I recently and briefly returned home following the passing of my Grandmother. By that point, I hadn’t even been gone for two months and was still in the process of settling into my new life. Returning unexpectedly was a strange experience – jarring in some ways and completely natural in others. Above all though, I was excited to see my family and friends and it was exactly what I needed.
Catching up over coffees and family dinners I noticed that I was asked three main questions. These three questions were innocent enough, but frustrating because I never felt like I had a decent answer. Now that I’ve returned I’ve been able to think through some of those answers. To save you all the trouble of asking I’m answering them now.
- What is Sweden like?
Where do I start? I haven’t seen much. I live in Lund, which is a small university town in the South of Sweden. I could talk about the gorgeous old buildings which resemble castles.
Or the beautiful Swedish homes which look more like dolls houses than the housing structures common in suburban Sydney. I could talk about how riding a bike everywhere has given me a new appreciation of the luxury of a car – particularly when it’s raining sideways or if I’m carrying more than a backpack and baskets-worth of goodies but I could also wax lyrical about how much better it is. I could talk about the cobbled streets and tiny cafe’s lining the big open town squares. I could talk about the Swedish welfare system and how it’s transforming my own political views. I could talk about the forests and their magnificence or the beaches which remind me of home.
I could talk about navigating grocery shops which are exclusively in Swedish. I could also talk about the incredible waste disposal system which requires you separate your glass into two separate bins, your paper and cardboard, your plastics, your food, metals and batteries, all into different shoots.
I hate this question because I don’t know where to start. If you get the chance, just go to Sweden. It’s completely different to Australia. Don’t skip it on your next European tour.
2. Can you speak Swedish?
Hah. No. Swedish is hard. I’m slowly getting the hang of the pronunciation of cities and that’s about it. Sverige does not sound like you think it does. Gothenburg is not Goth-en-burg but sounds more like yo-te-boy. Swedish is hard and most Swedes speak engelska. Whilst I did attend a few classes of basic Swedish, I can’t actually say anything useful, let alone pronounce it.
3. Have you made many friends? Met many people?
This is my least favourite question because it always seems laden with expectation about what exchange is like. I’ve been away over two months. I’ve met tons of people. Some only once for 30 minutes, others more. I’ve met countless kind, open and friendly people but not all of them are my ‘friends’. I’ve added dozens of ‘friends’ on Facebook since leaving Sydney but that doesn’t always mean you see each other again. Forming genuine connections and friendships takes time. Having absolute autonomy over your time means you can be discerning about who you spend time with. It also means you have to make effort to see people and to build friendships. I’ve made maybe a handful of ‘friends’ – people I see regularly or at least try to maintain contact with but if I’m being completely honest I’ve been spending a lot of time by myself and I’m completely ok with that. I have time.