Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why living in Sweden will ruin you for life


Buzzfeed has been known to make stupid lists and true to form the one above may also be grasping at straws sometimes. But for someone who has a connection to Sweden it's still fun to read. It superficially lists some valid reasons, however, for me, it's the relationships that I've made here that "ruin" me. They make it impossibly hard to pack and move, even if it's just for a few short months away. This weekend my friends threw me a see-you-later party. Going into it I was very anxious and sad because it felt so final. But it was actually really nice. We had a murder mystery complete with a tape outlined dead body in the bathroom. My friends went to great lengths to make it a near perfect evening. And it was. I felt so loved.

Yesterday was my cohorts last full class together. We've taken several classes together throughout this program but yesterday's was the last time we will all be together. Some people will continue taking elective courses, some will take a leave of absence to work, have babies, or just take a break. And some of us will go do research and write our thesis'. At the end, I may have said goodbye forever to some people. How do you process that? There were so many emotions.

Now, with my remaining days in Sweden I am saying my see-you-later's, talking long walks with friends soaking up the Christmas charm, packing, cleaning and trying to figure out how to process this experience and all the people who have made it what its been. They've ruined me. They have challenged my thoughts and beliefs, taught me about the effects of corruption on health in their countries, shared their struggles, introduced me to their families, empathized with the culture shock but most of all, they've loved me and made me richer.

Living in Sweden has ruined me. But ruined in a good way.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

These dark dark days

And, just like that, the dark dark days are here. It doesn't get "light" until 8 in the morning and it's completely dark again by 4 pm (at the latest). But even more than that, the sun has left us. We've only had mere hours (4-5) of sun this whole month! They are predicting this November to be the darkest November on record (Darkest November). At the height of the day there still isn't enough light outside to light a room so the inside lights remain on all day. Everyone is donning their reflector vests again and bike lights are perpetually turned on.

So, what do we do with all these gray short days? We take advantage of every opportunity to push ourselves to go out and interact with others. This week is an anti-racism film festival and has free showings all around the city. I went to "Days of Hope" made by a Danish film maker early this week. It's about different Africans who come/want to come to Europe. There are a few scenes in Copenhagen and Malmö which is nice to see places you know. From the title, you'd think the film had happy elements but let me tell you, I left feeling very hopeless. I realize immigration/emigration is complex but what about the simple humanity of it all?

You'd think I'd learn after the first film that the anti-racism film festival shows terribly sad movies to raise awareness and create understandings, not to make people feel good. But, I didn't catch on too deeply and went to another showing. This film was fictional but based on true events in Hungry with a Roma family. Again, I left feeling very depressed and that there may not be any hope for us.

I wonder if I would feel so down after watching these movies if they were played on summer solstice. I think the organizers should have considered the time of year a little more. It's a fine balance of exposing ourselves and learning, and protecting our tender hearts and minds when the weather adds to our potential demise of spirit.

It's been interesting to talk through the movies and see the different responses my friends and I have had. I so easily fall into this, "white guilt," and then feel a responsibility to be the one to fight and change it all while my friends comment that the State should step in more and another friend thinks more focused NGO's should be established. Our choice of words show such a stark difference in our personal understandings. One of the things I love about Northern Europe is its belief in doing things for the collective good. But I also see the limitation when you don't see the personal need to be the one person to step out and make a difference. I think it must be so much easier to get out of bed everyday if you think of yourself as part of a collective, or that it's someone else's job.

While the days are short and dark and my social calendar has been filled with heart wrenching portrayals of reality, I still look at the candles flickering in windows, Christmas lights hanging across the city streets and lit stars shining bright to believe in my own fight for humanity. And I am thankful for my friends who see the world differently than I do and who make me pause and try to understand their way of fighting too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The psychologic effects

Yesterday, when browsing the news I saw headlines for snow storms across the Midwest. I facetimed my family and was taken to the windows where I was shown the swirling snow as it blazed in every direction.  I could feel the chill creep into my bones through our technology. So, this morning when I awoke and saw it was 42 degrees out, I panicked. Winter must have come here too! Never mind it was going to be 55 in an hour. As I got ready to go out for the day I pulled my thick Swedish winter coat from the back of my closet to wear for the first time this season. I wore wool mittens, a hat and boots. And by the time I got to my destination I thought I was going to pass out from being overheated. It's amazing the tricks your fears can play on you. When I biked home, I just strapped my coat to my bike and was much more comfortable simply wearing my sweater.

