My first time cross country Skiing in Östersund

Julbord with my host family and Ida’s family

Famous boardwalk of Smögen in the winter

My first hockey game with Ture, Michael, and Claus


January 3, 2024

What’s Different

It has been a while since my last update, and during this time, I have had some new experiences!

First I want to share some of the things that I have noticed are different: Rather than crossing fingers to express hope or anticipation, the cultural norm is to hold thumbs – forming a fist with the thumb inside. Sandwiches are different, they usually consist of a single slice of bread with butter and cheese. No slice of bread on top. It’s extremely common for Swedes to stock multiple blocks of cheese in their fridges for these sandwiches as well. They may be out of everything else in their fridge but not cheese.

One thing that caught me off guard is the use of “en mil,” which translates to one mile but it actually means 10k. This distinction became apparent when I misunderstood the length of a run, learning the hard way to interpret “en mil” accurately. Taxes are included in displayed prices, which is quite nice when I go to purchase something.

Adjusting to the Swedish educational system is going well. The hardest part, however, is that in the U.S. I am used to addressing teachers with titles like Mrs. or Mr. followed by their last name. But here the norm is to address teachers by their first names. Initially, this felt odd, but slowly became something I am used to. I completed the first semester of school entirely in Swedish and that was a pretty big achievement. I managed to pass all my classes!

When swedes are describing something they may say that it is horribly delicious and when I first heard this I was really confused because I didn’t understand why they were describing something like that. How could it be horrible and delicious at the same time??? I am still getting used to this.

Everyone had warned me that the darkness and the cold was going to be horrible and the worst thing I will experience. I am thankful they told me that, but it is not true. The darkness just makes me want to sleep all the time but I would not say that it is horrible. The cold is just something you get used to. On the darkest day of the year we got 6 hours of light. Some weeks you don’t even see the sun because it’s just so cloudy all the time, but you get used to it I promise.

As for my Swedish, I think that it has been really improving and I have even started to think in Swedish. Now if someone speaks in Swedish to me I don’t have to translate it into English in my head, I just know what it means. As well as if I’m reading or I hear someone say something I sometimes cannot remember if it was in Swedish or in English. When I meet new people and start speaking Swedish with them and they find out that I am an exchange student from the US they say that they are very very impressed with my Swedish and they understand everything that I said clearly( I think that is a good thing.) I’ve started to become a little more confident when I’m speaking Swedish as well.

The first snow this year, real snow, happened November 29th. Everything started turning white and calm and it was beautiful to see. The day after, Ida and I ran in an 11 km Trail Run Race. It was pretty incredible to get to run in the snow even though it made it much more difficult and slippery. Along the race path there were people playing traditional Swedish instruments to cheer us along, I thought that was really neat. My host family and I got to go to a “julmarknad” , a Christmas Market. They make the street look beautiful and they have all these different vendors with typical Swedish food and other things like Swedish Santas. Gothenburg was decorated beautifully and one of my most notable things was the big mall which is called Nordstan had its name changed to Nordpolen, the North Pole. I thought that was really neat to see. One of the things that is very common around Christmas time is gingerbread cookies. Everyone says they make it from scratch but really they all buy the dough from the store. This dough is the best thing ever, you could literally just sit there and eat the dough forever and ever and never make the cookies. One weekend, Ida and I baked gingerbread cookies and lussekatter. Lussekatter are a sweet dough with saffron. They are so delicious.

As for what I have been doing, I have been hanging out with my friends from school and other Exchange students. With my friends from school we will sometimes go to the city after school and just hang out, have some fika, and go shopping. Sometimes we go over to each other’s houses and play cards, watch movies, and talk. We had also made gingerbread houses together. The pre-made gingerbread in Sweden is actually really really good.
I got to meet Ida’s parents and listen to her dad play a Swedish traditional instrument, the nyckelharpa. They were super sweet to me and made sure to speak their Swedish slowly so I could understand them.

