Laura‘s blog

Time actually does fly!

Time actually does fly!

This House Believes

…that debating is awesome! I’ve told you before that I have joined the Stockholm Debate Society, and I have had so much fun there. Last month, we actually went to a debate tournament in Riga, in Latvia (top image: house where the debate tournament was held).

A debate tournament is a tournament of one or two days (in this case one, as it was a beginners tournament) in which debate teams from several countries compete against each other. It was so cool to meet debate teams from not only the Scandinavian countries, but also Latvia itself, Russia, the Balkan states and many more – especially as a Dutch person, who never gets to meet people from these countries.

The debate tournament was a lot of fun, because everyone was so nice, and we learned so much. Because the tournament is 4 rounds of debate (5 for the finalists) you really see yourself debate better each round. The motions we debated ranged from “This House (meaning your team) regrets the negative attitude towards golddiggers” to – no kidding – a Harry Potter motion, which was “This House believes that the International Statute of Secrecy should be abolished”.

everyone-from-the-stockholm-debate-society-who-competed-in-the-riga-tournament

Everyone from the Stockholm Debate Society who competed in the Riga tournament!

And we did more than just compete in the tournament – we went out to dinner, to a thrift shop, to explore the city, and to get very tasty pancakes for lunch. And everything was so cheap there! We travelled there by ferry, which was also a new experience. Unfortunately, I got quite seasick on the way over, but it was much better on the way back. The ship was enormous and had multiple bars, restaurants and other shops. It was quite the experience!

The actual debating during the tournament 1

The actual debating during the tournament 2

Pictures from the actual debating during the tournament.

A new term, a new course

And of course, I am also here to study. The first course I did was called Political Theory, and I heard last week that I passed with a nice grade, so I am very happy about that. It was a nice course to start my semester with, as it touched upon a different topic every seminar – democracy, equality and justice, multiculturalism, and more. It was a good introduction and at the seminar class I attended, both the teacher and the students were amazing. I’ve been very lucky with my first course, especially because I heard from some friends of mine that their courses did not go well at all.

Now we have all arrived at term two – we’re actually almost at the end already – and this course is very different. The programs are now divided into three parts – so for my bachelor – Political Science – you have Political Science I, II and III. The curse I took in the first period (there are four periods in one semester) was one from Political Science I. Now, this second course, called Security in International Relations, is part of Political Science III. This means that it’s a different and tougher course – but hey, I like a challenge!

For my second course, I have to read specific literature every week, and then during the seminars we only discuss the literature. Normally, in a seminar, the teacher goes over the literature again and then in the second half of the seminar you get some group questions about the subject/articles – in this course, it is different. They really assume that you have read and know the literature, and that you have formed your own thoughts, reflections and criticism on it. This does make this course a whole lot of work – but it’s so interesting to actually discuss with the class about what you’ve read, and not just accept everything you read. It’s a nice change.

International student ambassadors Stockholm

International student ambassadors

Stockholm University

Stockholm University

The building you see on the lower picture above is one of the many buildings of the Stockholm University main campus. That’s the building the Political Science department resides in, and thus the building I spend all my time in. Above that picture, you see a picture of the second meeting of the International Student Ambassadors.

Last time I told you that I applied to be an Ambassador. Well, I got accepted! So now I’m part of this amazing group of people, both international students and Swedish students, and am going to organize several events for all students to participate in. For example, at the end of October, we’re going to organize a Movie Night combined with a Potluck. A potluck is an event where everyone brings some food, whatever they want, to the event and then you all share your food and so get a very nice meal! We’re also going to organize some other events, like a Karaoke, a Stockholm’s Got Talent night, and much much more! When I first came here, events like that really made my week so much more fun. So it’s very cool to now be the one to help with organizing events so that everyone can have just as much fun!

It’s always fun to get a drink with friends!

It’s always fun to get a drink with friends!

This last month, everything has calmed down a bit, which means I had a lot more free time, which is very nice. There is enough to do here in Stockholm – we went to a bar for drinks, I went to see a movie with my roommate,  to a comedy show, and started going to the gym again. Stockholm has enough nooks and crannies to explore, and there are still quite some things I’d like to do. Luckily I have all the time in the worl-  wait, is it already almost November?!

