Tag archives for campus

Widerströmska-more than just a name

Walking to the KI everyday is an ever changing experience. The area is the center of extensive building work as such it’s always interesting to see progress from one day to the next.

Several weeks ago I was asked if I might be interested in helping to host the opening ceremony to a new building which had recently been completed. Sure why not I said. All too quickly the day of hosting arrived. I donned by pretty black polka dot dress, a bit of lipstick and packed my pair of black high heels (you didn’t think I was going to walk through the snow in heels did you?)

My role was to be moderator, chairwomen, “most important person” as someone put it. But what do these words mean you might be thinking? Well I was going to be the person introducing the ceremony, welcoming the audience and then in turn presenting each speaker. It was my role to “MC” as my cool friend remarked later.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to you, to this the opening ceremony of the Widerström building. I am Naieya Madhvani, a student on the Global Master’s programme and I will be your host for today. The ceremony will begin with a few short speeches, followed by the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon and then some light snacks and drinks will be served. I hope you enjoy the next 30 minutes to an hour.”

In Karolinska colours. Photo: Naieya Madhvani.

In Karolinska colours. Photo: Naieya Madhvani.

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True confessions of Swedish dating disasters

Ask any expatriate, exchange student, fellow traveler, or even the guy selling strawberries down at the Saturday market, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: Swedish women are confusing, even more so than… well, there might not be anything more confusing than Swedish women.

Dating in Sweden can be... well, complicated to say the least. Photo: Tamar Amashukeli

And you know what? I agree. I’ve gone on a few dates here, and every time found myself more and more perplexed. Christ, even O.J. Simpson’s police chase makes more sense.

Let’s save ourselves a lot of time here and just agree that Swedish women are incredibly attractive. They have terrific personalities, million-dollar smiles, and are more in shape than 99.99% of everyone else. They’re well-educated, know exactly what they want in life, and usually speak with an accent that makes us men melt every time we hear it. Oh, and did I mention almost all of them look like they should be modeling somewhere? Seriously, Tyra Banks has nothing on them.

But damn, they are enigmatic. Allow me to illustrate by sharing my personal experiences.

I’ll admit I’ve always been a little nervous courting the opposite sex, probably due to watching – as God is my witness – more romantic comedies than quite possibly any other heterosexual male on earth. But I held firmly to the popular U.S. stereotype that Swedish women go crazy for American guys, and let my friends do the rest to inflate my ego to levels perhaps only rivaled by Muhammad Ali or Zlatan Ibrahimovic himself. I was young, I was in good shape, and I was American: when I arrived in Sweden, the ladies wouldn’t stand a chance.

But as the weeks went by, I gaped in paralyzed horror as my self-esteem was quickly ground into mush. Not only did all my previously held notions turn out to be totally wrong, but it seemed the opposite was true; compared to the endless number of good-looking, well-muscled, and much better dressed Swedish guys, it seemed no woman was interested in a pale, skinny American with absolutely zero fashion sense and a shaggy haircut.

Eventually, however, I drummed up enough courage to ask a girl from one of my classes for a fika in Teleborgs Slott. We talked, laughed, and I somehow managed to pay for her – something many Swedish women, I knew, were not used to. We hung out a few more times and, in my mind, there was no way I could fail. I was IN.

Just because you had a fika with a girl in a castle does not mean she will see it as a date. Photo: Ben Mack

But then disaster struck. I asked her to dinner, assuming the answer would be an automatic “yes.” Instead, I received a text message explaining that dinner would feel “too much like a date.”

In all my 21 years, I had never been so confused. Would feel too much like a date? Really? I mean, c’mon, we had coffee at a freakin’ castle!

A good way to get to know a girl is to spend time with her, even if it involves freezing half to death. Photo: Johannes Feldmann

In one swift blow, my self-esteem returned to its liquidous state. A few weeks later, it evaporated entirely when, after getting the phone number of a girl I had warmed up to, she rejected me by flat-out saying I wasn’t her “type.” Looking back on it, I probably asked her out for the wrong reasons anyway, but if I had known what I know now I could’ve gotten a lot more sleep.

A few weeks after her – whom my friends only refer to as “Miss A” – there was yet another girl. Unlike the others, she took the initiative of “first contact” by talking to me after a class we shared. A hopeful sign? Perhaps. But then again, I’m pretty sure I’m not psychic. And later events would certainly validate that.

The two of us had something in common right away: both of us studied journalism. She seemed to spend every moment picking my brains on life in the U.S., determined to study there one day. We had similar tastes in music and movies, and even shared a secret passion for documentaties.

