I am realizing that finding things to write about on a consistent basis is getting a tad bit more difficult. Last semester, I had trips to write about, as well as short little posts about the activities I was doing around Lund that seemed very foreign. While I am still trying to include posts/discussions about life in Lund, it feels silly to write about some of them. I am beginning to understand that this is because I may have, halfway through my time abroad, actually settled into Lund. This period, I am taking a full-time course called Applied Ecotoxicology. This means that my life is practically owned by the professor, and I spend majority of my waking hours in the ecology building. Honestly (and this will sound very nerdy), I find this setup amazing after I took a huge academic ‘break’ last semester (I only had class two or three days a week last period). On top of being challenged again in an area of study that I really enjoy, I am also getting to meet a ton of local full-time students. We all eat lunch together in the main seating area of the ecology building, and I always have someone to chat with during breaks. I am finally making friends in a class.
However, I feel like I am no longer living ‘the exchange student life’ like I was last semester. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a real Swedish student. I still can’t speak the language (and have accepted that I won’t get proficient during my time here), and I’m not integrated into a Swedish friend group. But I do have a real life, rather than constantly traveling and just meeting new people every week. Last semester was a blur of new faces and names. I got so sick of the introductory conversation about where I am from and what I study and how long I will be in Sweden with people I only ever saw once. It’s important to meet new people, but it’s hard when that is the only conversation you are having. I had fully turned on my extroverted mode, where I asked everyone for their instagram and would message them inviting them out to fika in an attempt to make further conversation. It made sense why I did it, as I am now reaping the rewards. I get to see the same people every week while we do activities that I love. I get my weekly fika, go climbing every other week, salsa and make dinner at Hemgården on Wednesdays, have lunch once a week with a DU friend, and go to random events with international friends. Less frequently include hikes, cooking, volunteering at nation events, hanging out with the GIS cohort, and attending some Erasmus Student Network events. All of that on top of my studies fills my schedule to the brim, and I love it. I love that I have curated a little life in a random Swedish student city, and I adore ‘my Lund people’ . All of these activities are wonderful and special, but they are reaching the point where they feel almost normal. I can go through a day and get home at night fully content before it hits me that what I just did was in a foreign country. That I am, in fact, living in Sweden and doing these ‘mundane’ things.
I am so glad that I feel at home and have formed a life here, but it scares me a bit. The start of February marked my halfway point, when I was 5.5 months in and 5.5 months away from leaving. I am now taking the time to reflect on all I have done during these last 5 and a half months, and I am content. I have made an effort to figure out Lund and, while there is still a lot to learn, I can get around both physically and socially. The circular cobblestone streets only confuse me about once a week now, rather than every day. I can answer the cashier at the grocery store, and order myself coffee at my favorite cafes. I have learned which nations offer the best pub nights and brunches, and which corridors have the best parties to crash (Delphi for sure). I no longer make eye contact for more than 2 seconds, except when “skål”ing/cheersing (there is a European myth that if you don’t make eye contact when clinking glasses, you’ll have bad sex for seven years). I can have conversation about the weather without thinking it’s awkward small talk, and I’m starting to think that traveling for more than 3 hours might be a ‘long trip’. I no longer wear more than one color at a time (though I haven’t fully turned my wardrobe grey). I have learned how to take the queue tickets that Sweden thinks is necessary for everything, and make the subtle passive aggressive look when someone doesn’t follow the “totally obvious” queue.
On a more serious note, I am actually really proud what I have achieved in Lund over the last half a year. I have learned more about Swedish culture, certainly, but I have also learned a lot more about myself. Most of my time has been amazing, but there have been moments when I am really frustrated or confused. Most of these are related to my housing situation or the fact that I am from the US, but I think I am gaining an important introspective perspective (try saying that five times fast). Not only can I see where other cultures and countries are doing a lot better, but I am more appreciative of where I come from. The US American stereotype in Europe sucks, but growing up in an extroverted society has enabled me to meet all of the amazing people I now spend my time with. Being warm and friendly goes a long way, and refusing to stop in the face of the icy Swedish personality works. Eventually, they warm up and I’ve made some of the best friends here. Sometimes I’m lucky and find an extroverted Swede who just needed that small push. Putting myself out there over and over again made the introverted child I was very uncomfortable, but it was necessary. Somehow, going to a very introverted country has made me more extroverted and social than ever before.
On top of learning enough about Lund to form a busy social life in the town, I explored during this first semester. I went on fun little day trips to Copenhagen/other towns in Skåne, a weekend trip to Regensburg and Munich to visit family friends, a one night trip to Odense, another weekend trip to visit my DU roommate from last year in Prague, yet another weekend trip to visit a friend from Oslo, a short layover visit to Reykjavik where I saw friends from my time living in Iceland, a longer trip to northern Sweden, and my most recent weekend trip to Gothenburg. I focused most of these trips on visiting people, with a few extra thrown in when I had the time/extra train tickets. This might be a bit bold (and I am definitely knocking on wood as I write this to avoid jinxing myself), but all of these trips went well. Of course, there were small things that went wrong, like buying a seat for the wrong train, delayed flights, and bad weather, but I loved every single trip that I embarked on. I attribute most of these to the amazing people I was visiting and that I went in to most trips with almost no expectations, but I do think that they have still taught me something very valuable.
Perhaps the best life lesson I have gotten from this past semester is to be okay with the unknown. When a train/flight is delayed, or my roommate leaves for three months and tells me his random cousin will be taking care of the apartment, or a guy friend tells me he’s addicted to me, or my bike gear shift breaks, or the Swedish money my dad gave me is declined because it’s too old, my initial reaction is to freak out. I am a worrier by nature, so my mind immediately assumes the absolute worst case scenario (which generally ends with me getting injured in a way that isn’t really related to the problem). Part of my solution to worrying is to become an intense planner. I plan out so much of the future and a lot of possibilities for ways that things can go wrong and what I will do in that instance. It is a good skill to have, but I have embraced the total opposite while here and I am substantially happier than normal. I have gotten better at just saying yes to random activities and being excessively spontaneous, even if I feel uncomfortable. So far, the best things have come from accepting the unknown and going for it. If there is anything that I want to take with me into my countdown months (I’m going to make myself cry if I think about this aspect too much) and return to the US, it is this newfound ability to be spontaneous without worrying. I don’t think it will always last, but I am certainly looking forward less stress for the next few months.
Okej, I’m done with the heavy reflective stuff. Looking at the next couple of months, I am making a list of things that I want to do. I didn’t do that for my initial start of the exchange (again, no expectations = always pleased with the outcome), but I do think that I have figured out a couple Europe/Sweden must-trys for myself. These include visiting friends from the Netherlands, a longer trip to Stockholm, celebrating Valborg (Swedish holiday at the end of April), hiking to Ale’s Stones, actually going on a Lund Cathedral tour, returning to Abisko in the summer (to see the midnight sun), attending a Lund University ball, trying Swedish waffles, and doing a Finland/Baltics trip. If I don’t complete everything, I certainly won’t be disappointed, but this list gives me a bit of direction. Of course, I want to continue to grow as a person and student and all the cliches, but mainly I just want to continue to live this little life I have in Lund. I want to keep up with my fikas and salsa and rock climbing and pub nights and developing friendships I’ve formed and meeting new people through random events. If I do nothing the next few months except continue to study in Lund and do these activities, I will still view my time abroad a successful and rewarding endeavor.