To kick off our new interview series, we’re starting with a woman, and personal friend, who truly embodies the term World Citizen. Annika Gunderson is an American of Scandinavian decent who works as a Global Somatics Practitioner. She studied in several countries as a high school and college student and continues to incorporate global elements into her life back home in Minnesota. I wanted to feature Annika in this series because of her open mindedness, determination to maximize her global experiences and to show others than no matter how ambitious, uncommon or complex your global dreams are, there are ways to make them happen.
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How long were you abroad?
I have been overseas many times, for a total of roughly 2 years.
What were you doing abroad?
What inspired you to take an extended trip overseas?
I became close friends with a Mexican international student while in our junior year of high school. She took me to her home of Parral, Chihuahua, the following summer and I was inspired by the amount of her friends who also had studied internationally. I thought to myself: Why doesn’t anyone at my school do this? Upon returning back to the States, I felt this fire inside to study abroad during my senior year. I was determined, so I secretly looked up international programs for high schoolers and I found AYUSA (formerly known as Intrax Study Abroad). Before even telling my parents, I applied for and received a scholarship from AYUSA. Somehow I convinced my parents that the pros of me studying abroad (in Spain) outweighed the cons, and that is where my international studies began– spring 2007.
Upon returning from Spain in summer 2007, I began my undergraduate studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. Augsburg has a great study abroad entity called the Center for Global Education. Since my majors were in International Relations (with a Latin America focus) and Spanish, I knew I wanted to do as much experiential learning as possible. For me, this meant studying abroad, which developed into studying in:
- Mexico (Latin American Culture & Civilization 2008, Inter-Cultural Learning Intern & Spanish Interpreter 2010);
- El Salvador
- Nicaragua (Cultural Development, History, & Social Change 2008); and
- Brazil (Culture, Development, & Social Justice 2009); Bolivia (Indigenous Leadership International Travel Seminar 2010).
What were your concerns prior to leaving home?
My biggest concern was shifting from one semester study abroad program (throughout Central America) to a different one (in Brazil). This was my second year of college. I couldn’t fathom how I would get to know a different group of people in Brazil so well after I had just experienced so much meaning with one group of students for a semester in Central America. So most of my concerns were relationship-based: How to let go of past experiences while still maintaining the relationships and meaning from those experiences and simultaneously opening my heart to a new place and new people.
What was the most challenging part of being overseas for an extended period of time?
Homesickness and maintaining groundedness in my body-mind, specifically my mental, emotional, and physical health. I remember being in Brazil and feeling very disconnected from my body. I wasn’t dancing or meditating at the time and my body was experiencing a lot of inflammation, which I believe stemmed from my starch-heavy nutritional intake, lack of physical exercise, and stress. I loved Brazil and I loved my community there, however, I wasn’t consciously tending to a very important part of my spirit which needs expression and exploration through movement. Prior to being in Brazil, I stopped dancing altogether and Brazil actually reintroduced me to movement through some samba and afro-modern dance classes.
What has been the most rewarding part of being overseas for an extended period of time?
Being able to better invest in local communities and relationships, learning and practicing languages (including bettering my knowledge of nuances of humor and dialects).
How did you fund your overseas experiences?
I previously funded my international experiences through loans, my personal savings, school scholarships, and the financial support of my parents. My parents have been paramount in the moral and financial support of my international studies. I am forever grateful to them for their belief in me and generous dedication to my growth and learning.
What skills have you gained from your overseas experiences and how have they impacted your career and/or professional development?
Interpersonal and communication/language skills, confidence, self-trust and the ability to take healthy risks, to put myself out there while cultivating a strong internal base. Because I lived with a host mother during my first international experience in Spain and because I developed friendships with my fellow Spanish students, I learned the language much easier than if I would have hung out with Americans during my time abroad. Not only did my language skills benefit, but I gained life-long friendships while learning about the world from other cultural perspectives. It was through my time studying in Central America and Brazil that I realized the connections between international relations and health/wellness. I saw the body-mind treated and regarded in a more whole, connected manner and I experienced relationships that share in healthy, respectful sensuality— where touch and affection were shared among friends (i.e. greeting and departing with a kiss). I also was introduced to health practices like acupuncture, homeopathy, curanderismo, and chiropractic care. So living abroad actually shifted my life and studies into the holistic health and movement realms, which really shifted my own relationship with and continuous, evolving understanding of my body.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to go abroad for 3+ months, but doesn’t know where to start?
Begin researching online and talk to people who have been abroad. Relationships are key. Discern what it is that you are drawn to, why you are desiring to go abroad and what it is that fires you up in life. Seek to connect those things in your upcoming experiences abroad.
For example, what are your gifts and how can you apply them and/or grow in them while you’re abroad?
What are you working on now?
Lately I am most excited about my current project, Being Seen: a movement of conscious witnessing and authentic expression. ‘Being Seen’ is a form of being known, and we as human beings are dynamic expressions of contexts, creativity, energy, and identities, to name a few. Check out the website to learn more. What I will say for now is that through shifting our consciousness to a base of Love and Acceptance while also creating space to explore and express ourselves through movement and stillness, we can begin to transform repression and create more freedom internally and externally. This is what gets me with the performing/healing arts: authentic exploration and expression of our multifaceted nature as human beings.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Thank you to all of the friends and family who have supported me and inspired me to go and live out my dreams and aspirations. Thank you to my heart-families abroad who have opened their lives and love to me and who are truly in my heart eternally. My gratitude runs deeply.
Inspired by aliveness in this life and movement–specifically with the performing arts and healing arts–Annika’s educational background began with a focus on International Relations, Latin American Studies, and Spanish, and later evolved into holistic health and movement. Now she is a trained (and continues training) as a movement artist and movement educator, stemming from her experiences as a dancer and studies as a Global Somatics Practitioner. As a student of Green River Dance for Global Somatics’ creator, Suzanne River, she experienced in-depth training of the body’s systems, movement and development therapy, bodywork and energy healing.
Today she applies her training to her work as a Global Somatics-based movement therapist, a retreat/workshop and public wellness facilitator, and a performing arts organizer with music, dance, and theatre. She loves supporting people to feel at home in their body’s uniqueness, and through her practices she seeks to promote conscious, bold embodiment mainly through movement, breath, touch, and meditation. She also has a background in burlesque, and continues to be interested in art forms that elicit bold exploration of the nature of human sensuality and sexuality.