Tag archives for Teleborgs Slott

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.

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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.

Mine enemy, thou art ermine

In case you’ve been living under a rock, on a deserted island in the South Pacific, outer space, or have just awoken from a 85-year coma, you’ve probably read once or twice that Sweden is a great place to study. And it is. Most of the time.

But not everything in Sweden is so peachy. Allow me to introduce Subject A: the wildlife.

I’m thinking of the most evil thing earth:

  1. It’s a small animal about 30 centimeters long, and has the texture and appearance of a moldy hot dog.
  2. It smells worse than a garbage dump, rotten eggs, and the Crazy Cat Lady put together.
  3. It has a temper shorter than French footballers.

The ermine, or Mustela Erminea, is a small weasel-like creature native to Sweden known for its vicious temper. Photo: Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

Almost every college anywhere, no matter how large the football booster club may or may not be, has its fair share of campus myths. At the University of Oregon, Sasquatch can supposedly sometimes be seen along the edge of campus. At Boise State, an albino peacock is rumored to sometimes show itself, while the Communications Building is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former student. And at Linnaeus University in Växjö, a wild ermine is believed to lurk in the surrounding forest, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting students and visitors.

I personally can attest to the existence of said ermine. But how, you may ask? Simple: because I’ve been attacked by it. Twice.

Honestly, the first time it happened, I might have deserved it. I was walking with a friend last Fall in the woods around Teleborgs Slott, the castle located on Linnaeus’ campus, when I noticed what looked like a bird’s nest just off the paved path. Curious, I went over to investigate.

Wham!

Something shot out from nowhere and bit my shoe. I kicked out, and my assailant was flung into the bushes, where it quickly scampered away and out of sight. I didn’t bother to follow it.

Fancy footwork is key to avoiding a charging ermine. Photo: Danica Sahne

But if the first time was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, then the second time definitely qualifies as malicious intent. I was jogging near the same area about a week later, and this time it honed in on me like a dart, snapping at my ankle from behind without any provocation whatsoever. I cried out, shocked that I’d just had a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the second time in less than two weeks, and kicked the pint-sized terror off of me. As it hopped away (really, that’s the only way one can accurately describe how an ermine moves), its foul stench lingered in the frosty morning air, mocking me like Italy’s Raphael Gualazzi after stealing second place from Sweden and Eric Saade at this year’s Eurovision.

Now I usually consider myself an animal lover – it’s inevitable when you grow up on a farm and your family still owns horses – but this just might be an exception. Really, I don’t know what I did to get on its bad side, but for some reason the thing seems to have taken a genuine disliking to me.

Up until now, I haven’t really dealt with any anti-American sentiment, but I swear this bizarre cousin of the weasel family has something against me.

But the trouble is, I can’t really tell my parents about the problem. How do you think that conversation would go?

ME: Hey, I have a problem.

THEM: What is it?

ME: Someone here doesn’t like me because I’m an American.

THEM: Oh no! We’re getting you a ticket for the next flight back! Just stay safe!

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to end my studies early because of a weasel that weighs less than three kilos.

The area near Teleborgs Slott where an ermine is said to lurk on Linnaeus University's campus. Photo: Ben Mack

Really, having an ermine – also known as a stoat – as your apparent arch-nemesis can be rather frightening. Not only can it be physically dangerous, but it can be a career-killer, too.

When I was first attacked, I reported that my assailant had been a ferret, a creature many Swedes own as pets and looks almost exactly like an ermine. However, while visiting my family over Christmas, I discovered the horrible truth in a Portland, Ore. used bookstore, and was forced to write a public apology to all ferrets, everywhere.

It’s a good thing I did – who knows if a ferret (or a ferret owner) would’ve sued me? Disaster averted.

Should you encounter an ermine, hurtling objects such as tea bags may help deter it. Photo: Danica Sahne

But don’t let the wildlife deter you from going abroad. While ermines may be about as ferocious as a wolverine, they usually won’t mess with you unless you mess with them – or if you happen to be me.

