David Stewart

“It’s a Small World Afterall”

As clichéd as that title is, it is very appropriate for the semester abroad in Sweden that I am undertaking. You see, I am an adventurer at heart. If “Explorer” was still a viable job, I would be all over it; it would probably even be my major. However, in this day and age when most of the world has been discovered and rediscovered multiple times, I will have to stick to my major of English and do the next best thing: Travel! This semester abroad represents for me the first of many legs in my journey in life, and Sweden is my gateway to exploring the world in person and not through a travel guide. When I graduate I hope to be an English as a second language teacher, traveling the world spreading this wonderful language and connecting with all kinds of peoples and cultures. You can easily understand how excited I am to be in Sweden! Granted, I won’t be teaching English, but I will be studying it with other students from Singapore, Germany, South Africa, Turkey, Japan, and many other countries. In a sense, this is a perfect trial run for me to see if ESL is the career I should pursue and if traveling the world is all it is cracked up to be(I really hope it is!).

The best thing about studying abroad in this college town is that there are people here from every continent (except Antarctica of course). In my anthropology class, “Swedish Society and Everyday Life,” all of my classmates come from different parts of the world. Last seminar, we were all put into random groups to discuss how our fieldwork has been coming along. Our main project in this class is to sit in a public place and observe Swedish people doing “normal” daily activities.

It is our job as anthropologists to study the Swedes and find out what is to be Swedish, and on a deeper level what is means to be human. My group consisted of two guys from Australia, one guy from Germany, a guy and a girl from Spain, and another guy from Los Angeles. For over an hour we sat and discussed the Swedish customs, how they were similar and different from our own countries, and laughed a lot about all of the embarrassing things we have each done since becoming strangers in this strange land. The fact that we could sit in one room and discuss so many different parts of the world at once really boggled my mind. An awesome experience, to say the least.

I even have made a new good friend who lives not far from my home at all! Sara Heineken, from Crofton, MD, is also an English major studying her final semester with University of Maryland here in Uppsala on exchange.

She used to go to school in Pennsylvania and passes through Shrewsbury (right where I live in PA) all the time. Not only is she the first person I have ever met outside of my town who has heard of dinky little Shrewsbury, but she is also living down the hall from me in Sweden. Small world, fellow travelers!

Until next time!

It’s My Party and I’ll Host if I Want to!

Being an adult has its drawbacks for sure, as does living on your own for the first time. Budgeting, paying for laundry, grocery shopping, and doing all the cleaning are some things that unfortunately come with being independent. However, there are also many positives to being an independent adult, such as having as many friends over as you would like.

This past week, I hosted a dinner party for all my new friends so that we could all spend time together and get to know each other better.  I invited about ten people over to my apartment for 7:00 on Thursday night, and once everyone arrived I explained my menu for the evening. I thought I would share some American culture with my new friends by making American comfort food! We had grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches for dinner. We finished the meal with the king of all comfort desserts: cookies and milk! Funny story actually. When I went to the grocery store, there was an “American Aisle,” which was really just a cardboard shelf that had ketchup, mustard, ranch dressing, and chocolate chip cookies – all made the “American” way! Overall, everyone seemed to really like the grilled cheese, and I got my Swedish friend Karin to try the PB and banana sandwich, which she said was alright but she wouldn’t have it all the time. I’m just glad she gave it a chance. When I had told her I was going to make peanut butter and banana sandwiches, she said with a chuckle, “You just confirmed all of my prejudices about American eating habits!”

The whole night was spent mostly in laughter as we shared stories from or varied childhoods. Even though we all had grown up in different corners of the world, including Singapore, Australia, Sweden, and the US, everyone recounted fond memories of watching “The Rugrats,” “The Magic School Bus,” and “The Smurfs.” We also shared stories about our odd and frustrating encounters after arriving as foreigners in Uppsala. Some people poked fun at Uppsala University and the way it is run, and at one point we all convinced Karin to speak English in a “Swedish accent,” which to our great delight sounded like Uma Thurman fromThe Producers. Before we knew it, it was 11:00 and everyone was getting pretty tired, which was not surprising with all that comfort food weighing them down.

