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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

My Living Area in Flogsta

So I figured I would post some of the photos of the area where I am living for the year. I am living in a corridor which has twelve rooms, one of them is always unoccupied but a German man keeps paying the rent. There are a bunch of little weird things like that in Flogsta. But I digress. So far we have about eight people living here, with four of them being international students. None of the international students come from the same country. We have a Polish student who grew up in France, a German student and a student from Mozambique who has never seen snow, and of course me from 'Merica. It sounds like a wacky sitcom that Fox would put out for two episodes before promptly being cancelled.

A furnished room in Flogsta
My barren room that makes me feel like I am living in a meth den

View from my desk. The windows swing open so I can't really open the main window. 

My bed and awkwardly placed chair that serves as a night stand

My book shelf with no books to fill it.

A Kitchen in Flogsta
The kitchen. Flogsta kitchens tend to get dirty because of the sheer number of people who live and eat in them. Mine has been clean so far. 

It is nice to sit in the morning and drink tea in the dining area. The rain makes the  air oh so fresh.

The common room where I can watch six channels which are all in Swedish.

My corridor is decorated in Swedish versions of American movie posters. It is really funny to see taglines and sometimes titles translated into Swedish. 

View from the balcony. Bikes on bikes. 

This is August in Sweden. 

Looking down the corridor.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Culture on the Rooftops

I had my first real interaction with Swedish students the last few days. Obviously it has been the political science department that is apparently bringing the party. Yesterday we spotted them when we were barbequing near the ekonomikum. All of the students were wearing costumes ranging from the 1960s Soviet uniforms to Robin Hood. Oh and they were practicing some sort of choreographed dance routine. The German and Californian delegation obviously wanted to go and check out the festivities and integrate into the native Swedish culture so that is what we did. We hopped up on to the outskirts of tribal dance circle in attempt to integrate. We were slightly weary that  the dancers were all part of some sort of Swedish cult and that we would soon be drinking Kool Aid to take us to our alien fathers. We all agreed it would be best not to drink anything the costume wearing swedes brought us.  They were teaching everyone the dance moves to a Swedish dance song. I didn’t understand a word of the instructions about how to dance but as I learned in Korea dancing is something that you don’t need language to explain.  This was the second time in as many months that I was in a foreign country trying to learn their synchronized dance moves I should probably keep this trend up and hit the Serbian Turbofolk clubs in November.

It turns out that the students were dressed that way and dancing because it was part of their university orientation called nollning. When we left the dance circle we figured it would be the last we would see of the costume wearing dancing Swedes… but we were wrong. The next night when we were coming back from an International Orientation Barbeque we heard music and saw lights coming from Flogsta building nine. Spinning LED lights and loud music universally attracts students like cats to canned tuna. When we got to the roof we were greeted again by the costume wearing Swedes dancing on the roof. As we are standing around observing the odd visual spectacle in front of us a couple of costumed Swedes a group of the participants came up and promptly said in perfect English “Oh you are exchange students right?” I first surprised that they could recognize us as foreigners so quickly. Then I realized it was because we were not dressed up as refuges from World War II or whatever the ecliptic theme of the night was.

It was very interesting to converse with the Swedes. My experiences with the Swedish people had at that point been mostly in passing.  Whenever I would ask a question I would get a very detailed answer. The interactions were very polite but very businesslike.  For some reason on the rooftop of the student dormitory the Swedish students were much friendlier. Some may point to the cartons of wine that they were all drinking like water. But I prefer to believe their friendliness came from excitement of international education.  

Pretty much everyone asked me why I chose Sweden. I think they were kind of shocked when I said I wanted to go to a place where nobody made small talk and it snowed during winter.  They were very modest about their country, almost to the point where it seemed they did not like or that they were not proud of Sweden. The few that I talked to also would apologize for talking too much or anytime they would stumble over a word or two.  I think this was a display of The Law of Jante, which is the social idea that discourages being boastful, self-absorbed or cocky. This has a result of people being scared to have any modest pride about achievements. It is the complete opposite of the American cultural philosophy which encourages uniqueness and to stand out of the crowd. But then this has the extreme effect of the cocky arrogant American.

One of the students on the roof actually studied at Santa Barbra City College. Obviously she had a great time. She did say that she found the classes to be easy and most of the students not interested in learning but much more interested in how drunk or high they were the night before. That she found that there is much less of an interest in things outside of intoxication and socializing. I tried to explain how Santa Barbra City College is not a very representative sample of all American university students but she does have a point. When I am here socializing with the International Students I can have a forty minute long discussion on the Eurozone crisis and discuss the American political system in great detail. If I tried that at a party in Sonoma I would get blank stares and then everyone would go back to chugging Jack Daniels. But then again my experiences here have been mostly with International Students who have an interest in going abroad and learning about the world so it would be a silly generalization to say that all European university students are much more interested in the world compared to American students.

