Let me start off by telling you what is happening – today is a rainy Wednesday afternoon, I am sitting behind my desk, looking at the cyclists speeding through the Dutch landscape outside of my window. It is the end of January and I have returned home. Oddly enough I still cannot fully realise that my exchange semester is over, done with. This is it, you know? Here I am, writing my (for now!) last entry for this blog, mesmerising a daydream that once seemed to last so long but now feels like loose sand slipping through my fingers.
So I went home for Christmas and New Year’s, spent some valuable time with my family and met up with some friends as well. It felt good to be home, but discovering new things in all too familiar environments was a weird experience.
‘‘Is that a new chair we have?’’ ‘‘– Yes, it’s nice isn’t it?’’
‘‘I haven’t seen this building yet.’’ ‘‘– Are you serious? It’s been there for years!’’
Quickly, though, I was longing to go back to Sweden, and on January fourth, I travelled from home to home. Turned out winter had arrived in Stockholm! The entire city was covered in snow and temperatures remained below zero. Me and a friend decided to take advantage of that situation and went to Nacka, where we hiked on a frozen lake. This activity stood out, as January was also the time to finish courses and start writing exams. As of now, I am still awaiting my final results, but I expect to have passed without major complications.
Hellasgården Lake in Nacka
January meant also – sadly – saying goodbye. This is something which I believe will always be difficult, regardless of how often one does it. As I had to leave my apartment in the middle of the month already, I could luckily stay over at friends’ places to round off the semester. I liked having a closure like this, because it enabled me to properly say goodbye to all people that mean most to me (top image: What would this semester have been without Ana and Anna?).
And then, it was my turn to leave. With incredibly mixed feelings I stepped onto the plane carrying me back to Amsterdam. The entire flight, we kept chasing the sunset.
How to wrap up five months in a single blog post then? Honestly, I do not know. Since my arrival home a couple of days ago, I have felt rather… empty. No worries, I am doing well! I have moved back to my apartment in Maastricht again. Seeing all my friends and hearing about their exchange semesters was definitely fun too. It is just that I miss Stockholm and I did not expect that the city would leave an impact on me this big.
Throwback to the Lapland trip in December
How is my life in the Netherlands going to look like? Well, I will finish my BA studies at the end of this semester. And I am going to participate in a special project for my BA Thesis, which is a collaboration between several European universities. Soon, I will start a four month research project about diplomacy and the external policies of the European Union and base my thesis on the outcomes of that. I will also need to figure out what kind of Master’s programme I would like to pursue, and where. Maybe I will come back in Stockholm; it is definitely something I have in the back of my mind. And I will read about the new ‘generation’ of bloggers on this blog, whom I am excited to follow and whom I also envy a little bit, because they still have this amazing experience in front of them.
This blog has to a certain extent functioned as a diary for me, but at the same time it only scratches the surface of what I have been up to. It is simply impossible to cover it all! So I have been thinking about how to finish this blog in a ‘worthy’ manner and I think I have found something. Whereas I have mostly written about the big things I have been up to, such as the various travels I have undertaken, I think it is now time to mention the little details. These probably only make sense to me, as many of you will not understand what they are or why matter to me. Nonetheless, in chronological order, this is what I will miss most of Stockholm:
I will miss balsam soap and hearing Bengali in my kitchen. I will miss watermelons, I will miss glow-in-the-dark sticks, I will miss Pressbyrån coffee. I will miss panda’s. I will miss lakrits and Palmyra challenges. I will miss the spinning ventilator. I will miss the lit up moose and making jokes about Mumin. I will miss passing Stadshuset on the train, I will miss the robotic voice reminding me that I need to ‘tänk på avståndet mellan vagn och plattform’ when I ‘stiger av’. I will miss polar bread, skagenröra and Västerbottenpaj. I will miss ‘Det borde man ju veta!’ and I will miss watching SVT Play without restrictions. I will miss stand-up comedy, blue Asics trainers and I will miss strolling through the city at night.
December is here and with it come many festivities. Unfortunately I cannot tell you how many days are left till Christmas – I honestly do not count them – but nonetheless, the last month of 2015 has been grand! My aunt and uncle came over for a visit a couple of weeks ago. It was lovely to show them around and let them catch a glimpse of the life I have been living here for almost four months now. However, it also felt quite strange talking in my mother tongue all day again (which is Dutch, but here I am referring to the dialect spoken in the south-eastern region of the Netherlands).
