Monday, January 28, 2008

Top 10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice for Foreigners in a Strange Land

Oh, how readers of Linköpinglivin’ love their Top 10 lists, second only to “Fun Facts” in popularity. It has been awhile and, well, you really deserve this.

Occasionally, fellow foreigners will comment about the helpful nature of Linköpinglivin’ for people interested in learning about life in Sweden or even what it's like to move abroad. Though the title should explain it all, I will qualify that, especially in light of last week’s entry, this list is not meant to be inclusive of those who have been forced to a new country by necessity or desperation, but could be of some use, despite those difficult circumstances.

However, if you have chosen to venture away from your native country for professional, personal or adventure-seeking reasons for a period of time or forever, then listen up (along with a small personal “1 – 10” self-evaluation and comment following each proclamation):

10) Immerse yourself in your new place, not your home from afar.
With the wonders of the Internet (Email, Skype, Social Networks, websites from home), it is wholly possible to live parallel lives in two countries. This limits the experience of the new culture, country and personal acclimation to your new world. While you can live with one foot in both places, I recommend against it as much as possible. At least give yourself reasonable boundaries from home until you are fully immersed in your new surroundings: Personal Grade: 3 – My experience in Sweden, and particularly my language acquisition, has been significantly hampered by my continual and constant, many-times-daily exposure to home. I realized this helpful piece of advice way too late…

9) Speak with native speakers in their language, demand it.
In some places, you have no choice, and for this you should be thankful. Oh, I can hear the cries of hypocrisy now, but hey, at least I’m trying to help others to do what I haven’t….Personal Grade: 3

8) Join a social group.
You need to meet people. You need to meet people more than just colleagues, more than fellow students. And you need to get out there and be intentional about it. Whatever your interests, go find the nearest club, group, church or social organization so you can begin to make friends. It doesn’t happen automatically. Get after it! Personal Grade: 9 – Ryttargårdskyrkansfolk, tack så, så mycket för allt!

7) Don’t let this life adventure become normal.
When you’re new to a place, your eyes, ears and mind is wide open. Keep it that way! Embrace the newness and abnormality and make the decision to keep it that way – don’t lose that wonderful curiosity…Personal Grade: 8 (and trying hard to keep it there).

6) Adjust to your new financial surroundings and don’t compare.
If you’re moving to a country that is more expensive than your native country, think in your new currency and don’t compare. When you go home, think in that currency, but never the two shall meet (or if you come to a country like Sweden, you’ll be crying the whole time). If you’ve moved to a country less expensive than your native country, compare every day and have a great time!!!! Personal Grade: 7 – Sorry America, but it sure is a great time to be getting paid in Swedish Kronor!

5) Move out of your comfort zone, get extroverted and ask a lot of questions.
I know, I know, easy for an American to say, but it sure does help with a lot of the other pieces of advice found here…Personal Grade: 8 – Believe it or not, I really am an introvert at heart.

4) Make a decision to not get defensive about your home country.
Let’s be honest, I have full credibility to speak to this one! If you separate your identity from your country – and, by the way, you are NOT your country – your experience can be full of rich discussions about culture, life and worldwide experiences of people and nations. If you’re defending your country the whole time, no one has much fun…Personal Grade: 9 – There have been a couple conversations in which I was taken down, but usually the only thing I get defensive about is… beloved baseball, so just don’t even bring it up!

3) Experience your new country in every season of the year.
Just like a relationship, you never really know until you’ve been in it through all the seasons of the year…Personal Grade: 10 – I simply love the seasons in Sweden and will dearly miss the extremes when I am gone.

2) Persistently request, welcome and embrace all visitors.
Sharing your new locale with family, friends and acquaintances wandering through is simply a joy. Let people know they are always welcome and treat them like visiting royalty when they make the (sometimes long) journey. Personal Grade: 10 – And all of you in the U.S. are still welcome to experience the polar bears on the streets and igloos in which we live here in Sweden – the promise of going down in blog lore is still valid. Thanks to those of you who have gone out of your way.