The whole night was really enjoyable, and playing host was something that I both found natural and extremely enjoyable. Serving my friends was a pleasure, and they all warmly thanked me for the evening as I walked them out of the building. Hopefully I have inspired them to start hosting parties of their own! Food brings people together and is such a valuable way to share some culture and a good, hardy laugh. I look forward to hosting many dinner parties in the future. Until next time travelers!


City Mouse Meets Country Mouse

Having grown up in rural Pennsylvania and then moved to New York City for college, I can easily appreciate the differences between small town life and the hustle and bustle of the big city. So coming here to Uppsala, which is both a college town and a bustling little “city” in itself, is a nice middle ground for me. This town exudes a peaceful and even paced atmosphere that invites you to move as quickly or slowly as you please. You can race your bike down the narrow and winding streets, or leisurely pace by the Fyris River that runs through the center of the town. Both paces of life can be accommodated in Uppsala, so it is definitely a crowd pleaser.

Nevertheless, it was quite an adjustment coming from New York, where literally every hour of the day and night you can find something going on, to a town that doesn’t open until 9 or 10 am and mostly closes up shop around 8 or 9 pm. No late night runs to McDonald’s like my spoiled self is used to from living in Manhattan, and no Starbucks at 8 am on the way to class either. You learn to live on a schedule here, which is both good and bad depending on where you come from. I am used to the spontaneity of the Big Apple, with its late night clubs and concerts that you can usually find out about five minutes before going there. Here that is not the case. You have to plan to go out, and plan to do it early as well. The only things usually open past 10 pm are the student pubs and clubs, which are fine but after a while get to be the same thing. You have to make the most of the few hours of sunlight offered to you in the winter or else you find you never leave your room (something I have experienced first hand over the past few weeks…).

Mind you, I am in no way complaining or trying to shed a negative light on things. I am just merely pointing out the differences. One very nice difference is the peace and quiet that almost omnipresent here in town. I normally live on the Manhattan campus of St. John’s University in Tribeca, and I assure you no such peace and quiet exists outside my window there. Perpetual police sirens and cab drivers blaring their horns at 2 am is hardly the environment that lulls you to sleep (they didn’t name it the city that never sleeps for nothing!). But here it is not so. The buildings are small and quant, and people drive carefully and actually stop when pedestrians come to a cross walk. What a novel idea! That is certainly not something you often find in New York City. As Will Ferrell advised in the movie Elf, “The yellow ones don’t stop.”

So overall, I like it here. The peaceful pace of the people is both inviting and refreshing after living in the big city for a year and a half. But it is also nice to know that the night life is still available, as long as you plan ahead that is. If this town grows on me, I may find it hard to return to my noisy nook in downtown New York. Time will tell, fellow travelers. Until next time!

Student Life at Its Finest!

I believe in my last post I mentioned going to the Kalmar and Snerikes nations, but didn’t explain what a nation is. So now I will let you in on one of the most amazing student life experiences that I have ever seen at a university. It is a little difficult to put into words, so bear with me.

At Uppsala University where I am studying, student life is left completely in the hands of the students. That being said, you can be sure that the student life is awesome. Uppsala U has the “Nations,” thirteen different student groups that represent each region of Sweden. Traditionally, people would join the nation that represents their home region, but now you can join which ever nation you choose. Each nation varies in size of members and also what it provides for its students, but each nation has its own building here in the town of Uppsala where students can go and hang out in a comfortable environment to escape the cold and the snow for an afternoon. The nations are as varied in style and personality as they are in number, and some nations attract thousands of members while others just a few hundred. In general though, each nations building has its own library, student lounges, a cheap restaurant, a pub, and doubles as a night club on certain days of the week where students can dance and have fun without the threat of creepy old men lurking about. The only way in is with an official Nations ID that proves you are a member. And with that ID, you can get into most events and clubs at your specific nation for free while others have to pay.

