I was beyond excited to have my first friends come visit me in Sweden! My long term best friend Kaz and Eric were here for a fun filled week. They flew into Umeå on a Saturday where we stayed until flying down to Stockholm together on Wednesday. We had a big welcome party in the park the day after they arrived with lots of friends, traditional Swedish foods, games and more. We went out to the cabin one evening grilled, went in the hot tub with a beautiful ocean view. Had an amazing moose dinner at Andreas' parents house. (their first taste of moose meat). We stayed with friends in Stockholm and walked around the city eating and visiting museums, and the last day of their trip was topped off with an epic Metallica concert with over 50,000 people in attendance. We had a blast and I hope they come to visit again!
After my internship I was lucky enough to be employed full time at Hotell Björken as the person in charge of conferences! There are five conference rooms, including three group rooms with max 20 person occupancy and two larger conference rooms, the largest holding up to 80 people.
My job entails booking and reserving conferences, lunches, dinners, etc., greeting clients, sending out invoices, setting up and taking down conference rooms, setting up and serving lunches/dinners, and more. It's a great mix between working in a reception-like job and a restaurant. I usually work Monday - Friday from 7:00 - 4:00 pm and sometimes in the evenings or weekends if there is a conference scheduled. I was very fortunate to get a job quickly and it was a perfect place for me to start my career in Sweden! Below are some photos of Hotell Björken.
God Jul! It's Christmas time again! Being at the cabin is always so calming and whimsical, despite the lack of snow we received this year. The picture with snow below was taken just after it snowed, which quickly melted away. As always there was lots of good food, company, and presents! Hope you and yours had a very Merry Christmas too!
The holiday season is approaching or should I say is already in full swing, what with Halloween past and football season, which might as well be considered the longest, most awesome holiday event ever!
Anywhooo, check out how Sweden celebrates!
And while we're at it, and I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Umeå is the 2014 European Capital of Culture! Check it out.
Our summer road trip included getting to see quite a bit more of Sweden including Söderköping, Kalmar, Öland, Göteborg, Fjällbacka, Sälen, Mora, and Falun.
Söderköping was the most charming little town, situated near the eastern end of the Göta Kanal. Kalmar and Öland are worth a visit especially for history buffs, both boasting impressive castles. Göteborg is Sweden's second largest city, vibrant, lots to see, and full of culture. Mora and Falun are located in Dalarna where the dala horse and falun red come from (same red many Swedish houses are painted).
Now that my Swedish course is over (and I actually passed, allowing me to study in Swedish at the university if I so choose) I felt like a little vaca was indeed deserved! The parents have arrived and I've been looking forward to spending time with them and exploring Sweden and Norway together. They'll be staying for a total of six weeks, so we had a bit of time. Below is our itinerary, we will be spending about eleven days covering this beast of a road trip, pictures to be posted soon!
As part of my course I completed a one month internship at Hotell Björken.
Hotell Björken is a patient hotel which means that roughly 90% of their guests are also patients at the hospital in Umeå. The health care system pays for the stays of those that qualify, which is cheaper for the system, and much nicer than staying at the hospital for the patients! Aside from the clientele, it functions just like a normal hotel, and I thought it was really rewarding getting to know and help the patients, as many of them stay for weeks or months at a time. Everyone I worked with was extremely nice and helpful! I was a little worried that language barriers might be a problem, with communication being such a big part of the job, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I understood almost everything and was glad they understood me too!
Best of all I will be working there over the summer within the reception and restaurant as needed. It feels wonderful not having to worry about finding a summer job, and hopefully my contacts and experience will help me find a full time job within the industry soon!
Everyone in my class did a presentation of their internship and I've attached the power point from mine for those of you interested. It's all in Swedish, but there several pictures too!
Andreas' parents gave us the beautiful yellow flowers and yummy Easter egg filled with lots of candy shown above. In Sweden Easter traditions include painting eggs and eating lots of candy. Spring flowers are purchased to decorate inside and colorful feathers are attached to trees outside of homes. Aside from the Christian beliefs Swedish folklore tells of witches flying to the blue mountain to meet the devil during Easter. It reminded me of Halloween because children go from house to house dressed up as witches with long skirts, colorful scarfs, and painted rosy cheeks, presenting the occupants with small drawings or paintings they made in the hope of getting sweets in return.
