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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