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image of student Emily Swartzer sitting on a dock with Scandinavian buildings behind her

As Emily Swartzer snapped a photo of the colored light dripping through the windows of the Söderledskyrkan church in Sweden, she knew this trip would open a myriad of unknown paths.  Traveling abroad opens the senses, it keeps the mind sharp, enhances creativity and shifts perspectives. That’s exactly what happened with Emily Swartzer, an Honors senior majoring with concurrent degrees in architecture and interior architecture within the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC), during her recent trip to Scandinavia.

This past spring, Swartzer was awarded the Gilman-McCain Scholarship, which provides a $5,000 award to children of active United States military personnel to study or intern abroad. Swartzer is one of the first students in Auburn University’s history to receive such an award.

The Helsinki Central Library interior shot of wooden roof and stacks of books with modern Scandinavian design

The Studying Part of Studying Abroad

From February to May 2023, Swartzer enrolled in a nine-week program through CADC to study in Scandinavia. The first three weeks of the program were spent traveling the countries of Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden and focusing on the architectural styles of each area. The final six weeks were spent studying and working within the prestigious Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark.

The Aarhus School of Architecture offers an academic education centered around three approaches to architecture — artistic, scientific and practiced-based. According to Swartzer, the environment of the school is treated like a 9-to-5 job. “There were fabrication shops, huge studios and massive spaces for people to work,” she said. “The school solely focuses on architecture, and it’s a different dynamic than a traditional university. People are working on all kinds of projects, there are public lectures, professors and students from all around the world, and you have an opportunity to mingle with others doing the same thing you are.”

Full body image of Emily bathed in pink and purple light from a colored glass window.

Experiencing Public Spaces

Although Swartzer enjoyed all aspects of her trip abroad, experiencing the architecture of public spaces throughout Scandinavia was a highlight. “We visited over 60 churches, libraries, opera houses and other public spaces, it’s hard to nail down a favorite,” said Swartzer.

“One of the most eye-opening parts of the trip was that we never got into a car for nine weeks — it was a ‘good’ culture shock,” she said. During the travel portion of her program, Swartzer cites walkable cities, public spaces, immaculate public transportation and the overall quality of life as some of the most impactful parts of her trip.

Scandinavian cities are world-renowned for their urban planning. While abroad, Swartzer grew her appreciation for this urban architecture.

“This trip really helped me realize what was important in life,” said Swartzer. “Not everything is as accessible in the U.S. as it is aboard. It makes you appreciate things like walking to school or taking a train to another city.”

view of Grundtvigs Church, open catheral with light peircing stone walls. Chairs are perfectly arranged with center aisle.

Opening New Paths

This realization is opening different paths for Swartzer. Though she is focusing on architecture and interior architecture in her studies, Swartzer has a newfound passion for public spaces and realizes there are myriad paths she can take with her degree from Auburn. “I love what I am studying but now recognize that there is so much more to learn and that there are many more things I can do with my career than I originally imagined,” she said.

Right now, Swartzer is focusing on the next two years of studies but plans to continue to travel the world in the near future. This trip also opened a new creative outlet for Swartzer — photography. You can follow her travels and view some of her favorite architecture at @emilyswartzer_photography on Instagram.