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.

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

Getting Involved // October

Hej,

vart du vill, så fort du kan.

Wherever you want to go, as fast as you can.

Epic sunset in the Öregrund archipelago during my kayaking trip

The second month in Sweden has been absolutely stuffed. From experience, I know that the best way to get integrated in a new environment is to get involved. So that is what I have been doing. A lot of it.

If you don’t want to read all of the text and are just checking in on me: To sum it up, I am very happy! Whether it be the country I chose or the friends I have made so far or what I am spending my time on, I am truly content and grateful.

Is this the real life. Is this just fantasy.

Jag har blivit kär i Sverige

This month, I have fallen in love with Sweden. It started as a crush but now it’s getting stronger everyday. This country is a stunner, and I feel really grateful to spend this year here.

A definite highlight of this month was thus when I took a kayaking trip in the Öregrund archipelago with my nation. An archipelago is a conglomerate of islands close to the coast. We kayaked the Baltic Sea during the days and spent the nights on some bigger land formations, which was horrendously cold in early Swedish October. While physically exhausting, it was mentally so rejuvenating and such a wonderful way to learn more about this country.  Still reminiscing about those sunsets.

In addition, October has always been my favorite month, and I must say that Uppsala is giving me lots of reasons to keep it that way. The colors have been insane. Simply cycling to class, I feel like I am part of a Wes Anderson movie. ’tis the time for fuzzy socks, long afternoon coffee dates, and scented candles. (Which is no deviation from my all-year-routine. Oops.)

7am. Cycling home after working 15h during potatis gasque.

Jag har hittat mitt nya hem 

In my previous post, I told you guys about the student nation I had chosen: Gästrik-Hälsinge Nation. I realized very quickly after joining how much I not only enjoyed meeting new people there but also getting involved and investing my time in nation life. To me, it is the combination of making new friends, learning about and preserving Swedish student traditions, and spending my time consciously that fascinated me. So, I became a club worker!

As ‘klubbverkare’, I am part of a small group of eight people, which essentially keeps the nation running for the semester. In teams of two, we cover one night every week at the bar. In addition, we work at the various gasques (= formal dinner) and different other events. Thus, we get exclusive entries to a lot of parties, many ‘thank-you-events’, and guaranteed integration because of our omnipresence and shared pain.

So far, it has been a whirlwind. I was officially elected as klubbverkare October 2nd. October 3rd I had my first real shift followed by perhaps the two most labor-intensive consecutive weekends of my life. Apparently, I have the tendency to get really unlucky in work load, which has resulted in a couple semi-breakdowns but also in some funnily absurd stories and new friendships.

I’m excited to spend the next few months with my nations people laughing and meticulously cleaning the 150-years-old wooden floor.

View from my ‘Nordic History’ course. The building is the university library built in 1622

Jag lär mig om svenska historia

In addition to the aforementioned insanity, I am currently studying a 225% workload. After five weeks, I finished my first course on ‘American History’ and moved on to two new courses: ‘Nordic History’ and ‘American Politics.’ Both of which are of deep interest to me, but I must say that the former has absolutely captivated me.

Learning about Swedish history has been a top priority for my time here, since a nation’s history speaks volumes about its contemporary state and mentality. Thus, I am glad I in this course get to learn about the Nordic welfare system, which has had such a fundamental impact on the five countries. In many discussions with Swedes, I have so far detected a strong trust in authorities whether they be politics or university related. This has a lot to do with the system, since the welfare model only works if everybody cooperates thru e.g. high taxes and lowered confidentiality.

Having studied in Germany and grown up in Switzerland, this is new and strange to me. Due to 20th century history, Germans are very skeptical of every slightly powerful person. They are distrustful of and resentful towards most if not all political parties, which conveniently ties in with their sarcastic humor and favorite hobby: complaining. In regards to Switzerland, semi-direct democracy makes it difficult for the individual to blame the government for ‘wrong’ decisions. It leads much more to the polarization of the Swiss people: old vs young, rural vs urban, conservative vs leftist. This can also be explained through the nation’s federalist history.

