Growth & Spring // May

Hej,

It’s the final countdown of my study year abroad. University ends next week, the last events at my nation are currently taking place, and in early June half of Uppsala will leave.

It feels surreal.

However, although I am coming to terms with leaving, the year is not quite over yet.
And what a glorious time spring has been in Sweden.

Spring camping trip with Filip and Lovisa

Swedish seasons have been a roller coaster of challenges. In November, I was struggling a lot with the overwhelming darkness of sunrises at 9 am and sunsets at 3 pm. It had a bigger impact on my mental health than expected, and I had to take active measures to combat its effects.

Now, the tides have turned. One month away from midsommar–the longest day of the year–we have daylight and a lot of sunshine that lasts from 4 am to 10 pm. It is an entirely different life: There is always something going on, the city seemingly never sleeps, and everybody is in a great mood. More than once have I laid awake at 2 am listening to birds chirping outside my window while my body is struggling to understand that it does need sleep.

Having lived through the dark coziness of Swedish winter, Swedish spring feels like a well-earned dream.

Skumpa 24/7 at Valborg

The official beginning of Swedish spring took place during Valborg. In the end of April, around 50.000 people gather in Uppsala to celebrate Walpurgis night aka April 30. This involves a four-day festival with countless nation activities, slack public alcohol laws, self-built boats, bonfires, wagging of student hats, and 25.000 students crammed into the park right in front of my dorm.

One constant through all of it is Skumpa, sparkling wine. Students start drinking it at 10 am, douse each other with it, and complain about it the next morning. Although I don’t particularly like Skumpa, my Valborg was very fun! We danced a lot, hung out, and just enjoyed the exceptional circumstances that this holiday brings about.

And now it’s officially spring!

Last visit: Floyla do (snowy) Sweden

One big highlight of this month was when I hosted my last visitor, Flora, who I had visited in Istanbul before. She is currently doing her exchange there. Apart from all the laughs and wonderful moments (including snow in early May), her stay also showed me how much I have gradually learnt throughout this year without noticing.

I could tell her funny stories from Swedish history, discuss the welfare system and its disadvantages with her, and teach her easy Swedish phrases. When we did a free walking tour through Stockholm, I had to contain myself to not blurt out all the answers to the guide’s questions.

It hasn’t felt that way, but I have grown so much this year.

Lots of wonderful people at Valborg

I have spent a lot of time this month reflecting on my year and the progress I have made. Going abroad is strange, because after the initial period of excitement, life starts to feel normal until you realize that it is all temporary: the time and your self, which is constantly evolving without you noticing.

There were several instances this past month that made me realize this evolution. Two weeks ago, I had a fifteen-minute conversation in Swedish with my roommate and read Harry Potter in Swedish the next day. It felt like a big milestone, although especially my language skills have undergone such a gradual process.

During Valborg, I met a visiting exchange student friend from last semester and realized that I am in such a different place than I was at the time she left. Uppsala isn’t a dark place with unapproachable Swedish people anymore; it is a home with many friends.

And lastly, I booked my much anticipated trip to Norway in mid-June as well as started planning Lovisa’s visit to Switzerland in August. It helped me realize that although I have had a wonderful year, it is time to move on.

Sunset in Stockholm – such a beautiful city!

What is left for me this year is an exciting month. Next week is the last week of university for most students, exams are the week after. Before all of my friends leave for home, I hope to see as many as possible once more. Other than that, I’ll be working a lot in my student nation to make a little money for my trip to Norway in mid-June. After Norway, I am spending Midsommar at Lovisa’s family’s summer house.

And then it’s time to go home. How strange.

Leaving Uppsala will be incredibly sad, but I am determined to make the most out of this time I have left. But then I am ready to return to my one true loves: Swiss chocolate and cheese.

Hälsningar,

Layla

Tripping’ // April

Hej,

Spring has sprung, even in Sweden.

With current temperatures around 20° C and lots of sunshine, we are all in a great mood. The winter has been long, which has led my fellow Swedish sufferers to wear summer outfits on the first day of spring in the realistic fear that it is all just a hoax. However, spring seems to be sticking around, and so will I for another two months.

Let’s see what I’ve been up to.

