Monday, July 8, 2013

A very rough summary of my last semester at Uppsala

Sooo... are you guys still there? I am still alive in case you were wondering. My plan to update my blog every week has failed miserably. My excuse is that when you are studying abroad it is a lot harder to find motivation to write a blog. Because you are actually living in a place. Despite it being new and exciting at the start the motivation and inspiration dies down just as the initial excitement died down. Writing a blog about being abroad started to feel more like writing a blog about just living, a concept I am not entirely familiar or comfortable with. Nevertheless I am going to try to write a recap of my semester in this post. I will probably glance over details and feelings that came up during the moment but I think it will be good for me to write down as much as I can while I am still in Sweden and the memories are relatively fresh.

My second semester experience was dominated pretty much entirely by working as a “klubbvärd” or “jubileumsklubbvärd” because it is the the 350th anniversary of Kalmar and saying jubileumsklubbvärd makes me feel all european and exotic. The position of klubbvärd (in english club worker) means that you are in charge of the pub on certain nights. Every night there are two klubbvärds one who works in the bar and whose duties include; prepping the bar, counting the money, taking food orders, mixing drinks, dealing with drunks and training new people to work at the bar. And one who works in the kitchen, this position is slightly more hectic as you mange 4-6 temporary student workers of various levels of experience and motivation, you also had to make sure all the orders were going out in a timely manner, train new workers, keep records of hygiene, keep things clean and whenever there was a problem with an order you were responsible to fix it. You also have to make the kitchen somewhat fun. The pay for working a full night which usually lasts from 4PM to 1AM comes out to be 84 SEK after taxes, which is a whopping $12.57. For reference a meal at McDonalds or Burger King will run you 62 SEK and the cheapest beer at Kalmar is 28 SEK a pint. Clearly most people working are not doing it for monetary reasons, so we have to provide a fun environment so people will want to come back. Honestly it is a tough sell “come and work for ten hours setting up a pub, doing dishes and then cleaning that pub, no seriously guys it is fun!”

When I was  a temporary employee, or a resource as we call them, I worked exclusively in the kitchen. This was mostly due to my fear of having to learn how to pour drinks, use a Swedish cash register and count all while customers stared at me. Also because I found the kitchen to be a more social place.  During my first semester I slowly grew to prominence as a leader among the resources in the art of hamburger creation. So I had a pretty good idea of how the kitchen operated. That still didn’t prepare me for my first day being a club worker in the kitchen. Working as an employee and working as a manager has two completely different mindsets. When you're working as an employee you simply focus on the job that you are doing and you make sure that you do it right. You only need minimal awareness of what everyone else is doing. But when you are a manager you have to know what everyone is doing and have a rough idea of what everyone should do next as well as delegating some tasks that you yourself have to do. The abrupt transition from the two ways of thinking is quite hard. On my first day as a club worker I was shadowed by a former club worker who I could ask questions to but wouldn’t explicitly guide me. I was the one in charge. To make things more fun the beginning of the semester is not only the time when new club workers start working it is also the time that new students who want to work at the nations decide to try something new. This meant that in addition to telling people what to do you had to explain how they had to do them.  This was slightly difficult especially when I didn’t know how to do what I was explaining. At this point I realized how much of being an authority figure is just pretending you know what you are doing.  Learning how to work the bar was a daunting task for me. Like I said earlier I didn’t ever work the bar as a resource. I decided it would be best to just jump in the deep end and pick the first open mic night (Spela) to do my first bar club working shift.  For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to go to a friends party the night before “just to check it out” so naturally I ended up going to bed at 5 am and waking up feeling a bit “tired”. Working Spela was hell. I didn’t know where any beers were, kept messing up the register and I am pretty sure I regularly shorted people about 20 SEK each transaction. On top of that the ventilation system in the kitchen decided to go out so the fire alarm went off... twice. This meant I had to refund all the orders for burgers which meant a lot of angry customers demanding food. It was easily the worst night I ever had working at Kalmar. Which was kind of a nice groundwork to lay the semester on. No matter how bad a night went it couldn’t be worse than my first bartending shift.

