Thursday, August 29, 2013


I went to mail a postcard the other day and realized I hadn't seen any post offices.  I did a quick google search to find the nearest one to me and discovered Sweden no longer has post offices.  They dissolved then a few years back along with several other European countries.  Now, you conduct all your post office needs at your local grocery store.

I received a letter in my mailbox yesterday (should I mention entirely in Swedish) that told me I had a package waiting at the grocery store down the street from my apartment.   I biked over after my afternoon session and picked up a few essential groceries and this dilapidated box.  I sat it precariously across the front of my bike and walked it back to my apartment against the wind.  I felt like I looked like the men in Uganda hauling matoke (banana) to market - my body was bent over pushing both the bike, my food and the box as sweat gathered around my hairline.

Was it worth it?  I'll tell you in a few months when the sun has left and the temperature doesn't rise above zero making those winter sweaters shipped from America invaluable.

This whole encounter with mail has got me thinking about the future of post offices around the world.  In the U.S. I was always hearing about post office's limiting their hours or closing all together.  Will it only be a short time before you can pick up your mail while doing your grocery shopping there too?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Swedish Culture Lessons

After my last post, I know you are all dying to know how do you get a Swedish man.  Well, we were told:

"Swedish men are shy so you girls need to just ask them out for fika (coffee).  Also, because of equality they are showing you respect that they believe you are equal enough to ask them out."

Maybe this is the American cynic in me, but that sounds like a very lame excuse.  Of course men won't ask you out if they don't have to!  The same goes for women if they believe the other will do the asking.  That's not equality, that is human lazinesses.

While that session was quite disappointing to me, I really appreciated the perspective our facilitators had about interacting in Sweden, not just in dating situations.  We (international students) were told they were telling us generalizations of Swedish people and culture not to change us, but to prepare us for the reactions we may receive.  We were told over and over not to change ourselves.  There are ways we can show more respect here such as looking a professor in the eye when you talk to them, but those should be slight adaptations not changes to your personality.

Along with with Swedish Culture lessons, we had more scary sessions on plagiarism and failing our dissertations.  Yet, in spite of those sessions, I had a really great day.  It was the first day I saw people I knew and sat with them.  We commiserated over these sessions and bonded promising each other we would proof read each other's papers and help one another get to the end successfully.  I am thankful for the relationships I am starting to build.  

I'll leave you with a little clip I was shown yesterday on the generalization of Swedish people.  I haven't been here along enough to affirm or refute any of these claims but I do hear them over and over so there must be some truth to them. *warning, inappropriate language and situations may be observed in this video:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Futuristic, but not

My new apartment building is semi-techy.  I have a fob I place on the side of the building to open doors and you must make an electronic appointment to do laundry.  This is where the techy part ends.  Bike rooms and laundry are in the basement but to get there you must take a rickety cargo-like elevator down.  When Jen was here we made a video which you can view HERE.

I was not a huge fan of this elevator to begin with but after this weekend's disaster I have sworn off the elevator forever!  I took my bike out for a little exploration and to go to the weekend farmer's market to load up on my fresh fruits and vegetables for the week.  I came back laden with a full basket and an even fuller bladder.  I managed to get into the elevator in the impossibly short allocated time and the door swung shut behind me locking me in.  Then nothing happened.  The floor didn't move, the doors wouldn't open again, nothing.  I laughed at the probability of me getting stuck in a Swedish elevator in my first week in Sweden then began pushing all buttons, hoping and praying something would make it move or open.  

I pulled out my trusty iPhone and google translated all the Swedish words I read on the elevator dashboard.  In case you ever get stuck in a Swedish elevator, hold down the button with a bell on it for 15 whole seconds and it'll connect you to the Swedish police.  

"Hej," and more Swedish words.  "Um, hello?  I'm stuck in an elevator."  "Hej," and more Swedish words."  "I speak English.  I'm stuck in an elevator."  "Ah, you speak English.  You are in an elevator?"  With broken English, I talked to a man for several minutes as he tried to figure out where I was and then he abruptly hung up.  I wasn't sure what the outcome would be but lo and behold, a man came by 20 minutes later banging on the unmoving elevator.  

I got out.  Now there is giant yellow tape across the elevator and everyone's bikes are lined up against the wall outside the building.  I'm not sure if I am entirely to blame for the broken elevator but just in case, I'm not telling anyone it was me.  And, I'm never going in that elevator again.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Studying in Sweden

One of the central buildings at the university

I came to Sweden to get my master's.  It's very exciting to finally be here after all the preparing.  Last week I started International Student orientation, which is just a funny phrase to use to describe myself.  I'm an international student?!  Weren't they the weird students in college who cooked funny food, had interesting smells about them and thought so differently than all the American's in my class?  Now, I'm one of them.

The first week I sat in giant lecture halls with some 2000 international students learning about how serious Swedes take plagiarism, how to safely ride a bike and that I should have already picked my research topic for my thesis.  It's serious business here and at times I feel a bit overwhelmed.  I think it's the University's job to scare new students but come on, we don't need to know statistically how many of us in the room won't make it to graduation.  It's only our 2nd day in the country!

