Tag archives for Växjö

How I ended up Here!

I think when people ask me how I made it to Sweden they expect some amazing and inspiring story: I have roots in Sweden, I have dreamt about the land of moose and northern lights my whole life (come on, I am from Canada), I have always wanted to study in the land of innovation and equality, I have an abounding love for meatballs and lingon berries, or I have always wanted to date a tall and handsome, blond man.

While some of these might describe how others made it to Sweden, my  story is not quite as exciting.

I had always dreamt of going on exchange somewhere while I was in university. When I was younger I had a babysitter who did a semester abroad in France and I think that is where the thought came from. Since then I had been thinking about where I wanted to study abroad. Read more » >>

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.

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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

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

The essential Swedish summer student guide

You smell like a goat. You’re unshaven. You work endless hours in dimly lit caves. You speak a language understood only by others of your kind. You fear women and put prices on men’s heads. And legions of enemies long to destroy you.

The Swedish summer is not to be missed. Photo: Ben Mack

You are, of course, a journalist.

All you care about is your pretend world of writing. Everything you do is in an effort to find words for your next story. That’s all it is.

On the other end of the spectrum of humanity, you have the student. Idealistic, joyful, fresh-scented: the antithesis of a journalist.

Everything you encounter you view with a sense of open-minded wonder. Life is seen as a series of experiences, and your only motivation is to experience them.

And when it comes to experiences, the Swedish summer is chock-full of them – and at student-friendly prices, too.

If you decide to come to Sweden before the start of the fall semester – or stick around after the spring – you’ll be in for a treat that even dour-demeanored journalists such as myself can appreciate.

Here’s a brief (and admittedly very small) sampling of what you can do:

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SEE THE MIDNIGHT SUN

In Norrland, the sun almost never sets during the summer. Photo: Ben Mack

While normally associated with ice hotels, the Northern Lights and freezing temperatures almost year-round, head up to Norrland during the summer and you can experience sunshine almost 24 hours a day. It never gets totally dark, and is a great chance to go north of the Arctic Circle without needing snowshoes. Be sure to check out the wildlife such as reindeer, and if you get a chance try hiking up Kebnekaise, Sweden’s tallest mountain (over 2000 meters high). You can also learn about the Sami, the indigenous people who have lived in Sweden for more than 5000 years.

SJ offers daily (and nightly) train journeys, going as far as Narvik, Norway. A one-way trip from Växjö takes more than 20 hours, but offers spectacular views of some of the most unspoiled natural areas in the world.

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GO FISHING

Thousands of lakes dot Sweden, and almost every one of them is loaded with fish. And thanks to allemansrätten (“everyman’s right”), you can fish in quite a few of them. Check local laws first, though, to make sure you’re not catching an endangered species.

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ROUGH IT SWEDISH STYLE

Swedes are known for having a special connection to nature, which is reflected in architecture. Photo: Ben Mack

Allemansrätten gives a person the right to access, walk, cycle, ride, ski, and camp on any land –with the exception of private gardens, the immediate vicinity of a house and farmland. Restrictions also apply for nature reserves and other protected areas. The law also gives the right to pick wild flowers, mushrooms and berries (provided they are not legally protected), but not to hunt. Swimming in any lake and putting an unpowered boat on any water is permitted unless explicitly forbidden. Visiting beaches and walking by a shoreline is permitted, providing it is not a part of a garden or within the immediate vicinity of a residence. According to legal practice this is between 100 to 300 meters from a dwelling house.

In other words, almost the entire countryside becomes your own personal playground. Just remember to clean up after yourself: Swedes take environmental stewardship very seriously.

Despite its northerly location, daytime summer temperatures throughout Sweden are commonly above 20 degrees Celsius. So go and enjoy the great outdoors – without losing a kilo of sweat.

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GET YOUR GROOVE ON

Summer is music festival season throughout Europe, and Sweden is no exception. Photo: Csilla Nagy

Summer means music festival season, and Sweden offers a plethora of them for almost every taste. From large, multi-day events such as Gothenburg’s Way Out West (this year from August 11-13 and featuring Kanye West, Robyn, Tiësto, and dozens of other bands) to smaller festivals such as Norbergfestival (July 28-30 in Norberg, featuring electronic and experimental acts like Lustmord and Dopplereffekt) and Skogsröjet (August 12-13 in Rejmyre, with metal bands like W.A.S.P. and hardcore Superstar), there’s something for everyone. Many festivals also offer camping, meaning you can turn your trip into an aural adventure.

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RELEASE YOUR INNER IBRAHIMOVIC

Helsingborg's Olympia Stadium is just one of many that hosts regular Allsvenskan matches. Photo: Ben Mack

Allsvenskan (meaning “All-Swedish”) is the highest division of football in Sweden, with the 16 teams playing a 30-game schedule from April to October. Most of the teams are located in southern Sweden, and each stadium holds thousands of supporters. Student tickets can be as cheap as 100 kronor, and even if you’re not a die-hard supporter of a club, it’s a great way to spend the afternoon and watch normally mild-mannered Swedes display emotions you didn’t think were possible. And with Swedish football encompassing a total of 10 tiers (Allsvenskan, Superettan, and Divisions 1-8), there’s a match going on just about everywhere.

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STUDY SWEDISH

Make your summer a study summer, where you learn Swedish to get a leg-up before fall classes start. A number of study associations offer courses at all levels. Possibly, you might also be eligible for university courses in Swedish, either full- or part-time.

Once you’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency, you can get a certificate by passing a recognized test.  To find the program that’s right for you, the Swedish Institute has some great links to get you started.

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DANCE AROUND A MIDSUMMER MAYPOLE

June 25 is Midsummer, one of the biggest holidays of the year in Sweden. Traditional events include raising and dancing around a huge maypole (majstång or midsommarstång), an activity that attracts families and many others. People listen to traditional music and some even wear traditional folk costumes. In addition, many wear crowns made of wild springs and wildflowers on their heads. Potatoes, herring, chives, sour cream, beer, snaps and the famous Swedish strawberries are usually eaten. Drinking songs are also important, and many drink heavily. Swedish culture at its finest, it is truly an event not to be missed.

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So while the above list may just be a small sampler from the Swedish summer smorgasbord, know this: there’s never a shortage of things to do. For more ideas, head to your local tourist office (most towns have one), or search online.

Or better yet, step outside. You’ll be surprised how sunny it is.

If you’re a journalist, it’s a great way to at least get tan enough to resemble a ghost. That, and more material for your overly exaggerated narrative.

Swedish National Day, June 6, is sometimes called the unofficial start of summer. Photo: Ben Mack