Exchange

What is Sweden Like? Can you Speak Swedish? Have you Made Friends?

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.

  1. 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.

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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.

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Söderåsen National Park

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.

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4 thoughts on “What is Sweden Like? Can you Speak Swedish? Have you Made Friends?

  1. Emma, I enjoyed your blog about the experiences and feelings about being in Sweden. I am fascinated by their political/social set up over there. We could learn a thing or two about that in Australia. But no, we seem to blindly follow the USA. Sheep…. Have fun. I’m looking forward to more additions to your blogging.
    ‘Hej då’
    Suz x

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    1. Thanks for commenting Susan! I completely agree – I’m hoping to post more about my political learnings in the near future! I refuse to accept that social democracy is dead 😛

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  2. I totally agree with a lot of your comments here. Having been on exchange to Sweden myself I suppose many of my experiences have been similar. Especially on the bit about friends, people all seem to think that you’ll make tons of ‘friends’ on exchange, but how many people can you really form a lasting bond with over such a short period of time? I’d say by the end I have only a handful of people I could genuinely considers as friends. Most were acquaintances at best, not to say they’re bad people but it’s just impossible to friends with everyone and it shocks me how much people don’t seem to realise that. I think exchange is one of the greatest things I ever did, but I think most people are not prepared for a lot the realities, that is it’s not all fun all the time but rather a very interesting and challenging experience.

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    1. Absolutely! I spoke to a number of people about their exchange experience before I left and every one of them emphasised the fact that they made heaps of amazing friends that they still stay in contact with – which is awesome for them but is an incomplete picture of my experience so far. But who knows? I still have 9 months left. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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