How to ride a bike and not get fined by the police

When I start to get overwhelmed I just hop on my bike and take off for new bike paths to discover, parks to wander around and festivals to eat through.  I am loving my new city with it's cobble stone streets and Nordic charm.

Everyday, I am more and more happy with my decision to live and learn in Sweden.  And, really, orientation isn't all that bad.  Tomorrow we have a class titled, "How to Meet a Swedish Man."  I can hardly wait for that one;)

Getting a Bike

Moving to Europe, I knew I wanted to get a bicycle.  My sisters gave me money to buy a bike for my birthday this year (thanks sisters!).  But when I got here I found the prices were more than I could stomach.  For a new bike in a shop the price hovered around $1000.  I didn't need a new bike but I didn't know how to find a used one since I can't read the Swedish on craigslist.

When Jen and I were in Kerteminde, Denmark, our hosts Allen and Myra asked what I needed to settle in.  I mentioned I wanted to get a bike and Allen immediately offered to help me.  He got on the Danish version of craigslist and began calling around inquiring about used bikes.  They then drove us to a random farm in the countryside near Odense to look at a bike.  Allen did some bartering in Danish and it was there I made my first major purchase for a little more than $100.  While it may not be the perfect fit, I couldn't turn down the price.

I brought my bike to Sweden on the train and have been riding around exploring ever since.

Fundraising with Jen

From Iceland, Jen and I flew on to Copenhagen, Denmark.  Jen had reached out to Europeans connected to For His Children orphanage in Ecuador.  An adoptive family and former volunteer at the orphanage picked us up from the airport and took us to their home.  I am continually amazed at the hospitality of people around the world.  This family fed us, gave us places to sleep, entertained us with their stories and even took a day off of work to show us around Copenhagen. Thanks Sorenson's!

Also in Denmark we took a train to Odense, the "small" Danish island.  My very organized friend (said with great sarcasm) figured we'd find our way.  As two travelers who have lived in slower-paced worlds this mentality has saved our mental health but also brought complications at times.  This time, we got to Odense and didn't know how to get to our next destination.  Jen asked a few random people in the train station if she could use their cell phones to call our contact.  She was denied.  Eventually, we met a woman with a broken cell phone who told us she would trick her cell phone into working for us and let Jen call.  Jen talked to Myra, an adopted Ecuadorian, who told us to take the bus to Kertimende.  Myra picked us up from the bus station and Jen and I found new friends.  

Kertimende is a beautiful fishing village along a harbor.  

Myra and her husband Allen were very kind hosts showing us their life as chef's.  They organized a fundraising event at the cafe they run.  Jen and Myra spoke about their experiences in Ecuador and all had a good time.

Myra introducing

Jen speaking

Jen with a family who adopted from Ecuador in the early 90's

I have been to fundraising events with Jen before but this was my favorite.  People were excited to learn about Ecuador and some were interested in volunteering there.  The location was also entirely picturesque which may have made it that much more perfect.

And, they took us to Hans Christian Andersen's home!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Several months ago as I began to hear back from grad schools and needed to make a decision of which one I would accept, I talked to my dear friend Jen in Ecuador.  She helped me make a pros and cons list.  Near the end of our conversation she even offered to help me move to Sweden if I picked this option.  That sealed the deal.

Time moved on and when we went to buy our tickets we discovered it was cheaper to stop in Iceland for a few days then to go directly to Sweden.  Jen also worked it out to use her trip to Europe as a work trip fundraising for the orphanage in Ecuador she works at. We decided to do a bit of travel before settling in Sweden.

With 200+ pounds of luggage Jen and I met in the breathtaking country of Iceland.  As we lugged my belongings for the next 2 years through the airport and out to find our car we laughed at our luck of getting the smallest car in the whole parking lot.

The terrain changes rapidly as you move around the country but it all holds a rugged beauty.  We saw where the American and European tectonic plates are moving apart:

Were blown away by Gullfoss waterfalls:

And other waterfalls we saw along the way:

We saw Geysir, the first geyser recorded and the first known to Europeans.  Unfortunately, I was unable to capture this on my camera but believe me when I saw it was a giant spout of boiling hot water jumping out of the ground.

We attempted to go where we were told not to go.  My friend who drives in Quito was quite determined.

But we got stuck at a river without a crossing so left the car and went for a hike:

It was raining most of the time we were in Iceland but that didn't deter us.  Looking like unprepared Americans we forged ahead and saw and did as much as we could with our short time in Iceland.  At one point we started hiking to some geo-thermal hot springs we'd read about but were stopped by 2 European woman who told Jen she wouldn't make it through the mud and rain over the next hour in her Teva-like shoes.  So we succumbed to the touristy version and spent time at the Blue Lagoon:

All in all, Jen and I loved Iceland.  We highly recommend the country as a destination for any brave traveler.  To see our itinerary look here.

Beginning again

I struggle with blogs.  While they can be informative and offer good ideas, I often find them narcissistic and vain.  As I have moved to, yet again, a new country with a different culture I find myself with stories and thoughts to share with my friends and family.  I think there are times for blogs and this may be mine.  Since people largely just want to see pictures I figure this is a good place to put them.

So, for all of you who have asked me to blog, here we go.

Malmö, Sweden