“The first condition of human goodness is something to love; the second something to reverence.”

The last time I wrote, I still had a week left in Jönköping. That last week went by in the blink of an eye. I took Matty to eat at my favorite places, including an amazing gelato shop called Glassfabriken across from my apartment. Matt loved kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls), so we visited several cafes throughout the week in pursuit of the scrumptious Swedish specialty. On Thursday I invited my coworkers to my goodbye fika and we ate chocolate cake and chatted, which was a pleasure as always. On Friday evening we had the farewell dinner for the summer students which turned into an improv dance and karaoke show. I so enjoyed the short month in which I got to know all the summer students and I am excited that my job might entail something like this in the future. I miss my coworkers and friends in Jönköping, especially Monika and Leticia, although I’ve been so busy the past week I haven’t had time to dwell on my departure. Before I tell you about the Lowe European Vacation, I want to list a few things I learned from my time in Sweden:
1) Taking a break at work and getting to know your coworkers is okay and makes the work day a lot more fun.
2) Drinking coffee after every meal is a lovely tradition.
3) Just because people don’t smile at you in public doesn’t mean they aren’t nice or that they hate you.
4) Sun and warmth deserves to be appreciated and celebrated.
5) Americans aren’t the only people who wear sneakers a lot.
6) Work to live, don’t live to work.
7) Immigration issues exist in many other places besides the U.S., especially in the European Union countries.
8) The U.S. is truly a culture of convenience: places are open at night, on the weekends, etc., drinks are big, and refills are free. And I must say, I love it!

These are just a few of the many things I learned, but I’m excited to write about Germany and England, so I’ll continue. On Saturday, June 29th, Matthew and I flew to Berlin to meet my parents, who had flown in a couple of hours earlier. Matthew’s exchange family from his trip last year greeted us at the airport, and I had the pleasure of getting to know Bozena, his exchange mother. We ate dinner with them almost every night, and the highlight was when one of the family members from Morocco cooked a delicious Moroccan meal. It was quite easy to get around in Germany because Matthew knows German. I’m sure we could have survived with English, but knowing the language of a country makes everything so much smoother. Berlin is a curious city–it has simultaneously been destroyed and revived by World War II. Everything in the city seems to be related to the war somehow: either this building was bombed or that street was separated by the Berlin Wall or this street held Hitler’s bunker, etc. Although I do not think the Germans are proud of their role in World War II, it seems that they have found survival not by trying to forget the war nor by adopting the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” attitude that the former Confederacy had, but by keeping the imperfect, raw, often disturbing history alive. Berlin has the added peculiarity that it was one city divided between the Soviet Union and the Capitalist Allies after the war. During our visit we took a photo at Checkpoint Charlie (the crossing point between East and West Berlin), complete with Soviet and American soldier reenactors, we visited the Deutsch Democratic Republic Museum, which told the story of East Germany, and we visited a haunting concentration camp that was turned into a Soviet “special camp” after the war. Besides visiting the wonderful museums filled with Prussian excavations and eating yummy street food, our sightseeing centered on how World War II and its effects shaped Berlin. While it may sound like a sobering visit, it was tempered by time with Matty’s exchange family. Matthew loves Germany, especially Berlin, so he really enjoyed visiting again. My parents seemed to like the city as well: it was their first trip outside of the U.S. and the Caribbean, and they found that it wasn’t as different as they imagined.

Next we flew to London, which is a city I’ve dreamed of visiting since I first read Harry Potter at the age of 9. London was everything I imagined, plus about a million more people. Although the population isn’t as dense as New York City or many cities in China, for some reason London seemed incredibly crowded. Perhaps it’s because it is the height of tourist season; regardless, the city was always alive and always bustling to the maximum. There is so much to see in London that we had to go nonstop–the fact that our hotel room was practically a shoebox didn’t phase us much because we were never there. The first night we went to King’s Cross Station to find Platform 9 3/4, (on my insistence of course), but it took us quite a while to get to King’s Cross because of the inordinate number of people on the Tube. At one point the Tube stopped in the middle of the tracks on the way to a stop because of traffic on the line. We were packed in and the heat was rising, but after about 10 minutes we finally started moving again. One lady had an anxiety attack because she was claustrophobic and had been on the Tube behind a train that was bombed in the London bombings a few years back. After that episode, we became somewhat accustomed to the crowds and did our best to see everything we could, which included the British Museum (with the Rosetta Stone and many other astounding artifacts), Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, (so cool for a Philippa Gregory fan like me), Harrod’s, Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, places that inspired settings in Harry Potter, and Daniel Radcliffe in the West End play The Cripple of Inishmaan. (It was a great performance!) I also met up with Erica, one of my great friends from high school, which was wonderful. We were both Harry Potter obsessed in high school, (who am I kidding, we are still obsessed), so being in London together was a dream come true. I also ran into a guy I know from college named Daniel at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. Who would have thought?

I fell in love with London, but I don’t know if I could live in such crowded quarters. However if I ever have to move to, say, Wales, I wouldn’t mind! Stockholm was still the most beautiful city to me because it flowed so well, but London was more alive–the fact that it has been an important capital since the time of the Roman Empire only adds to its aura.

My travels are now coming to an end. I’m currently on a flight from London to Newark, and then from there I will fly to Charleston where Jake will collect me. I am really excited to see him! My internship combined with the amazing family vacation to Germany and England has satiated my desire to wander, at least for a bit. I am looking forward to some barbeque, sweet tea, and familiar faces and places.

