Navigating Stockholm

One thing that I have really appreciated about Sweden is the public transportation. system Back in Minneapolis, there are a few options for public transportation but they aren’t widely used. And, honestly, I maybe use the Minneapolis public transportation 2-3 times per year. However, in Sweden, public transportation is everywhere. Even in smaller cities! I find it really impressive. 

The map of the Stockholm metro system

So, for anyone who may be interested, I thought I’d share the most popular forms of transportation here in Stockholm. 

Walking: Walking is my favorite way to get around Stockholm. Now that the sun sets so early, I think it is especially important to get outside and experience some fresh air during the day. Stockholm is a very health-conscious city and I often see people walking to and from work, to the grocery store, or just to get some exercise. 

Tunelbanan/Pendeltåg: The metro is the main way I get to DIS, and around all of Stockholm. The tunelbanan is the subway system within Stockholm, and the pendeltåg is for the areas a bit outside the city. The entire subway system is shockingly easy to navigate. Plus, a lot of the subway stations have really cool art!

The iconic rainbow at Stadion (the stop we get off for school).

Car: I have only been in a car a handful of times this semester. It’s usually in the very early morning if I have a train and plane to catch before the subway system is running. It seems as though families usually have one shared car, and it is often the least popular mode of transport (at least among younger people).

Bus: There are so many busses in Stockholm and the suburbs. You can almost guarantee that a bus stop is within walking distance of wherever you are. The only drawback is that they sometimes run late or run infrequently. If you plan ahead, though, the bus is a great way to go.

Ferry: Seeing as Stockholm is an archipelago, the city actually uses ferries as a form of transportation. I have taken the ferry a few times and it is always a lot of fun, I think mainly because it is something different. Not many people can say they commute by ferry, so I think that is something special about Sweden. And, rumor has it, the ferries run all the way through the winter.

One of Sweden’s ferries!

Electric scooter:  Finally, another fun way to get around Stockholm is by electric scooter. In the city, they are everywhere so it isn’t hard to find one and rent it. You would be surprised how fast they can really go!

Kevin getting ready for a quick scooter ride around the city.

One of my favorite parts of my day is the commute to DIS (whether I choose to walk or take the metro). It’s a time of day when I feel like a local because I know exactly where I’m going and what to expect. When I get back to the states, I’m really going to miss all the different modes of transportation they have here. 

A Family Reunion: Sweden Edition

A big part of the reason I wanted to come to Sweden was that I knew I had family roots here. I knew I had some distant relatives living in southern Sweden. They have visited our family once in the US, and my grandfather has visited them several times. Once I arrived in Sweden, they messaged me inviting me to their home. It was honestly really comforting to know that I had a family – albeit distant family – who cared for me while I was abroad. 

Earlier this semester, I ended up getting an invitation to the baptism of my cousin’s new baby. Of course, I couldn’t miss this opportunity so I ended up planning a trip to visit my relatives for four days. They live in Småland, about a three-hour train ride south of Stockholm. I arrived in Växjö (which I still have no idea how to pronounce) on a Thursday. 

That Thursday, my cousin Lina picked me up and brought me to her sweet farmhouse where I would be staying. On Thursday,  I went to a museum focussing on Swedish immigration with Lina, met her children (including baby Jonathan!), and had dinner with her brother and his family. It was a great first day. 

The next day was equally exciting. Lina and I went to Ikea and the Ikea museum. I love Ikea back in the states and it is has been on my bucket list since I got here to visit the real deal: a Swedish Ikea. Getting to combine the store and museum was great, especially since I got to try the famous Swedish Ikea meatballs!

Saturday was the day of the baptism. I was a bit intimidated because the entire service was in Swedish, and most of the relatives spoke in Swedish too. But, it ended up being really fun and it was exciting to meet Swedes who aren’t from Stockholm. At the end of the day, Lina, her oldest son, Casper, and I baked kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) which are a traditional sweet here in Sweden. They were delicious!

