Monthly archives: April 2011

It was the Night Before Valborg

Uppsala’s Valborg is an original student celebration like no other in Sweden. Overall, it consists of tens of thousands of students cramming in the parks within the city all celebrating sista april or the last of April.

The pre-party for the Fryis river race and where the rafts are built!

While the official Valborg is celebrated on the 30th of April, the Kvalborg (qualifying party) takes place the night before. Even the week before students are preparing for Valborg craziness!

Valborg in Uppsala has been celebrated for centuries and students in particular have made this event so historic. In the early 1800s the celebrations took place at the castle where songs, cheers and drinking marked the evening. As the years went on, the celebration morphed into a full student affair where the entire university population took part. (Uppsala University, Sista April, “Walpurgis”)

One of the most popular events, the rafting (forsränning) down Uppsala’s Fyris river, was added to the celebration in the 1970s. This popular traditions involves groups of students representing organizations or clubs who build their own rafts (made out of foam) to sail down the river the morning of Valborg.

The other events of the day include a champagne breakfast (porridge and champagne), sillunch (lunch of herring), mösspåtagningen (where recent graduates through their white caps in the air) and you cannot forget the champagnegalopp (a champagne race where, basically, you buy a bottle of champagne and spray it on each other).

All of these festivities are followed by barbecues in the parks and parties all over the city as well as in all of the student nations and restaurants.

Some of the built rafts the night before the race! Photo:Kristin Follis

But of course, in genuine Swedish style, one night of crazy Valborg partying is not enough. Tonight is Kvalborg is the newest addition to the student celebration. The qualifying party, or night before Valborg has is a popular warm up to the event.

Students fill the streets partying to warm up for the next day. Most nations have special pub nights or popular bands scheduled.

But not to worry, if you are not in Uppsala, or Sweden for that matter, and don’t want to miss out on a party of a lifetime (because that’s what it will be!) you can still join us. Not only does Uppsala have a live webcam from the castle showing a little of the craziness, but also there is live footage of the river race that goes on tomorrow, Saturday April 30th at 10:00am.

For more on whats going on in Uppsala check out the official schedule!

Sitcom syndrome

Temptation. Ever dealt with it? You know, it’s that feeling you get every time the weather warms up, or whenever you walk inside H & M. In my case, it’s also what I deal with when I see anything with a combination of the words “free” and “food.”

But there’s another temptation too. And no, it has nothing to do with clubs located on campus, cheap travel to foreign destinations, pool halls, and/or the worldwide phenomenon known as herring.

When abroad, try to meet people who aren't all from your home country.

That temptation, faithful readers, is the temptation to remain complacent. It’s the temptation to not go out of your comfort zone, to only hang out with people who come from the same country, speak the same language, or wear the same brand of skinny jeans as you.

There’s a lot of sad stories out here in Växjö. Students that come to Linnaeus University and only spend time with other students from their home country, never making an effort to meet any Swedes or even learn a word of Swedish. It’s a dark, lonely existence, and unfortunately happens more than you might think.

Sure, going abroad might be scary. Sure, it can be hard to try and learn a new language. And sure, the typical Swede might not exactly be as talkative as , say, the average Italian. I know this sounds horribly cliché, but that fear can be overcome. Because I did it.

Spending time with Swedes is a good way to learn Swedish.

Hey, come closer! Yeah, that’s right: get over here. Now lean over. Closer. Just a little closer. O.K. That’s perfect. Now listen to this. Let me let you in on a little secret: I’m not the only American in Växjö. It’s true. No I’m not lying. But while there are other Americans here, I don’t spend any time with them.

Sounds cruel, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth. The logic is simple: if I wanted to hang out with Americans, I would have stayed in a certain country that happens to have over 300 million of them called America. But in Sweden I prefer to meet, well, Swedes.

Once you take that first step of conquering your fears, everything else seems to fall into place in almost fairy tale-like fashion. O.K. so it’s not quite Cinderella corny, but it’s still pretty cool.

Going out of your comfort zone is vital for success abroad.

Let me give you two different scenarios. Billy and Bob both came to Sweden for a year from a small college in Kansas. Billy didn’t know any Swedish, but went out of his comfort zone, joined a choir, and now speaks Swedish more than he does English.

And Bob… well, when Bob came back to the U.S. and shared his adventures with me in a fictitious Seattle sports bar, I turned to my equally fictitious server and asked if the place served crow. Alas, the kitchen was closed.

Take my advice. Be bold. Go out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with what I hereby christen Sitcom Syndrome – the state of being where you’re forced to watch boring reruns on TV because you didn’t take the chance to live life to the fullest.

How’s that “Lone Ranger” box set treating you, cowboy?

Far Away from Home

Being an international student can be hard sometimes. Whether your gone for six months, 1 year or two years, being away from your family and friends can more difficult than you imagined.

The feeling of homesickness is something most international students get. At some point everyone craves the more familiar like friends, food, pets or family. Sometimes it just feels like it all is so far away.

The holiday’s can make it even more difficult as you remember certain traditions you used to have, family gatherings and home cooked meals. It can also be hard to miss all of those traditions going on at home that you have grown up with for so many years.

The best way to deal with homesickness when you’re an international student in another country is to get out and meet some people. You can even do something that reminds you of home.

Carving the turkey! Photo:Andreas Bergman

This past Easter I took a trip to Sjövde to visit my Swedish family. Being around family, even if they are not your own, is a great way to kick that holiday homesickness. We may not totally speak each others languages, but we all enjoy it nonetheless. Just hanging out and relaxing with my second family makes me feel like I’m back at home.

