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!