Travelling to places such as Kalmar Slott is also a good way to get to know a girl. Photo: Ben Mack

We hung out every day for about a week, and finally one night she spontaneously invited me over for dinner. We ate a nice meal of chicken and rice, and then we talked for a bit. And talked. And talked. And talked some more. By the time I finally excused myself and went home, it was past 4 a.m. She had poured her heart out to me, displayed the entire spectrum of human emotion, told me things she said she had never told anyone else – or so I thought.

A couple weeks later, she told me she was seeing someone. A guy whose name I never learned, of whom she and her friends had never spoken, and of whom I didn’t even see any evidence of on Facebook.

Jeez, how cruel can a girl be? If you want to say “I’m not interested,” then just say it! Mentioning possibly fictitious boyfriends only makes it crueler!

But that’s dating in Sweden for you. If I’ve learned one thing from my time here, it’s that I don’t know anything.

So everyone, I’m with you: I’m just as clueless as you are. If you can decipher the mystery of Swedish dating, let me know.

I’ll be drowning my sorrows in coffee.

In (and out of) the club

It’s Friday night in Sweden. What’s one to do? Go ice fishing? Make meatballs? Try your hand at naked sled dog racing?

Student pubs are very popular on campus. Photo: Ben Mack

When I’m faced with such a dilemma, I prefer to ask the locals.

However, their advice is sometimes contradictory.

Swede 1: Go to the club!

Swede 2: Whatever you do, don’t go to the club!

Huh? Last time I was so confused, a buddy and I wound up accidentally driving into rural Eastern Oregon trailer park in the middle of a police raid. Hadn’t talked so well since my high school graduation speech.

However, club/pub life can be a major part of a student’s social life – for good or ill.

But face it: going out to a club, paying the ridiculously inflated admission fee, the even more astronomical prices for a drink (or two, or three, or seven), and then paying yet again for some girl you’re never going to see again and a cab ride home, makes one seriously question your mental fitness.

If the situation was indeed that hopeless, this column would end right HERE. Done. Kaput. You’ve already clicked on the next link, and vowed never to read anything by this author again.

Thankfully there’s a handy innovation known as student-friendly prices to help you get by. And when you have two pubs on campus – and a third across the street – it can mean the difference between a night out or a night watching yet another “Sex and the City” rerun.

Going out’s an interesting experience, to be sure. You see more drama than an adaption of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Why, just last night I saw some girl slap a guy. Didn’t hear the whole conversation, but something about “soup.” Gentlemen, remember to cook for your girlfriends. Or else.

Going out can be a great way to spend time with friends. Photo: Ben Mack

But I can see Swedes’ contradictory views on the student pubs/clubs (been here a year and I’m yet to figure out why exactly they’re technically called pubs even though they really are nightclubs).

After-parties can sometimes be as crazy as fun as the party itself. Photo: Ben Mack

On one hand, they’re a great social release from all those hours of studying. Jumping up and down whilst losing a good kilo of sweat is naturally a good way to lose weight, and it’s a rare opportunity to see Swedes let loose their famously restrained emotions.

On the other hand… well, going to the club can be something like “Survivor,” only with more wildlife. Somehow, the combination of alcohol, loud music, flashing lights, and bodies packed into a small room more tightly than sardines in a can turns even the most mild-mannered person into a raging party animal. Oh, and there’s also the sheer brutality of Swedish partying, which usually involves more steps than filling out your tax return. They usually include:

  • Pre-party, usually at someone’s flat. Can start as early as 4 p.m.
  • Party at the club/pub.
  • After-party with several dozen people, usually in a flat.
  • After-after-party. Smaller, but still at least a dozen people.
  • After-after-after party (AKA morning). May or not be the same people you originally started partying with. Typically ends by 7 or 8 a.m.

Up to 16 hours of partying. Brutal. The Ethiopians may usually win marathons, but when it comes to marathon partying, Sweden sweeps – ehrm, stays awake longer – than the competition.