My fourth and final day with the relatives was a busy day. Lina and her family live on a large dairy farm, so I woke up early Sunday morning to help milk the cows. It was definitely a new experience, but, I don’t think I’ll be milking many cows in my future. I was still happy to try something new, of course! After breakfast, we went to a family reunion. I was able to meet with several distant relatives, visit the church and cemetery of my relatives, and eventually, we had a family lunch with a walk through the town our relatives are from. It was a very busy day! By the time we got to the Alvesta train station to say our farewells, I was completely exhausted and ready to get back to Stockholm.

It was really a special experience to get to go back to my Swedish roots and connect more with my family here. I am looking forward to the next time I can see them!

A train station farewell!

A long overdue update

Things have been getting very busy at DIS. Between classes, field studies, trying to embrace the culture around me, and staying on top of things back home, I have found myself short on time lately. 

That being said, there have been many exciting things happening here at DIS. Just last week we had our week-long study tours with our core course to different destinations across Europe. I have to admit, I feel like one of the luckier ones because my core course (Positive Psychology) traveled to Athens, Greece. Upon arrival, we were greeted with warm weather and sunshine (something that Sweden has been lacking the past few weeks). 

Throughout the week, our class was able to have a nice balance of academic activities, cultural experiences, and free time. Often, these three categories blended. 

It can be hard to remember, but when we go on these study tours, it really is meant to be an academic experience. DIS likes to use the phrase “Europe as your classroom,” and I could not agree more with this. I have always been someone who learns by doing and seeing, by stepping out of a classroom and into the world. Throughout the week, we learned about the Ancient Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) and how we can trace some of the oldest origins of Positive Psychology to their studies. We also visited the NGO The Smile of the Child. This was meant to be an opportunity to incorporate children and children’s psychology into our curriculum as it has not been discussed yet. 

Other academic activities included a lesson on “Philotimo” which translates to “love and honor” and is a big part of Greek identity. In a similar vein, each member in our class was given the assignment to interview one person in Greece and ask about their culture and wellbeing. A lot of our findings showed that the food (which was delicious!) and the culture of caring for one another greatly impacted wellbeing. 

Outside of the “academic” setting, our class went on many other exciting excursions. On our first day, we shared a Greek feast with many different dishes, including the famous Greek salad (a personal favorite). We also toured the Acropolis and Parthenon which were truly impressive. To think we were looking at architecture from literally thousands of years ago blew my mind. 

Finally, my two favorite activities were Greek dancing and visiting the island of Aegina (about a 45-minute ferry ride from Athens). The dancing was a fun class bonding experience, to say the least. I would share a video, but WordPress won’t allow me, which is perhaps for the best! The island of Aegina was also incredible. We swam in the Mediterranean sea, soaked up the sun, and had a seafood lunch. 

Taken at our group lunch on the island of Aegina. We were having more fun than it appears here!

On Friday, our class left Greece to return back to Stockholm. We had a layover in Copenhagen so a few friends and I decided to spend the weekend there. Copenhagen has been on my bucket list, and while it was 40 degrees colder and much darker, I still had a lovely time! 

After being away from the “official” DIS classroom for so long, I am working to get back into the swing of things. Time sure seems to be flying by here!

Tips for Grocery Shopping in Stockholm

One really nice thing about DIS is that students are given a small food stipend. For students living in DIS housing, we are given 2000 KR three times throughout the semester (which totals round $600 USD). For those living in a homestay, you get a slightly smaller food stipend because it is assumed you will be eating most of your meals with your host family. For our food stipend, we are given gift cards to ICA, which is a large grocery chain throughout Sweden. 

