October 6, 2022
This past month has been crazy! After the many long hours flying, meeting my host family was very comforting and relaxing. So far, they seem to be very relaxed people. In fact, That can be said for the wide majority of the people I’ve met here in Umeå. The first 2 weeks of my exchange were very eye-opening. They were the last 2 weeks of true summer, where the sun took ages to set, and the morning air was warm to my touch when I woke up. The food is also great and very unique, despite my first dinner being a homemade lasagna. When it comes to breakfast, toast with butter and cheese is a go-to, if it’s not on knäckebröd, or crisp-bread. Fika, or a coffee break consisting of coffee(of course) and a snack, is also something I have come to enjoy greatly. Lunch is typically the same as breakfast, and I’m not disappointed about that, mostly because the cheese is very good here. Dinner is where it gets interesting. I have had a variety of different meals over the past 6 weeks, ranging from smash-burgers to salmon pie. It has been nothing but a treat to try everything I can get my hands on.
On my third week of exchange I traveled alone on a 3 hour train ride to Sundsvall for my Inbound Orientation. Meeting other exchange students was absolutely amazing; I did not realize just how much fun it would be, nor did I expect we would all bond so much. I have met so many amazing people, and my only regret is not being able to spend more time with them during the course of my exchange, as I am 1 of 2 exchange students in my Rotary district. We have made many fun memories, and we have our own anthem: the Swedish Fika song, which I have discovered many a Swede here also know about. The camp itself was also very informative, teaching us Swedish, Swedish Traditions, and some important events that have lead to the creation of the country we are living in right now. Our group as a whole has decided that one of us will become king, for the soul purpose of changing the structure of the Swedish language to no longer include the word “ett”, which is an article like the words “a” and “an” but doesn’t follow any strict rules for when it is used, and has earned its right as the most hated word to try and use in our group.
After my Orientation, I returned home to find that my host parents had returned to their jobs, and that school had started for my host brother. This left me home alone for a whole week. This left me with only one thing to do: figure out the lay of the land. I spent everyday going on walks, leaving me sometimes lost, and sometimes leaving me to enjoy the atmosphere. It is so much quieter up here than it is back in the US, and I have loved how at any point I can choose to sit down and listen the the sounds of nature without having to drive a hour or two first to find the nearest quiet space.
The next week I started school. Everything is completely different. First off, the school here is much smaller, and the schedules are much less packed with classes. Some days I only have 1 class. Others I have 3 classes. My classes don’t even start at the same times every day. On Monday I start school at 11:00, whereas on Thursdays I start school at 8:30. The meals here are superior, with a variety of different dishes being served each day. Everything from the stereotypical potatoes and meatballs to rice with curry, in addition to having a 3 hour break to eat said lunch and socialize. The teachers give us 20-30 minute breaks in our classes so we can focus better. To top it all off, everyone, the teachers, other staff, students, are all so kind. We call all of the adults by their first names, and we make jokes together during class with the teachers. It feels so casual, and that everyone that is attending actively wants to be there. The atmosphere is so casual, so much so that swearing, while not overused, is perfectly acceptable in a normal conversation.
There are so many other things I want to say, but for the purpose of not being too verbose I will summarize my final point: for all of the differences and similarities I have said above, they are nothing compared to what my everyday life is like now, when it comes to all of the finer details. Restaurants have either no straws or paper straws, fast-food places serve you using a ticket number system, and the complete lack of cash and loose money is astounding. I look forward to the many other details I discover in the coming weeks.
So it’s been a while, and a lot of things have happened. Starting with events, I have been to the mountains now, and oh boy are they mountains. I cannot describe in words how amazing it was to witness the stuff I saw from up there, and the photos(below) don’t do them any justice. There was this one point where I got to watch the fog clear an reveal the amazing valley behind it, and I kid you not, I had to keep wiping my eyes to make sure what I was seeing was real, let alone right in front of me.
Next I went to Skåne, where I learned a little about Dag Hammarskjöld, visited an apple-juice factory, and meet many Rotary exchange students that I hadn’t before. It made for a wild weekend. Best of all, I now have a few more cool and interesting friends, with the only sad thing result of the trip being, once again, that I can’t spend more time with the other exchange students.
Moving on from separate events, Winter is coming, and with it comes its dark blanket. I was warned on several occasions that it would get dark, and it would happen fast, but I had no idea that what they were saying was an understatement. Seriously, just two weeks ago the sun was just beginning to set at 4 pm, now it the sun has set AT 4 pm. My mental clock is now completely unreliable; I look out of the window and think, “I should be getting to bed now, it’s late,” but when I quickly check my phone it’s only 6 or 7 in the afternoon. I’ve heard, however, that it gets lighter outside after the snow falls, so I’m waiting in anguish for that time to come. One positive of winter, thankfully, is that I get to see the Northern Lights sometimes. Just last week I saw a faint one, and it was ethereal, and I am now eagerly awaiting for a much clearer and stronger appearance later this month.
