Tag archives for culture

The Little Differences

Vincent: But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

Jules: What?

Vincent: It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same stuff over there that we got here, but it’s just… it’s just, there it’s a little different.

In case you aren’t familiar with Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, this memorable conversation continues with a brief discussion of the metric system and then shifts to the American Quarter Pounder and French Royale with cheese, which is named such due to the incompatibility in the units between Europe and the US.

 I believe Tarantino meant for this conversation to be informal, humorous character development for Vincent and Jules, but countless ex-pats and international students have adopted this dialogue to express some of their feelings after moving to a new country. As my way of appropriating this discussion topic, I’ve compiled a short list of random observations that are perhaps mildly interesting but not necessarily newsworthy in their own right.

  • A Swedish mile (mil) is a unit of distance equal to 10 kilometers, or 6.2 American miles. Summary: American mile = easy walking distance. Swedish mile ≠ easy walking distance.
  • Cheese slicers (osthyvlar) and wooden butter knives seem kind of like gimmicky souvenirs to me, but a lot of people actually use them here on a daily basis. Just add some knäckebröd (Swedish cracker) to the equation and you’ll have enough for a small (and unexciting if I’m being honest) snack.

Cheese and butter essentials. Photo: B. Seward

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Homemade Sushi

What do you do with yourself when you find a free weeknight? Well, get together with friends and make some sushi of course! At least that’s what a few of us thought last week.  You can buy all the ingredients for making your own sushi from a local grocery store, although shopping at a local Japanese market will save you money and will probably get you better quality items. To do this, you will definitely need sheets of the seaweed covering (nori), some short grain rice, vinegar and lime, and whatever else you want to put in your rolls.

To start with cook the rice as you normally would. When it is done add some salt, vinegar, and a little lime juice. Lay out the nori and add a layer of rice. Then add whatever sliced ingredients you wish. You will end up with something looking like this:

Now you cut it up into slices and eat! Simple, right? To be honest I don’t know if this is the exact recipe for making sushi, but this is what we came up with. What fun is making food if you can’t be creative? :)

Culture Night in Uppsala

One of the biggest reasons for studying abroad or doing a Masters program in Sweden is getting to know many people coming from all over the world.  It is quite possible that people coming from every continent will be in your class. This gives all students an opportunity to not only learn about other cultures, but also make friends from around the world.

The result is that most cities in Sweden are very culturally diverse. In Uppsala this is celebrated every year during the cities own KulturNatten (Culture Night). The idea of having a Culture Night is to bring together all members of the community to share in a range of different expressions of culture.

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Going “home”

Well, I’m back.

Fifteen hours of flight time, a five-hour delay in Washington D.C. due to thunderstorms, and I’m back in Oregon. My student visa has expired, meaning my studies in Sweden have come to an end.

It’s been a long, strange journey, but it seems it has reached its end. Or has it?

The last 302 days have brought some of the greatest joys of my life – from meeting new friends to seeing the world outside the United States for the very first time – and some of the greatest challenges (having to learn a new language, making new friends, having to cook for myself). There were times where all I really wanted to do was leave Sweden, to go back to the familiarity of the Pacific Northwest, but somehow I stuck through it. And because of it, I’ve emerged a wiser, better man.

The hardest thing I did in Sweden? Leaving.

It’s no secret that I fell in love with the country. The landscape, the people, and yes, even the climate, grew on me in a way I could never have imagined. If I had my way, I would stay forever.

For the first time in my life, I actually felt at home. Like all my life I had been away, and had finally come home.

But unfortunately I had to leave. I still have one more year of studies at Boise State, and without a job, I had run out of money.

So I went back. Was I happy about it? No. But it’s what I had to do.

Jag alskär Sverige - I love Sweden. Photo: Martin Winberg

I’m already dealing with reverse culture shock. Let me tell you: integrating back into the culture of your home country is much harder than assimilating into Swedish culture. That’s what no one can prepare you for, what no study abroad advisor can tell you: that sometimes you don’t want to go back, and when you do it can be almost overwhelming.

I’ve found I’ve changed in ways I could never have imagined. In just the few days I’ve been back, friends and family have commented more than once on my newfound accent. Seriously, I now speak English with a noticeable Swedish accent. I never thought about or noticed it before, but I’ve spent so much time in Sweden that it rubbed off on me so much that I even picked up the habits and mannerisms of native-born Swedes, permeating my very being and changing how I perceive the world.

It astonishes even me.

It feels like I’ve left a part of myself behind, like I don’t really belong in the U.S. anymore. I’m trying to keep myself busy to help bury my feelings, but I admit it’s not easy.

