Monday, January 27, 2014

The Big Adjustment

I find it hard to believe I have been here for 3 weeks already, but it's true! I have been absolutely loving my time here, but I would be lying if I said it was a seamless transition. After week 2, my brain seemed to switch out of vacation mode and the way my body has decided to deal with that has been to be. so. tired. all. the. time. Between 19 hours of darkness a day and having barely any responsibility as compared to "normal" for me, it has been all to easy to sleep the last few days away. I am hopeful that the week ahead will be made much easier by this stockpiling of sleep and I am excited to get more into a routine here.

I am finally to the point of generally knowing my way around, being able to maneuver the bus system, cooking for one, and knowing where to go if I need something. I am pretty okay with going places alone, especially with how safe I feel here. My trips to the grocery store are down to a mere 2 hours (1/2 the time of the first time), while I still find it the easiest to just live on fruits and veggies and chocolate. It is all about balance, right?

A lot has happened in the past several days, and I have a couple pieces of exciting news to share! First, I got a job as a nanny for a wonderful family with two adorable little girls. They wanted a native english speaker to come over for a few hours a week to babysit and, most importantly, strengthen their childrens' english speaking and writing skills. I am very excited to spend time with a normal swedish family and further understand the country I am living in with the help of this experience.

Second, Chloe, Sarah (an Austrian exchange student), and I all made the auditioned women's choir  (Sot Likor) here at Karlstad University! Our first rehearsal is tonight. We are all excited to get to spend time with all swedish students and attend their events and be a part of their performances. We all have prior choral experience and are really happy to get the chance to continue.

On Saturday night, Daniela (an Italian exchange student) and I went to our host family's home for dinner. Anna and Jonas are their names, and we had an extremely nice swedish dinner. We had 3 types of wine, caviar, smoked salmon, moose meat, roasted veggies, and mushroom soup followed by cloudberry ice cream cake for dessert. It was a wonderful evening spent discussing our different cultures and learning more about swedish points of view, which was very interesting. I didn't have a watch on me, and when Jonas mentioned the time I was absolutely floored- we had spent 9 hours there, talking the entire time! I feel very lucky to have the contact family that I do and am excited about all the plans we discussed for the semester. We are meeting again this sunday to walk by Europe's largest lake (only 4 km from their home) and have a fire. Thanks to Daniela for the pictures :)

So, now that I am all settled in, the next order of business is planning trips. I am extremely antsy to get traveling around! Number one on my priority list is London, but I am also very dead set on getting to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day. Wish me luck as I navigate all of these websites in Swedish (no, translations are not always available). Have a great week, everyone :)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sweden v. USA: Nonathletic Edition

This is a post I have been itching to write ever since I got here a little over a week ago. While I have spent much of my time trying to decide if Karlstad feels exactly like home or nothing like home, there are definitely many differences to note. This is part of the exciting stage of living in a new country, even the little things, such as different toilet flushers, are exciting! Sorry if this gets political, these are my own opinions and don't reflect the views of neither all Swedes nor Americans. This is a long list, so I put them into categories so it is easier to follow.

***Before I begin, here are 2 links that showcase Swedish culture. They are informative and hilarious at the same time, so I promise you won't be disappointed :)

Social Norms

*Swedes don't want to disturb you- even if you are crying into your map because you are so lost, nobody is going to walk up to you and help if you do not ASK for it. I mistook this for rudeness at first, as I come from a place where people go out of their way for strangers all the time.
*On a similar note, if someone bumps into you, they will not say "excuse me" or "oops". I thought this was rude at first as well, but again with the leaving you alone thing.
*Take a number. Queues are a way of life.
*No, not everyone has blond hair.
*Relaxed personalities-this must go for most Europeans because I have yet to meet someone who is especially loud or has a "look at me!" attitude
*Punctuality-being even five minutes late is considered to be very rude.
*They are very in touch with what is happening around the world, especially America. The first Obama election was a huge deal in Sweden, which I was very surprised to hear.
*Public transport is the most common way to get around, and with good reason. Especially speaking for the bus system, it is very user friendly and organized. It is super nice to get into a warm bus equipped with wi-fi on a cold winters' night! If people do have cars, they are almost definitely manual.
*Gender equality...taken to an extreme. I was trying to explain the differences between sororities and fraternities (biggest difference: most fraternities have parties while sororities cannot) and was told that idea would be forbidden here. Most employers offer 1 year parental leave when you have a child, and if it is not split equally between moms and dads, it is seen as "going against the movement". That's right, dads with strollers. Everywhere. Melts my heart.


