By Daniela Portocarrero
Like many lifestyle aspects, for the generation of Swedes in their 20s in 2019 (with circumstantial exceptions) travelling is an active choice. Those of us who desire it with a curiosity resembling that of an eager child, tend to find ourselves in the dilemma between the university of academia and the university of the world. Luckily, an interest in the global field goes hand in hand with any kinds of studies of it, therefore this choice never boils down to one or the other. The key is balance; not too much academia, not too much backpacking. Here’s a personal story of combining them in a fusion where one complements the other in the optimal outcome of a unique story shaped after one’s own dreams.
I’m writing this on a bus on its way to the south of Sweden to see my family for Easter. The landscape of the metropolitan area of Stockholm is displayed in a pleasant speed through the windows. The nostalgic feeling of movement reminds me of bumpy rides in the north of Kenya and endless hours on the luxurious buses of Latin America. The quick changes suit the stage of life I’m currently in, as if they were feeding my restlessness. Years ago, I was not ready to give up new cultures and ways of seeing the world for a stationed lifestyle anywhere in Sweden; I already knew the place quite well bordering on boredom. More so, memories of stress over high school grades colored my vision, so if I were to start studying again, I would do it to expand my sphere of knowledge, not my sphere of social approval. I searched the web for days, weeks even. Finally, I found Kulturstudier, an organisation that appeared to integrate a curiosity for the world with an academic challenge.
My interest in the environment drew my attention to a course in environmental philosophy, based in the funky capital Buenos Aires on one of the happiest continents on planet Earth, America Latina! The studies combined environmental philosophy with Spanish, perfect for me as I wanted to take my Spanish to an academic level. However, I started my time in Latin America with a 6-month backpacking journey in Cuba and Mexico. In Cuba, I learned about ecological city farming and walked around the jungles where the socialist revolution had taken place. In Mexico, I hitchhiked with an Indian friend from Cancun to Mexico City, ending up at a climbing ranch in Queretaro that led to a two day festivity dancing with an indigenous tribe on the squares of Bernal with eagle feathers in a big crown on my head. Then August came and Argentina was calling.
Buenos Aires was a concrete jungle, the intense pulse of the place was hard to adapt to. I shared an apartment with three girls from Scandinavia, in a beautiful antique house in the old town of Buenos Aires, San Telmo. The course in environmental philosophy opened my eyes to different worldviews that have shaped the human relation to nature, while the city called for attention with a colorful nightlife of beating drums and tango in the narrow street corners. Luckily, the studies included cultural learning; our knowledge was not restricted to the classrooms, it was a constant process of learning through a conversation with one’s surroundings. The professors that worked with the organization I had chosen to study through knew this and allowed space for a holistic kind of education.
I left the city with a challenged mind ready to let it rest a bit, ending up in a small fishing village in Uruguay after another thrilling hitchhiking story through the Patagonia with a like-minded Norwegian friend I’d made at the university. I happily worked in Uruguay for a few months, finally travelling up the coast of Brazil to reach Rio and a journey back to Europe. I wanted to keep studying with Kulturstudier, their philosophy suited me perfectly. However, the courses had a price and so I needed an income. Therefore, I spent a year saving money through serving on a private sailboat in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. A journey that took me from the relaxed beaches of South America to the role of a servant to the Swedish elite. Long humbling and beautiful adventure short, this (mildly combined with CSN) then payed for a semester of Global Environmental Studies in Cape Coast, Ghana, and Peace & Conflict Studies in Pokhara, Nepal.
My next university semester was on the African continent. The moment I arrived to Accra I got hit by an ocean of drivers trying to trick me into paying overprice for a taxi into the city center. I did. Then I hassled down the price for my three hour ride in a small, white and local minibus with the destination Cape Coast. Ghana was full on, we studied political ecology and then left for a field trip to Agbogbloshie, known to be the world’s biggest e-waste dumpsite. This is where the old computers and outdated iphones from the west sometimes end up, poisoning the enormous community that has been created here around the possibility of earning an income. I spent ten weeks living in a hostel with Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Ghanaian students to then write a final paper on distance from the islands of Sao Tome. After that followed three months of backpacking around East Africa, from staring into the eye of a volcano in the Danakil depression (the hottest place on earth) to drinking coffee with an Ugandan refugee at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
After Kenya, it was time to learn about peace surrounded by the calmness of the Himalaya mountains but also conflict resolution by the intensity of Nepal’s chaotic traffic. Where better to study peace and conflict than a country that had written a peace agreement eight years before and a new constitution three years before our arrival? More so, we had the privilege of being a small class and the possibility to get to know our professors on a personal level. I remember discussing Tibetan refugees in class while renting a room from a wonderful Tibetan lady, sharing meals and stories with her complemented what I learnt in the most natural way. After my semester in Nepal, I sent all my collected grades to Uppsala university. The course in Ghana counted as Development A, so then, as I was ready to get to know my home again, followed a year of completing my Bachelor in Development studies in Sweden.
Real travelling forces you to burst your bubble and enter the unknown territory of chance, hopefully leaving the need for control at home. An important detail though, is knowing that travelling is not only happiness but also an evolution full of struggles, frustrations and misunderstandings. It requires more trust than control. Therefore, and for a more sustainable approach to one’s travel, allow yourself to take a break from the ticking clock of the western society and let your education take its time.
Danni Portocarrero is a nomad soul that came to Uppsala in the fall of 2018 to finish a degree in development studies, before that she was going from place to place in the world. She loves writing, red wine, naked honesty and yoga. Within her field of study, she’s very passionate about nature rights. She’s writing for Uttryck to share moments, meetings and reflections from her past adventures.
Illustration: Marina Skovgaard Dokken