Swedish Culture, Student Associations and a bit of studying

Swedish Culture, Student Associations and a bit of studying

And so my first month as an international exchange student in Stockholm is coming to an end. If I may be honest, and I will, living here has already started to feel familiar and normal. Even though what I do here is so different from what I do back home, because everything is so different, it is easy to adapt to a new routine. I have university four days a week, with every day starting at 13:00. The course is really interesting and just today I have turned in my first essay. Twice a week I have a Swedish language lesson including with a fantastic singing Swedish teacher and a class of 300 students from all over the world.  It really is something, sitting there and practising how to say different countries in Swedish, and to realize that half the world is sitting right here in your classroom.

Jag kan prata lite Svenska nu, det är jätteroligt!

More than just studying

But I have of course been doing much more than going to school and getting used to ignoring the red traffic lights as a pedestrian on my way there. I have joined both the Student Union and the Erasmus Student Network, two student associations who both organize a lot of different events and activities that you can join as a member. For example, we did speedfriending with the SU: Speed dating, but only to make friends. That was a fun afternoon first talking to a lot of people in a short time – true speed dating style – and then going to a pub together. There was also an ESN music quiz, in which we tested our knowledge of Swedish music, which went surprisingly well. It is also lucky that we have had almost only sun and nice weather, which makes it easier to do fun things.

Stockholm water and sun

The weather is astonishingly nice for Sweden in this time of year.

The ESN also organized a city tour. By that point I already had seen most of the common areas of Stockholm. I went through there to get to the university, I did my shopping there, or grabbed some fika (a Swedish tradition which is basically getting coffee with a pastry) with friends. But the city tour was a tour of Gamla Stan, which is the old town of Stockholm. Here, the buildings were much more colourful and the streets far narrower. We visited the palace of the Swedish king and queen, the parliament and several other statues and interesting buildings. A nice fact is that the Swedish king has passed a law of primogeniture in 1980, the first in its kind, which basically says that it does not matter if the heir for the throne is male or female. Swedes are very gender equal as I have experienced them. I see just as much, or even more, fathers with baby’s here as mothers. And just today I hear that there is a recent law passed that encourages couples to divide the amount of maternity leave they get 50/50.

ESN Stockholm city tour

ESN Stockholm city tour

ESN city tour friends

From the city tour.

The day after the city tour the ESN set out again, this time for a hike in the Tyresta National Park. We were very lucky with the weather that day! We were with a very large group, almost 80 people if I had to guess, and we walked for a long, long time. All in all I think we hiked 2,5 hours, took a break for a late lunch, and then hiked the same track again 2,5 hours to get back to the bus – because finishing  the track would have taken over 4 hours!

And when I say hiking, I really mean hiking. It was not just a walk with sometimes a hill. We were climbing over fallen trees, walking over slippery rocks, climbing up and down rocks, and balancing on some wooden planks that were laid down on parts of the trail where it would otherwise be impossible to hike. While taking the lunch break a few people even went swimming – and they surprisingly did not freeze. It was a very enjoyable day full of amazing sights and interesting conversation. I am sure I want to go there again.

Tyresta National park Stockholm

Stockholm Tyresta National Park by a lake.

Lake view Tyresta National park Stockholm

Lake view Tyresta National park Stockholm

Stockholm Tyresta National Park Hill View

Stockholm Tyresta National Park Hill View

Stockholm Woods

These are few of my many, many pictures of the national park.

Students making student life better

But the ESN and SU aren’t the only people organizing cool things. The students themselves also from clubs, which are informal and meet regularly. I have joined two of these clubs. One of those clubs I discovered after a very interesting seminar. In this seminar I had a nice discussion with some of my classmates. One of them told me afterwards that she was going to the debate club meeting that evening, and if I would like to come. Well, yes! I was lucky and the meeting that evening was the first meeting of the year, which meant I was not the only newbie. That evening was filled with small workshops on the basics of debating, with the real debating left to next week. I have wanted to debate as a hobby for a long time now, but it was not possible at my high school and it slipped my mind back home at my university. So I am very happy I can finally start debating here.