Despite the difficulty of the first few nights I fell in love with working at Kalmar. In the beginning of the semester I gladly filled in for different shifts and took up extra work just because I enjoyed it so much. Working gave me a sense of community along with a sense of accomplishment. It was a sense of community and belonging that I really have never had before this experience. In high school and my first two years of college I didn’t put myself out there simply because I presumed that I wouldn’t like the groups available to me. That mindset lead to a lack of community and I that void had a negative influence on my wellbeing. At Kalmar I got that community that I so craved in insane amounts, and I think during those first months I just wanted to lap up as much of it as I could. Even on nights off I would stop by the kitchen to say hello or go to the pub for a beer. Anytime I wanted to see a friendly face I could dip by Kalmar. It was like Cheers. I actually have no idea if it was like Cheers I have only heard the theme song, but it is what I imagine Cheers to be like.

Working at Kalmar also gave me the ability to really experience the traditional Uppsala student life. I was able to go to a number of gasques (formal dinners) where I could mumble along to the Swedish drinking songs and try to remember how to toast right. The gasques were fun the first few times but could get dull quick. Sitting through multiple speeches in language you don’t understand isn’t the most stimulating thing. But nevertheless they were still amazingly fun and interesting. There was always a point, usually towards the end of the night when we all were locking arms and swaying back and  singing a song to commemorate the after drink where I would start laughing at how surreal it felt. A year ago I didn’t expect to be wearing a tail coat eating a formal dinner while singing about snaps. It is pretty much the opposite of what I did at Sonoma.

The pub closed for the summer on June 1st. I worked the last pub night, it was a nice feeling to have a little closure, but the truth was during the last month of club working I had started to get burnt out. Working one or two nights a week takes a toll on your psyche. Especially when the sun is out until 10 PM and it is warm spring weather and everyone is outside having barbecues. The first week of June was incredibly hectic. I spent most of my time preparing for the staff party, saying goodbye to friends, moving out of my apartment and into my girlfriends and preparing to go to London. Oh and the paper I had to have done by the seventh.  It was a stressful but rewarding week, and finally being done with having any responsibility was liberating.

The last year have been by far the most meaningful and constructive time period of my life. I have become more confident, more open and overall more comfortable with myself. I hate stating things like that because it makes me sound like I am on the CSU International Program pamphlet, but it is completely true. It has helped me figure out who and what brings me happiness and what or who brings me unhappiness. At this time last year I felt like like an amorphous blob. The components were there but I had not really been able to develop them into something solid. Now I feel more defined. And I know myself better.

Right now I am writing this from Prague. I decided I needed to do some actual traveling while I was in Europe and took advantage of the fact that my brother Tommy was planning to live in Berlin for a few months. We decided to take a trip where we bought the outward tickets on a certain date and sort of figure out how to get to where our plane departs. We decided on Split, Crotia. So right now we are in the process of getting there. Our rough plan is to go Berlin-Prague-Krakow-Budapest-Belgrade-Sarjevo-Split. I thought that this would be an interesting area to explore because I don’t really know what it is like in most of these cities. I find it more interesting then doing more of western Europe. I will try to do a write up on Berlin and Prague on the way to Krakow so I can finally (somewhat) catch this blog up.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Working a Gasque on New Year’s Eve

Updates on Working at Kalmar

So I have been working at Kalmar Nation a lot this semester, probably about once or twice a week since October.  It has been awesome. I mostly work in the kitchen where I have become an efficient burger grilling machine. I mostly work because of the social aspect. Working at a nation is a great way to meet new people and eat free food. It is also the only way that I managed to meet any Swedish people. It seems like it is a common problem with studying abroad is that exchange students are usually isolated socially from the native student population. On top of that Swedes tend to be quiet people who keep to themselves. The nations break down these barriers. I think that pretty much all of the Swedes that I know I have met through working at Kalmar.  

As the first semester was drawing to a close I was encouraged to apply for a position in the pub called “klubbvärd” or club worker. These are the workers who manage and run the day to day operations of the pub and kitchen; they were the ones who would tell me what to do when I was frying fifty burgers. I decided to apply for one of the positions next semester because I really enjoy working and working as a club worker is one of the best ways for someone who doesn't speak Swedish to get involved in a nation. There will be nine other club workers that I will work with next semester. What is interesting is that of the ten club workers only three of them are Swedish. The other seven are from Estonia, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Australia, The Åland Islands and of course The United States. It is pretty amazing to have such an international workforce, especially with this year being the 350th anniversary of Kalmar Nation. I don’t think the founders would have thought that in 350 years their pub would be run by mostly non-Swedes. I am really excited for the next semester despite the amount of work I will have to put in I think it will be a unique experience.

