Monday, June 1, 2009

The Extremely Belated Christmas Post

Hello to anyone who might be reading this!

I know now that I'm not very good at keeping a blog. A testament to my blog-unfriendliness is my clear inability to figure out what is going on with the font in this blog. In spite of this,  I have managed to take many photos throughout my travels, and I'll begin uploading them here with some explanations. So even though I'm not the best at writing what I've been up to, you'll get to see it!

I had begun to draft a post for Christmas, but never completed it. I wanted to write a longer one, explaining all the different foods and behaviors. I got overwhelmed with classes and forgot about it! Christmas was an amazing cultural experience, particularly with respect to the food and decorations, so I'll begin with that.  Here's the bit that I wrote:

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! I stayed in Sweden for the holidays, and it was a really great experience!  A classmate from Japan and I stayed with Swedish friends and their family in Höör, which is a small town (bigger than Kailua) not far from Malmö.  Luckily for me, my friends’ parents were nice enough to show me what a Swedish Chrismas is like.  The holiday is celebrated on December 24th.  
Families get together and eat a wide array of traditional foods, along with julmust, a coke-like Christmas soda, shots of Swedish snaps, which can be similar to vodka but is often flavored with herbs.  We ate gravlax, pickled fish, pickled cabbage, hard-boiled eggs, janssons frestelse, which is a casserole of potatoes and anchovies; ham, meatballs, sausage, spareribs, and potatoes.  There are also many Christmas songs that I’ve heard and sang in Swedish class, but we didn’t sing any. 
giving the julbock a kiss!

There was a Christmas tree, just like at home but with red colored ribbon, straw, and other natural material decorations and lights. However, there are some interesting Christmas decorations that we don’t have at home.  They have goat figurines (julbock) fashioned from straw and fastened with red ribbon.  I read that this goat is supposed to be a representation of the devil. In the window of each home hangs an illuminated paper star or an electric candelabra sitting on the window ledge.  It’s so beautiful to see how the city is lit up, and it really brightens the cold, long nights we have at this time of year.  By the way, down here in southern Sweden, we have about 7 hours of daylight in the winter.  The sun usually sets around 3pm. In northern Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, there’s complete darkness!  It all changes in the spring, when the north never sees night and in southern Sweden sunset is at 10pm!

In my next post, I'll show you what the city has been like through the winter. Yes, I survived the Swedish winter. I even went above the Arctic Circle, and had an unforgettable, wonderful experience in Norrland, Sweden's far north.

All that and more to come.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Passing of Fall, Beginning of Winter, and More Assorted Changes

To all of you back home, I want to wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Eat some pumpkin pie for me please!

Now, I'd like to begin by apologizing for my lack of posts for the past two months.  Let me update you on what has been happening in my life:

  • Took a really difficult political philosophy test.  About 1/4 of the class had to retake it, including myself. I'm waiting on the results of the retake.
  • Completed a 7,600 word paper that uses political philosophers John Rawls and Will Kymlicka to analyze issues of self-determination of Native Hawaiians
  • Begun work on a 5,000 word research paper employing human rights indicators to assess the level of integration of immigrants to Sweden.  This work will become part of my thesis.
  • I'm taking Swedish classes! It's a lot of fun, and I do well in the class. I only wish that I practiced more. I have Swedish friends, but we always talk in English.
  • Attended a meeting with my home club, Malmö Slottsstaden, with my advisor. We meet in a very nice building in the old area of the city. The building was constructed in the 1600's! Everyone at the meeting was so welcoming and very excited to meet me. I'll be presenting at my home club in February.
  • Had lunch with my club's president, Bo Åhnebrink. Lunch was delicious and we had a very interesting conversation, most of which focused on the US and the recent American elections, the US/Sweden relationship, and life and history in Hawaii. We also discussed ideas for my presentation to my club, which will be centered on Hawai'i as a cultural melting pot, with similarities and differences to the mainland US, as well as President-Elect Obama's place in it all. People here are very interested in and very excited about Obama.
  • I haven't been able to do any community service as of yet. My club is not currently active in any community service efforts, so I intend on finding another club I can work with to help serve the community.
  • I've been working with Malmö Högskola's Rotaract Club, and I'll be presenting to them as well likely in the beginning of next semester.
  • This fall a swarm of pink jellyfish came into the canal system in the city. Thousands of them. In some spots, there were so many they were smashed together. It was really strange!  It really speaks of the deadness of the water here, and made me think about the health of our seas.
  • The last leaves of fall disappeared. The colors were beautiful! I wish I had had my camera to photograph them.
  • The weather has been so entertaining for me!! Last weekend it snowed! My Swedish friends made fun of me because I sat by windows like a child watching the snow fall, they said. Well, I'm from Hawaii, what do they expect?
  • A cold front from Russia came down, which was the cause of the very early cold. I was here two years ago at the end of December, and it wasn't as cold then as it was this weekend. It got down to the high 20's F, or -1 C. But now it's warmer, so back to Malmö's typically rainy winter weather.