I joined Södermanlands –Nerikes nation, or as it is commonly called – Snerikes nation. I chose Snerikes because of it has such a rich history and beautiful, old-style building. The nation was established in 1595 and the current building was built in 1879. I have included pictures in this post to show you, courtesy of my good friend Jennifer Lee! From the outside, it looks like a pink castle, and a lot of people refer to it as just that. Inside, the walls are lined with pearl and the floor has a black and white checker pattern that is very reminiscent of the simplistic elegance of a chess board. The winding wooden staircase takes you to the second story where there is a high ceilinged banquet hall with windows that look out on the cathedral and the grand university main building. This hall is used for different parties(like the mad hatter tea party I mentioned in my last post) and the Gasques held throughout the semester. I will explain Gasques more thoroughly after I attend one in February, but simply put they are traditional, formal three course meals with singing and dancing and a lot of good fun. This nation has a very cozy feeling to it, and as my new friend Michelle from Australia explained, “It’s just so cute!” That pretty much sums it up.

I chose Snerikes because of their photography club and the student brass band that plays at various events throughout the semester.Other nations are more catered toward various interests, like night clubs or sports leagues. No matter what your interests may be, you will definitely find a nation that suits your interests here at Uppsala University, and you form a bond with your fellow nation members that won’t soon be forgotten. It’s like fraternities, but without the paddles… Gosh! Look at me, rambling on like a university brochure! I think that is enough babbling for today. For more info and pictures on the nations, follow this link. It has everything you could ever want to know about each nation.

“Kulturchock” and a Cup of Coffee

I still can’t believe I am in Sweden, let alone Europe. I thought it would feel different being in another country, but I look around and see people walking down the street or driving their cars and not much seems out of the ordinary. Some things are even quite familiar, like good old IKEA. I didn’t feel out of place, at least that was my first impression upon arrival. I was disillusioned of that feeling rather quickly.

When Caoimhe and I got to the hotel we will be living at for the next five months, we were “greeted” by a woman who spoke in short, direct sentences, if she spoke at all. Caoimhe and I kept glancing at each other wondering what we did to make her so cold or angry, but we soon learned from several encounters and explanations by native Swedes that her behavior was normal. Not in a negative way, but Swedes can sometimes come off as cold. Their speech is direct and they get to the point without wasting time with niceties like “please” or “Would you mind….” After having been here a few days though, I have definitely gotten more adjusted to the cold attitudes and don’t realize them anymore.

In fact, I was recently shown the warm hospitality that Swedes can display when Karin Lundin, my international buddy from Uppsala University, took us to Kalmar Nation where they served fika (Swedish coffee and cake time) in their basement. The basement is used for a jazz club and other live music, so there were bookshelves and old movie posters on the wall that gave the place a nice “beat-nick” atmosphere. The cakes served at the fika were delicious, and the Swedish and international students I met were very warm and welcoming. We sat around for hours bantering about what we studied and joked about how Sweden was so different from all of our homes.

Afterwards we all headed to a mad hatter tea party at Snerikes Nation, which was quite relaxed and enjoyable with good tea and cake by candlelight. A great time was had by all, and I think I am going to like it here, culture shock included. Until next time travelers!

 Jetlag of Another Variety

Jetlag: the dreaded “disease” every traveler, myself included, hopes to overcome quickly or avoid all together if possible. I tried my best. I read all the articles about how to preemptively cut down on jetlag and how to adjust my internal clock ahead of time so that I would able to smoothly transition into my new environment. Believe me, I knew it all. Well, my day to fly came and I did none of it. I didn’t sleep a wink on the flight, and as hard as my fellow traveler, Caoimhe Stack, and I tried, we passed out in our beds around one in the afternoon instead of staying up until evening like advised. So far, not a good start to my solid sleep schedule in Sweden.

On top of it all, we were battling the Scandinavian sun. You see, due to the fact that Sweden is so far north, the sun rises and sets in drastically different patterns than back in the United States, and it is almost always cloudy. In the winter, the sun rises here at around 8:30 or 9:00 AM, rises about a quarter of the length of the sky, and then sets between 4:00 and 4:30 PM. That’s it! So on top of jetlag, we had to deal with accomplishing a lot of our daily routine in the dark.

On the bright side(pun intended), when the spring and summer come around the sun sets as late as 10:00 PM and can rise around 3:00 AM. There are even places up north where it doesn’t set for an entire month! The hope of that eternal sunlight is definitely keeping me afloat amidst these dark days. And as a very optimistic orphan once said, “The sun will come out tomorrow!” Albeit only for six hours…Until next time fellow travelers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s