They also brought some presents along, because it was my birthday on December 2nd! Surprisingly I did manage to keep the envelopes and wrappings closed until my actual birthday :-). My 21st birthday was also the first one which I did not celebrate with my family or ‘at home.’ My Norwegian friend Hedda came over and I invited her and some other friends to my apartment to have a nice evening together. The days after my birthday consisted mainly of cleaning, spending time with Hedda, and… packing.
Yes, I know. Packing. I could not help but travel again. In fact, this journey is the one I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the semester. Once more organised by ESN, we drove all the way up through Finland to arrive in Lapland! Finland’s northernmost – and least populated – region was like how you would Scandinavia imagine to be: a winter wonderland. During the trip we learned a lot about the culture of the Sami, the indigenous people living in the Arctic. We stayed in wooden cottages and the most memorable activities included a visit to a reindeer farm and sledging with huskies. We sleighed down Europe’s longest slope and even the Northern lights blinked at us.
Silence, snow, and six husky dogs. This was amazing.
In the cold, even true love emerged!
One day, we drove to a fishing village in Norway to take a dive in the Arctic Ocean – after a warm sauna of course. All of these things were so impressing that I will probably never forget about them. Magical! This felt like the real North, where the sun didn’t even rise (luckily there was still 2-3 hours of daylight) and temperatures dropped as far as -20°C.
Team Lappis did it! A dive in the Arctic Ocean
Finally… the Northern Lights (photo by Piotr Dzida)
Back in Stockholm, realisation struck me that there was only one week of classes left before the Christmas break! It genuinely feels like yesterday that I moved here. Time is a weird thing, I have learnt. As I have also been feeling a bit stressed lately, I liked flipping through ‘old’ photos of my time in Stockholm. Unbelievable when I see pictures of everyone wearing shorts and T-shirts :-). Another ‘memory’ which I don’t think I have shared with you yet was that time when me and two friends decided to check out another side of Stockholm: its underground. Being known for its amazing art, we travelled around and got out at some stations we would normally not come. Definitely a recommendation, even for Stockholmers!
Duvbo station (photo by Anna Schliesselberger)
The rainbow at Stadion station
I will be flying to the Netherlands to celebrate the holidays at home, and it feels good. In the new year, I will return to Sweden for a couple of weeks to round off my courses, so it is no time for goodbyes just yet ;-). Have a very merry Christmas and a good new year!
I turn over another page. My cup of coffee is as good as empty and I strongly consider getting another one. On my right, an old woman with short grey hair and a raincoat as orange as the morning sun is steadily working her way through hers. She’s reading too. Perhaps I am studying her just a moment too long, for she slightly turns her head towards me and I quickly have to adjust my gaze so it seems like I’m staring out of the window behind her. She smiles, takes a last nip of her drink and leaves not long thereafter. I’m in a coffee place in Nyköping and I just came back from a small trip to the south, comprising the cities of Lund, Malmö and Copenhagen. Like my coffee, my energy-level needs a påfyll too.
The trip itself was – although tightly and last-minute planned – great. As some friends hosted us each for a night or two, we travelled around quite a bit by train. This was by no means an obstacle, even the five hour journey from Stockholm to Lund turned out very comfortable! An added bonus was that I could cross the famous, or – if you’re also a fan of the crime series Bron – infamous Øresundsbridge connecting Denmark and Sweden three times. Some highlights and afterthoughts of the trip:
The Øresundsbridge seen from Malmö
Lund is a very small, but cosy city with a lot of churches and castles. The Cathedral, including some large medieval clockwork, is definitely a must-see. Apart from that, the university makes up a large part of the scenic city. Oh, and Café Landgren does nice coffee-breakfasts where you can sit down and taste various kinds.
Malmö gives off a very different vibe than Lund; it’s a harbour city and besides bigger much more industrial too. Unfortunately I have not seen lots of Sweden’s third hotspot: I was there for half a day only and it was raining. The Turning Torso is worth checking out and you can visit plenty of museums with one combined ticket.