I wanted to quickly share five of my personal experiences and tips from grocery shopping in Stockholm…

1. There are many different ICA stores around the city. 

The ICA store that I typically go to is just a five minute walk from my housing, and right across the street from the train station. This store is a bit smaller, but it is so convenient which is why I usually shop here. I have visited a few other grocery stores around Stockholm (and even in Uppsala) and several of them are much larger than the one near me. For example, there is an ICA about 10 minutes from DIS with a much larger selection of fresh produce. There is also an ICA off the Mariatorget metro stop that has a wide variety of pre-made meals. While I don’t get to these stores as often, they definitely have their perks. 

2. Bring your own grocery bag

In Sweden people rarely give out bags, especially plastic bags. If you don’t bring a bag to ICA, you will need to pay for one. Since coming to Sweden, I have bought two reusable bags from ICA that I bring with me whenever I go grocery shopping. While having to remember a bag can sometimes feel a bit inconvenient, it is a great way to be more sustainable and produce less waste while shopping. 

3. Trying to eliminate food waste

On the topic of being more sustainable while shopping, something I have really struggled with is buying the right amount of food so that I don’t waste anything. I am especially bad at buying the right amount of fresh produce and eating it before it spoils. One way I try to combat this is by making multiple small trips to the store throughout the week instead of having one large grocery run. 

4. Cook with friends

Something that I really have enjoyed while being as DIS is having the chance to cook with friends! It is fun to share food together and all pitch in to have a nice meal. Some of the highlights of food I have eaten with friends so far include: pulled pork, fresh spring rolls, and mac and cheese. 

5. Buy the candy

Candy is a really big thing in Sweden, and at each grocery store there are aisles filled with candy that you can compile into one bag to take home. Each Saturday is “Lördagsgodis,” which literally translates to “Saturday Candy.” BBC just published an article called “Lördaagsgodis: Sweden’s Saturday-only Candy Tradition” that you can read here if you’re interested in learning more about the candy obsession in Sweden. I have always had a sweet tooth, but since being here I have gotten much more into candy. My personal favorite is Daim (it’s like toffee covered in chocolate). 

 Getting into a grove in Stockholm  

The past two weeks have honestly been very busy with school. Obviously, a big part of studying abroad is the studying part. However, I think that a lot of the time people overlook the studying — all the focus goes to the experiences, the food, the travel, etc. This is absolutely important, perhaps the most important part of studying abroad. 

The past two weeks, I have been pretty swamped with school work. Back home, I am used to having back to back essays and presentations. Here, however, I was a bit surprised with everything I have had to do. Between multiple papers and presentations in almost every class, I have felt a bit overwhelmed with the work. 

Being so busy has definitely helped me to get into more of a routine here. I have been setting up schedules to accommodate classes, cooking meals, and the occasional run and workout. All of this is to say that life in Sweden is definitely starting to feel more natural and normal. It is exciting to know my way around the metro stations and to be able to (somewhat) navigate the city. 

This week marks our first break from classes. On Friday, we started our fall break which will go through Monday, October 18th. I am excited, and relieved, to have a break from the hustle and bustle of school. Over the break, many people are traveling to different cities and countries. Tomorrow morning I am leaving Stockholm for the week to travel to Budapest, Prague, and Helsinki. I am really excited (and somewhat nervous) for this chance to get away from Stockholm. And something that is even more exciting, is that when I return next week, I get to say I’m headed home. And by home, I mean Stockholm. 

I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to study abroad, between Covid and all of the chaos that was last year. But now (even with the homework, essays and presentations) it is fulfilling to know that I am finally able to make this happen. 

Kayaking on the Baltic

This week I was able to attend my first Outdoor LLC event. Of the many housing options at DIS, participating in a LLC (living and learning community) is one option.  LLCs are housing groups that live in the same building and attend events that connect to a greater theme. I chose to be a part of the Outdoor LLC because I wanted to have the chance to go hiking, kayaking and exploring in Sweden. 

On Wednesday I went to my first LLC event of the semester and it was great! There are five of us in our small cohort, and we have two leaders, Tilda and Alex. Our event for the day was sea kayaking on the Baltic and it was great!