“Lord of the Rings” is one of my favorite movies. The other day I was watching “The Return of the King,” when something happened to me that’s never happened before while watching it: I cried. It was the conclusion, when Frodo and his friends return home after destroying the One Ring, and they were sitting in a pub. The characters silently shared a toast, the music was simple and unpretentious, and suddenly I cried.  Like a light bulb switching on in my head, the parallels became instantly stark: Frodo and his friends had experienced things nobody else would understand, travelled to strange lands much farther than anything they had ever known, and now they were home. The journey was over, their lives had been forever changed, and no one else would ever understand. The same, I realized, had happened to me. It hadn’t really sunk in before, but now I knew that I was back.

The best part about studying abroad? The people you meet. Photo: Ben Mack

The list of people who I’d like to thank could literally fill an entire novel, but to name just a few I’d especially like to thank University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) for helping me realize my dream of going abroad, Lennart and Katrin Nordmark (my host parents) for helping create a home away from home (not to mention providing more “cultural experiences” than I can count), Karin Siöö and the rest of the International Office at Linnaeus University, Professor Jerald Catt-Oliason for teaching me to remember to listen, Katrin Ruffing for inspiring me to go abroad and being such a gracious host when I visited Germany, Jana Lepple and Clementine Monet for also inspiring me to cross the Atlantic, Sari Kiviharju and Sara Vanaikka for giving perspective to things, Foluoso Abbey for helping me see inward, John Harrigan for reminding me that the world is not flat, my parents for all their love and support (both financially and emotionally), my wonderful corridor mates – from both the Fall and Spring semesters – for helping make me feel like part one big, dysfunctional family, Martin Winberg for being my best mate in Sweden and keeping me sane (and for teaching me more than a little Swedish), Julie Blomberg for encouraging me to have faith in myself (not to mention question everything), Corrine Henke and the International Office at Boise State University, Christine Deppe for always being there when I needed to talk to someone, Tamar Amashukeli for helping me see the world through new eyes, Alina Merinscu for being a doppelgänger for so many of my adventures, and of course the people of Sweden for putting up with me for the past year.

For anyone else I neglected to mention, I haven’t forgotten you. I blame human nature for not having the patience to go through all the names. I also want to thank you, readers, for following this blog. Writing for the Swedish Institute has been an incredible, and unique, opportunity, and I’m glad to have shared with you my experiences and tips and tricks for surviving – and thriving – in Sweden. Hopefully you won’t make all the mistakes I did!

My immediate plans are simple: in August I will return to Boise State for my senior year, where I will also be working as Opinion Editor of The Arbiter (the university’s student newspaper) and living on-campus in the Global Village Community, a special housing program for international students and those who want to gain new perspectives from them and help them adjust to life in the U.S.

And after that? Who knows?

Maybe I will return to Sweden one day. Perhaps I will never go there again. But whatever the future might hold, I know this: I am better off for having studied in Sweden.

Studying abroad is not merely a physical journey – it is also an academic, cultural, emotional, and spiritual journey. In other words, it is personal. No two people have the exact same experience, and no two people reach the same conclusions afterwards.

But what exactly are those conclusions? No one can really say until one has gone abroad, and even then there’s no guarantee conclusions will ever be reached. It is an enigma of a most individual nature.

The Swedish sunset is one of many things I'll miss. Photo: Anne Balonier

I am not a celebrity. I have not been, and probably never will be, President of the United States. I am just an ordinary, average person who has had an extraordinary experience. But so, why then, am I bothering to write this? The answer to that is simple.

By studying abroad, you will gain an increased appreciation for the interdependency of the world today, the commonality we all share as human beings

While no one else will ever have the exact same experiences I have, studying abroad is nonetheless something that is more attainable today than at any other moment in history.

If you do decide to go abroad, dear reader, Sweden is an ideal location. I think my blog posts, and those by fellow student blogger Kristin Follis and other bloggers at the Swedish Institute, speak for themselves as to the reasons.

But know this: there are many more reasons why you should study in Sweden, reasons which words cannot possibly begin to describe.

In the words of St. Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Tack så mycket, och hej då.

On the coast of Öland the day before going back to the U.S. Photo: Ben Mack

Top things I’ll miss in Sweden

While studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the hardest part isn’t going to your host country: it’s coming back home.

Meeting new people from around the world is just one of the many advantages of studying abroad. Photo: Ben Mack

I’ve been studying in Sweden for about a year, and am definitely going to miss a few things. Here are the 14 I’ll miss most.


1. Strawberries

 Back where I come from in Oregon, we’re known for having some of the best-tasting strawberries in the world. But even they pale in comparison to the Swedish variety, which taste like a combination of ecstasy, fulfillment, and a satisfaction in knowing you will never have better.

2. Winter

I know what you’re thinking: how can anyone love a season where temperatures can dip below minus 20 Celsius, snow is almost a meter thick, and it’s dark 18 hours (or more) a day? That’s precisely why I love the Swedish winter: it’s so different than what I had been previously used to. In Oregon, winter is marked by over 100 centimeters of rain, and in Boise if it’s snowing… well, if it’s snowing, then that’s the least of your problems. But in Sweden mayors don’t declare a state of emergency when it snows, and the glistening white stuff is also, I’ve discovered, a lot of fun to play in.

