Caoimhe Stack

My European Cliché

4/26/11

On Friday, Sara, David, and I headed to Stockholm for the day. We really wanted to visit Gamla, Stockholm (Old Stockholm) and I also needed to buy a dress for the upcoming International Gasque, a formal Swedish dinner party. So at 10 a.m., we caught a train heading out from Uppsala and made our way towards Sweden’s capital. Gamla, Stockholm is absolutely gorgeous.

Stockholm was founded more than 700 years ago and it shows in the architect. The buildings are absolutely beautiful. They reflect a time when buildings were made with aesthetics in mind instead of just their function. We spent several hours of our day just wandering through the streets of Gamla taking pictures of the palace, the quirky little shops that lined the street, and stunning buildings. We had no real destination, but that was perfectly fine with us as we were treated to the beautiful sights of Stockholm.

Because I needed a dress still, we eventually had to make our way over to the commercialized area of Stockholm. It was really interesting to compare the two parts of the city. Although they were no more than a half mile apart, the differences were shocking. On one hand, we had the history-filled streets of Gamla where we could have literally spent all day taking pictures if it weren’t for the freezing temperatures we were walking in. On the other hand, there was the shopping section of Stockholm that could make any girl swoon. Malls went on for ages and stores lined every street. A particular favorite of the Swedes is H&M. I kid you not when I say that we ran across at least 10 of them in a 5 block square. At one point in the day we were standing in one H&M looking out its window, and we could see two different H&M stores from that point. The Swedes are serious about their H&M’s. I found it impossible to resist so many of them and ended up buying my dress at H&M.

We ended the day by running back to Gamla Stockholm and walking along the water front where cruise ships and ferries were lit up against the night sky. As the temperature started to drop below 0, we decided that a warm café was in order. We meandered through the small streets and alleyways of Gamla Stockholm before settling on a café. After ordering our hot chocolate and muffins, we sat back and reveled in the fact that we were sitting in a European café in the middle of a city that was founded centuries before the US was. Oh how cliché. Oh how enjoyable.

My Swedish Home

4/1/11

I am starting to love all the ways that I’m settling into Sweden. It hit me two weeks ago that I now walk across the river to get to school without stopping to look at the beautiful view across from me. It’s not that it’s suddenly uglier than before, but that it’s no longer new and exciting to me. In the same way, when I walk through town I don’t examine the beautiful architect of the buildings the same way I did before. I have become, like the Swedes, habituated to my surroundings. In the same way, I no longer bat an eyelash when I hear and see Swedish all around me. In fact, I’ve even started passing as a Swedish person as I scrape by with the smallest conversations with cashiers and waiters.

If my friends tell me that they’re going clubbing, I’m no longer shocked, even if it is a Tuesday night and they have class the next day. It’s what the Swedes do. I’m no longer surprised when I hear people talking about “sledding at the castle.” Although an exciting prospect to a newcomer, almost everyone here has taken there turn throwing themselves down the steep hill by Uppsala’s striking pink castle. I’m starting to understand references that people make and the way in which the Swedish people think.

I’ve come to understand that coffee and Fika is very important to the social scene in Sweden and there’s no need to question it. I also know that many Swedes speak extremely excellent English, but they are still nervous to speak with a native English speaker. I know the way to the local grocery store. Once there, I can easily read the labels on food and figure out which brands will be the cheapest. I know which pizza place is the best to go to when I want something reminiscent of American food, and I know which movie theater I need to go to if I want to see a movie in English. If I need to go to Ikea, or into Stockholm, I know which buses and trains I need to take.

It’s crazy to think that in such a short amount of time, all of this has become familiar to me. And even more importantly, I’ve really come to enjoy all these aspects of living in Sweden. Really,Uppsala is starting to become a home to me. I’ve passed the point where the sights and people around me are an oddity. Instead they are becoming routine and comfortable. This is a great revelation, until I realize that that means I’ll miss it that much more when I leave.

Please Claim Your Lost Child at the Front Desk

2/7/11

Close is a relative term. The lady on the phone told me that the hostel was “close” to the bus terminal. But that seemed to be very debatable as I had been walking in circles around Stockholm for over an hour without finding it. It was 1:30 in the morning, a chilly 20 degrees, and I was lost in pursuit of this mythical hostel that had a bed waiting for me to collapse into. It was Sunday night/technically Monday morning and I was in Stockholm until 6:30 when the trains started leaving for Uppsala where I go to school.