Back home in Minnesota, I love kayaking. I learned how to kayak in Northern Minnesota and enjoy kayaking there and in the cities. Kayaking on the Baltic was a bit more intense than any of my previous kayaking experiences. For example, because of the cold waters in the Baltic, you need to use a kayak skirt to protect you from the water. I have never used one before so this was new for me. 

Next week, our LLC is planning an evening trail run somewhere in Stockholm. I have been trying to get back into running while in Sweden so I suppose my true running abilities will be tested next week. I am really looking forward to the run and to our future LLC adventures!

Core Course Week Reflections

Last week was core course week here at DIS. At DIS, each student signs up for a “core course” or main focus for the semester, and I decided to enroll in positive psychology. Last week, the only class we had was our core course. The first half of the week, we stayed in Stockholm going on site visits and having guest lectures. In the second half, we traveled to Gothenburg to further our understanding of the field of positive psychology. It was great!

For me, I can easily separate core course week into three distinct sections, and I want to quickly share the highlights of each!

#1) The First Few Days in Stockholm

On Monday and Tuesday, we stayed back in Stockholm. On Monday, we visited Fyrhuset, a youth-driven, non-profit organization in Stockholm. Fyrhuset works to empower youth and provide them with opportunities to learn and do what they love. For example, they have a skateboarding park at their building for people to use. 

Later on Monday, we had a speaker talk with our class about extremist rehabilitation. Our speaker works for Exit Sweden, a branch of Fryhuset. Exit Sweden works to help rehabilitate people involved in extremist groups, often working with neo-nazis. 

On Tuesday, we had another guest lecture come to DIS to talk about character strengths. 

All the activities from the first half of the week were extremely enlightening and I was able to take away information that I would not have gotten back home at St. Olaf.

#2) Wednesday in Uppsala

Because our trip to Gothenburg extended into the weekend, our class was given Wednesday off from school. This was the perfect opportunity to visit Uppsala for the day. I have a friend from Minneapolis who is studying abroad at the University of Uppsala so I coordinated with her to spend the day together. One of my classmates and I took the train from central station to Uppsala and it only took about 45 minutes. 

Uppsala definitely had a different feel to it than Stockholm does. Uppsala is a large university town and you could tell that more students lived in this area. One of my favorite parts of the day was visiting the nations. The nations are somewhat similar to frats and sororities back in the US. For lunch, we visited one of the nations and it was significantly cheaper than anything I would be able to find in Stockholm which was a nice surprise. 

I am definitely hoping to get back to Uppsala again soon, especially after realizing how easy it is to get there from Stockholm!

First photo captured in Uppsala!

#3) Study Tour to Gothenburg

For the second half of the week, our core course embarked on our short study tour to Gothenburg. One of the reasons I wanted to participate in the DIS study abroad programming is because of the travel weeks. It was a really cool experience to be able to travel with my classmates to a different part of Sweden to continue learning about positive psychology.

After lunch the first day, we went to a forum theater workshop. If you know me, you would know that improv, acting, and theater aren’t my favorite things. However, this programming was easier than I expected it to be. The entire point of forum theater is to work through tough situations to find new solutions that a group comes up with. While I am still processing my thoughts on forum theater, it seems like it offers a really unique approach to wellbeing and the field of positive psychology.

On Friday, the second day of our trip, we went on a walking tour of Gothenburg. We stopped by several of the important and recognizable landmarks in Gothenburg, including the fish church (or fish market). Our tour guide informed us that people in Gothenburg like to say “We don’t praise God, we praise Cod.”

The fish church! Aka, the first market.

We also stopped by the memorial for Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who saved many Hungarian jews during World War II. Our class connected Raoul Wallenberg’s work to class themes including altruism, character strengths (courage), and acts of kindness.

And speaking of acts of kindness, our final activity of the day was to go out in groups to perform acts of kindness. With the 200 krona our professor gave us, my group decided to buy markers, cards and tape to write uplifting and kind messages on. After writing our cards (in both English and Swedish), we distributed them throughout the city.