1) Keep a blog, journal, record, diary or whatever you need to help cherish the experience.
Document it because you’ve never had it so good. Personal Grade: 9 – I wish I’d kept a more personal journal, because believe it or not, I do not choose to share my innermost being on Linköpinglivin'…

Pictures above:

Some mighty strange things found in Sweden, except the market fresh "Brains, Liver and Tongue" found in Paris.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Homogeneity, Diversity and Race in Sweden: Part II

I often hear from honest people that this year's Linköpinglivin' entries aren't quite as fun as last year's. I can understand that, and in some ways, I agree with them. As a naïve foreigner, wide-eyed, curious and embracing, it was a lot easier to write last year, too. However, for those still willing to read when it’s not quite as lighthearted, hopefully this year’s Linköpinglivin’ is a bit more real, a bit more meaningful and perhaps, on some level, at least occasionally, maybe even fun!

This week’s topic re-visits a subject discussed earlier on Linköpinglivin’ and still just as dicey and difficult as ever, here in Sweden and elsewhere. To read the earlier entry on homogeneity and diversity in Sweden, see the September 3, 2007 entry.

Though the flight from the homeland and Swedish reception of immigrants in general and Iraqis in particular has decreased in recent months, the overall increase of non-native Swedes continues, which emphasizes the question even more: How do you successfully integrate natives and non-natives so that everyone can fairly and equally pursue what many believe to be “God-given” or “self-evident” rights? Second only to the economy, this discussion dominates political conversations throughout Sweden as immigrants reap the benefits of very high taxes that Swedes are all-too aware of and concerned about.

Personally, as an educator-at-heart, helping students learn how to recognize and humbly address these issues is something for which I feel responsible. At Linköping University’s campus, the international exchange student enrollment is only on the rise, but so often these students come to Sweden, have classes and live with other English-speaking internationals visiting Sweden in the same way, then go home having made friends with people from multiple countries of the world, but not necessarily any Swedes. I think the main problem is simply language – when you walk into a room of people, you want to be with the people you’re comfortable with and language is the very first obstacle – then cultural and other hindrances follow after that. The issue on campus can be seen as a microcosm of the larger issue (not just in Sweden, but in any country that seeks to integrate foreign-speakers seeking an improved life).

The result is, as in so many countries, isolated communities of similar-looking, similar-acting and similar-believing people groups who try to manage and try to make the best of the situation. Just as Americans genuinely care for and appreciate the Mexican-immigrant, but want to do something about a situation that simply can’t remain status quo, so Swedes want to provide a country where war- and corruption-torn citizens can flee to for safe-haven, sanctuary and new possibilities, but know that these dreams will never be realized for anyone if the current policies and social patterns continue. Difficult issues.

Perhaps a better title to this entry is simply “Immigration in Sweden,” but you know how I like my series and “Part Is,” “Part IIs,” Part IIIs,” etc.

Though not often seen on the Linköpinglivin’ comments, I do occasionally get some very profound and insightful comments about various topics through email. This topic along with recent topics like “Neutrality” and other hot ones have provided some very good feedback. The following excerpts came after the last entry on this topic from one Swede who, surprise-surprise, would like to remain anonymous. So you know who you are and thanks for your contribution:

One must bear in mind that Sweden has had very few colonies and those few were lost long ago. Immigration to Sweden has been mostly by 'tradecraft experts' like Germans in the middle ages, Vallonians and Dutch in the 1600s, Italians and Yugoslavs in the 1960s and 70s. In the 70s and up until now immigration has been mainly refugees. Palestinians, Chileans, people from the Middle East. One and a half million people in Sweden are first or second generation immigrants.

Sweden has transformed since I was a kid. In my class in 'grundskolan' we had one Korean girl, adopted of course. Of roughly 150 (five 'classes') of us in ninth grade at Folkungaskolan there were less than five non-European children. This was 1990. Now you can't find a single class in school with less than a third of non-Europeans. So I can't agree that the racial homogeneity remains the same. But it is true that only one-sixth of the Swedish population is non-European.

Racism, yes we have it. You'd be hard-pressed to find it though, because if you ask someone he'd most likely answer the politically correct way. Many would however add the phrase 'I'm not a racist, but...' The fact that all these immigrants have all arrived here over the last three decades, most after 1990 even, when the economy has been less-than-stable and the policies of how to integrate these people into Swedish society have been amateur, at best, makes us a bit skeptical about immigration, some even of immigrants. Myself? I think we shouldn't accept more immigrants than we can take care of, because that would be a sure way of creating a racist problem. Non-integrated, unemployed immigrants who live in their own parts of town and are overrepresented in the criminal statistics are the result of the policies employed since the 1970s and there must be a change, for their own sakes.