If you do decide to hit the club, here’s some advice:

Seeing people wearing Halloween costumes for no apparent reason is a sure sign you're in a student pub. Photo: Jordan Tuchek

  1. Dress the part. And by dress the part, I mean wear whatever. Seeing fellow students wearing Halloween costumes for no apparent reason is not uncommon. If you want to lose more weight, I suggest wearing a parka with galoshes. Winter boots are also good for building leg strength.
  2. Bring a friend or 20. The more the merrier, right? Besides, conga lines look cooler with more people. And no one wants to dance by themselves, unless your name is Dennis Rodman.
  3. Eat right. An overpriced kebab from the kebab stands outside may look and smell tempting, but you’ll regret it later when you realize you can buy the same thing during the day for a third of the price. Likewise, you tend to discover buying nachos from the bar isn’t a good idea when you spill hot cheese all over yourself – or worse, the cute girl you’re dancing with in the expensive dress.
  4. Bring extra cash. You never know where you’ll end up afterwards, literally. It’s a good idea to have money in case you need to take a bus back to campus or call a cab. There’ve been nights where I’ve met new people and found myself eight hours later several kilometers north of campus in the Växjö suburb of Araby with absolutely no idea how to get home, or who the people, all of whom are dressed in black and most of whom have multiple and very large piercings, even are.
  5. Remember your ID. To get into the clubs on campus, you need your student ID, photo ID (like a driver’s license or passport) and proof of membership in one of the student nations. And Swedes are immune to bribes. Trust me, I’ve tried it.

One of the drawbacks of going out can be sleep deprivation. Photo: Matthew Weinberg

“But what about safety?” you ask. “There must be more creepy guys around than salesmen at the Antiques Roadshow!” So is it dangerous? Not really. With one of the lowest crime rates in the world, not much is expected to happen to you if you go out. Still, it’s always a good idea to use common sense: use the buddy system, don’t drink and drive, and – unless you have kielbasa for brains – avoid the temptation to jump in lakes while under the influence.

Oh, and make sure you don’t have classes the next day. Because by the time you get home, it’ll probably already be light outside.

Even in December.

Always remember: do your schoolwork before partying! Photo: Gertrud Larsson

Of men, women, and the fine art of the student barbecue

O.K., if everybody could just take a seat. Feel free to pour your own coffee. Milk and sugar’s just over there. I also have some buns if anyone wants some. No? O.K., let’s get started.

During the Swedish summer, barbecues become almost as common as fikas. Photo: Anne Balonier

Now, you know me – Ben Mack, broke college student studying in Sweden, just like all of you. I called y’all here today ‘cuz ever since that last barbecue on campus, my life has been about as much fun as shaving with No. 2 sandpaper.

People whistling at me as I walk by. Feminine hygiene products in my cupboard in the kitchen. That wise guy who wrote his number on the door to my flat. Yeah, I’m not gonna call you, buddy.

But it’s all just so damn amusing I could bust.

So what if I don’t know how to barbecue? I’m not ashamed! Stop laughing, you damn hyenas! You ever try barbecuing in Boise? You’d burn the whole city down! So don’t blame me if the weather here in Sweden’s cool enough so you can actually cook outdoors!

Barbecues are a great way to spend time with friends and meet new people. Photo: Anne Balonier

The point is, you guys gotta stop mocking me! I can’t live like this! And whichever of you jerks changed the name on my shelf in the refrigerator to BENJAMINA – I will hunt you down!

You do damn too know what I mean: you idiots askin’ if I’ve had my Midol today. This is the 21st century. Let’s grow up.

O.K., so I let a girl start the fire and barbecue the sausages. At least I was able to admit I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, unlike the rest of you who conveniently found other things to do.

Hell, the rest of you were taking pictures of the Swedish sunset, which looked exactly the same as every other sunset during the other 364 days of the year.  That’s pretty convenient! Or running off into the woods for a 15-minute “bathroom break.” If it really is taking you that long, maybe you should call a doctor.

Observing how to properly barbecue. Photo: Anne Balonier

You jokers have no idea how hard it is barbecuing. First you have to buy everything you need, including an overly large bag of charcoal that weighs half as much as you do. Then you have to fight the hordes of other people all over campus trying to get the same spot as you. Then you have to pour on the lighter fluid and ignite the charcoal without singing your eyebrows off. And lastly, you still have to make sure the meat is cooked all the way through and clean up after yourself.

Yeah, I grew up on a farm. And yeah, I come from the U.S. You think that automatically makes me the Grand Master of Grilling? Well, it doesn’t.

Barbecues are also fantastic ways to create lasting memories. Photo: Thomas Joly

I can admit I’ve never barbecued before. Why would I have? There’s no place to grill in Boise, and growing up in Oregon my Dad would’ve murdered me if I went anywhere near an open flame. Heck, he still barely trusts me enough to drive myself around town despite my perfect driving record.

Hey, it’s not that funny! I mean, students barbecue like every day during spring and summer here. If I don’t learn fast, this could be a real problem.

While usually not advised, playing with fire can sometimes be fun! Photo: Anne Balonier

At least I want to learn. Hey, if I figured out how to do a proper fika, I think I can make it through this.