It's not winter here! The leaves are still changing. We just officially entered fall according to Swedish definition. You must have 5 consecutive days below 10C (50F) to be in fall. The newspaper printed yesterday that we've entered fall. This year was unseasonably warm with 201-days-of-summer! I've been spoiled, I know. And I know I said I was about ready for it to be colder. But I might have lied. Not intentionally. It really wasn't until I saw the snow those many miles away through my computer that I realized how much I really don't want to be in winter yet.

I went to the symphony tonight. Last year I received a, "Welcome to Malmö," packet with coupons ranging from concert tickets to swim lessons to a free tote bag from the library. I have slowly been using them and just recently realized they will expire at the end of December and I only have a few short weeks to take advantage of the treasures they provide to Malmö.  I took my friend (because it was a 2 for 1 coupon) and we were the youngest attendees by about 40 years. The music was beautiful with special pieces featuring the oboe and then the clarinet. I've never been a big clarinet fan but this feature was powerful. It all was such a meditative retreat. I forgot all my worries: the weather, figuring out my thesis, packing in a few weeks... I just surrounded myself with the beautiful music and practiced, "be here now."

As I continue using my coupons this fall I am reminded to be thankful for these "warm," colorful remaining days and when I do eventually face winter, it will be with many good memories from this fall to keep me warm. But let's worry about that another day.

Until then, I will keep that big warm Swedish coat in the back of my closet.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Christmas is coming

A Christmas tree was put up in the square across from my apartment the other day. The trees are still changing their colors. The leaves are still clinging to the trees! How can we have a Christmas tree up already? I say this every year, but Christmas came so fast! Especially being in Sweden I feel cheated with not having had Halloween decorations in October or Thanksgiving decorations in November. We just went straight to Christmas.

Even the grocery stores have put up Christmas displays.

While I'm not quite ready for the Christmas season to be here, I am starting to be ok with the temperatures being a little bit chillier (55 instead of 60) giving me every excuse to eat soup and warm foods. I went to a great little restaurant for lunch with friends the other day. It's called the Spoonery. Isn't that a great name for a place that serves soups and stews?

And so life continues on as the seasons merge from one to the next. Stay warm friends!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

All Saints Day

Last Saturday was All Saints Day. It's a national holiday in Sweden. This year I wanted to participate by going to the cemetery. Swedes go to the cemetery on this day and light candles for family and friends who have died. It's a time of dignity and remembrance. People were all around: strolling, sitting on benches, chatting in small circles. The whole picture was a beautiful scene. I also felt this sense of camaraderie. Everyone has been touched by death. It's what makes us human. It was nice to look around and know I share this with all around me. While we've come to remember death and its impact on us, we've also come to celebrate life. I appreciated having a space to do that. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The heat is on...and it's dark

I live in a large apartment building. The heat is turned on for the whole building after there has been 5 consecutive days below 50 or it's October 20th. As this year has been unseasonably warm, never even reaching 50 for more than a few minutes here and there, the heat did not start coming through my radiators until recently. It was early one morning when I was drinking my coffee staring out the window when I felt the warmth from the radiator and realized my warm fall days will give way to winter sooner than later.

We also set out clocks back last Sunday (a week before the US). The evidence of dark winter is making its appearance by later afternoon now. It's so depressing to feel the sun begin to make its dramatic exit at 3:30. And within a little less than an hour, the sun has officially set.

But it's not winter yet so I will give each remaining leaf changing day the largest embrace I can offer. Each moment of sunshine is celebrated. Each leaf littered path is exclaimed over. And each invitation for a walk, fika or a party is taken.

As Swedes tend to favor simple and mild foods, there is a yearning from those who come from cultures with spicy foods, (or those of us who appreciate spicy even without the culture) to test their stamina every now and then to make sure they can go back to their respective countries with their dignity still in tact. So a spicy food cook off was organized. Spicy foods from Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Bangladesh were made. The Scandinavians were crying the whole time but the rest of us ate with relish and utter happiness.

And it wouldn't be a good party without karaoke. With so many different cultures converged it was hard to find songs we all had in common. Our most successful songs were Disney, Christmas or Whitney Houston. Who would have thought Whitney Houston was known by more people than Beyonce? Maybe it's a generational thing too...

As I walked to the bus with some friends feeling so content and happy to be living this life, I also felt this tightening around my heart that it's not going to stay like this for much longer. Time is ticking away and I will leave this life. It's amazing how we can hold such contrasting feelings within us.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Canoeing the canal

I just finished another class. It wasn't a particularly inspiring class. And with my (probably) last fall in Sweden, I have been trying to take advantage of every moment. So when we were told a take-home essay exam would be delivered to our inboxes at 10 am on Monday, my friend and I decided canoeing the canal at 9 am would be a good release of endorphins and fun before we settled into those uncomfortable chairs at the school library to write our 18 pages of regurgitation. We were right.