Working the New Year's Eve Gasque 

Anyways on to New Year’s Eve. I decided to work on New Year’s Eve because I usually don’t enjoy going to New Year’s Eve parties they are usually overhyped and anti-climactic. I wanted to make my only New Year’s Eve in Sweden more memorable than drinking excessively in Flogsta and lighting off fireworks. I figured working was the polar opposite of what I usually do so I volunteered to work at the Kalmar New Year’s Eve gasque. A gasque is a Swedish student tradition. Basically it is a formal dinner where you sit down for a three course meal sing songs in Swedish and slowly get drunk off of Swedish schnapps. You can read a more detailed explanation of a gasque here.This was my first time working at a gasque, it was also my first time being at a real gasque. I went to the international gasque in October, but that didn’t really count. It was all in English and none of the internationals knew the procedure, the vibe was all off. So I was excited, it was my both my first time working at a gasque, being at a real gasque, and the gasque was to count down to the 350th anniversary of Kalmar.

The work was pretty standard. We set the tables which was harder than you would think because the setup had about six glasses and eight utensils along with napkins, songbooks and decorations. This made the table space extremely limited but it worked out fine. Once the guests actually arrived we brought them food, water and wine at set intervals. Everything was scheduled. That lead to a fair amount of downtime in between brining out food. During this time we would sit in the kitchen and twiddle our thumbs or ate delicious left over food. Since I usually eat noodles eating well marinated lamb was a welcome change. Towards the end of the dinner it is traditional for the guests to sing the kitchen staff a song of which we sing the last line and toast back. The line was in Swedish so I do what I always do whenever I have to sing in Swedish; I provide melodic humming in order to create a truly harmonious song. It is pretty bizarre experience having one hundred and fourteen people drunkenly sing to you. I didn't really know where to look or what to do. After the song we had to hurry to the entrance hall and fill glasses of champagne for our guests we had fifteen minutes to set up the tables and fill the glasses. We pulled through with time to spare.

The guests were ushered outside to the courtyard in order to bring in the New Year and the wait staff began the long task of cleaning the ridiculous number of dishes that we had laid out earlier that night. But at eleven fifty five we took a break to grab a glass of champagne and went out to the courtyard to countdown to 2013. The countdown was definitely the coolest New Year’s Eve countdown I have ever experienced.  Everyone was dressed formally in the courtyard. Atop the steps of Kalmar a top official dressed in a tuxedo adorned with a medal which signified his position in the nation was addressing to the guests of the gasque. He was passionately speaking, yelling to have his voice heard while gesturing madly with his hands. As it drew closer to midnight fireworks began erupting all around us. There is no coordinated fireworks show in Uppsala, rather anyone who wants can purchase fireworks and shoot them off. This is Sweden everything is permanently wet anything that is outside will never catch on fire. Because it is uncoordinated this gives the fireworks a random chaotic feeling. We were surrounded by the pops of fireworks. This coupled with the speech and the suits made me feel like I was in the eve some sort revolution from the 1870s. I was waiting for hoards of the working class to come and destroy the bourgeois feast of excess that had just taken place.  Of course this didn't happen and I was forced to pick up dishes rather than participate in a workers revolution.

We finished cleaning the dining hall at about one thirty in the morning. This meant that we could go downstairs and participate in the last hour and a half of celebrations. So I changed out of my work shirt and into my t-shirt and went down to the pub to celebrate the New Year in a wonderfully under-dressed fashion. It was a nice party afterwards. Since most of the people at the gasque were involved with Kalmar I probably knew about thirty percent of them. Overall I had a great time. It was definitely the most unique New Year’s Eve I have ever had and it was definitely my favorite New Year’s Eve.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Courses and Erasmus Students

So for the past month I have been slowly getting used to living here. I am past the phase where everything I do is new and exciting. Meeting people from all over the world has grown to be the norm. I am no longer captured by the seemingly magical aurora that I was encapsulated with during the first months. To a certain extent it reminds me of how I felt during this time my first and second year of college. The newness and excitement of living somewhere new eventually fades. This change slightly killed my drive to write new blog posts because for me I feel like I am writing about the mundane, to get inspiration I have to look to myself on August 13th who had really no idea what I was getting myself into. So what I am going to do is have a number of posts talking the different aspects of living as an international student in Uppsala to show you what my life is like here as well as reminding myself how different my life has been the last three months.