The other club I joined I stumbled upon by surprise. When I was getting my ESN membership card, the booth next to theirs belonged to the Improvisation Theatre club. I had never really thought of doing this before, but honestly it seemed fun and I signed up thinking: why not?

So far I have really enjoyed this club, more than I expected. It’s a very casual club, but this makes it even more fun. It also helps you practise quickly adapting to new situations – as scenes can change quite fast – and to just keep speaking and improvise as you go. This actually suits my debate club pretty well, where you also need to practise speaking up and improvising. Plus, the people here are really nice as well and loads of fun.

A bit more Swedish culture

Another thing I did not see myself doing when I was planning to go to Sweden was attending a crayfish diner. Why? Because I don’t really like seafood. Alas, when the SU organized a traditional crayfish dinner – because that is apparently a Swedish thing – I once again asked myself: why not?

And thus I ended up in a charming hat and bib with a few friends eating crayfish. I had never tasted them before. My opinion is that they taste kind of mwah, that it’s really weird to eat food that still really looks like an animal, and that cracking open the crayfish is far too much effort for a little meat. This does not mean that I did not enjoy the dinner or the experience. I’m very glad I attended it. It was a lot of fun and we also sung a few Swedish drinking songs.

The most important drinking song is called Helan Går, which translates as chug it down. Apparently, during a championship match of the Swedish hockey team, they did not know the lyrics to their national anthem so they sung this instead! The most important line from this song is “Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej” which translates to “sing hup fol-de-rol la la la la” after which you take a shot (or in our case, a sip).

Crayfish dinner Stockholm

Crayfish dinner with Kathi to the left

Crayfish plate in Stockholm

The charmingly decorated crayfish dinner.

I also went to the Museum of Modern art with my roommate, Kathi, who is also pictured above when we went to the crayfish dinner together. This museum had a regular area, with a lot of different art movements depicted, and also a special temporary exhibit. This was the exhibit of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, a woman obsessed with polka dots and creating all kinds of art with it. The exhibit was called Infinity, named after the several infinity rooms that were part of her collection. These infinity rooms were rooms with mirrors on all sides, and some polka dot themed art in the middle. Standing in one of these rooms was pretty amazing.

Museum of Modern Art Stockholm

A doll of Kusama in one of her art pieces made for Louis Vuitton.

Infinity room, Kusama, Stockholm

One of the infinity rooms.

And since I decided I did obviously not have enough to do, I also applied to become a Student Ambassador for the Student Union. An ambassador is part of a team that organizes several events like the ones I mentioned above to contribute to making student life amazing. Hopefully, I will be accepted and will be able to do something in return for everyone that has helped making student life active here. And hopefully, I will also manage to make myself more active – As of this week, I am planning to go to the gym at least twice a week. Hopefully, that will work out just as well as life in Stockholm has worked out for me so far.

See you next time,

Laura

A New Adventure

A New Adventure

To be honest, in the weeks leading up to my departure to Sweden, I never felt like I was actually leaving. Through all the paperwork, packing, saying goodbyes, the idea of me studying in Stockholm for half a year still felt like something intangible. Far away. Something I read a book about, not would actually experience myself.

Before I’ll continue I’ll tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Laura Veerman, and I’m from the Netherlands. I’m 20 years old. I’m an exchange student at Stockholm University, at the department of Political Science, for almost 6 months. I like swimming, reading, gaming, and painting my nails. And friends, of course: I’m very exited about all the people I will meet this coming semester.

It was funny, in the weeks before my departure, that sometimes I spoke to friends and told them that I was getting some things done for Stockholm, and they asked me: Stockholm? What do you mean? Because for some reason when you do something this big sometimes you just… Forget to tell people. Just assume that everyone knows, because for you it’s already common knowledge.

I wasn’t sure how I felt when I boarded the plane to Sweden. My parents accompanied me for the first two days, and as we arrived on Saturday and could only pick up the keys to my shared apartment on Sunday, it felt more like a short holiday than me moving to another country. But now, a few days later, my parents back home and me and my roommate mostly settled in, it feels pretty natural. Or either the change hasn’t really kicked in yet: we’ll see about that in the coming weeks!