Tonight I'm going with friends to Copenhagen for Thanksgiving Dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. It should be fun!! I really didn't want to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner, but it's my favorite American meal, so I have to have it! I haven't been to Copenhagen since the day I arrived here, so I'm really looking forward to walking around the city.

Again, I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving back home, take care, and I promise I'll keep up more!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trying to Settle

I've been in Sweden for exactly three weeks now and I still am not settled. I found an apartment at Studenthuset Gripen, a student apartment building in Rosengård, an area on the outskirts of Malmö that is still renowned for past gang violence and its large immigrant population. Whenever I tell Swedish people where I live, I typically get a look of surprise, followed by questions as to whether I know about the area's reputation. Despite that, Rosengård is fine. It's very quiet. In fact, it's too quiet. I'm very lonely here.

My Rotary disbursement still hasn't arrived yet, and it's frustrating me. I moved into my apartment the Sunday before last with borrowed items from charitable Swedish friends. I'm really lucky I have them! They let me borrow a foam mattress, bedding, a lamp, a pot, and a fork. A Swedish classmate of mine also brought me a chair, bowl, spoon, and knife so that I don't have to eat out of the pot I cook my food in! I've been using the chair as a table because I don't have a table. I can't wait until my money arrives so that I can have furniture.
I successfully set up a Swedish bank account when I first arrived at school which was difficult because I don't have a personnummer, which is like a Social Security Number. In Sweden, you can't do anything without it.  When I went to the bank to activate the card, I was able to do so but was unable to get online banking because I don't have a personnummer.  I don't understand why this is- I already have an account!  So if I ever need to pay a bill, I can't pay it online as Swedish citizens do, but I have to personally go to the bank, pay the bill, and also pay a fee for paying it at the bank and not online.  Now that I have a bank account, my money can be wired to me.  I was to receive my money last week, but because of a glitch on Rotary's part, the wire was left unapproved and never went out at all.  I waited an entire week for nothing to happen.  Rotary International tried again to send out my wire on Friday, so it should arrive sometime this week.  Last night I ate the last of the groceries I bought for myself a week ago.  I bought the really cheap, simple food, because I don't have a lot of personal funds and because I only have a pot to cook with.  I'm so very tired of eating saimin/ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and penne pasta with red sauce.  Luckily, my host counselor, Dr. Glantz, is going to pick me up today so I can get groceries!!

Because I'm feeling lonely and because the location of my apartment is so far away from school (it's a 30 minute bus ride) and the rest of the city, I'm trying to move out of here into a closer place.  The apartment I'm in now is completely unfurnished, which would mean I would not only need a bed and a desk, I would have to buy all my kitchen utensils as well.  So since I have very few belongings here anyway, I'm trying to move into a room in someone's apartment in the city.  Perhaps I could find a furnished room, but at least I wouldn't have to spend my scholarship money on pots and pans.  Also, the rent for these apartments are only about $50-120 more expensive than living here, where I'd have to buy my own things and also be more dependent on riding the bus. If I live in the city, I can walk to many things.  I've looked at a few apartments and I'll be seeing one more today and another tomorrow.  I really hope the apartment I'll see on Wednesday works out for's the perfect location.  It's right near Möllevångstorget, which is one of the squares in the city.

Lastly, this evening I'll be going to the Swedish Language, Culture, and Society class.  It was full and the student administrator for the class told me I should just try next semester.  I emailed him again, asking that if any students drop the class and there are openings if I could be admitted.  I received no response, so I'll be going to the class anyway.  I'm determined to learn Swedish and have as much competency in this language as I can before I leave.  Hopefully it will work out for me.

UPDATE: I just got an email from Rotary in the US where my money is coming from. I just found out the problem. They mistook a 6 for a 0 in my account's IBAN number, so of course my money wasn't coming to me!!! How very frustrating. But at least now (hopefully) it's on the way.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Arrival in Sweden

I arrived in Sweden on the 26th after about 24 hours of travel. It was a very long and tiring trip! 