I had decided to spend the night in Stockholm (which is a great city!) by staying in a hostel. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to call ahead and make a reservation. Unfortunately, I was an idiot and didn’t write down the directions because they were so simple. How hard can it be to ‘take a left at the bus terminal’? Apparently, because I tempted fate, it can be very, very difficult. I found the bus station easily enough but taking a left from there required getting to a lower street level. Once I found the stairs to go down, I had turned myself around and didn’t know where “left” was anymore. No problem. I’d just ask someone for directions. Bad decision. From then on my night set itself to a very predictable pattern that went like this: 1. Find stranger to ask for directions 2. Receive well-meant directions 3. Follow directions 4. Realize directions are incorrect 5. Find new stranger to ask for directions.

After 80 minutes of doing that I don’t think that anyone can say that I don’t have patience. The fact that I didn’t burst into tears and just spend the night sitting on the sidewalk is amazing even to me. As the clock crept closer to 2, I walked up to another new person –this time a security guard – and asked for directions to ‘Upplandsgatan 2.’ She had no idea where it was. But, just as I was about to have a nervous breakdown, she saved the day and pulled out her iTouch to look up directions for me. Hallelujah! Blessed be technology! As she walked me carefully through the directions I had to fight the urge to break into a dance and song routine. I was so excited to not spend my night on the streets. Needless to say, when I got to the hostel I wasted little time getting into bed and 15 minutes later I was passed out. But when I woke up I did remember the lesson that I learned from all of this. Never underestimate the importance of a GPS.

A Day in Dublin, A Birthday Bash in Bray

2/2/11

A week before I left the U.S. my aunt Sarah emailed me saying that there was going to be a family party in Ireland, would I like to come? Of course, the answer was yes. I would be in Sweden, a mere 2 hours away, and I would be able to meet most of my dad’s family, which has been hard to do when living in the U.S. for my whole life.

So on Thursday morning I excitedly packed up all my stuff and left to go to my grandma’s house for only the second time in my life. My weekend got started right away when Sarah took me straight from the airport to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. Not to spill my sins to the priest or cleanse my soul, but for a concert by the group Clannad. “What kind of music is it?” I asked on our way. “Well…..I don’t really know how to explain it, but you’ll like it” was the answer that I got. And she was right, I did like it, but it was hard to exactly place the music. It was definitely traditional Irish music, but there was more to it than that. It’s hard to explain, but I really enjoyed the concert.

They played perfectly and their music had a mesmerizing quality to it really captivated me. Friday was a nice, relaxing day that I spent with my aunts, cousins, and grandma. Then on Saturday, we all headed to Bray for the surprise party that was being thrown for my dad’s cousin, Evelyn. There were a good 70 people there, so I had a lot of relatives to meet. I found out I loved them all. I started the night sitting by Paul, my dad’s cousin. Within 15 minutes three of my relatives, including my grandma, had walked up and told me that I wouldn’t want to sit by “boring” Paul. Of course they said this right in front of Paul – who wasn’t actually boring – just to tease him. I then moved to a table that had been dubbed the “cool table” by my cousin Antoine.

It wasn’t long before his dad, who was sitting with us, did the mature thing of untying balloons and encouraging us all to use the helium to change our voices. After that, we spent a good portion of the night asking all our relatives to talk to the camera in helium-assisted chipmunk voices. Then there was John, who actually knew people who had lived in Uppsala before. It didn’t take long for him to start good-naturedly making fun of the cold and dark I have to live in. As we went to take pictures together he said “Quick, look like you live in Uppsala” and put on a face full of misery and pain. The only thing I could do was join him as I thought of how much warmer Ireland was than Sweden. Another second cousin, Yvonne, judges dogs all over Europe. She’ll be coming to Stockholm for dog shows in the spring and we’re going to meet up then. I think I can truthfully say, after meeting everyone, that I have a very cool family.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. So the next day, Sunday, it was time for me to pack all my stuff, hug my grandma and everyone goodbye, and head back to a world of responsibility in Uppsala. It’s not that I dislike Uppsala, but that I really, really enjoyed being with my family in Ireland. I feel that Uppsala might have tried to console me a bit though. My first class on Monday was very fittingly ‘Introduction to Old Irish’. Close Uppsala, but no cigar.