Things in my daily life have changed vastly from when I last posted. I speak almost exclusively in Swedish, save for the, surprisingly, few times I don’t know or can’t remember a particular word. I’ve been working with my friends and family to get them out of the habit of using English around me, because while it is easier to communicate in English for both them and me, I dearly want to have a much better mastery of Swedish. It’s such a beautiful, and much more simple, language when to compared to English, I’ve found. There are so many quirks that make me giggle, and I have had an absolute blast learning the language. I have a couple examples that can give you an idea of how cool Swedish is. Many words have double or multiple meanings, so when I want to say ‘leg’ or ‘bone’ I say ‘ben'(pronounced like ‘Beyyn’). The funny thing with this is that in some places it gets absolutely wild; my favourite example is that when you want to say ‘sigh’, ‘yawn’, ‘hiccup’, ‘sneeze’, or ‘gasp’, all you have to say is ‘gäspa'(pronounced ‘yesspa’). To top it all off, the grammar is much closer to old or medieval English, so whenever I need to actively translate something I just ask myself, “How would Shakespeare say this?”
Looking forward, I have no expectations for how things will turn out, or what I’ll be doing even! My only question now is whether or not this winter darkness will leave me sane enough to give you next month’s entry. Bye for now!
Hello there dear readers,
I’ve been gone for a while, so let’s get straight to the point, and cover the things that I have done and learned over during the course of the last three months.
Starting with some big news, I’m fluent in Swedish(Yay!) and have been since around the fifteenth of November of last year. It’s made speaking and thinking and learning new words much easier for the last two and a half(ish) months, but I have made some discoveries in what it means to be fluent in a language. Firstly, being fluent has its many levels, as is to be expected, but they have less to do with one’s vocabulary, and more to do with how well you can command and use the language. Being fluent in a language means that you need not only an understanding of the grammar and nuances of the language itself, but also a level of cultural understanding. This is so that you know how the language can be manipulated in a way that makes sense in the culture. This idea is best demonstrated in situations where people will “invent” new words or grammatical inconsistencies to help better explain an idea or to make jokes. For example, many people have come across the English idea of the word “funner”, which is something that makes sense in theory but doesn’t work in practice due to a discrepancy in how the grammar of the language and the culture behind the language come together. It’s why when people ask why “funner” is grammatically incorrect most people will reply with either an “It’s just wrong” or an “it sounds funny”; “funner” is culturally incorrect.
With a potential existential crisis averted, it is undeniable that learning Swedish is an absolute joy and that while I am progressing very quickly, I still have much more to understand and learn when it comes to trying – and failing – to make jokes in Swedish.
Moving on from the antics of speech, November and December were very busy with many concerts and rehearsals for school,but by far the most exciting day was Christmas Eve, as it was my first time having a large Christmas with extended family – Swedes celebrate Christmas on the 24th, not the 25th. We gathered around the TV to chat, watch “Kalle Anka” – better known as Donald Duck in English – and drink small mugs of warm “glögg”, which is similar to mulled wine, although the Swedish version usually has the alcohol removed. Christmas dinner consisted of a wide range of foods; Swedish Christmas ham, meatballs, potatoes, deviled eggs, and beetroot salad, just to name a few. After Julbord(Swedish for Christmas dinner – better known as Yule table in English), we split up and opened our gifts, had fika(Swedish coffee break), and went home.
Unfortunately my memories of New Year’s are quite fuzzy, but we had dinner with family friends, made some fun explosions and then quickly ran inside to watch the speech for the New Year on TV. So far I can say that the New Year is going very well, because 3 days later I changed host families.
The new family is very different from my first one, and I’m still working out all of the kinks to how I fit in with them. My new family has a dog named Jambo who is a joy to walk with, and we live much closer to the center of the city, so now I cycle to school. Which is now part of my daily struggle, because I have to cycle through snow, which is not the best. I do, however, enjoy that I feel a lot closer to all of my school friends, and I will be taking advantage of that soon by organizing some of my own hangouts, but for the time being the largest benefit is that I can get to the local library much, much quicker than before.
I am running out of things to say, so for now I will leave you with my most important lesson from my time living in the Swedish Winter : Cross Country Skiing is just walking made more difficult, which means that everyone should do it at least 5 times.
Jan. 31, 2023