Acts of Kindness Preparation…

On Saturday, the last day in Gothenburg, we went to the university where we had a lecture on body positivity and its connection to positive psychology. After this, our professor encouraged us to “be in tune with our bodies” by playing a game of boule, a Swedish lawn game. It was fun, especially because I was on the winning team, not that it matters!

After a long day and a long week, our class headed to the Gothenburg Central Station to board our train ride home. It was a great week and has made me really look forward to our next study tour as a class. This November, we are headed to Athens, Greece and I couldn’t be more excited!

An (incomplete) group photo after one of our dinners.

Adventuring the Archipelago

This weekend, two friends and I went to explore Sandhamn, Stockholm’s furthest island on the archipelago. We knew that we wanted to explore the archipelago (especially before it gets too cold), but weren’t sure which island to go to. One of my friend’s host brothers recommended Sandhamn, so off we went!

A painted map of the island we found posted to a red cabin.

To get to Sandhamn, you have to take a ferry. We decided on the Cinderella cruise line and it was great! The ride there was very chilly and I was severely underdressed. The forecast was supposed to be low 60s, which seemed consistent with the weather lately. However, for the first half of the day, the sun never came out which is what made us so cold. Asides from the chilly weather, the boat ride was fun because we could see all the islands in the archipelago and the cute red houses along the shoreline. 

Our ferry, waiting at the pier.

The boat ride was just over two hours so when we arrived to Sandhamn we were hungry! We stopped by one of four restaurants on the island for lunch. I had salmon with potatoes and carrots, my friend had Swedish meatballs. It felt like a very appropriate Swedish meal. 

Building off the quintessential Swedish day, we took a long walk throughout the island of Sandhamn, walking through the neighborhood of small village houses (which are mainly only inhabited in the summer months) and exploring some of the forest and coastal lines of the island. It was great and made me want to be a cute yellow or red cabin one day! 

Some of the (many) sweet red cabins.

As we got ready for the boat to come pick us up, we went to a coffee shop for fika. I have made it a goal for myself to buy a postcard at every new city or country I go to. Naturally, I wanted to get a postcard from Sandhamn. It just so happened that the small coffee shop was the only place on the island that had postcards so I am glad we stoped by! 

We got a seat on the inside of the boat for the ride home, so I was much warmer. As we rode back, I reflected on the day and how glad I am to be getting the chance to explore other areas of Sweden outside of Stockholm. 

Finally, check out my friend’s tiktok from our day in Sandhamn!

In The Footsteps of Slavery

On Thursday, I had the chance to attend the event “In The Footsteps of Slavery.” This was a city walk that traces Sweden’s long involvement in the transatlantic slave trade using Gamla Stan (Old Town) as a background.

We had a tour guide take us to different monuments and locations in the city and talk about their connection to slavery, and we also learned about some of the earliest Africans who resided in Stockholm. 

Having gone to Ghana 18 months ago to study slavery in West Africa during my interim at St. Olaf, it felt like a good opportunity to continue to learn about this long story here in Sweden. 

I think that Sweden (and all the Nordic countries) are held on such a pedestal, I keep hearing people say “Sweden is so progressive.” We think of universal healthcare, gender equality, paid parental leave, environmentalism, and more. These are certainly important things, but we must remember that no place is perfect. 

For instance, I have recently found out the Sweden is fairly colorblind. Instead of looking at the ways in which we are different and the ways in which our differences can make us special, many Swedes choose to ignore these very differences. I was pretty shocked to learn this about Sweden. And, after hearing this, I was even more intrigued to find out about Sweden’s history in the slave trade.

To start off, Sweden was not nearly as involved in the transatlantic slave trade as places like the US, England, Portugal and Spain. However, they were still involved and for this reason, it should be talked about. Sweden’s involvement was primarily along the Gold Coast (modern day Ghana). 