Sweden and Ikea

1/24/11

I can’t express how lucky I feel to be studying abroad right now. Since the start of high school, I’ve been impatiently waiting for college just for the chance to spend a semester in a different country. And now I am finally doing it. As of last Saturday, I have been living in Sweden as an exchange student to Uppsala University.

I already really like it here, but there are some differences, both big and small, that are making adjusting harder. One thing I’m struggling with is getting on a good schedule here. Sweden is 7 hours ahead of Minnesota and 6 hours ahead of New York. So when its midnight here, my mind is working against me saying “No Caoimhe, it’s only 5, why are you going to bed?” It doesn’t help that the sun only rises at 8 or 9 and has set by 4:30. It really throws off your sense of time when it’s so dark all the time. And even when the sun is “out” it’s always hidden behind clouds. As a result, I’m getting used to living without the sun for a while. I almost feel like a vampire. I don’t think I’ll know what to do once spring comes and the sun is out every day.

Another difference that is really tripping me up is the currency here. Every shopping trip is a heart attack waiting to happen. Ten crowns here is equal to about $1.50, but I haven’t learned to automatically convert yet. So when I walk into the store and see that spaghetti sauce costs 33 crowns, I immediately assume its $33. I panic as I realize that there’s no way I can afford food here for more than a month, I’m going to be broke by the end of two months and won’t be able to pay my rent, and then I’m going to find myself homeless in Sweden with no way of contacting my family and…..with the conversion rate I realize that the sauce actually only costs $4.50. Phew. With that crisis averted I can breathe again, until I go to the next aisle to grab a box of cereal.

Other differences are smaller, and something I never even gave a thought to, like the sidewalks. Obviously a sidewalk is a sidewalk no matter where you are, but here they don’t actually salt and de-ice them. Instead, they just throw a bunch of gravel on the sidewalk every time it snows. So it doesn’t speed up the melting of the ice, it just helps your shoes grip better. Other differences are the doors (some have two handles you have to turn at once in two different directions), the crosswalk signals, the credit card machines at stores, and – my personal favorite – the fact that all cars stop for you no matter where you cross the road. The last one is something I’ve really come to appreciate after living in taxi-filled NYC.

Of course a lot of things are the same too, such as…. IKEA! Yes, I had the pleasure, nay the honor, of going to an Ikea in Sweden my second day here. I feel like I’ve fulfilled the American dream just by doing that. But I took it one step further once there. A group of us went to the IKEA cafeteria to eat. And what does one get when at an Ikea in Sweden? Swedish meatballs of course! I’m not sure what their actual name was because all the signs were in Swedish, but they were delicious. The cafeteria itself was also very nice. I’ve never eaten at an Ikea in the U.S. but I was assured by the other U.S. students that the Swedish one was definitely nicer.

After that we actually did some shopping which we were overly excited about because of our walk through the Swedish Ikea. I’m sure all the other shoppers were wondering why we were taking so many pictures of dishes and sheets, but we felt that we needed to capture this magical moment for forever. Can you blame us?

I’m only a week into my program, and I already cannot say enough about studying abroad. It’s a great opportunity and a really amazing experience. I wish that everyone would try it at least once. St. John’s has study abroad programs to Japan, Ireland, France, Italy, Jamaica, Australia, Chile, and many more countries. Spending a semester abroad is not difficult and definitely worth it. So if there is a country that you’ve always wanted to go to, do it! College is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Thanksgiving

11/30/10

This past week was Thanksgiving, a day of remembering the origins of America, thanking God for the good things in life, and stuffing your face with turkey, sweet potatoes, and pie! Like last year, I spent my Thanksgiving with family friends in New Jersey. I love spending time with them, especially because they have the two cutest boys who stand in for the little brothers I’m missing at home.

So I got to spend four days playing NASCAR, air hockey, and football with the self-proclaimed duo of “Eli and Peyton Manning” (on the newly formed “Giant Colts” team). I ended up losing all of the football games, but I’m not sure if it’s because I was facing both of the Manning brothers or because they made me be the Minnesota Vikings. I’m probably going to go with the second one. Aside from being schooled by two kids under 7, I spent a lot of time appropriately stuffing my face. I do cook my own food now that I live in an apartment, but that doesn’t mean the food I cook is good. So it was heavenly to go to a house where a far more experienced cook made delicious meals all weekend long. I had my fill of turkey, steak, homemade applesauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pies, brownies, and more. Needless to say, the weekend was great – very relaxing and a lot of fun.