Copenhagen was the main destination of the trip and I couldn’t stop comparing it to Amsterdam all the time. It felt like coming home in a city I had never visited before: the architecture, the many bikers, cheaper food ;-). And Danish I find a really beautiful language! I know most people – especially Swedes – will raise their eyebrows right now but I find it fascinating how you can hear Swedish, German and even Dutch influences all in one tongue. Absolute must-sees include of course the Little Mermaid and Nyhavn. The Royal Library is called Black Diamond and if you stand in front of it, you will know why. Paludan is a heavenly combination of a café and library. Tivoli (Copenhagen’s Gröna Lund) looked pretty as well but we didn’t go in.
Colourful houses in Nyhavn!
And what has happened up here in Stockholm? Frankly, nothing exceptional. My daily rhythm starts to follow the sun more and more, meaning that I try to be outside during daylight as much as possible. I really enjoy hiking in nature and I think it is an absolute privilege to have so much ‘green’ around in a capital city. Lately, I hiked for two and a half hours and I discovered lots of new places! At one of them I found this chalkboard where you can answer the question Vad tanker du på? (What are you thinking about?). Without revealing anything, it was heart-warming – and sometimes very… interesting – to see what people have written.
What are you thinking about?
Apart from that, I have been watching a lot of films :-). More so, my course which taught in Swedish is going even better than I expected. It seems that there are only good tidings to bring! Ah, Christmas ;-). The city is making its preparations already with a Christmas market and an ice-skating area at Kungsträdgården. Time goes by so fast; I don’t even want to think of going home!
In many aspects, I seem to stand on a crossroad. The time in Stockholm that lies ahead of me is roughly equal to the time of my stay which has already passed. It is a moment to explore lots of new things and I am very excited about that. I love change and I like things new. It keeps people active and fresh, I think.
When I wrote my latest blogpost about two weeks ago, my friend Lauren from England had just arrived. Not having seen her for five months – she travelled a lot this summer – it was great spending time with her! As both of us are art lovers, I got some new museums in Stockholm to check off my museum-list (which is by the way no actual list, it only exists in my head – and I still manage to lose it every now and then).
We also participated in something which was called The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment. The project originates in Perth, Australia, with the aim to fight the decrease of human interaction in big cities especially. The concept is really simple: people are challenged to sit down and just share one minute of eye contact with ‘strangers.’ Stockholm also participated and as a result I found myself sharing important, intense and most of all inspiring minutes with a variety of people: Swedes and non-Swedes, children and youngsters, adults and people the age of my grandparents. It was without doubt one of the most rewarding things I have ever done! Some people liked having a little chat after we were done ‘staring’ and one woman even had tears in her eyes! Afterwards, Lauren and I and some other people we met at the experiment went out for pizza.
“I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction”, definitely something worth thinking about.
A couple of days later, Lauren left and I made my way to the ferry terminal. Six other students and I from Södertörns Högskola joined the ESN trip to Saint Petersburg, Russia! Since I heard about the trip for the first time I have been extremely looking forward to it :-). And it was great! We visited the State Hermitage Museum; saw a mesmerising ballet performance of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ and explored the city by ourselves too. The cultural difference with Europe was bigger than I expected; I was impressed and I fell in love with the city. I don’t feel like I completely grasped its essence – three days are too short for that – but its people and lifestyle still left their mark.
Swan Lake in the Hermitage Theatre
The Saint Petersburg underground stations looked like palaces!
Did you know that Saint Petersburg is made up out of several main avenues, which are called ‘prospekts’? Hence the title of this blogpost – it is said that these prospekts function as perspective lines in the composition of the city, leading into certain vanishing points, like in a photograph. I really like that the city is constructed in such a thoughtful way.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is located very closely to Nevsky Prospekt.
The entire trip included two stop-overs in Helsinki, so we had some time to explore Finland’s capital as well. When we stopped in Helsinki on the way back to Stockholm, I even randomly met up with two friends, one of whom was – who else could it be – our all-time traveller Lauren.
A very clear ‘mångatan’ or moon street, somewhere in the Baltic Sea.
Once back in Stockholm, I had a meeting with Johan Häggqvist, which Stockholm Academic Forum kindly arranged for me in order to become more accustomed to the working field and get an overall idea of what it is like working in the communication business (something I am potentially interested in). We talked about my future and it was great getting some more insight and handy tips!
Finally, I am close to finishing the media course here at Södertörn University. We are now working on a final group project which includes the launch of a (fictional) campaign, an interactive website, posters and flyers, and a TV-commercial!