*Short boots are more common than tall boots, and they especially love their high top white converse.
*Any jeans besides skinny jeans=gtfo. Even for guys. Colored pants are also encouraged.
*Boys style their hair just about every day. No rolling out of bed here, and if they do, they sure have fooled me!
*Wedding rings are very simple, most often just a gold band with small stones in it for women. You won't see any rocks here.
*Makeup tends to be more natural for girls, but with an emphasis on filling in the eyebrows.
*People overall look nice here all the time. Even when we went to IKEA on day 2, we did not see a single adult in any sweatshirt-materialed article. The style is simple, put together, but relaxed and effortless at the same time. Nobody is trying to be a barbie, which I have to admit is refreshing.


*YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY FOR IT. Through high school, even your food is covered. So unfair. On top of free college, the European international students here get a nice chunk of change every month as an incentive to study in another country. Can I have my citizenship now?
*Classes are typically taken one at a time, often for just 4 weeks. There may only be 4-5 lectures for a class. Travelling friendly :)
*Compared to American universities, I have heard the difficulty is also very low here.
*Bilingualism, even trilingualism is very common. Swedish students begin to learn english at a very young age and are at least close to being fluent by the time they graduate.
*Education has a very high priority placed on it here, so student discounts are everywhere. I have even seen instances where someone asked for a student discount, and even though there was not one listed, they created one.


*Practically free healthcare and school. Need I say more?
*They have a monarchy, which makes 6 year old Lynsi so happy. There is a building in Karlstad with a huge gold crown over it, symbolizing that the royal family stays there when they visit. It is like a fairy tale, I love it.
*The alcohol-only stores, the only place you can buy hard alcohol, is called the Systembolaget. This is the government owned liquor monopoly they have in place to not only control prices but accessibility. They have limited hours and locations, but it does not seem to affect people very much. The party culture here is even more intense than home, which was shocking coming from a resident of the #1 binge drinking state..
*At least here in Karlstad, there is this huge sense of community pride. All city buildings have a sun symbol, which the university also uses as its logo. Even city workers have it on their clothing. This is because Karlstad is (apparently) the sunniest town in Sweden, fun fact!
Seriously, how cute is it?!


*All of it is American. Which, it is fun to have a piece of home and all, but I was excited to get introduced to new music. I even brought blank CDs to swap new stuff and, yeah, I can pretty much kill that dream :(
*If it isn't American, it is (mostly) crappy techno with no lyrics. Meh.
*Even the TV shows. Most people watch the regular shows we do (Lost, Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men) just with Swedish subtitles. I would get so annoyed.
*The dancing, however, is definitely something to adjust to. Our first night at a club, us Americans and Canadians were just watching everyone and saying "Are you serious?" To put it lightly, we are used to the touchy feely type of dancing. In Sweden, you essentially stand in a circle facing your friends and fist pump. Boys and girls don't even touch one another, unless on accident. So awkward at first but it was fun when I got over it :)

This huge American influence on their culture maybe explains why some Swedes are so excited to meet us. They have dreams to go there, and see what they watch on their screens and hear on their radios. They view America as a place to get rich and famous and to follow your dreams. There are expectations that we see celebrities all the time on the streets or know someone who dropped out of high school to pursue acting or singing. 


Okay, so this might be a weird one, but you know you were wondering...
*Toilets are not filled with water. The water is added when you flush.
*Flushing either involves pulling a rod up or pushing a button that specifies if you went #1 or #2, denoted by smaller and bigger sides, respectively.
*Except for really big places, there are often several small bathrooms to choose from, all include a sink and a full size door. It is not nearly as common to have stalls. Privacy is important here.
*My personal bathroom has a towel warmer to hang my towel on..big fan of that.
*I bought some TP at a grocery store and came home to find it had this bright red flowery pattern on it. Wut.

Food and Drink

*Root Beer and graham crackers don't exist here. Peanut butter does, but not the same, which for me is a problem. There is a big fascination with maple syrup and pancakes, however. They have it in the international section. Isn't that crazy? 
*Eating out at a sit down restaurant is insanely expensive. I have heard rumors that it is not uncommon for dinner out to set you back $50 USD. 
*Everything in tubes. Sauces, cheese, fish, you name it, it is in a tube in a Swedish grocery store. I am talking toothpaste tubes. Definitely going to have to ease into that..