I found the title quote of this post on George Eliot’s tomb at Westminster Abbey. I wrote it down while walking through the awe-inspiring majesty of the Abbey because it struck a chord with me. I was lucky in this trip to Sweden, Germany, and England because I spent time in places and with people that I love and I also visited many places full of beauty and brilliant history that I revere. Moreover, I will always look with reverence upon the wonderful experience I had in Europe during the summer of 2013. Now I just have to work on that “goodness” part that Eliot mentions. This is the end of my travel blog proper. I have truly enjoyed writing and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my escapades. I may write again in the future–never say never! Thank you for taking the time to read. It means a lot! I plan to post some photos as soon as I get them all downloaded to my computer, but it will probably take a little while to get them posted, as I took many.

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Midsommar in Stockholm, among other happenings

Trevlig Midsommar, or Happy Midsummer, to all! Friday, June 21st was Midsummer Eve, which is huge in Sweden. It highlights the Swedes’ unique connection to summer, warmth, and light that we Southerners take for granted. Matthew arrived to Jönköping on Thursday, June 20th, and after grabbing some kebob pizza and walking down by the water, we set off for Stockholm by train. Matt hadn’t really slept in over 24 hours, but he still seemed alert and good to go. We switched trains in Nässjö. Our second train had Hogwarts’ Express-syle compartments decked out in deep red, which made Matt and me feel like we were in a Harry Potter movie. Unfortunately there was some trouble with the train tracks and we sat on the train for an extra 30 minutes waiting for the problem to be repaired. Matthew started to doze and kept dangerously leaning toward the girl’s shoulder next to him, which all the rest of us in the compartment found entertaining. However after a relatively uneventful trip, we finally made it to Stockholm’s Central Station. The hotel I booked for us was a Swedish-style hotel with a long history and free breakfast. It was also apparently a “ten minute walk from downtown Stockholm,” which come to find out was a bit of an exaggeration. We had luggage anyway, so we had planned to take a public bus to our accommodation because Bus #69 had a stop right outside the hotel. However after walking around for about 20 minutes with no sign of a public bus, I called the hotel to ask for advice, only to discover that Stockholm was currently experiencing a bus strike and there would be no public buses. (Matthew observed, “You can always count on the Europeans for a good strike.”) The concierge gave us an alternate route that consisted of taking a tram from Central Station and then walking for about ten minutes, and somehow Matthew and I finally found our (not exactly a ten-minute-walk) hotel. However it was beautifully situated on water and offered free drinks in the fridge, so I went to sleep exhausted but satisfied.

The next morning we went to Skansen to celebrate Misummer. Skansen, the world’s first open air museum, opened in 1891 as a replica of Sweden in miniature. The park is set up as a walking tour of the country, from south to north. In the south of Skansen one can find authentic farmhouses and soldier’s cottages imported to the park, in the middle there are manor houses and summer farms, and in the north we found Sami settlements and Finn-Swede homes. There is also a zoo with reindeer and bears and other Scandinavian animals. The highlight of the zoo experience was when Matthew and I came to an enclosure with European bison that happened to have a sign in front of it that said “wild boar.” We stood in wonder at how amazing it was that wild boars could get so big and look so much like buffalo when we saw a couple of yards down the way was another sign detailing European bison. The people around us probably got a good laugh out of our blonde moment. Also in Skansen we watched the raising of the maypole. Traditionally on Midsummer Eve, Swedes decorate a long maypole with flowers, raise it, and dance around the pole to a song called Små Grodorna (Little Frogs). The purpose of this comes from pagan tradition when people danced around a phallus-shaped pole in the hopes that they would have a fertile harvest. Apparently in Christian tradition, Midsummer can be combined with the celebration of John the Baptist’s birthday, since the Bible says he was born 6 months earlier than Jesus. Women also typically wear dresses and flower wreaths. Of course today most Swedes simply get together with friends and family and eat pickled herring and drink schnapps, but Matt and I were glad we witnessed the traditional festivities at beautiful Skansen.

The next day, we took a boat tour of Stockholm and explored Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and Södermalm, the trendy district. A lot of things were closed because of Midsummer, but I can say without a doubt that Stockholm is the most beautiful city I’ve seen. It is built on a series of 14 islands, and everything just seems to fit. The dusky red and sunny yellow houses line the hills throughout the archipelago and the majestic brick buildings of an official nature call attention not only to the skill of their structures, but also to the quiet beauty of the water and land around them. The city is clean and friendly; it might have been because it was a holiday, but I felt much less crowded in Stockholm than I have in other big cities. Of course Stockholm’s population is four times less than that of New York City, so this difference is understandable. But Stockholm in general seems so laid back, because everything just works. It’s a city that’s been around since the 12th century, so it doesn’t have to try too hard. We also explored the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan and the Town Hall, where the Nobel Prize banquet is held each year. Overall, our trip to Stockholm was laid back but exciting, which is the perfect combination.

