Week 3 – When in Sweden, do as the Swedes do
Hej there! This week marks the beginning of my third week studying at Södertörns Högskola (Södertörn University) and is the first moment I’ve had to sit down and contemplate the experience. The last two weeks have passed by in a whirlwind of new experiences, people, highs and lows. The speed at which time is moving is scaring me and I’m worried I won’t be able to complete everything I want to before I have to return home.
Stepping off the plane in Arlanda airport, the cold hit me hit me like a knife, and I hurried into the airport to collect my overweight bag which had, at some stage, been covered in ‘heavy’ stickers. I got the Arlanda express train into Stockholm central station and it was here that I had my first moment of fear. I had no idea where to go in this maze of train platforms, all information on destinations was in Swedish and I was lugging 40kg of my belongings behind me while trying to keep hold of my passport and money. After screaming internally for two or three minutes, I rationalised the situation and approached a woman working in the station to ask for help. It was then I noted the Swedish stereotype to be untrue. The Swedes, while not appearing to be outgoing, all went out of their way to help me once I asked. After the woman in the station directed me to my train, a man behind me offered to carry my suitcase up a flight of stairs which was no mean feat. After getting off in Flemingsberg Station, I found Södertorns Högskola located at the top of some very tall escalators and from there ESN were on hand to get me to my accommodation. So really the first stage of my journey went well and I arrived in my bedroom in very good spirits.
The differences between Ireland and Sweden were clear from the beginning. Public transport was the first thing to catch my attention. Everywhere is so accessible in Sweden as a result of excellent public transport. Buses and trains run on time and, once you have your SL card topped up, the whole of Sweden becomes your oyster. In Ireland, a bus arriving on time is something to be celebrated because it is a rare occurrence. I detest public transport at home but here, as a result of it running smoothly on a constant basis, I actually enjoy it. The important of gender equality is also very significant in Sweden and is much more visible here then it is in Ireland. The Swedes have now a gender neutral pronoun ‘hen’ so as to not differentiate too much between the genders and also have genderless bathrooms in most public buildings. Something which can lead to some confusion the first time round! The weather is, of course, different from Ireland. There is often a foot of snow here and, since my arrival, I’ve seen the temperatures drop to -18 but it’s more manageable than I imagined. Once you’re wrapped up and remember to wear tights under your jeans, there isn’t an issue. The Swedish language has been a barrier to me since I arrived and, though most people speak competent English, I would like to be able to hold a basic Swedish conversation in areas like a shop or bank. It’s my third week of Swedish language class this week but I’m finding it difficult to gain any understanding of the language past the very basics.
The excitement of the last two week has been, largely to do with where I’m staying during my Erasmus (top-image: Most of the Erasmus group on a sight seeing tour). I’m living in a shared bedroom in a place called Bjornkulla, a place which is much prettier than its English translation into ‘Bear Hill’ would suggest. These student dorms have proved to be my rock over the last fortnight and have made moving to Stockholm much smoother than I imagined. The atmosphere in Bjornkulla is electric. A Whatsapp group was created during the first week for everyone on Erasmus (most of who live here) and the chat is constantly buzzing with suggests for trips away or plans for the day. Everyone living here has gone out of their way to be inclusive and their kindness has not gone un-noted by me.
In general, I’ve been enjoying the experience here thoroughly. I’ve had a few slip-ups like losing my keys, setting my hair on fire and trying to navigate the Stockholm train system drunk and alone but otherwise I’ve been fine. Money has been disappearing very quickly for me and I think I need to start being an adult and actually checking my bank account, the thought of which makes me want to cry. I haven’t been homesick yet as I’m in contact with many from home on a daily basis. Although I haven’t been away for more than two weeks at a time so I’m waiting for the realisation of being away for 6 months to hit me. I’ve found having only 6 hours of class a week odd after coming from 7 months of working the majority of the time. At the moment that free time has been spent exploring and drinking so I can’t really complain but I do fear that the social activities will slow down in weeks to come and boredom will strike.
This weekend, we’re taking our first trip out of the country and going on a cruise to Talinn, Estonia. I am so excited for this and I have a feeling it’ll be a big one!
I’ll keep you posted, Áine