Traveling Through My Roots

The year was 1911. The year my family’s history really began. It started with a young woman, aged twenty-two, who had just set foot on the RMS Lusitania. Leaving behind everything she had known and loved in Sweden, she embarked on her own journey toward a country she had only heard about, but never seen. Her name was Ellen Lindahl, and she was my great grandmother. 

Today, the adventures of Ellen — who became known as Ella — are still embodied through our family’s traditions. Every year during the holidays, my family and I gather to celebrate and remember our Swedish roots. We make pepparkakors, a thin cookie made out of gingerbread, and drink Glögg, a Swedish mulled wine (or, as my family describes it, the closest you can get to moonshine without it being illegal).

I’ve been embracing these Swedish traditions for as long as I can remember (even when I was born, our Swedish roots were shown through my name) and as much as I’ve loved celebrating these traditions, I felt like I could never truly dig deep into my roots. I always wanted to know more about who I was and where I came from.

In the spring of my junior year, I made an adventurous decision to study abroad, really hoping I could somehow tap into a side of myself I never knew existed. When I later arrived in London, I was at first enamored with the city but as I slowly came to the realization of how long I was going to be abroad, fear started to set in. I decided I needed to travel somewhere new, but I was unsure where. Enter Sweden.

While I always knew I wanted to travel to Sweden, I wasn’t sure if it was something that could work while I was abroad. I didn’t really know any of my distant family that lived there (they were all my grandpa’s cousin who were his age and not a whole lot of them knew English). Then, I discovered my friend Leah was living with a host family in Stockholm, so I bought a ticket and set off for a small trip that I soon learned would carry big meaning.

Upon arriving, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was in disbelief, trying to convince myself I was in the country my great-grandmother once called home. I was overwhelmed with a blend of emotions feeling a simultaneous sense of pride but also a strong tenderness for the country I knew I would love (no joke people, I was holding back tears while on the plane).

In only a span of five days, the people of Stockholm welcomed me with open arms and I truly felt as if I was home. I explored the city constantly, soaking up all I could. I saw old traditions my family and I had been practicing for years, like people drinking Glögg, but so nonchalantly on a Saturday afternoon in February, stirring it with their cinnamon sticks. I also learned new traditions that I was thrilled I could share with my family, like that Friday nights in Sweden are taco nights and how to make a delicious spring pastry called semla. I even explored their Nordic museum, where I learned in detail the history of the Swedish people and where our traditions came from.

While my abroad experience was one for the books, nothing compared to my trip Sweden. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about myself than I ever dreamt and to embrace a very special part of myself. So, if you’re looking to start your travel journey, but don’t know how, start with your roots — you never know what you can find.

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