All in all, I am hoping to learn a lot more about Sweden’s past to also understand why many Swedes have told me, “We may be known as one of the world’s ‘best’ countries but it’s not all butterflies and rainbows.”

Yes, I love sunsets and sunrises, but I mean just look at it.

Jag kan förstå mer och mer

Oh Swedish, ya little, beloved pain in my ass.

These past four weeks, I have practiced and improved a lot. I am now at a point that I can successfully watch Swedish series (admittedly with subtitles as for now), have a decent conversation with my weekly language tandem, understand everything that’s written in the klubbverkare chat, and phrase easy texts myself. Under good circumstances, I can understand perhaps 60% of a Swedish conversation but am not able to reply just yet.  Oral comprehension does remain difficult, though, since Swedes slur so much. Of course, I also need to improve my vocab. Maybe it was not the best idea to start a series on 1940s Sweden, because I now know outdated grammar forms and swear words.

A lot of Swedish people have asked me why I am even attempting to learn the language, especially since I am not staying for my Master’s. However, practical utility has never much allured me (which explains my major, haha). Honestly, I am learning Swedish because (a) I think it is beautiful; (b) I love acquiring new languages as it tells so much about a culture; (c) I feel like I am not going to be fully integrated until I speak or at least fully understand Swedish; and (d) I like challenges.

Darför ska vi se om jag klara av det.

Fall in Uppsala. What a gem this little town is.

After the initial month of excitement, these past four weeks have been much more a time of adjustment and integration. I have now arrived at a state of near normalcy with friends I see on a regular basis, hobbies and courses I enjoy, and daily life’s bagatelles. Five years older than the last time, I am much more laid back going into this year abroad. Yes, it is an extraordinary part of my life, but it does not necessarily have to be the best year of my life. Giving up on that expectation is the best thing I can do to improve the eight months I’ve got left.

Until next time!

Layla

My First Month in Sweden // September

Hej!

Hälsningar från Uppsala i Sverige!

A friend and I went to a beautiful lake close to Uppsala

So, as most of you know, I am spending this academic year 2018/19 in Uppsala, Sweden, on an ERASMUS+ exchange through the Heidelberg English department.  In order to document my time here and keep whoever is interested up to date, I have decided to do monthly updates on this old blog of mine. If you are interested in Sweden, the acquisition of the Swedish language, or just my life, because we are maybe friends, family, or long-lost acquaintances, please feel welcome to check this blog for updates! I will be writing in English in order to be more inclusive. Hope that’s okay.

Back when it was late summer.

Studentlivet

Let’s start out with my favorite part about Uppsala: the student life or, more specifically, the nations. Originally, the 13 nations were a way to help students from all over the country meet up with their regional friends and thus combat home sickness. Today, everybody is free to join whatever nation they prefer. They differ in size, focus, and demographics (e.g. Stockholm nation almost entirely consists of fancy law students). From restaurants to clubs to excursions, events and pubs, they are – as one Swede put it – a perfect blend of American fraternities/sororities and Hogwarts.

My nation is Gästrike-Hälsinge, which combines two regions: Gästrikland and Hälsingland both slightly north of Uppsala, which lies in Upland. GH is a medium-sized nation with 1700 members and specializes in good food, many sporty activities, and… warm welcomes maybe? They have been so wonderful thus far that I am already very patriotic about them: GH, GH, GH!

Some nation activities, which I have attended this first month are: a wine tasting, a crayfish party (very traditionally Swedish, very messy), a board game night, a meeting with the nation’s newspaper, a welcome dinner, a typically Swedish brunch on Saturday morning (so many weird flavors), an American pancake brunch on Saturday morning, and several gasques. A gasque is another Swedish student tradition. It involves a three course formal dinner with a semi-formal dress code (knee length dresses / suits) and lots of folk songs, toasting rituals, and new acquaintances since you are sat next to people you don’t know. (One observation: Swedes don’t seem to care about mixing alcohols. At gasques, you’ll simultaneously have beer, wine, and snaps, followed up by coffee. Alrighty.)