Swedish pancakes are, in a word, delicious. Photo: Anne Balonier

3. The food

Sweden may not usually be the first place that comes to mind when people think of tasty national cuisine, but I’ve found Swedish food to be surprisingly scrumptious – and much more diverse than herring and köttbullar. It’s much more affordable than it is in the U.S. (where you usually have to go to a specialty store or IKEA), and obviously more authentic too. And, when I was tired of traditional Svensk mat, grocery stores carry foods from all over the world, including the artificially preserved,  flavorized, prepackaged, hormone-treated, sugar-infused fare I – unfortunately – was raised on.

4. The people

This one comes as a no-brainer. Life isn’t just about what you do: it’s about who you meet. And in Sweden, I’ve met some amazing people, from Swedes such as my host family and close friends to fellow exchange students who’ve helped me broaden my horizons and taught me a lot about myself, too. If it wasn’t for this motley cast of characters, there’s no way my time abroad would have been as magical as it was.

Any time is a great time for a fika! Photo: Anne Balonier

5. Fikas

A uniquely Swedish creation, a fika is a great way to spend time with friends, family, classmates, coworkers, or just about anyone. It’s also a great excuse to consume more coffee and sweets than your mother would have ever allowed you to have growing up.

6. The queue system 

Back home, when you go to someplace like the bank, housing office, etc. you have to wait in line. And wait. And wait. And wait. But in Sweden, you just take a number and wait for your number to be called.  It’s great for people such as myself who can never stay in one place for more than three minutes.

7. Traveling by train 

Trains in the U.S. are few, far between, and incredibly expensive. In Boise, a city of more than 200,000 people and a metro area of half a million, there isn’t even a single operating train station. Pretty much every town in Sweden has a train station, and – in my opinion – paying 400 kronor to travel from Växjö to Göteborg seems pretty cheap. It’s a great way for students without cars to get around.

Kronobergs Slottsruinen, located north of Växjö, dates back to the 15th century. Photo: Ben Mack

8. The history

Some Swedes may gripe that there isn’t much history in Sweden, but it’s a whole lot more than where I come from. Back in Boise, the oldest building is an old log house from the 1800s. In Sweden, people live in houses older than that. Heck, the Växjö Domkyrka (Växjö Cathedral) was built in the 12th century – more than 300 years before America was even “discovered.” Every town has its own rich and unique history.

9. Allsvenskan football

Few things are able to match the passion — and intensity – of Allsvenskan football matches. It’s one of the rare times you’ll see Swedes lose all emotional control, and is certainly not to be missed.

Few things match the passion and excitement of Allsvenskan football. Photo: Ben Mack

10.  My host family

Host families are a fantastic way to see the “real” Sweden, and I had a great time with mine. From going to football matches, to barbecues, to fishing, to speaking to secondary school students and to jumping in frozen lakes, I will miss them greatly.

11.  The summer

If the Swedish winter is spectacular, then the summer is even more so. Photo: Ben Mack

If the Swedish winter is spectacular, then the summer is even more so. Temperatures around 20 Celsius, clear skies, 18 hours of sunlight, Midsummer… what could be better?

12.  Nature

Swedes have a special connection to nature, and it’s easy to see why. Never in my life have I seen a country as green as Sweden is. From the forests to the meadows to the thousands of lakes, it’s hard to imagine more beautiful scenery anywhere else on earth.

13.  Teleborgs Slott

Sure it’s not that old (built around 1900), and sure it’s not that big, but it’s the first castle I’d ever seen. And when it’s only a five-minute walk from your flat, you tend to spend a lot of time there. Truly, it’s the most magical place I’ve ever been. No matter the occasion – whether I was having a bad day, was stressed out, wanted to enjoy nature, meditate, hang out with friends, take a girl on a date, study, or whatever – I could just walk through the castle’s spacious grounds or inside to have a fika. Every moment spent there was spent in timeless bliss.

Though not very old, Teleborgs Slott is nonetheless magnificent. Photo: Ben Mack


14.  The Swedes

Whether it’s their closeness to nature, tolerance of others, friendliness, ingenuity, or helpfulness, it’s obvious the Swedes are special. Never before have met friendlier, more tolerant, or helpful people in my life. With them, the glass is always half-full. And their smiles can power a small city. And they’re the most loyal friends you can ever have.

My advice to anyone coming to Sweden: enjoy every moment of it. Because when you’re gone…

You’re not in Sweden anymore. And that’s what I’ll miss the most.

When you're in Sweden for a year, you tend to meet at least a few Swedes. Photo: Tiina Syränjen