I got to see a hockey game for the first time and I realized how much of a contact sport it is! It looks painful but it was pretty fun to watch.

I had the opportunity to travel to Östersund, Sweden, situated in the central part of Sweden. Ida and I took the Night Train, a 10-hour journey during which we sat the whole time. This was definitely an experience for me, as I had never gone on such a lengthy train ride before.

In Östersund, I had the chance to learn cross-country skiing from an ex-Olympian, Anders Södergron. Over the course of three days, Ida and I skied five times. I love xc skiing now! I had to master the art of layering clothing for this trip. I also got to see the wonders of a snow playground. Everything was beautiful, white, and quiet. I got the chance to go on a couple walks and it was incredible to walk around and see the wonders nature had in store for me. Everything glistened with the white snow and when the snow was falling it became incredibly peaceful.

Through Ida’s work connections, we got to see how the Swedish national cross-country team prepared their skis for races. Attending the Nordic World Cup was a highlight, I learned some of the details of cross-country skiing that I had no idea about before. I was surprised to learn that winners in sprint races had to compete four times in a single day! The energy in the stadium was incredible, there was a drummer who created cheers which was really fun. During this trip I was introduced to my first julbord, a Christmas table covered with various traditional Swedish foods such as herring, meatballs, potatoes, raw salmon, and other traditional Christmas foods.

Sweden has a unique celebration known as St. Lucia Day, which is basically there to show that there is light and happiness in this darkness that we are experiencing. I had the privilege of witnessing St. Lucia singing before school with my host mom. The atmosphere was beautiful and really brought up the Christmas spirit. My school also commemorated St. Lucia’s day by playing her song and giving out gingerbread cookies and juleskum (candy).

For Christmas, Ida’s brother(Claus) and his daughter(Elin) came up to Kungshamn to celebrate Christmas with us. In Sweden Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. The family just spends time together throughout the day and then at 3:00 p.m. we all watch Kalle Anka. It is short clips of animated cartoons like donald duck and every Swedish family watches it at 3:00 p.m. Then we all ate dinner together, julbord. After dinner we opened presents and took a walk. There is a typical Christmas game that is played in Sweden. There are a bunch of inexpensive gifts on the table and we all roll a die. if you get a one or a six you get to pick a gift. Once all the gifts are handed out then we roll again and if you get a one or a six you can take a gift from somebody else. You are basing what you pick off of how it looks. Then after the time runs out you open your gifts and see what you got. After the game, we had dessert. Ture and I made the desserts together the day before. We made white chocolate saffron cookies and chokladbollar. It was incredible to spend Christmas with this family and see how much they truly love one another.

For Christmas day, Ida thought it would be a good idea to have a semi-american Christmas Day. So I made a Christmas tree out of cinnamon rolls because that reminded me of home the most. I also made twice baked potatoes for dinner. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

For New Year’s Eve, we all played a part in making dinner together and we also got dressed up. For dinner we had cod and cooked potatoes, which is the typical Swedish New Year’s Eve dish. Åsa came to celebrate with us. Ida’s relative. We all played games like Rummikub and Swedish scramble. Ture and I got to drink apple cider. When it started getting dark outside at about 4:00 p.m., it started snowing. It was windy and snow was coming down really hard outside. So after dessert, which was a white chocolate cream and raspberry dish, Ture and I went outside to play in the snow. We had a snowball fight which lasted surprisingly a really long time and we built a Snowman together. I had the best time in that snowball fight with him. It felt like we were really siblings as we bombarded each other with snowballs. We have gotten so much closer now which I am so grateful for because I had a hard time connecting with him at the first part of my exchange.

I also got to experience my first “cold plunge” or winter bath on the first day of the new year.. Åsa does this all the time so Ida, Åsa, and I did a winter bath together. The trick is to stay calm but it is easier said than done. The water was 2° C. After getting warm again, I found myself thinking that I kind of would like to do it again.