I’ll start with what is the “most important” part of studying abroad, the schooling. All of my classes here are taught in English and are specifically for international students. The courses are taught in a sort of block schedule. You take one course for four weeks and then you take another. My first course was “Swedish History”, an incredibly broad introductory course about the history of Sweden with each lecture covering an era of Swedish history. Our only assignment was to write a comparative essay comparing an element of Swedish history with an element of your home nation’s history. This meant that the only lectures that matter to me were the last two. The course was headed by a bearded Swedish professor with rounded turtle shell glasses who clearly had a fondness for nicotine. He looks exactly like I imagined Swedish professor to look. The entire course felt like it was a Frankenstein course, made up of lectures from more specific courses. It was hard to stay focused when I knew everything from the year 0 to at least the 1600s was entirely useless knowledge for the one paper that we had to turn in. The European university system seems to rely on the assumption that students are self-driven and requires much more reading to actually learn the material. Because of this reason a lot of European students are used to never going to class because it is much less necessary. Also they don’t pay for their education. But in Uppsala many of the courses require attendance. Most likely because if they didn’t nobody would go to class.

Throughout the semester I have been taking basic Swedish. My professor is a kind short kind older woman named Åsa. She is adorable when you see her you just want to give her a hug. I have never really taken a foreign language. I took German for one semester freshmen year of high school but promptly failed because it was right after lunch and I much preferred sleeping then speaking auf deutsch. I do still remember how to say ich bin hungrig, which has proved to be invaluable. The pronunciation of Swedish is incredibly difficult to get correctly; they have a number of extra vowels which to my untrained ear sound exactly the same. It is hard to get motivation to learn the language when I have only met two Swedes who do not speak English in the last three months I have been here. Most Swedes speak perfect English with little to no accent. I am going to try to improve my Swedish while I am here though, I don’t want to go back to California after being in Sweden for 10 months knowing only how to introduce myself.

Erasmus Students
The Erasmus (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) is a program in the EU designed to integrate Europe by giving funding to young students to study abroad for a semester or a year. The idea is to create a more unified European populace one which understands and accepts the cultural differences of other countries in the European Union. However education takes a back seat for many Erasmus students, credits don’t transfer over to their home universities so for many their main goal is to do well enough in order to receive their funding. So they focus more on “understanding cultural differences with their European brethren”, which boils down to getting drunk and making fun of each other’s cultures. I remember during our study abroad orientation one of the points that IP tried to hammer in is the idea that Europeans only drink “socially” and that they don’t binge drink. This notion is not rooted in any sort of reality as far as I can tell. They might hide it better, but they still drink to get drunk. Of course the Europeans that I have met are all twenty year old students who are living away from home for the first time and only staying abroad for a few months, so that might bias my perceptions.

One of the common topics during the nights of cultural understanding is World War II. Somehow the conversation inevitably leads to World War II, usually after talking about the Eurozone Crisis. The Germans are usually stuck saying nothing while everyone else pokes fun at them. I usually pipe up with uncharacteristic patriotism about how America saved Europe. To older readers this might seem bizarre that the youth of Europe joke about World War II, but for so many it is a long passed event. It was their grandparents and great grandparents that fought. It is partially a generational thing. My Polish corridor mate told me that if her grandfather knew that one of her good friends in Uppsala was German that he would roll over in his grave. For some people the Erasmus program may seem a bit wasteful. Why should the state give money to send students abroad to socialize? It is simple really; if you know somebody from another country you are less likely to have prejudice against the country as a whole. It is taking away the toxic notion of nationalism, which is creeping up even more during this time of uncertainty for the EU.

