Opinion: I came to CT for football. I’m staying for love

Sara Alexandersson with her boyfriend, Jayden Anderson.

Sara Alexandersson with her boyfriend, Jayden Anderson.

Contributed photo

I came to Connecticut from Sweden for your college football. I stay because I fell in love with a football player. But I found more than him to love about your state and the United States.

A late night in January 2020, my best friend and I arrived at JFK airport. We had decided to spend our last college semester abroad, and we were excited. American college culture was something that we’d known about only from movies. But we had to choose among 30 universities across North America — from warm and lively San Francisco to cold and beautiful Toronto. We ultimately landed on Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Now, granted, I must admit that our reasoning for picking CCSU was not the strongest. We both had our priorities. My friend wanted to see New York City, and I wanted to watch American football live. Scrolling through university websites, I thought CCSU had a sporty culture — and its own football team! Perfect, let’s go there. Just a few days into the semester, though, I realized that the football season is in the fall, not the winter. Well, at least we could visit New York.

Sweden is a beautiful and highly developed country. I can say with confidence that it’s one of the best countries to grow up in, and I have never considered living anywhere else. However, coming to America and Connecticut was eye-opening. Football or not, I was enchanted from the first day.

Although Connecticut looks similar to Sweden in some ways — it’s a developed Western-world state with a similar climate — the culture is not. For instance, the diversity of people in Connecticut in style, clothing, ethnicity and status was striking. The determination of so many to stick out from the crowd was noticeable. In Sweden, we all follow the same fashion trends and dress in shades of black, beige and white. So Connecticut was inspiring to me.

What appealed me the most, however, was the genuinely welcoming embrace of Connecticut residents. Again, as a Swede coming from a country where we would rather ride the bus standing than share a seat with a stranger, the open and friendly culture here was different. It’s hard put a finger on it, but it could be just this: The welcoming culture of Connecticut gave me a strong feeling of being home in a foreign country thousands of miles from my family. It led to my persistent determination to come back to Connecticut when the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly sent me home to Sweden only two months into the semester. To be honest, not only did I fall in love with Connecticut, but I also fell in love in Connecticut.

I did not plan to meet anyone here. In fact, that was the only thing my family told me not to do: “Don’t fall in love over there.” Well, there are no rules in love, and one day Jayden Anderson came up to me in the cafeteria, a tall, dark and handsome linebacker, casually asking for my number, although I could tell he was more nervous than I was. We spent most days together from that day, unaware that our lives would soon take an abrupt and unfortunate turn.

When the pandemic hit in April 2020, the school shut down, and everyone was sent home. Not knowing if I was going to see Jayden ever again, I had to let him know how I felt before I left the country. I told him to wait for me. I said that it could take me a year or two, but that I would be back. And if he was still here, I would never leave his side again.

For 520 days, I worked on getting myself back to Connecticut. On Aug. 20, 2021, I arrived at JFK airport once again — this time with two big suitcases containing all my belongings, because I am here to stay. For 520 days, I had a FaceTime relationship with my boyfriend, and I don’t think I need to elaborate on the feeling of being back in his arms again.

Today, I’m a graduate communication student at CCSU, and I will receive my diploma in May 2023. By that time, I will have a plan for a career in the United States so that I can stay and be with my love. Here is where I want to stay, and whatever that takes, I will make it happen.

Sara Alexandersson is a master’s student in communication at Central Connecticut State University. She is from Kronoberg County in southern Sweden.