Earlier in the week, before Stockholm, I went kayaking on Lake Vättern and Lake Rockjon. My coworker, Susann, invited Monika and me to go kayaking with her son, Anton, a few weeks back, and I wasn’t sure if it would happen. But on Monday, the weather was perfect, so I set out to the kanutklub by the lake at around 5:30 pm. Once in the kayak, I practiced a bit to get the hang of it and then set out pretty close to the shoreline. (Even experienced kayakers don’t mess too much with the middle of Vättern). I saw Jönköping from a new perspective that night; I felt so lucky to get the opportunity to kayak on the deepest lake in Sweden. Once we got back to the club, Monika and I decided to try narrower kayaks to see if we could successfully balance. The first one we tried was wobbly, but we both successfully made it back to shore. Then Anton invited us to try his kayak, which was quite a bit more narrow. Monika tried it first and as soon as he let go of the kayak, she tipped over into the 42 degree water. One would think I would be smart enough not to follow in her footsteps, but I was determined to try. Once again, as soon as Anton released the canoe, I also went right into the water. Surprisingly, the water was more refreshing than freezing–this probably had something to do with the fact that it was warm outside.

Today has been a lazy day for Matthew and me. We ate American burgers and fries at Munchie’s, toured the grandiose Sophia Church, and shopped for Swedish candy. We both agree that life in Sweden reminds us more of American life than, for him, life in Germany, and, for me, life in China.

At work, some people are starting to leave for their summer vacations. The office seems a little slower than usual. This upcoming week is the last week of the summer program I help coordinate, which both saddens and excites me. We have a lot of fun things planned for the last week, but it’s also my last week in Jönköping. Five weeks of my life in Sweden has already happened, and I have one week left to soak in the beauty of Sweden–the beauty in its geography, but most of all the beauty in the personalities of people here. This will be a week of goodbyes and exciting events.

We took tons of photos in Stockholm, but they are all on the big camera, so the few pics I’m sharing from our iPhones don’t do Stockholm justice.

Photos:
1. Stockholm’s Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) at night (p.s. this is around 11 pm).
2. Maypole at Skansen
3. Royal Palace
4. Grand Hotel–a very fancy place in Stockholm. I believe Princess Madeleine had an appearance or reception here for her wedding
5. A prime example of Ragare, the subculture in Sweden that loves old American cars and rock’n’roll
6. Villa Källlhagen, our lovely hotel
7. Matt drinking at Gildas Rum, an adorable coffee shop in Södermalm
8. American burgers at hole-in-the-wall Munchie’s… they were delicious!
9 and 10. Sophia church

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Social calendars and the real Swedish fish

As the weeks pass, I seem to get busier and busier. Monika and I joke that we just keep adding events to our “social calendar.” Monika and I hang out almost every day–she is just that cool. She also knows a lot of people around town, and thanks to her I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people. She jokes that I’m like a local now, although I don’t know about that. Jönköping does have a nice small town feel to it; the entire municipality, which includes Jönköping, Huskvarna, and other surrounding areas, has a population of about 130,000. Ulrica and Martin, a wonderful middle-aged couple who live in a suburb of Jönköping, tell me that the city has grown quite a bit since they were children–the city is still quite small and quaint compared to a place like Stockholm, but it is a wonderful place to raise a family, and it also has the positive, invigorating influence of the university.

Speaking of Ulrica and Martin, Monika and I accepted a gracious invitation to eat dinner at their house today. We had a delicious meal of salad, crispy salmon encrusted with sesame seeds, seasoned new potatoes, yogurt sauce, and strawberries with glass (ice cream) for dessert. This is the third time I’ve eaten salmon and new potatoes since I’ve been here–it seems to be quite a popular meal in Sweden. Herring is another popular fish around here. It’s a very traditional food to eat during Swedish Midsommar, so I plan to try it on Friday. Midsommar is equal in importance to Christmas in Sweden, and I am looking forward to celebrating with Matthew in Stockholm. Whenever I go to a restaurant for Dagens Lunch (lunch-of-the-day), there are usually three options to choose from: a meat dish, a fish dish, and a pasta dish. I almost always go for the meat dish because I tend to finicky about fish, but Swedes seem to enjoy it enough to have it as a daily lunch option.

This week was the last week of school for gymnasiet (high school) students. The graduating students displayed the unique Swedish graduation traditions in style: on graduation day they all wear white outfits with caps that resemble sailor hats, and after the ceremony they congregate in big trucks or on trailers being pulled by tractors. They then ride throughout the city with signs and loud music that is accompanied with much yelling and honking. It’s quite a sight to see, and I’m glad my friend warned me or I would have been very confused as the countless trucks and tractors drove by my office on Friday. The students also wake up to champagne breakfasts on their graduation days, which sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

Yesterday I accompanied the summer students on an excursion to Gränna and Vadstena, two nearby towns. I planned to meet some of the students at their dorm so we could all get on the charter bus together at 8 a.m. On Friday night I told Monika about my plans to walk to the dorm in the morning, and she said that she thought it would be too far. I knew it was about a thirty-five minute walk, but I didn’t mind and I thought I didn’t have any other option since I had no bus pass. But Monika said I could buy a bus pass on the public bus, for the public bus system here is really great and widely used. I decided to take the bus to the dorm instead of walking, and so at around 7:30 a.m. I walked to the bus stop and got on bus #26 heading toward Bankeryd. I knew this was the correct bus, but when I got on and asked to buy a pass, the driver told me in very broken English that unfortunately he did not have any passes. I told him where I was going, he nodded like he understood, and then he told me I could ride for free to my destination. I thanked him and sat down. We went about two stops and I thought that perhaps I should get off at this stop, but I was pretty sure that we would get closer to my destination at the next stop. However at the same time a huge bicycle race was going on throughout the area, so traffic was very bad. I’m not sure if my bus driver skipped a stop or if something else happened, but I ended up about 15 minutes away from where I wanted to go. I had warned the students that they should be on time to get on the charter bus, and of course here I was 15 minutes away from where I was supposed to be and 10 minutes late. I caught the bus going back the other way and hurriedly messaged Camilla, who was the other employee going on the excursion. She told me they could wait for me and that I should go to the central station. I took the bus back to town and this time I once again offered to pay, but I think the driver felt sorry for me because I didn’t know Swedish, and he waved my payment away with a smile. I then sprinted to the central station and found the charter bus and we were finally on our way.