*Groceries are at least 1.25 to 1.5 times as expensive as Grand Forks, whereas alcohol is over 2x as expensive.
*Beer and wine can be drank as young as 18, but you have to be 20 to enter a Systembolaget.
*The love! This is the name for the coffee breaks the Swedes much enjoy. You often eat a cinnamon roll or other pastry/cake while sipping on a cup of Swedish coffee, which is practically espresso it is so strong. 1 cup is all you need usually :)
*The garbage cans in public here...omg. The most confusing thing ever for a foreigner. The one I could find a picture of online is mild, the first one I saw in Stockholm had about 7 different slots with no picture. I played it cool and seperated my garbage in no particular method and speedwalked away I was so embarrassed. It really is a good idea, just not user friendly in many places. Never thought I would experience culture shock via garbage recepticle, but hey. The second garbage area pictured has been extremely useful, on the other hand.

I am really making the effort to omit the word "weird" from my vocabulary when I am here. It isn't weird, it is just someone else's normal. Different is a better word for it, and "different" is why I am here. I am learning to adapt slowly but surely to things that seem like a big deal, but really aren't. I may be using different methods to go about my day, but the day is going to happen either way. Not with just Swedes, but with my fellow international students, I am really learning to accept and even enjoy others' different ways of life. I am unexpectedly learning more about home, hearing peoples' reactions to things I explain as being normal. So, I need to remember that when they say something I find to be ridiculous. We are all normal in our own ways is maybe the best way to think of it :) Either way, I am loving my time here and the fact that everyday tasks can turn into adventures. I will leave you with a collage of pictures I took of my beautiful city!

Monday, January 13, 2014

I have ARRIVED :)

So, I have been here a whole 48 hours and I can already tell you..I already love it here! Despite the horrific process of the actual traveling to get here, things have gone pretty smoothly. Chloe and I have been really lucky (maybe so because the Swedes tend to like us Americans ;) ). Oh man, so much has happened, so many details to fill in, where do I even start?

About the whole actually getting here thing- our initial flight was cancelled. Yep, cancelled. I was at my sister's place in Fargo, luggage in tow, about to walk out the door, when I got that horrible news via text from Chloe. She was at the mall with her family, also ready to go. We met at the airport to see what they could do for us, but we ended up having to rebook for the next day. It is torture when you have this date set in your mind and this picture of how it is going to be when you leave, and then you are sent back in the direction you came from. But, weather can be unpredictable and we ended up staying at my sister's one more night and making the most of it.

The next morning, we got on the plane as planned (thank goodness) with only minor delay, and let me tell you, it is by far the smallest commercial plane I have ever seen. But, we got to Chicago safely and by some odd miracle, made it to our terminal just in time to receive more bad news. We had been unknowingly put on standby for our connecting flight to Stockholm. At this point, we would have done anything just to get to Sweden, so we both crossed our fingers, went to our gate, and sat in seats right by the boarding pass desk and practically stared them down. We must have done something right, because a half hour after the plane started boarding, we were given tickets. We honestly felt like we had won the lottery. 

Getting on the plane was our first dose of culture shock. We flew with Scandinavian Airlines, and Swedish was the first language used by the airline staff. Not only that, but we did not hear any other passengers speak english either. The food was definitely different too, in a good way. Unfortunately, between the malfunctioning movie screens, screaming Eurobabies, and rock hard seats, we were not able to sleep much. But that is okay, because our excitement alone was probably enough to keep us awake. 

When we arrived in Stockholm after what felt like 100 hours on a plane, we were in absolute awe of how gorgeous the landscape was. The first snow had occurred just a few days before, and yet the many waterways remained flowing and unfrozen. I kept saying "It looks like a Christmas movie!" When we got off the plane, the next order of business was figuring out how to get to Karlstad, about 4 hours from Stockholm by bus. We were able to get bus tickets with the help of the info desk there and we were on our way. 

The bus ride to our school was nothing short of majestic, especially with all the beautiful buildings, charming towns, forests, and waterways, all things that we don't get to see much of at home. We were on opposite sides of the bus and were consantly getting each others' attention to point out a cool building or a beautiful stream surrounded by rocky cliff. When we arrived in Karlstad, my fantastic hosts were nice enough to take both Chloe and I to our apartments. We drove by the university, and I could not believe how high tech and modern it looks! There is this really cool suspended structure in a glass building called "The Egg" that is actually a classroom (pictured below)! 