For the next post
I am sorry for the lack of updates. Like I said I have gotten used to things that I will look back on as being incredible. I’ll post more photos when I do worth wild things. The main thing that I have been doing is working more at Kalmar Nation. It is a wonderful community and I always come home with free food. Last night I got about a kilo of bacon. I will also talk more about various aspects of living here in Sweden, things like going to the grocery store and the Swedish tax code and of course the actual Swedes. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Working at Kalmar Nation

Working at Kalmar Nation So I signed up for a shift at Kalmar Nation a few weeks ago. My job was to be the doorman and check IDs during an open mic night. I was stoked for this because I knew it would be a relatively easy job and it would be a good way to ease into working. Also because I love power. Checking IDs at the Nations is not as simple as making sure that the person is of age. I also have to check if the person has a “Nation’s Card” which shows that the person paid their dues and can have access to the nations. So I had to check if the names matched, if the person was of age and which nation the person was a member of. I then had to make note of if the person came from Kalmar Nation or a different nation. I figured this would be a pretty simple task. At 6PM the flood gates opened and it was go time. The problem is that in the beginning of night, when you don’t have the hang of checking the multitude of different IDs from different places is the time when most people arrive. I pretty much had a massive flow of people from 6 PM until 9 PM. There were a number of groups dressed in bizarre costumes taking part in pub crawls. Eventually the pub was too crowded and I was told that I had to start making people queue up and wait to get in. It was a pretty interesting experience, but also incredibly stressful because I couldn't leave the door to ask questions so I sort of just had to go with my gut. I only had a short shift though so once 1030 rolled around I was free to leave which I did because although it was a short shift it was an exhausting one. Despite the stress I enjoyed my experience, it was nice to meet people do something constructive during the night and to get free food and some extra spending money.

I signed up for another shift on the Saturday after my first shift, this time a much longer one. It is nice because if anyone flakes on their scheduled shifts people just post on the Facebook group that they need a replacement. If I don’t have plans for that night I can just sign up. This time I worked in the kitchen for the full night from 4PM to around 2AM. I made salad, washed dishes and checked the door. This night was much calmer even though there was a live band playing. I liked working in the kitchen more because it was less isolating, I met a bunch of people and had a great time. Everyone who works at Kalmar is aggressively friendly. For some reason we started listening to the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. This was another moment of my life that I did not foresee happening. These types of moments happened continuously over the past six  months. Which is nice. Another benefit of working in the kitchen is that you can make your own burgers exactly how you like them. This means more cheese and more bacon. A lot more bacon. I still have my payment on reserve though because I need to go to the Tax Authority to get my tax number. I will also probably have to go back to the migration office because they messed up on my residency card. Now someone named “Jospeh Noonan” is a temporary resident of Sweden. Oh yippee.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here is a list of question I generally get asked when people find out I am from America

Do you own a gun?

 No I don’t and I only know a handful of people who do.

Wait, so you’re old enough to own a gun and drive a car but you can’t drink?

 Yep, got my license at 16. Now I see 16 year olds driving and it terrifies me.

Do you believe in evolution?

Yes, again I know very few people who don’t.

Why is your political system so weird?

Do you have three hours?

Have you seen snow before?

We have mountains.

Oh you must not be used to rain it always sunny in California right?

What the hell is rain?

Do you surf?

Only when I need to go to school.

There are a ton more questions that I get asked but I can't really remember them all. I always try to explain the vast size and diversity of America. Cultures very from state to state and America is geographically massive. I always tell people that I am from California rather than saying America partly because I generally get more positive reaction from people but also it is just more accurate.  My experiences growing up in California are vastly different then people who grew up in the mid-west or the south.

Because America is so prominent in exporting media and because the only domestic news from America that reaches Europe is generally an embarrassing controversy. So people watch TV shows like "How I Met Your Mother" and hear things like Todd Akin's statement about "legitimate rape". But this isn't really a good representation of America.  It has been a fun and enlightening experience talking to non-Americans about the American way of life. It really illustrates the differences between how different countries and cultures operate. It is much harder to examine your own culture when you have not been exposed to others. I think this perspective will be one of the greatest things I will gain from studying in Sweden.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Random photos of the city of Uppsala, Clouds from Flogsta, Ekoin Lake and Gamla Uppsala

Here is a sampling of some of the other photos I have taken in the last few weeks. 