Once in Gränna, we all watched a peppermint-candy making demonstration and sampled the delicious, soft polkagris for which Gränna is known. Camilla and I walked down by the water, (because it seems one can’t escape from water while in Sweden), and chatted while the students attempted to cure their hangovers with coffee and fresh air. The town was so quiet and quaint that it was easy to be at peace–any sound came from either lapping water or crying seagulls. After spending about an hour and a half in Gränna, we took the bus to eat lunch at Per Brahe House. Per Brahe House is the ruins of a castle-guest house on top of a mountain overlooking Gränna. There happens to be a restaurant across the way from the ruins. We ate salmon, salad, and potatoes and I chatted with the students about their experiences in Jönköping so far, and then we made our ways to the ruins, where much picture-taking and exploration occurred. After a beautiful time there, we returned to the bus and made the hour drive to Vadstena. Vadstena was my favorite place of the day because of the tangible history throughout the town. It is known for its downtown, which is organized as if it were a medieval community. Vadstena also has a 700-year old church of breathtaking beauty–inside the floor is made up of tombs, and on the wall there is list of every pastor that has presided over the church since the 1300s. Next to the church is the primary attraction of Vadstena: one of Gustav Vasa’s castles. Gustav Vasa is one of the best-known kings in Sweden because of his success in breaking free from the Danish king, among other people, in the 1500s. The Swedish National Day that I mentioned in my last post is celebrated on June 6th because Gustav Vasa was elected king on this day. He also made Sweden a Protestant nation and commandeered much wealth from churches throughout Sweden. This particular castle was built in the Renaissance style, with an open, geometric courtyard and tall windows. It was originally built as a fortress, but eventually Gustav Vasa’s son expanded the building to become a castle. I thought it was especially cool that any boat can park in the moat surrounding the castle. I would love to, number one, have a boat, and, number two, be able to sail it over to a castle and just park there.

I will at least get the chance to be on a (sort-of) boat tomorrow. One of my colleagues invited me to go canoeing on Lake Vättern, which is the second largest and first deepest lake in the country. If the weather is nice, Monika and I will go for a short canoe trip along the shore of Vättern. I am really excited about this, as I haven’t had the chance to experience the lake yet. (Hopefully I don’t experience it too intimately though, because I hear the water is freezing!) In other events involving the lake, the largest recreational bike race in the world occurred around Lake Vättern on Saturday. The 300 kilometer (186 mile) Vätternrundan occurs every June.

This week I am accompanying the students to IKEA in order to learn more about the company. And then on Thursday, Matt and I will be on our way to Stockholm! Exciting things are ahead. I’m sending lots of love to my dad for Father’s Day–thanks for everything you do! The same goes to you, Papaw!

1. Tractor with high school graduates in tow
2. Students watching the candy making demonstration
3. Per Brahe ruins
4. Lovely Swedish countryside
5. The cute streets of Vadstena
6. Inside the majestic church
7. The list of all the pastors (the first one is from 1380!)
8. Gustav Vasa’s castle

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“There is going to be a wedding”

Did you know that Sweden still has a royal family, along with several other European countries? I’m a shameless fan of Kate Middleton and the British royal family, but now I have discovered several other royal families that I can start following. This weekend, the youngest Swedish princess got married to Christopher O’neill, an American businessman that she met while working in New York. Princess Madeleine enjoys the city life in New York, no doubt because she is able to live a freer life there than she can in Sweden. But Swedes take her a little less seriously than her other siblings because, after living in New York for less than three years, she somehow developed an American accent when speaking Swedish. Apparently Americans pronounce the Swedish “r” very strangely and Princess Madeleine has adopted this speech pattern. Also, when she announced the marriage, she very formally announced that, “this summer, there is going to be a wedding” instead of simply saying, “I’m getting married.” She caught some flack for that in the media. Her new husband does not want to become a Swedish citizen, so he will not actually become a prince. I find that odd, but who knows what his reasoning is. The eldest of the Bernadotte children is Crown Princess Victoria: she is 35 and will inherit the throne one day. She married her small-town Swedish personal trainer, which makes her a popular figure in Sweden. It’s so interesting to me that the royal family still exists in Sweden and yet I’m pretty sure many non-Europeans have no idea. It cuts a striking contrast to the British royal family and the constant media attention they receive. It’s also interesting to me that this construct of the past still remains in several European countries: it seems that even as people become more and more modern, they still cling to certain aspects of the past that are steeped in tradition or maybe even because they bring comfort. Do we have constructs like this in the United States? It’s something that I’m pondering…