This visit was especially nice because we tried out some Canadian holiday traditions. In our family, it is very typical for most holidays (Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving) to get together and spend most of the day preparing a turkey and a big holiday feast. The get-together usually involves everyone in and around the kitchen enjoying food and wine, making jokes and having fun.

This year my Swedish family surprised me with a turkey and together we spent the afternoon in the kitchen preparing the turkey and all of the fixings!

A Swedish-Canadian inspired Easter feast! Photo:Andreas Bergman

If you are new to Sweden and don’t yet have any close family, friends, or family of friends there are always lots of chances to meet new people. Most universities have a buddy matching program for exchange students where they match you up with a Swede. Some schools also match you up with families in the region to enhance your ‘Swedish’ experience.

So if your feeling a little homesick, don’t worry, it happens to everyone. Try to take your mind off of it and hang out with some close friends, get our of your apartment and do something. The feeling doesn’t last forever and soon you will be back to normal!

Holiday hooey

Hey, kids! What’s your favorite bizarro moment from Easter – better known in Sweden as Påsk – in Växjö?

The preposterousness that is Påsk in Växjö.

Was it when local teens decided it would be a great idea to set off fireworks in the middle of a midnight church service at the cathedral, the green and red flashes from which turned the whitewashed walls of the cathedral’s insides into a canvas for one of the largest light shows in Swedish history?

Or was it when, in the early evening Friday, someone decided to run across Linnaeus University’s campus dressed as a rabbit? Honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the beauty of college. There’s college antics, and then there’s John Belushi in Animal House-crazy.

Maybe you’d select the moment when several dozen Swedes proceeded to the cathedral bearing torches and wearing – as God is my witness – white robes.  Back where I come from, such a scene would cause a national uproar. It just screams “Y’all ready for some controversy?” But the Swedes seemed to think nothing of it. And they say unintentional hysteria is dead.

Maybe it was the aisles upon aisles of Påskmust, a strange drink that looks and tastes almost exactly like Kool-Aid mixed with Pepsi? Considering I never saw anyone buying any, it must have been either a down year or Swedes prefer to do their shopping during the 167 ½ hours of the week I’m not at the grocery store.

With the arrival of Spring, Växjö becomes much more lively.

Perhaps you thought the most bizarre thing was the three-hour long church service taking place Thursday, Friday (twice), Saturday, and Sunday (thrice). You needed a bladder the size of a pony keg to get through it. What do the choir members use, a catheter? It couldn’t have been easy on anybody.

Coloring eggs is an Easter tradition in many countries, including Sweden.

What’s amazing is that somehow in all the fair-weathered frivolities is the fact that Jenny Berggren, former lead singer for Ace of Base – the most famous Swedish band not named ABBA – led a free public workshop on Linnaeus’ campus. Oh, and there was also an appearance by a Saudi Arabian ambassador, who happens to be a prince and happens to be worth close to $1 billion.

Maybe the university had consulted Fairly Honest Don’s Fairly Honest P.R. Firm, or former Iraqi Minister of Information Saeed al-Sahhaf. Events on campus? There aren’t any!

Too bad. They also missed a visit by Crown Princess Victoria, who just happens to be next in line to the Swedish throne. Despite the fact that the royalty is about as divisive among Swedes as the Civil War in Alabama, there surprisingly wasn’t a single protester or guy wearing a T-shirt that read IS MADELEINE STILL SINGLE.

To gain experience in journalism, it’s helpful to interview people from an array of nations, people with every kind of personality and enough people to span the breadth of emotion from abject sorrow to riotous humor. But sometimes it’s best just to observe what’s happening.

And so, kids, the lesson is this: when you’re in Sweden, know that there’s never a dull moment, even when you’re in a “small” city with only about 55,000 people and more than three hours by train from the nearest metropolis (Copenhagen).

How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it. So much for catching up on sleep.

The aftermath of a torchlit processional into Växjö Domkyrka (Cathedral) on Påskafton (Easter Eve).

Time for a Break!

The life of a student is a tough one. A full-time education can be stressful; going to school everyday, constantly reading, and always studying can be exhausting. Your brain is usually going all the time.

The Uppsala University library where many students spend their time. Photo:Mirko Junge/Flickr

Being a full-time student doesn’t always allow you free time to do the things you should while your young.

As a student you are always stuck dreaming about traveling to far off places with some sort of non-stop adventures. However, there are usually a few things in your way. First of all, a student budget does not always allow for far-off adventures. Also, intense course schedules do not allow for time to get away.

Easter break proves to be the perfect opportunity. While it varies for every class and every program, students usually get to enjoy anywhere from 3 school days to 1 week off from their studies.

Luckily enough, Sweden also has numerous cheap airlines and student discounts on train tickets. The combination of cheap travel options and a long easter break combine to make the perfect travel experience.

So it is time to forget about school, relax and do some traveling.

Sweden provides the perfect location for laid back touring around, lots of access to nature, and of course many chances for biking and hiking. Some popular locations include the bigger cities of Stockholm and Göteborg, but also the beautiful island of Gotland.

This Easter I will be traveling to Skövde to spend some time experiencing the more Southern region of Sweden. The warm temperatures, great food and friendly company will make for a perfect, relaxing Easter.

Wherever it is, I am sure that this Easter break students all over Sweden will be relaxing and enjoying a well deserved rest. So whether it’s sitting by the coast, camping in the forest or just hanging out with some family it’s the perfect time to clear your head and take a break from the monotonous life of a student.

Hjo, a small city in the south of Sweden near Skövde. Photo: digicanon/Flickr