Day 1: semi-formal dinner with some wonderful friends in Helsinki

After spending three months in the same place being a good international student, I traveled a lot this month.

The first trip was an intense weekend of partying in Helsinki. Together with my student nation GH, I paid a visit to our partner nation Satakuntalainen Osakunta (short SatO) for their 365th anniversary. And no, we’re not wearing the German and Swedish flags but the nation colors.

Day 2: super formal ball. On Saturdays we wear pink.

In 48 hours, we attended a semi-formal dinner, an afterparty till 4am, a city tour of Helsinki, a super-duper-formal ball including ballroom dancing, and the legendary afterparty till 8am. That was rough but so much fun! Also, I was able to wear my clubworker medal for the first time, since you’re only allowed to do so at formal dinners. #worthit

And yes, we recreated the Mean Girls poster. It’s not often that I wear pink.

Ferry sunset in the Baltic Sea with my glucose guardian Lovisa

My personal highlight of this weekend, however, was the trip back on the ferry. Ferries in the Baltic Sea are very popular among Swedes, since they offer duty-free alcohol. Thus, we took an overnight boat on the way back to Stockholm, and it was so beautiful to be close to the sea again and to enjoy a stunning sunset with my sweetie Lovisa.

Just to keep it real, though, it was also very cold and windy, and we went to bed straight after because we were really tired.

Very different waters: trip to Istanbul to visit beautiful Flora

The second trip I took was very decadent, as I must confess. For four days, I flew all the way across Europe to visit my close friend Flora during her exchange to Istanbul. Definitely feeling guilty about the CO2 emission.

Istanbul was absolutely stunning. What a difference there is between most Northern Europe and the Southern tip. I visited mosques, had amazing food, and got treated mightily well at a hamam, a traditional Turkish spa. Also, it was just wonderful to reconnect with Flora who I have been close friends with ever since high school. She is going to visit me in return next week. Exciting!

Day trip to Hälsingland and promptly touching seagull poop

Apart from my international trips, I have also been exploring more of Sweden. Together with Adélaïde, I visited Hälsingland: one of the two regions my nation represents. It is known for the traditional red Swedish houses everybody knows and loves. It is also more northern and therefor still had some snow which strangely delighted us.

For Easter, I visited Lovisa and her family in Stockholm. We attended the RuPaul Werq the World tour and screamed over every death drop and snatched wig. Lovisa’s family has also kindly offered to host me for Midsommar, which I am very excited about.

My favorite spot in Uppsala: castle viewpoint at sunset

Otherwise, life has been pretty regular. University is okay, but I am looking forward to being challenged more next semester. My Swedish is surely but rather slowly improving. I have been meeting friends for Swiss food nights, wine rants, and scary movies. We’re enjoying the warmer temperatures but are also slowly gearing up for the change that summer is going to bring.

As for me, I am going to finish my degree in my seventh semester and write my Bachelor thesis. Afterwards, I am hoping to stay in Heidelberg to study my Master’s degree at the Department of Theology. I am looking forward to reaffirming Heidelberg as my home, reconnecting with old friends, and making lots of new connections.

Yesterday I booked my train ticket back June 25, and it has made me realize that I only have two months left, out of which I am determined to make the best. They will be an intense time, but I am excited.

Hälsningar

Layla

Lycklig // February & March

Hej,

Two more months have flown by. Wow. I am surprised myself that I am saying this, but life is so good right now. In all aspects, I am content. The only thing that makes me sad is thinking about this wonderful year ending in about three months.

Jag är verkligen lycklig. (= I am truly happy.)

Ann and Michi visited me in Uppsala and made me a very happy gal!

So, what have I been up to?

Let’s start with two highlights: the visits of some wonderful friends. In mid-February, I was lucky enough to be visited by my very best friend from Heidelberg Michi and our mutual American friend Ann. By chance, we all got to meet again for a couple days in both Stockholm and Uppsala. We visited museums, partied together, and had many in-depth discussions about societal issues over some cups of strong Swedish coffee.

Pascal and me at the Spy Gasque in early March

In early March, I then got to host another friend from a very different phase of life: Pascal and I went to seventh through ninth grade together and both did an exchange year in the US the same year. He came by on a whim and was overwhelmed by the traditions of Uppsala student nations. Also, we went to an indoor playground together and sang a lot of Swiss folk songs.