Last Thursday was Swedish National Day, which has been a national holiday since 2006. Since it is still such a new official holiday, there is not a lot of tradition that surrounds it, but everyone gets the day off and they held parades and celebrations in the city. I had a leisurely day that included lounging at a coffee shop and working out at the almost deserted gym (which rarely occurs in Sweden). I’ve really been enjoying my membership at Friskis & Svettis gym. I started going to spinning classes, but I quickly realized that out of all the classes one can successfully follow in a foreign language, spinning is not one of them. One of the things I’ve always loved about spinning is the personal nature of the workout: your bike is your territory and you get to decide how you’re going to ride. However this does not bode well for someone attempting to follow the instructor as he yells instructions in Swedish and pedals away on his own bike. Therefore I started going to a class called “Jympa Medal.” It’s such an interesting class to me because out of all the group exercise classes I’ve taken and taught, I’ve never had one quite like this. Everyone stands in a circle around the instructor as she leads a part-jazzercise, part-strength training, part-cardio class. It’s so much fun and the hour flies, which is always a good thing when exercising. If I teach again when I get back to the States, I definitely want to implement some of the techniques from this class. However there are a couple of differences I’ve noticed about Swedish group exercise. Number one, when we do floor work, no one uses mats. In my teacher trainings I’ve always been told to make sure my participants are as comfortable as possible and that they are supporting their backs with mats when on the floor, (because in the U.S. even working out should be comfortable of course). The Swedish instructors seem to assume that their participants can take the hard floor digging into their spine and hips. I’m the wimpy American who uses a mat anyway, but the rest of the participants do their crunches the hard core way.

The second difference I’ve noticed in my classes is the number of men who participate in group exercise. The Jympa Interval class I attended this evening had approximately 30 participants, 7 of which were male. Maybe it’s just where I work out in the States, but I feel like it would be rare to see 7 men in an aerobics style class. And some of these men were wearing tight exercise capri pants, which would be an even rarer sight to see in the U.S. Overall, gender equality in Sweden seems to have played out more through men embracing traditional feminine roles rather than the other way around. I didn’t notice this when I first arrived, but one of my British summer students asked me if I had noticed all the men pushing strollers in Sweden. It wasn’t something I had considered before, but it is true that when one sees a stroller on the street, the majority of the time it is being pushed by a man. Since I live on a university campus in Columbia I don’t see too many strollers, so maybe this is why I failed to notice this difference. Of course men pushing strollers occurs in the U.S. as well, but it does seem to be much more common here. Men also qualify for quite a bit of paternity leave: I’m pretty sure it’s equivalent to the time that mothers get, so the parents can choose who gets to stay home with the baby. Einav’s husband stayed home with at least one of her children while she went back to work. It’s pretty cool that men have this opportunity in Sweden.

On Monday, the Summer Program began. I was so excited to get started and the week definitely did not disappoint. The group of 40ish students is awesome–we had two cultural activities this past week that allowed me to get to know some of them and I look forward to getting to know them better throughout the next three weeks. We have many students from Mexico, several from France and Ecuador, two from the States, one from Germany, one from the Netherlands, and one from the UK. Hearing their perspectives on Sweden is great. It was fun to be able to show some of the students around Jönköping when I myself just arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’m not saying I knew that much, but being able to show them how to get a bus pass, where to eat, where to get groceries, and so on just demonstrated how simple it really can be to adjust to life in a foreign environment. We humans have a remarkable ability to adapt to wherever we are. That being said, with more knowledge comes less enthusiastic wonder. The more I learn about Sweden, the less magical it becomes. Now this might be my chronic wanderlust setting in, but it’s also part of the “culture shock” process. I still am madly in love with Jönköping, Sweden, and all of my brilliant friends here, but I do miss home a little. I could do with an American-sized sweet tea from Pal’s right now! I will be home before I know it because time moves with such reckless abandon, so I know my cravings will be abated all too soon.

This week I’m going to plan for my brother’s impending visit on June 20th–I can’t wait to show him beautiful Jönköping and take him to eat at all my favorite places. We’re also planning a long weekend to Stockholm and to Copenhagen, so I’ll be booking hotels and train tickets as well. Until next week, thanks for reading everyone! I miss you all! 🙂

Photos:
1) Group photo of most of the summer students and me while touring Jönköping
2) Einav and me at “after work” (happy hour)
3) My friend Camilla in the student overalls I described in my last blog entry
4) Tennessee or Sweden? Although it could be a bucolic scene on I-26, it is actually a countryside in Huskvarna, Jönköping’s neighboring city. This city is famous for the brand Husqvarna, which produces many many tools, lawn mowers, etc.
5) Where I spend my weekends: the pier
6) A beautiful office building that I assume used to be a church–I pass it on my way to work every day.
7) Sweden at 1 a.m. — the days just keep getting longer!
8) Carrot cake from Johan’s Cafe… yum!

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The week when Sweden was sunny

Weather-wise, it has been a glorious week in Jönköping. Although it’s still too cool to go without a jacket at night, the sun has shone beautifully and everyone in the town has been out and about. The fact that the high school prom and Jönköping’s annual market was this weekend also increased the bustle about town. I live right in the middle of it all, so my daily commute to work is always interesting.

The high school prom here is so much cooler than back home. The prom couples all somehow find really nice cars and get dropped off at the hotel where the prom is held. The line of cars is half convoy, half parade. I saw many old American cars, luxury Porsches and Audis, and even a 1950s perfect condition pickup truck with couples dressed to the nines riding in the backseats. Apparently parents try to save quite a bit money so their daughters can buy beautiful prom dresses. Speaking of cars, this region of Sweden has a lot of car collectors in the area; they specifically collect vintage American cars. I have seen the bright, long bumpers of several old Pontiacs and Chevrolets driving around town. Jönköping has a big car show every year around Easter. I’ve seen more old American cars driving in Jönköping than I ever see in the U.S.! Funny how that happens.