Improving the final design of our ‘Varannan Vatten’ campaign.
This course has been very exciting, but I am also looking forward to starting my new course next week, which is part of the Gender studies programme. It is called ‘Sexualitet, kropp och estetik’ (Sexuality, body and aesthetics) and YES it is taught in Swedish. It is the first time I am going to follow a course in Swedish, so to be frank I am getting quite cold feet by now. However, I did talk with the course’s supervisor, and together we decided that I should be able to catch up.
At times, hours seem to crawl forward, second by second, endlessly. At other times, days seem to go by as fast as the speed of light. I could not believe that my latest entry for this blog has for instance been a month ago! Digging in what are already becoming memories, I decided to update you about five things which – if possible at all – sum up my first weeks ‘up north.’ As you will see, these include places I have visited, things which has happened to me, and some general thoughts or particularities.
I fell in a lake. Yes, you read that right. I am starting off with this one as it is probably the most remarkable one. The way it happened is actually as simple as it sounds: I was hiking in nature when I discovered a lake. I got a little bit too close, the surface below me suddenly felt very slippery, and like a small child going down a slide for the first time, I simply slid in. Shoulder-deep in the water, I was obviously soaking wet. Unfortunately, my beloved iPhone did not survive the adventure. Even an intensive five-day rice bag treatment did no good and it had to be put to rest. A new phone and 2 500 SEK later, I am now back in the game. Not recommended though!
I went to Uppsala. Stockholm is by far the most amazing city I have ever visited! However, there is always more to discover ;-). That is why Charlotte and I decided to go up to Uppsala and have a wander around there. It turned out that Sweden’s fourth biggest city is actually quite small! Nonetheless, the Museum of Art and the Cathedral were impressive and Uppsala itself has a very nice, calm atmosphere to it.
I visited the City Hall. This is probably the fanciest thing I have been up to since my stay in Stockholm. Stockholm Academic Forum hosted a welcoming reception for international students and researchers in the magnificent City Hall or ‘Stadshuset.’ The visit included some inspirational speeches by several directors and CEOs of academic institutions in Stockholm. We were also introduced to the Blue Hall (which is actually brick red) and the Golden Hall (which is covered in golden mosaic) where we were served lunch. All in all it was a very impressive reception!
Agathe, Anna, me, Richard, Anna, Ana and Andrea (photo by Carlos)
The Golden Hall with a great mosaic of The Queen representing the city of Stockholm
I got friends visiting me. As I have been away from home for a little while now, my first visitors have come up to see me! Two friends from the Netherlands, Martine, who is Dutch, and Robin, who is actually a Swede, came for a weekend. It was so nice having them here, and also a good opportunity for me to explore the city from a tourist’s perspective – something I had not done yet. We went to the Vasamuseum, which hosts a very large Viking ship, art exhibitions and Gröna Lund. I enjoyed seeing them mingle with my friends here. Right now I have my English friend Lauren over! :-)
Robin and Martine came along to visit me!
Gröna Lund at night
I really start to appreciate Swedish culture. Quite an amount of stores here do not have clearly defined men’s or women’s departments, which I think represents the gender equality which has been worked on for a generation now quite well. Also, I learned how frustrating it is being in a hurry and being blocked by people standing on the left side of the escalator. There are, however, also some less fun aspects of living in Sweden. To name the two most prominent things: cold and darkness! In the beginning of October already, I am wearing my winter coat with a heavy scarf and some gloves. When I left my house in the morning a couple of days ago, it was -3 degrees!!! Can you believe that? It also gets dark quite early, at around 18:30. I even started taking Vitamin D supplements already to make up for the lack of sunlight.
One last thing: although the darkness may not be the most loved feature of a life in Scandinavia, it does set the scene for one mystical natural phenomenon. The Aurora Borealis! So far, I have been really close to seeing it twice, but the magnetic strength was either just not high enough, or it was cloudy. And the one night the skies were actually completely green, I was asleep. I have to keep trying I guess :-)
"The upcoming months I will document my preparations of coming to Sweden as well as what I am up to being a student at Södertörns Högskola in Stockholm. I am very much looking forward to all of it!" Nick Doggen is 20 years old and comes from the Netherlands. He studies Political Culture at Maastricht University and is coming to Stockholm as an exchange student.