Gloomy Uppsala

The Fyris River on a cloudy day. 

Clouds from Flogsta

The clouds in Uppsala are much more intense than in California. It is awesome.

Grilling at Ekoin

On our way to Ekoin lake to grill up some burgers 

Trying to figure out the where we are going. 

Houses right next to the lake. It would be awesome having your front garden be a lake.

On the way to the beach 


The view from the beach 

View from the dock of the beach 

Elias and Benni wait patiently for the burgers to cook. Benni jumped in the water and immediately jumped out. 

Gamla Uppsala 

Burial mounds in the distance

This building was right next to the church. I don't know exactly what it is but it looks super Scandinavian. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Uppsala's Classrooms and Nations

School started last week. I was getting sick of the structureless lifestyle of exploring the area of Uppsala and meeting new people.  I am glad that this is the main problem that I have had in Sweden. The classes in Uppsala are scheduled differently then back in America. Rather than taking four or five course congruently the courses in Uppsala are taken one at a time, with each course lasting about five weeks. My first course is Swedish History which meets twice a week and is only graded on two assignments. The class is very basic and each lecture covers an era of Swedish history. My assignment is to write a thirteen page paper comparing and contrasting an element from my home countries history with an element from Swedish history. So basically this limits me to the last three lectures. I can’t really compare the Christianization of the Vikings with anything from American history, unless I want to get really “creative”.

Okay so that gave me four hours of lectures I had to attend last week. Not exactly the most structured class schedule but that’s okay. I spent a few days figuring out the library and finding my book for the course. I really took for granted how much I relied on the ability to read to figure things out. Even though most everyone here speaks English everything is still in Swedish. This makes things like trying to find a book or figuring out directions somewhat challenging. Unlike Korea where everything was in a completely different script and in a language that bore no resemblance to English I can figure out what some words are in Swedish. For example history is “historia” and library is “bibliotek”. But it can be very frustrating when everything is in Swedish. It makes doing the mundane much more of a chore. The worst is laundry. The laundry machines are in Swedish from this I have learned that “torrt” means dry, but it confuses me why my clothes have not come out dry even when I chose “extra torrt”. Seriously someone should make a website which sole purpose is to translate washing machine instructions into a variety of language. But I am rambling mostly because I have to do my laundry after this.

To combat my lack of things to do I decided to join a nation. I didn’t really decide actually it is pretty much expected that students join a nation as they are the center of all social activities. A nation is essentially a student social society that is run by and for students. There are thirteen of them at Uppsala each being named after a region of Sweden. Traditionally students join the nations of their home regions but seeing as they do not have an East Bay nation I am free to choose whichever nation I like. When I first read about the nations I figured that they would be like Hogwarts houses with one being obviously evil and the others being obviously good. Also I thought we would dual with magic. But I also thought I would be riding a reindeer to class while receiving free healthcare by beautiful blonde people so my expectations of Uppsala were marred in obvious fantasy. In actuality the nations are all very similar and if you are a member of one nation you can go to most of the events put on by other nations. So even if you are a member of Göteborgs Nation which has about 500 members and rarely puts on events, you can still go to the club night at Norrlands Nation which has about 7,500 members.  Of course if you join Norrlands you will get a discount on the club night that you wouldn’t get if you were a member of Göteborgs.

I decided to join Kalmar Nation for a variety of reasons. Primarily because I could pronounce the name. Seriously try to pronounce Gästrike-Hälsinge. I actually chose Kalmar because of its size and the general vibe of friendliness I got from the times I went there. There are only about 1,400 members of Kalmar making it one of the smallest four nations. I like this size though because it is big enough to have a diverse group of students and activities but not too large and overwhelming. I am excited to get more involved in the groups that Kalmar has to offer. I also hope to start working there semi-frequently. The pub is completely student run with only a few full time employees. The pay is awful. Like slave wages awful.  You get about 150 SEK (23 USD) for 10 hours of work.  But you also get free food and get to meet new people. From what I have heard it is really a blast. It is hard work but it pays off. Just not monetarily.

More updates to come.