How wonderful is it to have so many deep friendships from different stops in my life?!

Reccegasque in February!

My student nation has continued to be a big part of my life here in Uppsala. While I scaled back my work commitment in the pub due to time issues, I am still very active during many events such as the gasques (= fancy dinners), of which I attended two these last couple of weeks. In February, we had a Reccegasque for the new students, and in March we had a spy-themed gasque. Both were super fun!

Also, there is a lot more nation stuff coming up! Next weekend, for example, I am going to Finland to visit our partner nation!

The beautiful pancake hosts in their natural habitat: GH kitchen on a Saturday morning.

Other than that, I am also very active at the pancake bar. On a biweekly basis, we make dozens and dozens of pancakes, create some specials–such as Harry Potter pancakes–and have loud dance parties in the kitchen. In spite of some initial frenzy, we are now definitely having fun! Every Saturday is a new adventure of challenges, but I am learning so much from being in a more responsible position. Also, it is probably good for my sleep rhythm to get up at a reasonable ‘adult’ time (7.30 am) every now and then.

Something I realized here in Uppsala: I really enjoy getting my hands dirty every now and then and physically get sh*t done as a break from my studies, which tend to be very theoretical.

Unrelated, but I love this photo and miss my emergency husband Michi.

Speaking of which: My studies have been going quite well! Compared to last semester, my classes have been a lot more interesting and diverse. I chose a bigger course load and more complicated topics this time around. While this demands more time and energy, it has definitely paid off. So far, I have learnt about Swedish history, American constitutionalism, and the public role of religion in Sweden. For the latter, I am currently writing a research paper on Christian reality tv–my love for useless topics continues!

However, I am also looking forward to finishing my Bachelor degree in Heidelberg next semester. Hopefully, I get to graduate in March 2020. There is a lot of exciting things happening after Sweden, which I am trying to focus on to alleviate the sadness of leaving.

My very best friends: Adélaïde, our Guru, and Lovisa, my glucose guardian.

There have been several instances in these past eight weeks that a friend texted me, asking how I was doing, and I was surprised everytime to realize how incredibly happy and at home I feel in Uppsala. When I first came to Sweden, I fell in love with its relaxed attitude. However, I already know that when I leave in June, I will be saddest because of the people I have met, mainly my tribe: Lovisa and Adélaïde. The three of us have become more than friends. We are sisters from various backgrounds (Sweden, France, and my multicultural mess).

I don’t want to become too gushy, but these girls are some of the closest friends I have ever made. Period.

Planning weekend at the nation in late January – wonderful people!

In addition, I have many other wonderful friends who I have become very close with. Most are from my student nation. There is truly someone for every kind of mood and activity whether they be Disney marathons, partying, fika, or face masks. I love them all dearly and am very grateful to have found so many ‘coole Socken.’

This semester has so far already shown me that it was definitely worth being a club worker last term. Although I suffered on an unpaid basis, I made so many amazing friends and am now firmly established at my student nation. And surprisingly, most of my friends are in fact Swedish!

While looking through photos, I found this picture of me celebrating Midsummer in my dorm in Heidelberg in 2017. It got me excited for all that is to come in these next months, including midsommar. There is still a looot of fun events, trips, and moments, both planned and unplanned, taking place. While thinking about leaving makes me sad, I am very excited for more Swedish adventures.

So far, my year abroad has been nothing short of wonderful. How lucky am I to have gotten this opportunity.

Okay, I will stop with the cheesiness now. (Missing Swiss cheese, though, if we’re on the topic. Someone pls bring me Appenzeller.)

Hälsningar

Layla

On the Road // January

Hej,

after having received complaints about insufficient blog posts, here I am starting this year off right! These past few weeks have been insanely filled out. On land alone, I covered around 5500 km, thereby reconnected with old friends, made memories with new ones, and took a lot of photos.

Here we go!

Switzerland. D Liäbi isch gross.

Mer Jul. Ge mig mer jul.