My friend had never been canoeing before so there was much laughter. It was a windy day so there were moments we were going sideways, backwards and every other way imaginable through the canal. My friend also wanted to try steering from the back but after scrapping me through a Weeping Willow, bramble bush and into the side of a bridge, I said enough. We had a great time!

It's so funny to me that my options for "escaping to nature," while living in a city means going canoeing on a canal that one-upon-a-time floated human waste and cholera. Peace and quiet involves the time you pass under bridges holding buses, cyclists and commuting walkers dimming the steady roar. Cascading waterfalls are replaced with spouting fountains. But I love this try the city makes to include "nature" into life for people. As a person who likes city dwelling and also moments in nature, I appreciate this effort.

Life is good in my little city life. Fall hasn't been too cold or rainy and I'm doing my best to soak up every moment. Even during exams.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Learning from Thai friends in Sweden

I've been feeling incredibly thankful for my friends lately. This weekend I received a last minute invitation to my friend's house. She decided to cook and have a "few" friends over. I have a hard time with last minute invitations. Even if I have nothing else planned it is sometimes hard for me to change my mind-frame and go with the spontaneous. But I made myself do it and was walking to the train station 5 minutes after getting her call. Several train stops later, after picking up other friends along the way, I walked into my friend's house smelling delicious Thai spices, was greeted with giant smiles and head bows and was happy I made the effort to come. I was the only white face in the crowd and as I looked at my beautiful Thai friends as we ate our spicy chicken foot and blood soup and sang songs gathered around a TV karaoke style, I just sighed with contentment and thankfulness. These friends are continuously enriching my life with each interaction. They make me a better person. They make me more aware of the world. They humble me. Who would have thought I'd come to Sweden and learn so much from Thai people?

Those of us left after a full and wonderful night of food and singing
I almost have this whole song memorized now, a year of exposure has got me this far. Don't expect me to be able to do the dance though. Maybe next year.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Malmö FF and Fall

Europeans have a long relationship with soccer. So people were pretty excited when our local team made it to the Champions League. Malmö FF is the only Swedish team to compete and the first Swedish team in 14 years to make it to the Champions League. While they are facing giants in the league (Juventus (Italy), Atlético (Spain) and Olympiacos (Greece)) they are not expected to finish too high. However, Malmö FF has pleasantly been surprising its fans (and non-fans alike) with holding pretty stead over Juventus (still losing but not being massacred) and even winning 2-0 against Olympiacos this week!

One of my friends grew up in this area and has been a life-long Malmö FF fan. He even went to Italy to see the first game. Some other friends and I decided we would watch the game from home to support Malmö and to see if we could catch a view of our friend as a fan in the crowd. We didn't see him. But we had fun being hopeful for Malmö. And to make it a very pleasant experience, we made apple cider donuts. It is fall after all. And I desperately am missing the fall of my college years these days. Apple picking in Ipswich, laughing through corn mazes, eating pumpkin ice-cream at Richardson's, the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows of New England! Nothing compares. So I rope my friends into playing fall with me and making things that remind me of a sweet time of my life. Lucky for my friend, my "fall" is literally sweet.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

J&J Visit

My dear friends came to visit. It was Jon's first time to Europe and Jenelle's first time back in almost 10 years. They spent a week in Croatia before coming to Scandinavia to which they said was a good mix being able to see such different parts of Europe in one trip. Jenelle was relieved to be in a place with rules and order after the, "chaotic chaos" of Croatia. I was just happy to share my life with them.


We took a 3 hour free walking tour that was great. I was pleased to discover I really do know Copenhagen pretty well (at least the tourist stops).

Creepy Swede looking on in the background

Finally made it to see the Little Mermaid after a whole year living here.

Happened upon the royal marching band escorting the guards changing duty from the palace

Reenacting the scene when I ran into Jon's parents under this statue last year

Showed J&J the old city of Lund. We only got a picture of fika though. That's the most important anyways, right?


We took a canal tour through Malmö learning lots of interesting facts about this post-industrial city I live in. I also introduced them to sauna culture, we biked through the many neighborhoods and we got lost in playing with fake sand at an exhibition.

It was wonderful having friends see my life here and get to spend down-time catching up. There is an ease and comfortability that comes from being with people you have history with. And squished in my tiny European apartment was nice getting to pay them back for those months I lived on their couch, once upon a time...