Swedes love sweets! The quintessential vision of a swede conjures up images roughly depicting a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, in shape, attractive person. A stereotype I've found to be rather true, but there is of course diversity within, but with a noticeable shortage of overweight people, which is a great, I just don't understand how they do it!
Swedes have the highest candy (godis) consumption in the world, or at least so says my rather unreliable sources, but a number of Swedes have said it...so it must be true, right? In any event I believe them, and for the love of candy eating, Swedes have dedicated a special day, Saturdays, for doing just that. Parents train children from a young age to wait patiently for Saturday to roll around so they can eat bags full of godis. To be fair, these are small little paper bags, but still. It's actually kind of smart, because kids don't go around begging their parents for candy all week long.
The whole Saturday is for candy thing might fly, but then there are a slew of other days also devoted to sweet consumption. Let us begin with Kannelbullens Dag, a holiday devoted to eating cinnamon buns. There is also Semlor Dag, round sweet breads filled with cream, and don't forget Våffeldagen, a day to indulge in waffles topped with jam and cream! Easter is celebrated with large eggs filled with candy too. Strangely, Halloween trick-or-treating hasn't quite taken, but surely it will in the future. Let me also mention that a typical Swedish diet is rather hearty, think meat and potatoes with lots of sauce. Oh how Swedes love their sauces, for example McDonald's has 6 dipping sauces to choose from, such as sour cream and chive, sweet chili, garlic, melted cheese, and for what? Well, cheese I can understand, MMmmmm cheese...but I digress.
The real problem is Fika, which means coffee break. Swedes have actually made a verb out of the word...fika, fikar, fikat, fikade, and it's truly integrated into everyday life. Coffee is fine (Swede's also have one of the highest coffee consumptions in the world), but the coffee is usually accompanied by a slice of cake, cookies, or some other dessert! Everyone takes fika breaks. They are like cigarette breaks for smokers and just as craved. I was taking another Swedish course on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00pm to 3:00pm which had a 30 minute fika pause! Did we really need a half hour fika break for a 2 hour, twice a week course? Yes, yes we did, says the Swede.
This isn't directly sweet related but it ties in, and that would be the weekly event of Fredagsmys. Fredag means Friday and mys comes from the verb mysa which means to cuddle, now isn't that cute? Friday nights, may your guilt be left behind, and all can feel free to enjoy something like chips, pizza, ice cream, tacos (popular for some reason), and even candy (adults only, children must wait for Saturday)
So there you have it, holidays galore, fredagsmys, saturdays godis, and everyday fika! I write this not to scold, but rather applaud, as I am in awe of how most Swedes live healthy, active lifestyles, maintaining their weight despite the above mentioned opposition. Hats off to them!
Lastly, I feel compelled to mention that there are a select few, such as Andreas, that neither drink coffee, nor enjoy godis. Now wouldn't that be nice? :)
Here's a collection of pictures I took over my first winter in Sweden! It was truly magical. Some Swedes are tired of the long, dark, cold winters, but I'm loved it.
Korta Vägen is the name of the Swedish course I have been taking, which translates to "the short way". It's an intensive nine month program geared towards people who have moved to Sweden with college educations and have worked within their field of study for at least a couple of years.
To get into Korta Vägen most people complete SFI (swedish for immigrants) through another institution which can take roughly six months to a year. SFI is a wonderful program but it moves at a slower pace and isn't geared towards language fluency, but rather familiarity at a basic conversational level. I started SFI classes in August and shortly after I heard about Korta Vägen, which was beginning in October, and was eager to try and speed my learning process up. I actually didn't pass the test to get in, but luckily they take other factors into consideration aside from just your test results in order to accept candidates they feel suit the program best. Living with Andreas and having a network of Swedish people surrounding me, such as his parents and friends, was what I think made the difference for me. It is also a very time demanding course, held Monday - Friday from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm, with no lack of homework, so it's important that their students are also able to make the time commitment.
I have been most impressed with the program to say the least. The government funds the course and provides personal laptops for use throughout the program, pays for all books, and we also get a monthly stipend for being in the class full time, how amazing is that?! The main focus of the course is Swedish but there are other strong components such as resume and cover letter coaching, individual studies pertaining to your profession, and a one month internship within your field of work.