= my favorite Swedish Christmas song

Different from my exchange year to the US, I this time around got to spend Christmas in my beloved Switzerland. That week was filled to the brim with coffee dates, strolls, and excursions. I laughed tears with all of my wonderful friends and ate a lot of cheese and chocolate. Coming home for Christmas is something I look forward to every year no matter the distance.

It is hard to believe that I most likely will not return to Bärn until June. Switzerland is truly my first and dearest home, and I always miss it whenever I am not there.

Sunrise on New Year’s Day right outside our window

After Christmas, my family and I flew back to Sweden together. In the company of some friends, we spent a couple of days and New Year’s Eve in Dalarna skiing. That was an adventure since I had not stood on skis for eight years. Turns out, skiing is like driving a car: You lose confidence but not the ability itself. Nevertheless, I felt incredibly guilty for living my best life while my co-slaves were working the last gasque of the season.

Still waiting for their forgiveness.

Missing a few, but my club worker lovies and I went to a ball together in December

Mina älsklingsslaver 

= my favorite slaves

January 2nd, I took the bus at 6 am to get back to Uppsala in time to celebrate Bullfesten, the traditional klubbverket goodbye party. That was a wonderful end to a wonderful semester of intense work load, dance parties, and insider jokes. Especially the latter of which framed Bullfesten as we took a walk down memory lane and my group took home the crown in the quiz!

Ever since, nation life has been in a transition stage. Most of my friends currently have exams while simultaneously new students are arriving. In a couple of weeks, the semester will be fully on again and with it all activities at GH. For this new semester, I have taken on the responsibility of pancake host for our weekly pancake bar. So, if you know of any good recipes – let me know!

3h long Lapland sunsets next to the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi

De vackraste solnedgångerna

= the most beautiful sunsets

In early January, I fulfilled one of my goals for this year and took a trip up north of the arctic circle to Lapland. There I not only went sledding with huskies, rode a snow mobile, visited reindeer and the ice hotel, and jumped into an arctic lake, but most importantly: I saw the Northern lights. That was truly breathtaking, and I feel very lucky I got to witness this spectacle. I also made many of my Swedish friends jealous since very few of them have seen Aurora Borealis themselves.

That trip was also very interesting since I got to experience a 3-hour-day. During this time, you could never really see the sun up in Abisko. Instead, it simultaneously rose and set, which created wonderful conditions for photography and nostalgia.

Uppsala has been much colder but also much lighter ever since snow has arrived

Tillbaka i Uppsala

= back in Uppsala

For the past two weeks, I have finally settled back into Uppsala and started an attempt at a normal life again. Today, January 24, I am actually also beginning my new course! This new semester I will take many more courses than last time as well as more specific choices from the departments of Theology, History, and English.  I hope to be more challenged that way, especially now that klubbverket will take up less of my time.

In addition, I am writing a research paper for Heidelberg on women in U.S. fundamentalism. If you’re knowledgeable in that area, hit me uuup!

My goal for these following months is to get as integrated as possible in Swedish culture. Thus, my best friend Lovisa is teaching me about Swedish songs (in order to yell the lyrics at parties) and Swedish comedians/humor. Others are trying to explain politics to me. I can by now understand Swedish to a vast majority and am starting to use it more and more actively with friends on- and offline. Heck, I am even considering applying to Master degrees in Sweden!

Throwback to my first week in Uppsala. I have had to say goodbye to many friends.

En Sak i Taget

= One thing at a time

Life has been turbulent. I have had to say goodbye to many international friends who only stayed for one semester. While this saddened me, I am incredibly thankful to have another five months to spend in this gorgeous country with wonderful friends. This second half of my exchange will be much different from the first, however, I am excited and bursting with ideas and plans.

Also, I am very slowly but surely starting to think about life after Sweden. When will I graduate? What will I choose for my Master’s degree? What country will I even live in?

I guess we’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Layla

My First Semester // November & December

Hej,

Merry Christmas!

At the end of the first semester, I would like to take a moment and look back on what has been going on. Four months of Sweden have provided me with long dark days, new wonderful friends, and enough halloumi burgers for a lifetime.

Let’s dive in.

My clubworker cuties and me at a thank-you-dinner

Ingen ko på isen

= No cow on the ice = Don’t worry. Aka one of the many weird Swedish sayings and words I have learnt while working insanely long shifts at the nation.