You mention Jews, or rather the absence of them, in your blog. I beg to differ, since I personally know several. Before 1750 there were no Jews in Sweden. Not one. This is because the strict laws on religion forbade all faiths except the 'true holy Lutheran' faith preached by the church of Sweden.”

I think that’s enough for now. If you made it this far, you’re probably better than most. Until next week, “Hej då” from Linköping.

(Pictures above are some of the students with whom I work, both Swedish and international. They generally like to get some representation on the blog, if they're aware of it, but I'm not sure this topic was what they had in mind.....The last one if of Jonas Morling, of whom I am now a proud Facebook fan club member.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Return of Swedish Fun Facts

After enduring a personal trip journey for a few weeks, you deserve a return to some good ol’ Swedish fun facts, so here’s the latest edition of Linköpinglivin’s obscure observations, interesting (sort of) information, curious digressions, brief commentary and quick acknowledgments of all things Sweden that are mostly true, occasionally entertaining and always random:

1) Birthday parties in Sweden are generally planned, hosted and provided by the celebrant, not friends or colleagues. There are, of course, exceptions such as the hallmark birthdays of “0s and 5s,” which are often commemorated in grand style and prepared by the expected number of different people.

2) On that note, each day of the year is also a “Name Day” or namnsdagen. Every day is given a name, usually one male and one female, and though it seems the tradition is passing, people with that name are often acknowledged on this day. Namnsdagen also works its way into various other cultural traditions, such as the Swedish flag is raised when the Name Day is “Carl” because…..

3) Somehow overlooked on Linköpinglivin’ until now is the fact that Sweden is one of just a handful of European countries that still have official royalty. King Carl XVI Gustaf and his German-born wife, Queen Silvia, have three children (Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Philip and Princess Madeline). Victoria, who recently turned 30 years old, will one day be the first Queen of Sweden since 1654 due to a recent change of the law that states the firstborn, male or female, shall inherit the throne. Figureheads who hold no actual power, Swedes generally look upon their royalty with affection and, as expected, gossip newspapers adore each and every move of the royal family…see picture above of the royal family at the annual Nobel ceremony in December.

4) When going to a movie in Sweden, remember that your seat is reserved – we simply will not stand for chaotic seat selection in this country – and your ticket price is based on length of movie (the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean, at three hours, was the equivalent of $18! Ouch.). Swedes pride themselves on not dubbing (just subtitling) their English movies as in France, Germany and Italy, swearing that this is the reason they speak such great English and, after watching dubbed TV throughout Austria and Germany, I would agree that this does make a big difference, especially for children growing up hearing English every day through TV, movies, etc.

5) Chalk another one up for Swedish equality: It is very common for the newly wedded male and female to take her last name, rather than his. Sometimes they will make up or choose another last name entirely.

6) “The Eyes Have It”: The world-renowned, attractive Swede is generally known for her blonde hair however true or not this is, but when visitors come to Sweden, including this long-term visitor, it’s the eyes that leave one speechless…captivating, intoxicating, beautiful (and usually) blue eyes.

7) Sweden etiquette, like most of Europe, demands the Continental Style of holding silverware. Upside-down fork in the left hand and knife in the right. No “cutting and switching” American style. Try it sometime. It’s WAY more comfortable and simple…and, no matter where I live, I will use this manner of utensil-holding the rest of my life. Skål!

8) There are two companies that run overnight boats across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki, Finland and Tallin, Estonia. You hop on the boat in Stockholm in the late afternoon on Friday, cruise all night and pull into one of these two harbors early on Saturday morning, run around a new fun capital city for the day and get back on for an all night ride back to Stockholm, arriving early in the morning on Sunday. Not a bad way to to take less than a weekend, see a new city, experience the Swedish Archipelago islands not once, but twice and meet new people!

9) Something that has received no mention at any time on Linköpinglivin’ is my love for playing basketball. In fact, after a year-and-a-half in Sweden, just this past weekend was the first time I picked up a basketball and played hoops. I made sure to make my first shot in Sweden….

