Tag archives for friends

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? :)

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

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