"Telling old stories, and singing songs, that make me think about where I came from"

Posts tagged ‘Uppsala’

Meant to be

I sometimes wonder what on earth I am doing in Sweden. Most of the time I’m completely unaware of where I am. Other times I feel very settled and comfortable with my surroundings. But there are those moments – almost existential I guess – where I take a second, breathe, and realise I’m sitting in a country I’d only visited briefly once before I packed my little (well, it really wasn’t that little) suitcase and set off from Edinburgh Airport. It’s not that those moments entail any, ‘get me the hell out of here’, feelings. It’s more, how did my life lead me to be sitting here in Sweden’s fourth largest city? If you had asked me two years ago where I imagined I would be post-university, I think ‘Sweden’ would have been roughly the last answer I would have given you. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. It’s just an excellent example of how you never know where life might lead you.

Now, I say all of this. But my father emailed me a picture this weekend which perhaps pours a healthy dose of doubt upon the above paragraph. There I am stood by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, 6 years ago. I had never actually seen the picture and, until he sent it through, I had completely forgotten that I’d ever owned a Swedish football shirt. I don’t remember why I bought it, where I purchased it, and I don’t even really remember wearing it. There is a vague memory of being chased down a street in Dundee on one of our unnaturally hot summer days a few years ago, by a bee that was convinced I was a giant, moving daffodil. I can’t imagine that ever happened to Henrik Larsson.

As hard as I try, I am struggling to cast my mind back to what my thoughts of Sweden were before I decided to apply to Uppsala University. Most likely, I thought of beautiful people, huge wealth, equality and social democracy, and an incredible welfare system. And has that changed? Well, in ways. But gaining a more nuanced, sophisticated impression of country whilst demythologising it, actually adds to its attraction.

Oh, we have snow by the way. Fairly deep, powdery snow. And there was me thinking it would never come. One last thing; please, please don’t judge me for the sideburns in the picture.

Advertisements

Disappeared into the Swedish mist

By my lack of blogging you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d disappeared and become one of the unfortunate characters of a Swedish crime novel. The last few weeks have spared me hardly a second to think. It has been the business end of our ‘period’ – mini-semester for those of you not versed in the Swedish academic system. At 1am this morning I put the finishing touches to the last piece of coursework for this period, so all that is left to do is present my latest work on Friday and then run to catch the bus to Arlanda, jump a plane headed to Copenhagen and, after a short stop off in what I’m informed is the most expensive airport in the world, I’ll be boarding a plane for Edinburgh.

In the intervening time since my last post I have turned 26, which I’m still trying to figure out my feelings towards, Julie has visited – around the same time – and I received my surprise present of flights to Belfast to visit Gary and Maeve. As I’m sitting writing this it has just dawned on me that this has been the longest period of time in my life that I’ve been away from Scotland and the longest period of time in 4 years that I’ve not seen my old uni pal Gary Cocker. So it’s nice to know the remedy to both of these issues is close at hand.

Gary and Maeve

It’s funny how the things that once seemed strange, new, exciting, or just plain annoying, have now become daily life. It has become the norm to understand nothing that is going on around me, to not see beggars, and to narrowly avoid being run over by bikes. It no longer seems strange that you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket, that you have to take a ticket to join a queue, and that people leave work at 4:30pm – except on a Friday when you’ll be lucky to see anyone working beyond 1pm. There’s something bleak about Sweden; cold, damp, misty, and almost a little sinister. But that is counteracted by fashionable orange trousers, crazy hair, the fact it’s cool to wear glasses my grandparents would be embarrassed to sport, and the warm, welcoming nature of the Swedes.

A particular highlight was my first visit to a Swedish person’s home. One of our lecturers had invited the class to his apartment for a post-seminar and a general get together. In true stereotype the shoes came off at the front door, there was an array of weapons on the wall, and food and drink was provided. It was really nice and informal, which made me see the benefits of Sweden’s egalitarian system. Don’t be fooled, Sweden is by no means the land of milk and honey, and you can’t help but get the impression that a lot has changed in recent years – almost a loss of innocence – but the idea that a university is a community, with the professors all the way down to the first year students on an equal footing, is not just senior management rhetoric which appears in the latest recruitment pamphlet, the Swedes really mean it.

I get the impression there’s a lot more to learn about this country and the transition it’s going through. I’ve been surprised by some of the views I’ve encountered in what is supposed to be the home of liberalism and equality. I’m looking forward to better understanding Sweden during my time here, and it’s got me thinking that Scotland’s desire to emulate our Scandinavian cousins – to become a free social democracy in Northern Europe – might be chasing phantoms. Perhaps we’re aspiring to be the Sweden or Norway of twenty years ago, but things seem different here. It’s in off-hand comments and under-the-breath remarks that you pick up this air of disquiet.

Maybe people just like to gripe, but I have a feeling it’s more than that.

12 Days Later

In some ways my stay in Sweden has been a little like the film which has inspired this blog title, ’28 Days Later’. There hasn’t been any mass extinctions or hoards of zombies, but I have spent the last 12 days being rather confused, a little lonely, unable to communicate with some of the locals, and wishing things could go back to the way they were 13 days ago. That’s not to say that I don’t like Sweden, because I do, nor that I’m really struggling, because I’m not. It’s more that the novelty of it all is wearing off somewhat and I’m eager to start class and move into my room – thankfully both events happen in the next few days.