The reason I was walking in downtown Jonkoping during the prom parade was because I participated in the Student Services Summer Fest. Anyone working in Student Services got to leave work early on Thursday at 2:30, have a fika, and then participate in a scavenger hunt that took us all around town. At the end of the scavenger hunt we were treated to a scrumptious dinner of salad, lax (salmon), mashed potatoes with Swedish cheese, and a creme brûlée type of dessert. I had an amazing time because I got the chance to explore Jönköping with people who knew where they were going and I got to know my coworkers. I also thought it was so lovely that the office treated their employees to such a fun event. One of my scavenger hunt group members, Einav, is from Israel but now lives in Sweden with her Swedish husband and three children. She has a fascinating life, and the fact that she’s from Israel is incredible, so I enjoyed learning more about her. Marrying a Swede and moving here seems to be a trend: at least three coworkers have this type of story. Whether it’s the charm of the Swedes or the free healthcare, education, and relatively easygoing work lifestyle that brings non-Swedes here, I’m not sure.

All working Swedes get 25 state-mandated vacation days each year. Some workplaces offer more, and an employ can also extend his or her vacation by working extra hours throughout the year and so on. During the summer Sweden tends to be less work-focused because the weather is finally warm and many people choose to take their 5-week vacations then and go traveling, often to Southern Europe. Also, Midsummer Festival occurs in June and people get very excited about it. On the longest day of the year, people dance and drink schnapps and wear flowers and celebrate the summer and the light. The winters are long and within those winters the days are short, so the Swedish people relish any warmth and light that comes their way.

Maybe I’m becoming more of a Swede in that way, because I was outside almost every day this past week. On Tuesday Monika and I went to her apartment and made dinner. We then made a little picnic and took it down to the lakeshore, which Monika just happens to have across the street from her. The weather was a bit chilly and windy, but catching a glimpse of the waning sun shining through the trees with a light that glimmered on the surface of the massive lake was worth being a little wind-chilled. On Wednesday evening I joined some friends at the pier, and I could have easily stayed there all night. The sun was beginning to set, but the light was that perfect toasty shade that makes everything seem more beautiful. It was a little chilly, but we had a tall heater next to our table and that combined with the cool lake air felt lovely. Experiencing the joy that Swedes feel about nice weather makes me more appreciative of the bountiful sunshine and warm weather in the South, even if sometimes the weather is more sticky and steamy and miserable than anything.

After we sat at the pier for a couple of hours, my friend/coworker Camilla and I made our way to Akademien, the student club in Jönköping. Since I’m not a student, Camilla got me on the guest list and we made our way into the large club. The first thing I hear is Spice Girls music blaring and the first thing I see is a ton of students dancing the night away in their college overalls. These college overalls are very interesting–each school at Jönköping University, (Health Sciences, Education and Communication, Business, and Engingeering), has a different color pair of overalls. These overalls are a thick, bright material with multiple patches from various student activities covering them. No one wears the overall straps: they wear them just as pants with the straps tucked. Some students wore regular clothing, but about half were representing their schools. Many people were celebrating the end of their exams, so the club was chaotic; other than the overalls, it could have been a bar in downtown Columbia.

On Friday I experienced Jönköping’s market. Every year the city sets up a carnival in the city center next to all the shops. The kids enjoy the rides and the food and the adults get to browse the great deals that all the stores offer. Monika and I went on Friday evening and I bought a great pair of Lee jeans for 500 crowns ($75)–half price! Usually Lee and Levis go for about $150 here. Along with the shopping deals and rides, there are performers and activities. I saw some Native American musical performers while walking down the street and had to do a double-take.

After being here for two weeks, I’m starting to get a feel for what Swedish people tend to think about the U.S. Surprisingly enough for me, I get a lot of positive reactions when people hear that I’m from the States. Since Swedish people usually learn American English in schools and through watching Hollywood movies, they seem to enjoy speaking English with Americans. I’ve had several conversations with the random acquaintances one meets about everything from gay marriage to Mccarthyism. But when it comes to forming a consensus on what Swedish people think about the U.S., it’s impossible. Because as much as I make generalizations through writing about my experiences, the truth is that everyone I meet here is so incredibly different with their own opinions and beliefs, as it is in the States and in any country. That’s the beautiful thing about this world and its people–no two people are ever the same. But on the other hand, even when one travels across the ocean and goes to a foreign place, it is possible to discover kindred spirits in the people you meet, no matter how disparate their cultures.

Photos:
1. Monika and me eating pizza on a Friday night
2. A lovely boat on the pier
3. Some of my group members taking a photo for the scavenger hunt
4. The lakeshore
5. Native American performers
6. The pier
7. Prom parade

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Discovering the Swedish way of life

Hello folks! Today marks 7 full days that I’ve been in Sweden. Time, being the fickle phenomenon that it is, has simultaneously gone extremely fast and slow. I feel like I’ve been in Sweden for much longer than a week, and I don’t mind one bit. The week has been full of getting used to life here and meeting new people. I’ve started to adapt to the way things are done, and it’s coming pretty easily because I love life here! I can already tell 6 weeks will be too short.