Ignoring any comparisons about cultural differences my last week and a half here has been a blur of meeting new people and doing new things. I have met people from all over the world and it is incredibly fun just asking questions about their culture and where they are from.  Most of the international students who study at Uppsala actually chose Sweden so they could practice their English. This means that all of the international students speak English and makes communication a breeze. I sometimes forget I am not with native speakers and get blank stares when I say things like “I am hella down”. I also have started to speak slightly differently when I talk to non-natives. I don’t dumb down what I am saying but rather try to talk in a more formal way, clearer and less “jumpy”. It is good for me because I tend to speak quickly, slur my words jump around to multiple tangents of a conversation.  Being the native speaker also has its perks, it is fun to try and figure out a word when someone has forgotten a word. It is almost like a game of charades.

I will post more pictures of Uppsala and the different places I have been going soon. It has been a blur of fun and it is hard to find the time to write updates.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Moving to Flogsta

After a night in my cell it was time to move to Flogsta, my new home for the year.  But first I had to eat breakfast. The breakfast from Centralstation Vandrarhem Uppsala cost 60 SEK but I really needed the convenience. It was very similar style to the complimentary breakfast at hotels in America. The only thing different was that everything was in Swedish. That really didn’t matter for things like orange juice or cereal I could pretty much guess by the pictures. The real problem is the dairy products. There were like six different milk containers and I had no idea which was which. So in my jet lagged haze I grabbed the nearest one and poured it on my cereal. What came out was a thick yogurt like paste which I think is just plain yogurt but I couldn’t be completely sure.  I ate it anyways and spent the next twenty minutes watching people prepare their food in attempt to try and figure out the proper way to eat breakfast in Sweden. After breakfast I took some time to walk around the downtown area of Uppsala. I was still in a haze from the plane ride and didn't quite soak up what I was seeing but I did manage to take a number of photos. 

Uppsala Cathedral it is a major landmark in the city skyline. Which makes it hard to lose your orientation. There were a bunch of Russian tourists checking out the cathedral when I walked by.

This is Uppsala University's library. A bit different from SSUs

The Fyris River cuts Uppsala into an east and west side. The university and cathedral are on the east. The newer downtown area is on the west side. Flogsta is east side. 

Uppsala Castle is another land mark that dominates the skyline. 

Clouds in Uppsala Castle
The clouds here are insane. They match the bipolar weather.

Getting to my student housing in Flogsta from downtown isn’t that hard at all. There is a direct bus that goes from downtown to Flogsta. The hard part is buying the bus ticket. You cannot buy the ticket on the bus with cash; you have to use a debit card. To buy a ticket with cash you have to go to a convenience store buy it from them. Once I figured that out the bus ride was smooth sailing. I did my best to try not to break any of the unwritten rules of public transit while taking up seat space while carrying my massive bags of luggage.

The housing office didn’t open until one but I arrived at around eleven thirty. So I plopped myself on a mossy rock next to a discarded bike and took in my surroundings. Luckily it was only a few minutes before an exchange student from Germany arrived and we got to chatting. Soon there were a few more exchange students milling about the rocks near the housing office. We chatted and after we got our keys agreed to meet up to explore the town.  I’ll go more into more detail about the city of Uppsala and my interactions with other exchange students in a future post. Right now I want to talk about my home for the year.

Flogsta was built in the 1970s and looks the part. There are sixteen buildings in Flogsta with twelve of them being primarily used by students. Each building is seven stories high with two student corridors on each level. Each corridor houses about twelve students. This comes out to be around two thousand residents of Flogsta.  That morning however it did not look as though this was densely populated living area. There were few people walking around but it was mostly empty… except for bikes, there are hundreds if not thousands of bikes around Flogsta.  They are strewn across the ground in various states of decay or locked up to trees or filling up the lines of bike parking outside of each building.

My corridor is on the first floor of building one. My floor is odd in that there is only one corridor. In the space where there is normally a second corridor there is a kindergarten. Yeah there is a children’s school in the base of a student housing complex. In America I feel like a college dorm would be the last place you would want to send your small impressionable child. I guess living across from a kindergarten is better than living across the hall from rowdy neighbors. But apparently the little Swedes come marching in at about seven in the morning to a chorus of children’s laughter. Maybe I should take the eight AM basic Swedish course…

In contrast to the buildings the area surrounding Flogsta is beautiful. Flogsta seems to have been built in the middle of a forest, probably as an effort to hide the horrendously ugly architecture. There are bike paths snaking throughout the woods with beautiful fields of green grasses and communal gardens stretching for hundreds of meters before reaching more forest. The first few days when I kept waking up to bright sunshine at five in the morning, I took the time to walk around and explore the area around Flogsta. It is very peaceful and contrasts nicely with the student-project atmosphere of Flogsta. I think I am going to like living here.

The Swedish August. This is where I go shopping

Flogsta from the roof. 

Dawn at 5:20 AM

Cell tower I think. There were a bunch of warning signs in Swedish leading up to it. 

Another living area by the bike path. To the left there is a large communal garden. 

The phrase left to the anarchy sign translates to "Sweden must die", a warm welcome when walking back from downtown

There are fields like this all around the surrounding area. It somehow makes the sky look bigger.

Flogsta emerging from the woods. 

Main drag of Flogsta