10) And speaking of my length of time in Sweden, my work contract has been extended from June until December. So what was originally “two years” will eventually be two-and-a-half memorable years with the Swedes.

Pictures above:

1. The latest view of the Gamla Stan spires rising above Stockholm - this picture taken from a boat crossing Stockholm Harbor.

2. The dessert table at a recent Swedish julbord. Delicious.

3. We've had a few days of higher temperatures and, get this, sunshine (!!) in Sweden this week. For those of you curious, "higher temperatures" means 5 degrees Celsius, about 40 Farenheit. Pleasant...balmy, really.

4. If it's January in Sweden, it means that everyone is wildly anticipating the return of the beloved Semla, a.k.a. cream puff, but as with many things here in Sweden, it's just more than a cream puff...

5. Most of the pictures on Linköpinglivin' are of my own taking, but this one, admittedly, was not me at the Nobel Gala in December. Maybe next year...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Munich and a Viennese New Year

For those of you beginning to wonder, “I thought this was a blog about Linköping and Sweden,” I kindly ask that you indulge me for one more week as I finish a great holiday trip…

After London and Salzburg, my journey halfway complete, the final two stops on my swing through continental Europe for Christmas and New Year's took me to Munich, Germany and Vienna, (back to) Austria. Though Salzburg is in the middle of these final two stops, and not the most efficient itinerary, things other than geography were important and this also gave me more time on smooth trains riding through the Bavarian and Tirolean Alps – never a bad thing and a nice breather in the midst of a demanding travel schedule.

"München" is Bavarian country, which traditionally means lederhosen, all kinds of “wurst,” big beer steins, bread loaf-size pretzels, a little yodeling, Alps and an uproarious good time had by all. While I didn’t see (too much) lederhosen, all the other things were true and my Munich experience will be remembered for the large amount of people in a fairly small area (Munich is actually smaller than its reputation, for sure), the crystal clear days, the fairy tale castles, my Italian entourage at the Hofbräuhaus, and the satisfaction of being a tourist, but because of my time in Sweden with Germans, actually having friends to see and spend time with in their native country. A big thanks to Frauke and Christoph for your warm German hospitality in the middle of a cold and snow-filled morning.

After three quick days in Munich, it was off to Vienna to celebrate the New Year with the Viennese (and a whole lot of others as it turned out). Vienna seems to get overlooked on many American’s Europe itineraries. Most Americans wouldn’t even know Vienna as the capital of the Hapsburg dynasty/Empire, which ruled Europe along with a few other families for almost 600 years!

Now Vienna relaxes as a former world-changer content to revel in an architecturally grand city with a café and leisure culture second-to-none (even Paris). Never too far from waltzing music, the traveler to Vienna is simply charmed by the palatial buildings, elegant cafés, sprawling parks and greenery (or so I am told when it’s not winter), music and opera culture and regal atmosphere.

Throw in a celebratory holiday like New Year’s and it makes for quite the party. Despite the typical alcohol-laden license for recklessness that so many unfortunately adopt on New Year’s Eve, my New Year’s in Vienna will be remembered for the citywide ballroom (see picture) and thousand person Blue Danube waltz at midnight, ringing in the New Year as only the Viennese can.

“Prosit Neujahr” (Happy New Year) and next week we return to Sweden to continue our exploration and enjoyment of all things Swedish.

Pictures above:

1. The Munich skyline generally consists only of Our Lady Cathedral in the distance and New Town Hall in the foreground.

2. I took a day excursion deep into the Bavarian Alpine region in search of "Mad" King Ludwig's fairy tale castles. This is Neuschwanstein, built in the late 1800s for the sole purpose of looking like it's out of the imagination of children.

3. A funny thing happened when I went to Munich's famed Hofbräuhaus. Before I knew it, I was joined at the table by 10 Italians and the party was on! Bongiorno - Viva Italia!

4. The streets of inner-city Vienna during the holidays are a spectacle of lights portraying the best of the ballrooms for which Vienna is so famed. "May I have this dance?"

5. Rathausplatz, city hall square, in Vienna where the New Year was welcomed to the tune of Strauss' The Blue Danube waltz. Vienna? New Year's? Perfect.