I’m telling you, boys and girls, you know damn well how much Swedes like to barbecue. There’s a fire pit like every three meters on campus here. Seriously, the area around Lake Trummen is the most happenin’ place in all of Växjö. It’s like a zoo out there!  

And I’m not the first guy a gal has barbecued for. Why just yesterday half the people I saw barbecuing were girls. There’s your famous Swedish equality for you. You all have been here long enough to know that. This country was one of the first to have equal rights, and also one of the first to have men and women serve together in the military. And of course y’all know that, tell your date you’re going to pay for her, and you’re just asking for trouble.

So why do all of you keep holding doors open for me and saying “Ladies first?”

When learning to barbecue, you need to start small. Photo: Anne Balonier

Not only that, but I looked up the laws of barbecuing. Doesn’t say anything about having to have chest hair in order to be qualified. So you just keep laughing, you monkeys, but some day some filly’s gonna come along and do something you can’t do.

Well, shoot – if you guys are just going to keep rolling around on the floor laughin’ and peltin’ me with pink tees, this meeting is done. I’m spending the rest of the day swimming. Yeah, it’s not very social, but at least no one will be asking if it’s that time of the month every time I miss a shot if I were playin’ basketball. And no one is going to question my manliness when it’s less than 20 degrees outside.

What? You already saw some people out sunbathing? Well, it is Sweden.

Funny you’re not out there.

The beauty of the Swedish sunset is unmatched. Photo: Ben Mack

Hej, Buddy!

It was 5 p.m. on a Thursday. I had only just arrived in Sweden the night before, and I was exhausted. I had been sleeping for the last 24 hours, and hadn’t even unpacked my bags. I was still wearing the same clothes I had worn when my first flight left Portland, Ore. early Tuesday morning, and I hadn’t showered since Monday.

Your student "buddy" will be key to your survival your first few days in Sweden. Photo: Martin Winberg

Suddenly, there was a sound similar to a fire alarm going off. Harsh, piercing, and out of key, it caused me to rise a good 30 centimeters vertically from my bed. Startled, I wondered what it was. Then it sounded again. And again. It was my doorbell.

Normally I would have thought who the heck would be ringing my door when I’d just arrived, and especially when I had only even physically seen about four people and a dog in Växjö so far.

I limped over to the door, jolted by the doorbell’s unexpected similarities to a jet engine but eyes still half-shut with exhaustion. I opened the door, and in front of me stood an attractive, smiling brunette Swedish girl.

I had died and gone to Heaven. Either that, or this was the prelude to a rather raunchy and decidedly real-looking dream.

My jaw dropped.

“My name’s Sara,” she said, seemingly unperturbed by my reaction or what God only knows I smelled like, “and I’m your buddy.”

Within ten minutes, I was waist-deep in a field trip at the grocery store, having the history of practically every item explained and why it’s sold in Swedish grocery stores. On a more practical level, I was shown how to shop at a grocery store and told what the different words on the cans and boxes meant – all the more important considering I hadn’t been to a grocery store even in the U.S. in several months.

Walking home later that evening, carrying half a dozen bags of food that would spoil within a couple of days, I knew the whole buddy thing was worth it.

In short, international students at Linnaeus University are paired with a Swedish “buddy” who helps orient them to the university, shows them around, and helps them adjust to life in Sweden. Basically, they’re your best friend and the key to your survival.

Ah, nothing like forced friendship! Suspicious, no? Well, it’s not, Nuenen.

The buddies are not paid for their services, and don’t even get any kind of academic incentive. In other words, they’re volunteers who simply want to help exchange students.

And they really do help. If it wasn’t for my buddy, I would have starved to death a long, long time ago, and died a very lonely man.

You and your buddy will inevitably become fast friends. Photo: Ben Mack

But thanks to my Swedish-born, spends-her-summers-living-in-Houston-Texas buddy, I not only was able to survive, but to thrive. She introduced me to some of her friends, and now I can say most of my friends are Swedish. And no, we don’t usually debate which ABBA song is the best or swap meatball recipes.

I’ll issue a disclaimer: you and your buddy may or may not become attached at the hip. Chances are, you’ll be seeing a lot of each other. I know my buddy and I have. It’s like having a big brother or a big sister, only not having to worry about having gum placed in your hair or ice poured down your pants.

Unless you’re an anti-social hermit who prefers to converse with rocks, trees, or the flocks (more like swarms) of geese, you should get a buddy. All you have to do is email the international office, and they’ll show you what to do. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

And if for some reason you do, I promise to eat crow.