When my parents and I arrived in Stockholm, we spend the first day just walking around the city, getting to know how the busses work, what kind of stores are near my room, and what the city feels like. We had an amazing day! The atmosphere was busy, but friendly, and I already felt pretty comfortable. There were a lot of Swedish people just jogging, and most Swedes looked really stylish. There are a lot of Swedish man with beards, and a lot of helpful people.

The Swedes are not loud, and calm, but open. The city itself is clean, with – as we expected – lots of green and lots of space. (They have really broad sidewalks which is really nice, especially when walling with suitcases!) There are many busses and metros which depart frequently. And many, many stores, seemingly in random order: cafes, shops for clothes, food, and household items are all in the same street. But that’s okay, and I think I’ll know what’s where in time.

Laura SU campus

And of course we visited the (for now pretty empty) campus to look around!

After a long day of walking, looking around, and eating good food, we went back to the hotel exhausted. We rose early next morning, because we wanted to get the room key early to prevent long waiting lines. So we took a bus to the main campus. I really liked the campus – its so different than the university back home! A large, really large area, with shops and a sports centre and school library and many many buildings for different departments. Unfortunately my own department didn’t have a very fancy building, but it was clean and easy to reach so it wasn’t bad. And most of the campus was so nice I didn’t mind.

We then took the room key and visited my shared room. My roommate, Kathi, wouldn’t arrive until the evening. Only when we entered the room it was one big mess… Like, we didn’t expect everything to be sparkly clean, but this was just bad. Clothes and (dried, thankfully) food everywhere and the bathroom drain was clogged. I was so thankful my parents were with me! Us three spent almost 3 hours cleaning the place. After that it was a pretty nice room, if a little small. The upside is the bathroom, when clean is a nice bathroom, and the kitchenette and electric cooking equipment. The downside is the bunk bed, which really makes me and my roommate feel like 8-year olds and leaves little privacy. But ah well, we’ll manage. We knew this beforehand.

After cleaning the place we went into town and brought a few things for the room, like coat hangers and some glasses. Then we went out to eat in a really nice Italian place near my room. I was feeling spoiled, to be honest. After that, my parents went back to the hotel and I went to my room to meet my roommate Kathi and get to know each other. She’s such a nice and happy girl, and I’m glad she’s my roommate. Together we’ll manage just fine! I stayed at my room for a few hours, just talking, and then went to sleep. Everything went really fast and I was very tired.

Then it was Monday. My parents flew home, so after I ate lunch with them we said our goodbyes. Then I went back to the campus to explore the place and to get some things done, like activating my account and becoming a member of the Student Union. It took some time but it was nice, not being in a hurry and just becoming familiar with how everything works in this university. I was starting to feel like a real student.

That evening Kathi and I went out to dinner in some Thai place where the lights above us, which shone on our food, changed color all the time which made your food seem different when the color changed – a pretty confusing thing. But hey, nice food. In the evening we went out for a drink with a few orher exchange students Kathi had met on the airport when she arrived. We went to a really nice and cozy place at the river with a really nice view (and expensive drinks). It was a wonderful evening just getting to know the other students. I’m looking toward spending more time with not only them but also all the other students this coming semester.

Laura night drink sthlm

It was a very nice place to have a drink!

When Kathi and I went to sleep that evening, we just stayed up a while and talked a bit. The most strange thing about becoming an exchange student, we both agreed, is how you just suddenly have so much free time. Back home I organized things, was an active member of my Student Union, had school, did sports, and of course my friends and boyfriend who take up a lot of time. And now suddenly we only have school left! No other places we have to be or people we have to meet. We have so much freedom and we can choose whatever we want to do for the coming semester! Its such a weird and exiting idea. We can choose whatever club, sports, or activities we want to do. Studying on campus or studying in general will also be different in a good way, I think.

Though I think there are so many awesome things to do that my free time will dissapear on its own – and I’ll be happy about it. Because now I’m here, I want to do all sorts of activities with friends or the university or whatever I fancy: I’ll choose it all myself and I couldn’t be more exited about it. As I see it, wouldn’t quite call the coming months a holiday, but I would call it just having a different life for almost 6 months. Even though I will really really miss my boyfriend, and also my family and friends, I think this exchange period will be like one big adventure. And I’m more than ready to start exploring!

– Laura