In fact, it was actually the Swedes who built and constructed the Cape Coast Castle, which was one of the largest slave dungeons in Ghana. It is actually only about 20 minutes from Elmina Slave Castle and Dungeon, which I visited while I was in Ghana. It was surprising to see these two study abroad experiences blend together. 

In addition to Sweden’s slave dungeon, Sweden also had one colony in the Caribbean, Saint Barthélemy. Sweden controlled this colony for about a century between the late 1700s and late 1800s. 

This is an early painting from life in Sweden’s colony, Saint Barthélemy 

Additionally, during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Sweden was the major supplier of iron, often trading with other European empires. This iron went on to create chains for weapons and shackles. 

By the end of the 1800s, Sweden has abolished slavery and was no longer involved in the slave trade. It is important to note that Norway and Denmark also were involved in the transatlantic slave trade, and that they too had cruel, oppressive and exploitive pasts. 

One final thing that I found interesting from this experience was the role that monuments play in retelling our history. We started our tour at the statue of King Gustav Vasa I. Vasa has often been called “the father of Sweden” and people say that Sweden is the country it is today because of his work.

However, Vasa was also the king that first started Sweden’s involved in the transatlantic slave trade. When we look at him in this light, he does not seem to be a person that we should admire.

People argue that taking down (or changing) monuments will erase our history. I disagree, I think that changing monuments (in the US or in Sweden) can help to tell the truth about history. 

The monument of King Gustav Vasa, near the palace and a starting point on our tour.

By no means am I an expert in Sweden’s history or the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, I’m not even a history major. But, I think it is so important that we actively learn about both the good and the ugly of where we are or where we come from. 

If you’re interested in learning more, here are a few good sources:

A Quick Update!

Somehow, I have already finished my first two weeks here in Stockholm. I can’t believe it has already gone this fast! It is strange because I feel like I have been here for many months but also for no time at all.

Since classes have started and I have begun to create somewhat of a routine, the days seem to be passing by so fast. It has been my intention to write (at least) one blog post per week, and obviously that has not happened so far.

Instead of spending my first moments in Stockholm sitting with my computer typing out what I have been doing each day, I decide to actually go out and do things! I will share my top three highlights from the first two weeks, and will hopefully start to get into the habit of posting more regularly going forward.

1) CLASSES HAVE STARTED: Oddly enough, I was really excited for my classes to start. My different courses have been a great way to meet more people. Plus, I am genuinely interested about the topics in my course. Each class has a field study component, which I am really looking forward to. These field studies will go to museums, exhibits, schools and more which takes the learning outside of the classroom and truly into the city. I am super excited for these to get started!

So far, the coursework is very manageable. I would say the biggest challenge for me is my Mondays and Thursdays because I have class back to back from 10am until 4:00pm. It feels like I am back in high school and it is exhausting! However, my Tuesdays and Fridays, I only have one class which makes it all worth it.

Below is a photo of some my textbooks (which DIS provided!) in my window. It looks like a lot, but most of them are easy reads and very interesting so far.

2) FIKA: Sweden is truly known for its Fika — coffee with a treat and a friend. Did you know, Sweden is the world’s third largest coffee drinking country!?

All the bakeries and coffee shops in Stockholm are adorable. I don’t have much to say about Fika, asides from that I really enjoy it. Below are a few photos from various Fikas my first week here.

3) RUNNING: More accurately, I would call this jogging and walking. Sweden has so many wonderful trails, and several are just a minute away from where I am living.

So far, I have loved going for a slow jog or a long walk around the city. It has been a great way to see different areas and to really familiarize myself with the neighborhood I am in. I live on the island Södermalm which has trails along its perimeter. A goal of mine while I am here (and while the weather is still nice out) is to walk around the entire island.

Everyone is Sweden is really active, so living here is inspiring me to get back into running. And, to walk places instead of taking the metro. In many ways, seeing everyone out and about using the trails reminds me of Minneapolis and home.