When I walked into my room for the first time, my jaw dropped over how huge and nice it was. At UND, I felt cramped in my dorm, but being here, I was almost stressed about how bare the walls are and how empty my bookcase would be since there was far more storage than what was required for what I packed. Once the basics were explained and I got a brief tour, I was left alone in my echo-ey huge room. I didn't even think to Skype or text anyone, all I wanted to do was unpack and make it my own. I put everything away, put pictures on the walls, and decorated. I got everything else I needed the next day at IKEA (yes, in Sweden! :D ) and finished the process. I have to say, I am quite pleased with how home-y I was able to make it. Here is a link to a 360 view of it here:

Today, Chloe and I completed our next major order of business: grocery shopping. Let me tell you, it was no easy task. Actually, it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life to be quite honest. Not only are the prices in SEK (1 SEK=roughly .15 USD), but there is rarely any english on the packaging of the food. So, on top of deciding what to buy, you have to figure out how much it is, and then figure out what it is and if you can make several meals from it before the expiration date. Groceries are very expensive here, so it has to be gone about carefully in order to not waste any of it. To make matters worse, every employee we asked for help did not know english. This was the first time since we have been here that this was the case. It isn't that we are mad that they don't know our language, it is just frustrating when there is such a lack in understanding from both sides. I guess it was a good reminder in the importance of effective communicating. Who knew buying carrots could be so complicated? We were there for literally 4 hours and by the end of it, we were very ready to just go to bed (this was around 5pm-ha!). By the way, how funny are these wagon-carts?!

Overall, I am really content here and proud of how Chloe and I have been able to put our heads together and figure out how to make things work. Tomorrow is the first day of orientation and I could not be more excited to meet my fellow international students, tour the university more in depth, and begin establishing a routine here. Feel free to contact me via Skype/Facetime/iMessage or any other social media. I may not reply right away since I don't have internet 100% of the time, just so you know :)

And so it begins!

PS: My blog is now locatable here--->

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Final Countdown

I haven't written here since Thanksgiving, which is pretty pathetic. I've wanted to, but between school and work and finals and the holidays and getting ready to live on another continent, I unfortunately have been more than a little busy. This might get long, but bear with me here. First order of business, I have some exciting news to share...! I have been chosen to be a blogger for the UND page this semester! What that means is it will be far easier to locate this blog should you ever feel the need. And, more importantly, I am by contract required to write at least once every 2 weeks. So no more slacking beginning the middle of January :) That being said, I recently checked out some of the past student bloggers' pages and immediately felt the need to step my game up so I hope you noticed and liked my blog's makeover! Any and all tips/feedback are welcomed and appreciated, as always. 

My last day of working until I get back was today, so now all I have on the brain is: Sweden. Full speed ahead with packing, making plans, shopping, making lists, saying goodbyes, and getting organized. About the saying goodbyes part- it's been hard to accept the fact that I will miss things that I otherwise would have been a part of. It's weird to think of me going back to work and not recognizing people or learning that a former coworker moved. It's incomprehensible that I will go almost 6 months without driving or being employed. I'm not saying I regret my decision to study abroad whatsoever, but it's slowly sinking in just how long of a time it is that I will be gone.

On a lighter note, I couldn't be more ecstatic about meeting people from all over the world. It honestly blows my mind. All the different accents, languages, senses of humor, music, habits, foods, personalities, slang phrases, and points of view that I am about to be exposed to is such an exciting prospect. I feel like I have so much to learn about the world outside my North Dakota bubble and I am more than ready to soak it all in. It's so awesome to have all these new Facebook friends from other countries. I can't wait until we all can meet and hang out and talk in person.

It's funny to me how people have reacted when they learn what I'm doing. The question "Why?" has especially been a tricky one to answer. I guess I can't really pinpoint the exact reason I want to study abroad. It's really just this strong pull in my gut to explore the world. To me, it feels like a need and not a want. It's something I am thinking about all day every day and I'm so done with dreaming and wondering what it would be like when I am fully capable of making it happen. So that's why I'm doing it. I need to feed my curiosity and I know this itch to travel is not something that is about to go away. I'm young, healthy, full of wonder, and am sick of living in familiarity. I'm ready to go. 

Below is a couple of my favorite photos from when I went to France 3 years ago. It was truly a life changing experience and exponentially strengthened my desire to see the world.

I told you I get excited about travel..