I was very sad when I had to leave on Sunday. Now that I’m back on campus it’s time to get out of vacation mode and get down to work. There’s only three weeks left in the semester which means only two weeks until finals. If I’m smart, I’m going to have to start studying before two weeks from now. The optimist in me knows that I’ll get up early tomorrow to start responsibly studying well in advance. The realist in me is laughing at that thought. If I’m lucky I’ll start studying sometime next week, just before finals begin. It takes a lot to get me to study, but the imminent end-of-the-semester is one of the few things that can inspire me. Wish me luck! And I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Movie Night!

11/19/10

Last night I went to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter with three friends. Since we were going to a theater in Manhattan, my friend wanted to leave by 7 p.m. Despite my protesting, we got there at 8:30, which I thought was ridiculously early. Then I saw the line. The theater had sold out 12 screens plus an IMAX showing as well, and apparently everyone had decided to get there early. So maybe Sarah was right when she had told me that we needed to leave by 7. I probably should have listened.

We grabbed a spot in line to begin what was sure to be a long wait and began people watching, a very fun activity to do when stuck in a line with people who are dressed up as witches, wizards, and house elves. Thankfully, we were let into the theater around 10:30 p.m. so we didn’t have to wait outside in the cold for too long. We grabbed good seats as quickly as we could and sat down to defend our territory. There was still over an hour before the movie was supposed to start, so we were worried that we would be bored, but we quickly found out that it wouldn’t be an issue.

An exuberantly outgoing guy dressed as a Hufflepuff student took it upon himself to entertain all of us who were waiting for the movie to begin. He started off with a rendition of “The Mysterious Ticking Noise” from Potter Puppet Pals that he got a good quarter of the theater involved in. Then he went to the center of the theater with his friend “Harry” and they dueled together, which ended up with them running over the whole theater screaming spell names at one another and reacting properly to the “spells.” Then he conducted Harry Potter trivia with Harry handing out candy to the winners. It wasn’t a bad way to waste time before the start of the film.

Then finally the whole reason for the night, the movie started much to the applause and screaming of everyone waiting. And, in my humble opinion, the movie was worth the applause it got. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I actually liked the movie. I’ve always been a Harry Potter fan, but never of the movies. They don’t live up to the books and I just find myself disappointed at how much they end up leaving out. The night was a lot of fun and worth the money we spent. I had a good time with friends and got to see what turned out to be a really good movie.

But the absolute best part about staying up till 5 a.m. to see Harry Potter had to be getting to sleep in till noon the next day. I love being a college kid.

Swedish Magic

11/12/2010

You know how you feel when things start working out perfectly? It’s as if you’ve just found out that the world is a magical, technicolor place of rainbows, unicorns, and chocolate fountains. Well that’s how I felt Monday night after I received my official acceptance letter from Uppsala University in Sweden. The letter meant I was a very large step closer to going to Sweden next semester.

I stopped floating on air, however, about an hour later when David called me and we realized that we needed to get our visa applications in ASAP. We’re meant to be getting on a plane for Stockholm in two months, and the visa process can take up to two months to complete. We were definitely facing a time constraint.

But it was hard to get the help we needed to complete our visa applications. For one thing, we were trying to complete our visas by the end of that week. We had little time to ask questions and then wait for answers. Secondly, David and I are the first St. John’s students to go to Sweden in a few years. So while The Office of Global Studies has a plethora of information when it comes to studying in Italy, France, or doing the Discover the World program, the Sweden program is a more of a learn-as-you-go experience. So when it came to filling in obscure questions on form #10531 of the visa application, we were pretty much on our own.

But fear not! We were able to tackle this challenge like the true college students we are. Long semesters of procrastinating, and then cramming weeks worth of work into one night, had made us adept at finding solutions when there seemed to be none. So we paid visits to the Swedish Embassy, talked to Financial Aid and Global Studies, filled out forms, made copies of our passport, wrote letters to the Swedish consulate, and just made several blind stabs in the dark. Our hard work paid off when we traveled to the Swedish Embassy and dropped off our abundance of documentation to be sent for approval. By noon on Friday we were done. I couldn’t believe that we had squeezed so much work into three days. The only explanation I can give is that we have an insane desire to study abroad next year, and a little bit of Swedish magic on our side.