I have 13 classmates all coming from different countries, those being; Columbia, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Afghanistan, South Korea, Poland, Iran, Philippines, and Italy. We are also a diverse group of professionals with several engineers, a doctor and a nurse, marketing and finance professionals, a dance teacher, psychologist, a graphic designer, and a judge. It's been really fun getting to know everyone and also learning a little bit more about their countries and cultures. I have two wonderful teachers who are truly committed to helping us become fluent as fast as possible. By June, I hope Korta Vägen will have prepared me to start working within hospitality and continue on my career path!
Korta Vägen was also featured in Västerbottens Kuriren, which is one of the larger newspapers in Sweden. The article is in Swedish, but still neat to see, and is attached below. It talks about the program, with an interview of four of my classmates talking a little bit about their backgrounds and what they've gained from the course.
Stuga means cabin in Swedish, and this is Andreas' families cabin, located about 30 minutes outside of Umeå. Built by Andreas' parents, it's as pure a picture of Swedish style, charm, and locale as I could possibly paint. I love this place. Notice the incredible contrast from summer to winter.
We celebrated with a few close friends and enjoyed a fantastic three course dinner! Swedes celebrate the new year same as American aside from watching the ball drop, which was something I couldn't explain and still don't understand, but no matter where you are there's something special about the thought of a new year and ringing it in family or friends.
My New Year's resolution is to progress to a fluent level of Swedish. After 7 months of living and studying Swedish I'm at a good conversational level, but being fluent is no easy task!
Picture of downtown Stockholm, New Year's Eve 2013
God Jul! My first Christmast in Sweden was wonderful! Andreas and his family made it so very special for me. We celebrated at their snow covered cabin by the sea, a picturesque winter wonderland. There was lots of good food, family time, and presents!
Swedes celebrate Christmas much the same as Americans, but there are a few differences, the largest I suppose being that Christmas is NOT the 25th, it's the 24th and is celebrated in the evening. The Christmas table or julbord is filled with delicate offerings of herring, boiled eggs and potatoes, dopp i gryta (a hard bread dipped in ham gravy), janssons frestelse (scalloped potatoes with cream and anchovies), little sausages, meat balls, beet salad, salmon, and more! We also went cross country skiing and used the "kick" (which is kind of like a personal sled you stand on), both of which I would reccommend trying.
It was so pleasant to take a break from school, celebrate, and just enjoy being together. I've seen friends from Florida post pictures of themselves on facebook lounging at the pool, the sun shining brightly in the background, and a comment saying something like "gotta love Florida in December" which is true, but I also think one can't help but love Sweden in the winter too!
St. Lucia is known throughout the world but predominately celebrated now a day in Sweden and Norway. On December 13th a girl is elected to portray Lucia. Wearing a crown of candles on her head, she walks at the head of a procession of women, each holding a candle. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucia's life when she was sentenced to be burned. They sing a short concert of the St. Lucia song and other Christmas carols. The video shows a typical procession and I also took a few pictures from the performance I attended at Umeå University.
As much as I enjoyed not having a car, I must admit it will be really nice to have one again. After being so dependent on my car in the US it feels strange having not driven for over 6 months! Umeå is a very bike friendly city and living downtown we didn't necessarily need one, but with winter fast approaching the thought of walking 30 minutes to school in possibly minus 30 degree (celsius) weather was bone chilling. Also, it will be fabulous to have a car when my family and hopefully friends come to visit!
I see a Swedish road trip in our near future!
Happy Thanksgiving to all my wonderful friends and family! A special thanks to my American partner in crime and her boyfriend who hosted and cooked everything! It was Thanksgiving to a tee with salad, mashed and sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts with carrots, homemade stuffing, biscuits, gravy, Turkey (of course), and apple and pecan pie! It was so delicious I forgot to take pictures after the first course!
Sweden is well known for prioritizing quality of life in its labor laws. All workers in Sweden receive at
least five weeks of paid vacation per year.
Education is taxed financed, supported by publicly subsizided programs and is available to all citizens from
elementry school through university. As a person living in Sweden on a residency permit I will be eligible to take university courses free after three years.
Swedish social insurance is financed mainly through employers' contributions, with a small proportion being covered by individual contributions. Social insurance covers various benefits related to sickness, disability, having children and retirement. Some employers also provide extra insurance coverage as a staff benefit. As part of the publicly funded social insurance, you only have to pay a moderate set fee when visiting a doctor or
physiotherapist within the national health scheme.
Sweden has very generous laws for parental leave with a parental allowance being paid out over a maximum of 480 days, split between the parents as they see fit. Also, parents of children age eight and under have the right to work part time (75% or more), a right many Swedes take advantage of. Parents who miss work in order to take care of a sick child (up to 12 years old) can also receive compensation for lost income.