Rangers football fans

There’s lots going on in Uppsala – it’s the way I imagine St. Andrews University to be, with a little more euro-trash. There’s a certain innocence to the city, and to the students who can be found dressed in funny clothes and singing songs at each other. I’m not quite sure what it’s all about, and to be honest, I’m not that interested in finding out. But I can’t help thinking that if this was Scotland the songs would have a sectarian undertone and the gangs of people would be far more menacing. Because that is the main difference that has struck me. In Uppsala you feel safe – not just in the student areas, but everywhere, all of the time. There’s no edge, no feeling that you should be aware of what’s going on around you. Take for instance the bike situation: everyone seems to ride a bike here and when they park them, very few people bother with a security chain. Rather, they’re just left there. In Scotland they’d last two minutes before being ‘acquired’ by one of the locals.

The hardest part of being here is being apart from Julie. We’ve been using skype – which has been tricky since I’ve been in hotels, searching for a decent connection, at times speaking to my computer in public. I’ve become one of those awful international students that used to drive me to distraction in the library. We text a lot, and phone occasionally. But it’s not the same as being in the same room as someone. She comes to visit on the 6th September, I’m counting the days.

This has been a hard entry to write. I’m not loving it here, but I’m not hating it. I’m a little bored and I miss Julie a lot. But I’m in limbo right now. This week I start class, move into my room, go to the supermarket for the first time, watch the local team tonight, and begin to live in a more permanent way. Once this week is out, I’ll have a better and clearer view of Uppsala, the University, and my adopted home for the next two years.

Oh, and I now live in a city where it’s cool to have a side-parting.

A real Scot in Sweden

18th August 2011: my flight landed in Arlanda, Stockholm, and I finally commenced a two year stay in a country I had visited once before – for a day. I’m sitting in a small hotel room in Uppsala, the window is open and the rain is tearing down, cars are noisily passing the window. It is, however, quieter than the night, when added to the cars are the sounds of drunken residents of Uppsala and the snores of my father in the adjacent bed. Quite how he sleeps so soundly is beyond me. Each night I’ve crept to bed, scared of waking him. I’m slowly coming to the realisation that I could stomp around the room, shouting, and the snores would continue to emanate from his resting place.

I could give you a run down of everything that has happened in the days since I arrived, but I want you to enjoy my blog, not fall into a deep sleep like my father. So, in brief; I’ve been lost in Stockholm, visited the archipelago, eaten expensive food, generally been shocked by prices, got a sun tan, been drenched in rain – twice – seen the Cathedral, Castle, centre of town, looked for Neds, not been able to find Neds, and generally accepted that notwithstanding cultural quirks, Sweden is generally not too different from Scotland. That is, if Scotland had a bit more money and brightly coloured houses.

Whilst on the boat trip in Stockholm we saw lots of really impressive summer houses on the little islands that make up the archipelago. I don’t think I would be alone in assuming that these houses belonged to wealthy Swedes. And I don’t think I’d be wrong in this assumption. But our tour guide said something that took me aback. 50% of Swedes own a summer house – a remarkably high number, albeit many of these will be substantially smaller than the archipelago  mansions. Yet, it is not only the upper and middle-classes who have such luxury. In fact, 30% of Swedes receiving state benefits (the dole to all the Scots reading this) own a summer home. At this stage I could make lots of sweeping generalisations about Sweden being a more inclusive state than what I’m used to, that Swedes are generally more wealthy, or that houses must be really cheap. I’d be intrigued to know how many Scots on benefits holiday in the Costa-del-sol; perhaps it would provide a rough comparison. I can’t make any authoritative statements and I leave this post as merely the reflections and first impressions of a new immigrant.

Two days in and I like this country. Uppsala is beautiful and Stockholm is a must see. But I’m still on tourist mode. If I figure out the truth – or lack thereof – of any of the above statements then I’ll come back to them. For now, well, I just wish it would stop raining. 

The waiting game

You know that feeling when something has gone wrong in your life and it’s a few months down the line? You learn to come to terms with what happened but there will be the odd day, the more recent the unfortunate event the more regular these will be, where you just feel lost, and down, and frustrated. I’m beginning to realise that moving country entails the same concoction of emotions. The move to Sweden has become a waiting game with little annoyances thrown in. A large part of me doesn’t want the day of departure to come and another side of me is desperate to rip that plaster (band-aid to my American friends) off, step on the plane, and begin my Swedish adventure. Note, if I ever use that term again please hit me, throw me off a bridge – or for the more polite – ask me to refrain from clichés.

There still seems a lot of little things to do. Pack, sort out the relevant documentation, perhaps glance at a timetable of events for the first week, get an EU medical card, say goodbye to people, then say goodbye to more people, have what I’ve come to term ‘the Last Supper’ with my girlfriend (Julie is her name, just thought I’d throw that in there, an introduction I mean), and take a breath, look around, and make my peace with Scotland. Anyway, some of these will be fun, some emotional, some time-consuming, some annoying. I’m not a details person.

Am I methodically working my way through the above list? In a word, ‘no’. Instead I’ve read for pleasure, read for research, gone for a walk, enjoyed the sun, gone for a swim – well down a flume and traversed some waves – drank coffee, eaten Chinese food, cooked fajitas, written blogs, read up on football, watched some football, done some work, shopped, and shopped, and shopped, and done anything which comes to mind that isn’t in the list of ‘things to do for Sweden’. Currently I’m sitting in a pub under my old flat: a pub which is providing free internet, mediocre coffee, and a not so alluring smell of human faeces.

I’ll get around to the organisational side of things. For now I’m feeling fairly contented, enjoying glancing at the International Buddy Page for Uppsala University and awaiting my inevitable fate.