Other wild animals in Sweden – moose, ducks, rabbits, etc. – are not usually known to attack humans. But their mere presence is just another sign that Swedes tend to be much closer to nature than, say, your average Bostonian or even Seattleite. It’s a nice change from the rattlesnakes, scorpions, and coyotes I’m used to seeing back in Idaho. And I’ll even grudgingly admit that ermines are nice to look at too – provided they’re behind at least a meter of glass.

Obstacles, then, are meant to be overcome. Managing your money, making new friends, learning a new language, adjusting to life overseas, assuring Aunt Fanny you’re not going to freeze to death – if you can handle all that, then you can easily handle wild ermines.

And besides, next time I see that thing, I’m turning it into a fur coat.

Ascent to (mis)adventure

You’re probably thinking it already, so I’ll just go ahead and say it: I have a tendency to get myself into trouble.

Maybe I’m cursed. Maybe it’s just bad luck. Or maybe I am – as more than one reader has commented before – nothing more than a shameless hack who has absolutely no qualms about sharing the deepest, darkest secrets of his life.

Either way, I think it’s safe to say that, when studying abroad, adventures are bound to happen.

Sure, you don’t always expect them. And sure, sometimes they don’t end quite as well as that Harrison Ford flick you saw last night (especially the whole part about always getting the girl).

But you know what? They happen anyway. I think my latest tale of nonsensical sordidness and woe qualifies…

The sun sets near Växjösjön in Växjö. At night, temperatures dip precipitously.

The cold. That was the first thing I noticed. Permeating, penetrating, turning your breath frosty and encasing the marrow of your bones in ice.

It was 10:30 pm, and I was lost. I mean really lost. More lost than Matthew Fox and the cast of Lost.

I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and now was paying the price for my folly.

I had decided to go exploring around Teleborgs Slott, the castle located on Linnaeus University’s campus. My reasoning was simple: I didn’t have a lot going on that day, the weather was nice, and I figured it would be a long time until I was in Europe again. Life’s an adventure, right?

After walking for a couple of hours, I thought I should start heading back. Only I didn’t know how to get back.

When you see this sight, you know you're far from campus.

Sure, I’d already been in Sweden for a semester, but I’ll let you in on a little secret – and ladies, you’ll probably never hear a man admit this again: my sense of direction is terrible. Really, I have a tendency to get lost almost anywhere, even on my home university’s campus. So really, getting lost in the woods was only to be expected.

The sun began to set, enveloping the landscape in utter darkness, the type of which you don’t even see in the foothills in Idaho. And with the setting sun came the cold, the likes of which I’d only experienced over the course of a long and brutal Swedish winter; a simple sweatshirt, I knew, was about as appropriate as wearing a swimsuit in December.

I realized I needed to get back, or otherwise risk a cold and shivering night in the woods (which, while it’s legal in Sweden to camp just about anywhere, would be rather uncomfortable) and/or a possible attack by the ermine (a small weasel-like creature indigenous to Sweden) that had attacked me in the area on two previous occasions and who undoubtedly sought to be my undoing.

I saw my opportunity when a pair of headlights came into view around a bend in the road.

A million questions swirled in my mind. What if the driver didn’t stop? What if they didn’t understand my Swedish or speak English? Did I know enough Swedish to communicate? What if they wanted to rob me, or worse?

Stepping out in front of the vehicle, I flagged the driver down. The car stopped, and a middle-aged man with a short blond beard rolled down his window.

“Hej” (“hello”) I told him. “Jag har en problem. Talar du engelska?” (“I have a problem. Do you speak English?”)

“A little.”

Hearing those words was like finding out you won the lottery.  I explained the situation, and the man said he and his wife were actually heading into town anyway.

I was saved. After almost three hours, countless kilometers and numb fingers, I was finally back in the warmth of my IKEA-furnished dorm.

I had learned that life is truly a journey, not a destination, and that any situation is as enjoyable or painful as you make it out to be. And I learned that mankind is inherently good by nature, with complete strangers offering to help a simple lost foreigner. I had truly witnessed the best of humanity.