If you stay home from work becuase of illness, you receive no wages or sick pay the first day. For the folowing two weeks, you receive sick pay from your employer. After that, sickness benefits are paid by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. Both sick pay and sickness benefits amount to 80% of your salary.
Information copied from Arbetsförmedlingen Living and Working in Sweden
I’m sure there are many different types of permits a person may obtain to live and work in a different country, but a Residency Permit is the one I was granted and the only one I am familiar with, so allow me to elaborate.
A Residency Permit allows one to live, work, and enjoy most of the benefits Swedish society has to offer. The permit is based on a personal relationship, whether it is by blood or romance. This first step in this process is to go to the Swedish embassy website and fill out an application. The application may be done by mail or online. I suggest doing it online because it takes far less time because they are trying to eventually phase out mail applications altogether. At the time I applied I was not aware of this and had my application processed
through the mail which actually took substantially less time than I was quoted.
Being based on personal relationships this type of application may ask more personal questions than a standard one would, but nothing irrelevant or too invasive. Some basic questions are; how do you know each other, where did you met, what amount of time have you spent together, what are your plans for the future, what do you intend to do if you move, can you provide proof of your relationship such as plane tickets, photographs, etc. After submitting your application you will be contacted for an interview. The interviews must be done in person and take place at a Swedish embassy or consulate. The interview is quick and painless and simply reviews the details of your application. Next your partner will be contacted and requested to fill out a form with similar
information to that of your application. Lastly, you will be contacted by mail or e-mail with a decision. I can’t imagine an application being denied unless it is obvious your relationship has been falsified or there is not enough information proving its validity.
If you are applying for any such permit and your passport is expiring soon I highly recommend getting a
new passport before beginning the application process. I learned this the hard way. To explain in short, residency permits are usually valid for two years. When your permit is close to expiring, you simply apply for an extension. When I applied for my permit, my passport was expiring in less than a year, therefore the permit I was granted was valid for less than a year. I asked if this would be a problem and was told it would not be. When I arrived in Sweden and needed to get a person number (social security number) I was told I could
not receive one because the permit must be valid for longer than a year. Without a person number I would not be able to open a bank account, get Swedish health care (at a citizen’s rate), enroll in free language courses, or have government assistance in finding employment. Luckily I had a new passport valid for 10 years and we were able to extend my permit by contacting many different people and finally mailing a request. Although everything worked out, the process of getting this fixed was quite worrisome.
Uppsala, Sweden's fourth largest city, is located roughly 30 minutes north of Stockholm. It's a beautiful city and home to Scandinavia's largest church, Domkyrka, also known as Uppsala Cathedral.
This is a post I’ll likely be writing for years to come and learning Swedish could very well end up being a lifelong process. I don’t want to understand Swedish, I want to master it, to speak correctly and eloquently, to read and
write on a level comparable to that of my English. A high goal, I realize, but an important one. If I end up staying in Sweden indefinitely I believe this will be one of the key factors to truly feeling at home and not as an outsider.
Although almost all Swedes speak English well, they prefer to speak Swedish and rightly so. Who doesn’t feel more comfortable expressing themselves in their native tongue? And Swedes are not shy about speaking Swedish in front of those who don’t, but will always politely switch to English when addressing you. As someone who is trying to learn Swedish, I love to hear it spoken at its normal pace and try to decipher what I can. I’ve found it slightly frustrating when someone at a store realizes you aren’t Swedish and immediately switches to English. Polite yes, but when you need to practice it’s hard at the beginner stage to ask someone who speaks English well to switch back to Swedish and stumble along with you.
There are many tools you can use for learning a new language. Thanks to my wonderful sister I have the full
Rosetta Stone program in Swedish. It is an amazing system and has been quite helpful. I haven’t completed the full program yet though, so stay tuned I’ll give a comprehensive review later. After arriving in Sweden I also got a library card and have checked out text books for learning Swedish and children’s books which Andreas and I read together. I also try to keep a Swedish journal, nothing too involved but rather a daily account of what I did for the day or have planned that week. I will also be enrolling in the government provided Swedish language courses which start in August of 2012. I am building up a great vocabulary and base of knowledge, but I think the language courses will be most helpful in being able to construct sentences, use tenses properly, and read and write.
This picture is from 09/19/2010,
the day my Swedish life began.