The Baltic seaside at Öregrund, 1h from Uppsala.

Språket

One of my main goals for this year is to properly learn Swedish. Back in Heidelberg, I already took two semester courses, however, those were naturally quite superficial although very recommendable. Whoever has learnt a foreign language before, knows and dreads the transition from a theoretical environment (“Oh yes, I know Swedish, because I passed the test on the passive form!”) to a practical environment (“I. Cannot. Speak.”). It is a struggle.

To prevent myself from curling up in the shell of the omnipresent English language, I took several steps: I joined the level 3 Swedish course, became part of a German-Swedish language tandem program, vowed to practice on Babbel every single day, moved in with Swedish students, and got involved in nation life. And it still is a struggle.

Don’t get me wrong: My limited Swedish knowledge has been an immense help so far. Just knowing the basic sentence structure, a few important words, and lots of grammar goes a long way. After one month, I can understand perhaps 40% of what Swedish people are saying, can write basic texts, and pretty much read in Swedish, although it might take a while. The most difficult aspect by far is speaking. In addition to my still very limited vocabulary, I think it is mostly my fear of embarrassing myself and proclaiming my non-Swedish accent to the world, which prevents me from speaking more. However, I am optimistic.

If you have any tips for learning a new language fast, hit me up though!

View of the Uppsala cathedral from the castle. The cannons are perpetually pointed at the church to remind it of its inferior position to the government.

Universitetet

University, university: the most important part of every ERASMUS+ exchange.

But in all honesty, it has not been bad. On the contrary, I quite enjoy my class, although it is rather introductory (gotta get those credits). As Scandinavia’s oldest university dating back to 1477, UU is well funded with cool professors and lots of forum events – especially in the field of Biology, which makes sense since this is the alma mater of Anders Celsius and Carl von Linné.

What confuses me, though, is the work load, since I have very little. And I am not complaining!! I am just… confused. Sweden has a block system in regard to the semester schedule. I thus only have one class at the same time for five weeks, write my exam, and then have the next class. We shall see how that pans out. The really interesting classes concerning religion in Sweden or the Vikings or socialism will come next semester anyway.

A couple words on Uppsala: With 150.000 inhabitants, it is the fourth largest city in Sweden, located around 70 km north of Stockholm. It is known as the historically ecclesiastic and educational center of the country still tangible today by means of the highest cathedral in Scandinavia with 118.7 m and UU. In addition, there is a castle built by Gustav Vasa, a little river, and lots of university buildings. Basically, it is the Swedish version of Heidelberg.

Blue hour at Lake Ekoln

Sverige 

Sverige, du är så vackert!

This is probably no news to you, but Sweden is incredibly beautiful. Although much larger than Germany, it only has a slightly bigger population than Switzerland, which means that I here get to experience a vastness and emptiness foreign to central Europe. Once I leave the margins of Uppsala, there is just forest, straight country roads, occasional red houses, and lakes. And that’s it.

On one of my first nights here, a friend of mine and I took our bikes 30 min to the next lake, the northernmost gulf of Lake Mälaren, which leads all the way to Stockholm and the Baltic Sea. That was so beautiful.

I have many plans on seeing and visiting Sweden. A kayak trip in the Öregrund archipelago, a winter trip to Lapland, and a camping trip in the spring will definitely take place. Other than that, I am open to input! (I will probably also be a traitor and visit Norway, Denmark, and Finland – oops.)

Layla

PS: Thank you for reading! Next time I’ll be posting is October 24! (Because I am mostly German and therefore very concise. Supposedly. Deutsche Bahn teaches us to break stereotypes.)