successes are worth anything. All that to say, that the Swedish Council of America has played an immense role in many aspects of my life as a student. Your support as a Council has become a tangible tool in my career creation and I would not be confident in my future endeavors if it wasn’t for the scholarship I received. As I said before, it showed to be much greater than just a stipend.

When I arrived at North Park 4 years ago, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I maybe had a vague inkling that Sweden would be the right fit for me, someday far away, but I had no belief that I, by any means, was ever going to get there soon. I was not confident in myself as a student, I harshly judged my own work ethic, I compared myself to fellow peers, and I hated that I couldn’t pronounce certain Swedish words on the first try. I spent so much time telling myself that me and my story was worth no recognition at all.

And now, here I am, speaking to you all, telling my story, and finishing off my last year of University with a very clear vision of what I want for myself. I have already begun to plan the process of my move to Sweden and somewhere in the next year I plan to move, hopefully find a job in the Global Studies field, write often, speak the language every day and to use all the things that I’ve learned in the past few years in order to thrive and grow and learn more about myself and my home. And the best part is, I know now that I am qualified.

I want to end this story with an excerpt from the final blog post I wrote while in Jönköping.

From: “Self-Reflection”:

I haven’t left Sweden yet and already I am missing this place and already I am missing these people.

And the joy it brings me to say those words, for my faith feels strong in finally having done something I felt called to do amidst the anxiety and fears. My heart has felt that long awaited repatriation and somewhere deeply, deeply, rooted in the memories attached to this city, is a seed.

And as life continues, I will watch it grow.

-December 14th, 2015

So finally, I thank you again Swedish Council of America, for all of your support!