This story is not without a warning, however: if you study abroad, don’t wander in a strange forest by yourself; always use the buddy system.

Oh, and remember that adventures happen. So get used to it. Otherwise, I suggest buying a pet rock. Not a lot of unexpectedness to deal with there.

When exploring someplace new, always bring along a buddy (or two).

Teleborg’d

I’m not usually one to brag, but here at Linnaeus University we actually have a castle on campus. Seriously.

Having class on the grounds of an actual castle is an experience not soon forgotten. Especially when you have a marshmallow in your mouth for no apparent reason.

Yes, I know I sound conceited. But hey, it’s pretty freaking cool, especially when your home university is well-known for being ugly even by U.S. standards.

Your campus might have a massive football stadium. Your campus might be in the heart of a major city like Stockholm. Or your campus might even have its own movie theater, or be located in Hawaii.  But your campus doesn’t have Teleborgs Slott.

Teleborgs Slott (Swedish for “Teleborg Castle”) was built in 1900 by Swedish count Fredrik Bonde af Björnö as a wedding gift for his wife Anna Koskull. After the couple died in 1917, the castle was used as a hotel for young girls. Finally, the city of Växjö bought it in 1964 for – as legend says – one kronor.

Today, the castle is used for a variety of purposes, including weddings, city council meetings, conferences, and a 23-room hotel. But as a student, perhaps its best function is as the site for Sunday afternoon fikas, where from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. anyone can come and have coffee. And at only 22 kronor (about $3.50) per person, it’s even cheaper than a trip to Starbucks. But it serves another purpose as well: the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

The entrance to Teleborgs Slott. Built in 1900, the castle today is used for a variety of purposes.

When I was a kid, I owned enough Legos that if I had called the right people I probably would have set a world record. But of all the strange and bizarre things I spent countless hours building (and rebuilding, and then rebuilding some more), my favorite thing to build was castles. I’d imagine having all kinds of great adventures, usually involving dragons, treachery, blackmail, the impending end of the world and/or lots of unnecessary violence resulting in the deaths of virtually every non-essential character.

As I got older, my love affair with the archaic medieval architectural innovation took on different forms, from reading fantasy novels to watching sword-and-sorcery films such as “Lord of the Rings” to even trying to write my own novel (alas, it remains unfinished).

But for all my adoration – and even my parents visiting the famed Neuschwanstein in Germany – I had never actually seen a castle in person, Disneyland not included. Up through high school, and even my first couple years of college, I still dreamed of how cool it would be to actually visit one at some point.

Then I went abroad. If I were to tell you that having a castle on campus wasn’t a factor in my decision to come to Sweden, I’d be lying. Teleborgs Slott, though not large, was the first castle I ever saw in person, and though small, remains the prettiest I’ve seen so far – despite its eerie similarity to Hogwarts in the “Harry Potter” films (the real-life inspiration, perhaps?).

Teleborgs Slott is just as pretty inside as it is outside.

Yes, I’ve had some wild times in Sweden so far, but I’ve also had some more calming ones, too. And most of those calming ones, I’ve noticed, tend to happen in and around the vicinity of Teleborgs Slott. In terms of the most memorable times of my life, they’re definitely up there.

Normally this is where I’d tell you how beautiful the castle is, how it’s many parlors open to the public are exquisitely detailed, how the luscious grounds look they were used as background in a major motion picture or how the ivy growing along the Western side of  the main façade gives the castle an overpoweringly romantic feel. But for the first time in my life, I’ve got nothing.

All I can say is this: words truly cannot describe how beautiful it is. Sure, studying abroad anywhere is great, but when you have something so overpoweringly beautiful on campus, it makes the whole experience even better.

So when I eventually go back to the U.S. and am feeling nostalgic, I just might unbox the Legos or try again at writing that novel.

And this time, my adventures would be based on a true story.

Teleborgs Slott in the fall.

Teleborgs Slott in winter.