I'm in the process of transitioning this blog to another project highlighting ethically sourced, sustainable clothing. Stay tuned!
Last month Education First ranked Swedes at the top for English Proficiency and I can second that assessment. Perhaps it's because Swedish isn't too useful outside of Sweden or perhaps it's because Swedish and English share a Germanic root language. But if you ask them, Swedes will attribute their awesome English to television. English programming has subtitles rather than dubbing, so Swedes - especially the younger generations - have grown up hearing English on T.V. and in films. And it shows. Whether it's a wide, nuanced vocabulary or a native-like understanding of idioms and slang, I am continually impressed by the English I hear. Sometimes I'll even hear Swedes apologize for their "terrible" English which is a) so far from the truth and b) ridiculous. I'm the one in their country asking them to speaking my language. I'm the imposition here. But still, the apologies come.
All of this excellence has an interesting consequence: It's really hard to learn Swedish here. Sure, having lived in Sweden for the better part of a year means I can understand and read it alright. But speaking? No chance. My patient friends have heard mostly "Hallå!" or "Jag förstår!" and still they tolerate me. #Thankful for them. I've tried Duolingo, but it lacks a speaking component for Swedish. I've added Rosetta Stone to my morning coffee ritual, but I'm not sold. I mean, there's only so many opportunities to slip "Varför luktar hunden illa?" or "Sköldpaddan är liten" into conversation. ("Why does the dog smell bad?" and "The turtle is small" for those who are following.) And then there's SFI, Swedish for Immigrants. The government offers a language course for immigrant adults, but reviews from friends and colleagues have been largely critical. SFI groups students by their education level rather than their experience with Swedish. So even though I have spent several months here, I could be placed with students who don't know the difference between "hej" and "hejdå". And often times, groups of varying levels all share the same teacher at the same time. It's tough enough to differentiate instruction for my fourth graders; I can't even imagine juggling masters level students in the same room as students who aren't literate in their native language. And the kicker? You need a personnummer to register for the course. Which I don't have. I guess it's pretty futile to complain about a service I can't use. So I'll keep muddling on with Rosetta Stone and hope for plenty of opportunities to talk about smelly dogs and small turtles.
More on my adventures learning Swedish later :)
Holidays away from home can be difficult and social media doesn’t make it easier. The barrage of snaps, Instagrams and status updates made last week challenging at times. I so wanted to be home with family like everyone else seemed to be. I wanted to hug my ninety-year-old grandma and congratulate my brother and his fiancée. I wanted to squeeze into Nanna’s house with countless cousins and bake pies without visiting the American Food store. I wanted to quote SNL’s “Back Home Ballers” and watch football with my dad. I wanted all of the familiar joy and gratitude of the holiday. How foolish I was to think I could only have that at home.
Last week I celebrated no less than FOUR thanksgivings here in Uppsala. I celebrated with friends, roommates, colleagues and students and I ate more sweet potato than I am comfortable admitting. I laughed around a table with so many amazing people. I prepared my first turkey and didn’t give anyone food poisoning. I botched a pecan pie and then made a killer one. I shared in traditions new and old and broke bread with this family I have made for myself. And I regretted my poor, pitiful me routine.
In three weeks time, I will be celebrating Christmas at home with family and my petty homesickness will feel even more selfish than it does now. Truth is, our world is in a tough spot. There are families without a place to go home to, or families whose gatherings this holiday season will be a much more somber affair. There are many reasons to feel saddened or angered, many reasons to feel hateful or hopeless, but I am choosing gratitude. I have to.
The building in which I teach was once owned by the university across the street, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet or SLU, an agricultural college. While the land was under their ownership, birch trees were taken from up and down Sweden and planted along the road. In the fall, these trees lose their leaves according to wherever they come from in Sweden, from the Arctic Circle to Malmö. Now that it is firmly autumn here in Uppsala, some of these trees have lost their leaves entirely, some have leaves changing colors, and some have yet to show any signs of losing their summer abundance. Though these adult trees have grown just a few meters from one another, they retain the seasonal cycles of their origins. I walk past this grove daily and I can't help but see it for the metaphor it is. I feel like one of those trees sometimes. I am very much rooted here and rooted elsewhere, very much a product of the places I have known before. It has me wondering - how much of home do we hold on to? How much of our past experiences define our present? And is that a decision we can make for ourselves? I'm not sure I have any answers, just more questions. But I do know that this is the challenge I face, establishing roots in a place where I am so obviously a transplant, an expat, an unfamiliar birch tree. It is a challenge I have chosen many times before - in Boston, in Louisville and here - and it is a one I will likely choose again. And what a worthwhile challenge it is.
P.S. Two months in today and just received word that I'll be here through June. These roots will grow a little deeper... Exciting stuff!