Oh wow, nation life as a club worker has been filled with superlatives. I have worked the longest and latest shifts of my life, I have partied the most I have in the shortest span of time, and I have connected with people faster than ever. I have learnt how to pour beer correctly, how to cook in a professional kitchen, how to skirt Swedish alcohol laws, and how to sing along to several Swedish (Christmas) songs.

My favorite memories include:

  • our infamous conquests of the dance floor 15 min before the party stops
  • blasting out shitty German music, which exposed innocents Swedes to Culcha Candela and DJ Ötzi
  • philosophical conversations in early morning hours whether they be in pubs, our kitchen, in a shitty student apartment, or on a street corner

Now, my life as a club worker is over. It was definitely the right decision for me this past semester, however, I also can’t wait to do more actual fun stuff with my lovely co-slaves.

Sunset at my nation right before my shift at 3.30pm in late November.

Staaaaad i ljuuuuus

= name of a song Swedes love to sing at the end of every party

Friends and family, this darkness has been no joke. With about five hours of daylight, a screwed-up sleep rhythm, and a lack of university, i.e. intellectual challenges, November and December have been a mental roller coaster for me. I definitely underestimated the impact sunlight has on my body in terms of energy and moodiness.

To prevent this severe lack of Vitamin of D from turning my annual pre-Christmas-post-October-blues into a full-blown SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I decided to take measures. Thus, I visited the light room offered by the university pretty much every week and started taking Vitamin D supplements on the daily basis.

It is important to remember that it is okay to not constantly feel your best. And I am proud that whenever Swedish summer decides to arrive, I will have earned it.

Throwback to actual sunlight in Amsterdam with my metaphorical sunshine Nicole

Ett gott skratt förlänger livet

= A good laugh prolongs life.

A further highlight of these two months was definitely my trip to Amsterdam with my friend of ten years Nicole. We spontaneously got pierced, ate a lot, and cried over The Fault in our Stars, ’cause… duh.

Another highlight was my train journey back to Switzerland for Christmas. As an attempt to save the planet and visit some friends while doing that, I tackled the 2000 km by train. I stopped in Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Heidelberg. The latter of which confirmed what I already knew: I have the most wonderful friends back in good old blueberry town.

After spending this semester settling in, I hope to travel much more next semester. Ideas/plans for that include Lapland, Istanbul (to Flora!), Rome (to Adina!), Norway, Finland, and perhaps one more stop in Heidelberg. In addition, I am really hoping to spend Midsommar in Sweden.

Stockholm in December. Hoping to visit more of Sweden soon.

Vad fan

= Swedes’ favorite swear word – just add ‘fan’ in anything

In other news, university has been a bit of a disappointment. So far, I have neither been truly challenged nor captivated by a course. Sadly, most of them are very broad and basic. As a student of a very specific degree, this has left me mostly unsatisfied. However, next semester I am studying more varied topics, which I hope will spark my passion for academics again.

Similarly, my Swedish language skills have been an exhausting journey. At this point, I can understand perhaps 80% of what is said and am constantly learning new words. NONETHELESS, it has proven to be very difficult to practice my speaking since I am not forced to switch to Swedish and my Swedish friends always switch to English (or make fun of me, sniff). Thinking back to the beginning, I have definitely made enormous progress, yet it annoys me to constantly address language issues and barriers.

We will make it work! I am still determined to attain fluency in this beautiful, quirky language!

Tabea visited me in December! Excited for more visitors.

Borta bra men hemma bäst

= away is good but home is best = stereotypical Insta caption

My first semester in Sweden has simply flown by. I am surprised by how comfortable I am in my shitty student dorm and especially at my nation. Already, I have learnt so much about Swedish mentality and culture. However, for these following months I hope to further decrease my status as ‘the foreigner’ and become even more integrated. By now I have many places I consider ‘home,’ which can be painful to coordinate, but which in the end is so rewarding and wonderful. I am excited to add Uppsala to the list.

Stay tuned for hopefully more posts next semester. The days are getting longer again, my spirits are awaking, and my agenda is overflowing. I am definitely feeling very grateful this Christmas!

Merry Holidays.

Layla