My first week of work has been spectacular. I love what I’m working on and the people in my office are extremely welcoming. An important part of the Swedish culture is fika, a mid-morning and mid-afternoon coffee break in which people chat and have coffee, fruit, and sometimes cake or kanelbulle (a delicious Swedish cinnamon roll). If someone has a birthday, wedding, or other celebratory event, fika is the time that he or she is recognized. Just last week we celebrated a marriage, a birthday, and the departure of a couple of Swedish teachers from the office. Coffee machines exist in every office and they will make your choice of coffee or latte. I’ve been enjoying this–I’ve never drunk so many lattes in my life! The birthday fika was very interesting because the birthday girl brought the cake–apparently this is a tradition in Sweden. And, wow, I am so glad she did bring cake, because it was so delicious! She brought kladdkaka, which means gooey cake. It’s a chocolate cake that’s only half-baked so it’s melty and soft in the center. This particular kladdkaka had thick cream and berries on top. It seems pretty simple to make, so maybe I will attempt to bake it when I get back to the States.

My role at the International Relations office is a mixture of things, but starting next week I will be the main person in charge of the summer exchange program. Two groups of about 20 students each will be coming to Sweden to study either entrepreneurship or logistics. We have many exciting things planned for them, including a trip to IKEA to meet with some people involved in the business. I can’t wait to meet all the students–they arrive on Monday, June 3rd. This week I’ve mainly been assisting with sending acceptance letters to incoming exchange students for the fall, and I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the study abroad process. Jönköping Högskolan, ( which means “university college”), has around 12,000 students and about 1,300 of them are international students. University of South Carolina has about 30,000 students and roughly the same number of international students as Jönköping Högskolan. The university has many English-language courses, so international students have many choices when it comes to completing an English language degree. In Sweden, a bachelor’s degree is 3 years rather than 4 as in the U.S. This is because Swedish children start school at 6 and finish school at age 19. Their post-secondary education has less general education requirements, thus it is shorter.

Now, about the food. It is quite expensive to eat out in Sweden, but one can eat on a budget if careful. Many restaurants have lunch specials that include a main dish, salad, drink, bread, and coffee all for 69-90 kronor, depending on the place. (That’s about $10-$13.) Swedes eat salad with almost every meal it seems, which is fine by me because I love salad. They also drink coffee after every meal, which I adore. There are always many varieties of bread around, but they are almost all wheat, and many have seeds in them. They also have “hard bread,” which reminds me of the high-fiber crackers you buy in the U.S. On Friday I tried Swedish pizza for the first time and discovered an amazing specialty here in Jönköping: pizza kebob. It’s pizza piled with french fries, flavorful beef, and a sort of white gravy sauce. It’s heavy, but so yummy! In the realm of sweet things, the Swedes love candy. A Saturday tradition that many families have involves going to stores where they have the rows of big plastic containers filled with different varieties of candy that can be bought by the kilo. Of course I visited one of these stores as soon as I heard about this, and I found many delicious types of candy, including sour gummy pacifiers and chocolate nougat candies called Geisha. But Swedes also have a candy that I find very strange: salty licorice. Every store I go to has this candy, and they even have gum that’s salty licorice flavored. I have yet to try it because it sounds quite unappetizing, but when in Rome…

As I mentioned in my last post, I am very interested in the immigrants here in Sweden. I have talked to several people about their feelings and thoughts on immigration and immigration relations, and, although this is all hearsay, I have learned some interesting things. I don’t pretend to know much about the situation at all, and I think it may be a sensitive topic, so I am merely stating my observations and what other people have told me. Anyone who is a citizen within the European Union can move freely throughout the continent without a visa or entry requirements. Many from other nations have immigrated to Sweden to find work or to build a better life for themselves, but there are some who end up begging on the streets. This begging is usually organized by a mafia-type organization. The current prime minister of Sweden, (Fredrik Reinfeldt), is more pro-immigration, but there are other political parties who are anti-immigration. The immigration issue is a big political debate at the moment in Sweden… sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The immigration issue became violent in northern Stockholm this week. There were riots this week because of a police shooting and other frustrations that immigrants in Sweden are facing. More than 100 cars were set on fire. BBC goes into more details: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22650267 . Sweden also offers solace to many refugees. These refugees get help from the Swedish government even when other countries ignore or expel them. There was recently a 60 Minutes episode on Afghan refugee boys who flee to Sweden because it’s the only country that will accept them. Sweden’s reputation for openness and equality is being tested by the immigrant tensions right now, but from what I have seen, people are truthfully very accepting of others here. I love it!

I have also learned what a typical Swede is like, at least according to my friends here. Apparently the typical Swedish person is reserved and efficient. He or she values being on time, (something that will be good for me to learn), and equality. When addressing a superior such as a professor, it’s completely appropriate to use first names instead of “Dr.” Fica is very important, and weather is always an appropriate topic of conversation. A lot of people here are into fitness: there are several gyms right within the little downtown area and they always seem to be bustling. I joined a gym this weekend, so I will get to experience group exercise classes here. I’m really excited about it! Taking yoga class in 中国 (China) was one of my favorite experiences there, and I’m sure it will be just as fun here. This short video from Eurovision describes the Swedes very well and it will make you laugh in the process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqMsC9uPxME

I am amazed by and appreciative of the hospitality and kindness I have been shown here by my new friends and coworkers. Even in public when a cashier or server speaks to me in Swedish and I tell them that I can’t understand, they usually apologize and start speaking English, even though I’m in their country and can’t speak their language. I have had several conversations about American people and American politics because people here seem genuinely interested in learning about my culture. My experience here makes me realize how important it is to be kind to the people around me, especially people who may be alone or new. I hope I can do the same for visitors in the U.S. It’s a good thing I’m in the field that I am, because I hopefully will have many opportunities to do the same for others.