My visit to Chinatown

11/4/10

When it comes to New York City, people automatically associate the city with certain monuments or places, such as the Empire State Building, Broadway, Central Park, and Madison Square Garden. Chinatown is another one of these places, at least from an outsider’s point of view, so it’s only right that I write about it in my blog.

My friend, Magnolia and I decided to go there this past weekend. She needed to get a new set of contact lenses from an eye doctor in Chinatown, I needed to go buy an “I heart NY” shirt for a family friend, and we were looking for an excuse to hang out outside of campus. We got our contact lenses and shirt quickly and then decided to just wander. We stopped to get some bubble tea and then just walked around. It was interesting to listen to Magnolia, who grew up in China, talk about how she perceived Chinatown and what her family back home would think of it.

We eventually made our way to Broadway where Magnolia saw a Chinese store that she had been to before. She told me that there was a lot of fun stuff inside and I had no choice but to believe her because I was stuck with her for the day. The good news is she wasn’t lying. The section we walked into was where all the clothing in the store was, and Magnolia started pointing out the kinds of clothes she wore when growing up.

Then we went to the lower level of the store to explore. There was so much stuff that I didn’t know what to look at first. They had incense, instruments, posters, toys, household items like bamboo curtains and dishes, and tons of statues of Buddha, tigers, dragons, horses, and lots, lots more. They also happened to have the cheese grater that my roommate and I had been meaning to buy for the past three weeks. I got unnecessarily excited about the grater, and then bought it for us, as well as an elephant statue for my sister.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish exploring the store because we were running late to see the movie we had planned to see that night. To be honest, we didn’t do too much more in Chinatown other than walk around. We were just really interested in exploring and looking at everything. It’s cool, especially as someone who doesn’t have a place comparable to Chinatown in my hometown, to walk around and see all the writing in Chinese and to see all the interesting, unique stores in the area. Also, the bustle of people makes it an excellent place to people watch. If you’re ever in NYC, Chinatown is definitely a place to visit, at least once. You never know what you’ll find there, but that’s half the fun.

Lion and Tigers and….actually just Bears

10/15/10

There are some things that you joke about with your friends that you don’t really think will happen. For my roommate and I, it was our “bear collage.” For all of the last semester, we had an inside joke where we blamed bears for everything or somehow worked them into every conversation. It’s all because of Casey’s (my roommate’s) bear face that she would always make. It looked nothing like an actual bear, but that didn’t seem to bother us. Like I said, it was an inside joke that I can honestly say makes no sense at all.

So we facetiously said that once we moved into our room this year, we were going to start a bear collage to pay homage to our favorite fish-eating, honey-loving, furry, majestic bears. About a week after moving into our new room we decided that we were bored of our plain, white walls. Looking for ways to spruce it up, we came to the conclusion that we were perhaps onto something last year when we started the bear collage idea.

So we went online, and began finding all the ridiculous pictures of bears we could possibly find. Bears breathing fire, a bear riding a shark, a parachuting bear, a bear in a bikini. You name it, we have it. Once it came time to actually put up the bear collage, we had to figure out where to put it. We settled on the back of our door because we figured we could avoid any awkward questions about why we had such a staggeringly large amount of bear pictures in our room. The only way a person could see our bear collage is if we invited them in and then also shut the door behind them. We congratulated ourselves on our brilliant scheme.

Only a bit after we’d started our bear collage (it’s a constant work-in progress), an RD and a photographer came to our apartment to take pictures for the St. John’s website. And while we’d been warned that they would be coming, we were under the impression that they only needed pictures of our common room. But it turned out that they also wanted pictures of someone’s room and somehow, despite the horrible mess in our room, they decided that ours would be the best. So Casey and I cleaned up as quickly as we could and stepped out with the RD so that the photographer could take the pictures. It was only after I shut the door behind me that I remembered that we hadn’t warned him that we had a rather odd collection of pictures on the other side of the door. There was about thirty seconds of silence and then from inside our room we heard “What’s with all the bear pictures?” The RD smiled, looked at us and then said “Well, hopefully they’re not naked bears.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that only one had a bikini on.

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