I left on August 24.  My 10:30 pm flight out of Honolulu got delayed, and I didn't leave Hawaii until almost 3:00 am. I arrived in Los Angeles at about 10:30 the next day in time to catch my 10 1/2 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. It was the longest flight I'd even been on in my life and I was very glad to arrive in Europe. After a short layover in Germany, I continued on to Copenhagen, Denmark. My two suitcases were very heavy, but I managed to catch the train across the Öresund Bridge to Malmö, Sweden. This particular bridge is very interesting- it was completed in 1999 and is part bridge, part undersea tunnel connecting the two cities. Before that, a ferry was necessary for travel across the sound. I heard that when the sea was rough, commuters between the two cities were sometimes left stranded overnight!

I got picked up at Malmö Central Station by my friend, Mats Andersson. Housing in Malmö is very difficult to find as there are many new students from around the country and the world looking for a place to live and very few new buildings and rooms available. For now I am staying with Mats and a few other Swedish friends in their apartment. I have a very comforable couch! I can't stay here for much longer though, and I'm still looking for a room. There is a chance I might find a place to live at Studenthuset Gripen, which is a brand new apartment complex specifically for university students. I'm in the process of speaking with a representative there, so hopefully there will be room for me.

On my first full day in Malmö, I got to meet my host counselor, Dr. Per-Olof Glantz as well as District 2390's chairman, Mr. Carl-Gustaf Olofsson.  They took me out for lunch. Dr. Glantz is a professor of Odontology at my university, and was the first president of Malmö Högskola.  Although he no longer holds that post, he is still very active in both university affairs as well as his particular field.  They were both very welcoming, and Dr. Glantz is to help me with getting a bank account as well as housing upon his return tomorrow from a buisness trip in Finland.  At lunch, i ate snails for the first time! I was suprised to discover that I liked them, but I suppose just about anything tastes great if you cook it in butter and garlic!

I'm staying in a very eclectic area of the city, popular with university students and immigrants.  There is a plethora of international restaurants and shops right outside the apartment I'm staying in. I could hear musicians from Peru serenading the cafe goers on the street below last night. People from all around the world pass you by as you walk down the street. Last night I had Indian food for dinner and two nights before that, falafel. 

I tried to set up a bank account with the help of Mats, but I found out that as an international student, I must have a representative of my university accompany me to one specific bank branch that processes international students' accounts. I have to wait until tomorrow to do this, so I can't receive my scholarship disbursement until after then.  I would have had Dr. Glantz pick up the disbursement, but it was unclear as to when I would actually meet him until the very day I was to leave Hawai'i, when he emailed me an invitation to lunch.

This weekend I had the chance to see the countryside! I visited Höör, which is a forest town near to the urban area of Malmö. The countryside in southern Sweden is so exotic to me, being an island girl accustomed to hot weather and tropical plants and animals. I saw a flock of geese flying in a V formation, herds of black sheep and forest deer, beautiful white birch trees, a wide variety of colorful forest mushrooms, and a red European fox.  It was the first fox I'd ever seen in real life and I shouted happily, much to the dismay of my Swedish friends, who were startled over my yelp of surprise over "just a" fox.

I also had the chance to attend a kräftskiva, or crayfish party. Eating cold cooked crayfish accompanied by other traditional foods and snaps (a kind of liquor similar to schnapps) is a summer tradition in Sweden. Everyone sings songs throughout dinner and it is a very happy occasion. I had a lot of fun! However, I found that crayfish eating is very labor intensive, as you have to crack open each one to get to the tail and claws. I did not eat the roe or the insides in the upper body! I also found out what rhubarb looks like and that though it is a vegetable, it is eaten like a fruit- you can even dip the stalks in sugar and eat them raw! It was served as part of a dessert at the kräftskiva.

I've been here for less than a week and I really feel like I've seen quite a bit already. I'm no longer jetlagged and I'm adjusting to my new city.  I'm very excited to begin classes on Tuesday along with orientation on Friday, and later in the month I'll get to meet my host club, Malmö-Slottstaden.  I'll soon upload some photos and learn how to add them to this blog. I had some difficulty with this posting, but perhaps I'll have some pictures for next time!

UPDATE 1/12: I have finally added 2 pictures, as you can see! Those are both from Höör.