From international nomad to BYU student

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Home may be where the heart is, but for BYU international student Aaron Szvoboda, home can be wherever he wants it to be.

Born in Switzerland in 1997, Szvoboda spent only three years in his birth country before his family packed up and relocated to Budapest, Hungary. Unknown to young Szvoboda, this would be the first of eight international moves he would undergo.

Moving to various countries became a norm in the Szvoboda family. Between 2000 and 2019, the family moved six times between four different countries.

This timeline shows the international moves Szvoboda experienced over the past 24 years. Szvoboda has moved countries eight times and has learned several languages along the way. (Made in Canva by Alicia Gerardo)

Because of his lack of residential stability, Szvoboda learned how to quickly adapt both linguistically and socially, learning new languages and getting accustomed to new cultures.

“You get tossed right into the fire and it is a ‘You have to find your way out’ kind of deal,” Szvoboda said.

By the time he was 8 years old, Szvoboda spoke three languages fluently: German, Hungarian and English.

Ezra Szvoboda, Szvoboda’s older brother, testified of Szvoboda’s quick retention of languages as he spoke of their time in Hungary.

“When we were in school, native Hungarians would copy his homework to get better grades, even though he had barely learned Hungarian,” Ezra said.

In comparison to their nine siblings, Ezra felt Aaron always stood out.

“He was super book-smart and everything came a lot more naturally to him,” Ezra said.

Szvoboda’s learning of new languages did not end at the age of 8. The international student added Italian to the list of languages after serving a two-year Church mission in Italy.

Aaron Szvoboda walks through the Harold B. Library on the BYU campus. After living in six different countries, BYU freshman Aaron Szvoboda is learning to adapt to life in the United States. (Alicia Gerardo)

Military service

After years of moving internationally, the Szvoboda family moved back to Switzerland in 2014 where Szvoboda would go on to complete his high school education.

Two days after his high school graduation, Szvoboda enlisted in the Swiss military. The news of his enlistment came as no surprise to the Szvoboda family. According to Szvoboda, Switzerland requires all capable males to serve in the military after reaching the age of 19.

In his youth, Szvoboda said he gleefully anticipated his future service in the military. “I would play ‘Call of Duty’ as a kid so I thought it would be super exciting,” Szvoboda said.

After completing basic training, Szvoboda quickly climbed up the military ranks. He graduated at the top of his class and was assigned to infantry, where he would serve as a company leader.

His one-year service in the military made a great impact on his work ethic and approach to life. Szvoboda said the positive mindset he gained helps him maintain a positive attitude toward obstacles he faces.

“The army helped my self-esteem and kind of told me that if I set my mind to something I can accomplish anything,” Szvoboda said.

Adapting to life in Utah

Szvoboda, now 24 years old, finds himself in Provo, more than 5,000 miles away from his friends and family.

The BYU freshman is no rookie when it comes to moving far from home, but the decision to move to the United States was still not an easy one.

“Everything spoke against me going to BYU,” Szvoboda said.

Because of his academic achievements in high school, Szvoboda said he would have been granted acceptance into any university in Switzerland to which he applied. Szvoboda said he felt it logically did not make sense to attend BYU, but that didn’t stop him.

“Honestly, I came out here because of the gut feeling,” Szvoboda said. “Despite most of my siblings living in Switzerland, I have always felt the tug toward America.”

Family was not the only thing Szvoboda left behind in Switzerland. Szvoboda’s girlfriend, Leann Hachenberger, is attending school in Switzerland. Similar to Ezra, Hachenberger said she has confidence Szvoboda is smoothly transitioning to life as an international student.

“I know it was initially hard for him to leave family here and to leave me, but it seems like he’s adapting really well and is really happy,” Hachenberger said.

Ezra said he believes that because of Szvoboda’s optimistic mindset and their family’s familiarity with moving, Szvoboda gravitates toward change and is easily adjusting to the United States.

Like a majority of university students, Szvoboda is navigating a social life, school and romance. With an abundance of friends in the Provo area, Szvoboda has gained a support system that helps him.

“I just love the fact that I can come to school here and there are people supporting me,” Szvoboda said.

Though Szvoboda misses aspects of home, he said he cannot help but love the United States and some of its fun quirks.

“Everything’s bigger, I love free refills and I love burgers. So this is really a place to be,” Szvoboda said.

Szvoboda said he is unsure of what the future will hold. He plans to work within the business field and is open to living anywhere. He welcomes change with open arms.

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