Photos:
1. As I said, Converse is the most popular shoe brand. They cost about $150 here!
2. My friends/coworkers and me at salsa night: Andrea, Ulrica, and Monika 🙂
3. This is the bridge that’s about a five minute walk from my apartment.
4. Pizza kebob!
5. Kanelbulle
6. The video/candy store where I discovered Geishas and sour candy
7. The view from my office. (In case you didn’t know, Jönköping is situated on a lake.)
8. The view when driving into Jönköping. Lovely!

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My first day as a counterfeit Swede

Hello All!

I debated for a while whether or not I wanted to keep a blog while in Sweden. I tend to be more of a private writer: I like to write about my life, but while I might find the happenings of my days fascinating, I fear that I might bore the rest of my world with my inner reflections and a summary of my doings.

However my internship professor convinced me that keeping a blog will help me publicly internalize my internship experience in Sweden. I know that I regret keeping so poor of a synopsis of my time in China, so I have resolved to keep better record of this Swedish experience. If I compare my time here to my time in China quite a bit, it’s because these are the only two major international experiences I have had, and as I expect them to be completely disparate, it will be useful for descriptive purposes.

I am living in Jönköping, Sweden, for six weeks as a summer intern at the University here. My airport experiences were all pleasant, and although I was worried about my lack of language skills when making connections in Belgium and in Gothenburg, everyone I spoke to had no trouble catering to my need for English. I first found myself in close vicinity to Swedish people while waiting for my flight to Gothenburg, Sweden. I don’t know if it was because some of these Swedes had just returned from travels to America or it was simply their daily fashion, but 99.9% of the younger Swedes that I observed were wearing Levis, Converses, and American sports team paraphernalia. The women carried Michael Kors. I, on the other hand, wore my oldest pair of jeggings, my favorite USC sweatshirt, and in true South Carolina fashion, my Rainbows, and I was carrying a Jansport bag. Needless to say, I felt a bit underdressed. I found it interesting that these Swedes were decked out in the classic American brands. On the other hand, they seem to prefer Swedish and German cars. I’ve seen mostly Volvos, Mercedes, and Beamers, but I’ve also seend a few Hyundais, Toyotas, and Chevrolets.

The 10th century Arab ambassador to the Vikings, Ahmad ibn Fadian, wrote, “I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy.” Although by no means is everyone an Elin Nordegren, there are many beautiful, tall, blonde people here. Even many of the dark-haired Swedes seem to have light eyes. Of course there are many non-Swedes here as well, for the country tends to have a high number of immigrants from the Middle East. For example, I met a very kind Turkish man at the airport who helped me find the bus I needed and told me about his path to Swedish citizenship. I am interested in Swede-immigrant relations, and I look forward to learning more about this during my time here.

As I have always been asked if I have Scandinavian heritage, I definitely pass for a Swede and, despite my American way of dress (aka more boring), I blend in (hence the title of this post). Since my last international experience was in China, this ability to blend in takes some adjustment. While being the figurative “elephant in the room” in China meant that I was always a glaring representative of a 外国人(foreigner/white person), it also meant that it was much easier to make friends and have interaction with people. That, along with the Chinese tendency to be unafraid of pointing out differences or asking questions, meant that I never lacked for conversation. Here in Sweden, on the other hand, people seem to be more reserved. Even though everyone that I have talked to has immaculate English, they do not have an interest in talking to me just because I am a stranger and a foreigner. The people are always polite in conversation, but they definitely seem to be more private than, say, Southerners in the United States or the people I met in China.

Today Jönköping had their first Pride festival ever. There were rainbow flags everywhere and a parade in the downtown area, where I live. Gender equality and LGBTQ rights seem to be very current issues here–I have yet to see a male or female bathroom except at the airport. Everything is gender neutral, down to the bathrooms and showers in my co-ed dorm. The New York Times provides a good example of the concern for gender equality in Sweden: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/world/europe/swedish-school-de-emphasizes-gender-lines.html.

Leticia, my internship supervisor, very kindly took me to dinner last night and told me more about Swedish culture. Apparently talking about religion and personal political views is frowned upon here. Marriage is apparently becoming less common, but I saw several bachelor and bachelorette parties happening. Here the friends kidnap the bride/groom, dress them up in ridiculous costumes, and take them out to do an assortment of different things.

Overall, I have felt quite alone during my time here. I’m not saying it as a bad thing, because sometimes it is nice to embark upon an adventure by oneself. And Leticia has been an amazing support, as have all the people back in the United States who have helped me get here. However the past 48 hours has reminded me of my thankfulness for my God and the amazing people He has put in my life. So this is for all of you who I am lucky enough to count as my family, my love, and my friends.

I hope to learn more about all these cultural observances, among other things, during my six weeks here. I am so very excited to be in Jönköping and I am looking forward to starting my job and to making friends. I will write again soon, and next time I promise photos!

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