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.)