Something Swedish

Biking

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The first thing I noticed when I first came to Sweden was all the bikes. Everywhere. I’ve seen more bikes than people. I’ve seen people talk on the phone, text, smoke and walk their dogs while on their bikes. It was clear to me that in order to ever truly become integrated into Swedish society, I would need a bike. I even got asked multiple times, ‘Don’t you have a bike?’ as if walking just doesn’t cut it.

Sweden is a very health and environment conscious country, center stage being the strong biking culture.

This commercial was just released by our county explaining that people who bike are superheros:
(Translation:
~ Halmstad is a biking town.
~ 21% of Halmstad residents travel via bike.
~ We have 21 (swedish) miles of biking trails. [= 210 kilometers = 130 miles ]
~ We are building super bike lanes
~ Everyone who bikes is a superhero)

It took a year, but last year I finally loaned a bike from my in-laws and have been riding it nearly every time I go anywhere.

Even though I’ve been able to ride a bike my whole life, this was different. Biking to commute to work/school or when you go to a friend’s house or when you go grocery shopping is a lot different than riding your bike around the block for fun as a kid or to exercise as an adult. In NYC you don’t see too many bikes, it’s simply not a common way to get around. It’s as if I had to relearn how to ride: bike lanes, hand signals, traffic laws, and getting used to so many other cyclists and pedestrians. Oh how things have changed; before I started biking I had no idea. I was amazed by by husbands ability to hear the tire treads of a bike approaching from a block away. I was blissfully unaware of the high pitched yet gentle dinging of a bike bell telling me to move out of people’s ways. Bike lanes seemed like wide sidewalks. Every time a bike whizzed past me I thought for sure that I would be run over.

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Today my husband and I took our bikes out for a ride together for the first time. It was nice to bike for the fun of it instead of using it as a mode of transport. It’s truly the best way to learn your neighborhood, too. Even though I’ve lived here for two years, biking today allowed me to see more places and understand where everything is in relation to each other and the fastest ways to get around. I learned that there is a separate traffic light for bikes, which means that I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting for the pedestrian one instead. Better safe than sorry though! Enjoying the beautiful Swedish weather on a nice long bike ride followed by a picnic in the park is the way to go.
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Studying Swedish in Sweden – Comparing EVERYTHING about SFI, SAS Grund and SAS Gymnasiet

SFI vs. SAS Grund vs.  SAS Gymnasiet

This comparison chart is based off of my personal experiences studying in Halmstad 2012 – 2014 and researching information online. Things might vary by town or teacher but most things are regulated by skolverket. If anything has been updated or changed, or if you have anything to add or ask, let me know!

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Today is two years since starting Something Swedish, and in two months it will mark two years since I started going to school to learn Swedish.  Since then, I’ve tried to keep my progress in school up to date, without overloading the blog. Catch up here:

Applied to SFI Feb 7, 2012
Started SFI  March 27, 2012
First SFI National test  Sept 20, 2012
(Finished SFI Dec 15, 2012)
Started ground level SAS/Comparing SFI and SAS  Jan 16, 2013
Finished SAS (18 weeks early) June 27, 2013

Being back in High School:

I somehow failed to mention that I started taking high school (gymnasiet)  level Swedish in August. So, here’s an update and an in depth comparison post that I hope helps people just starting out!

Three weeks ago the first level (1/3) of SAS gymnasiet ended. I had mixed emotions about the class, and put in a mixed amount of effort. This was partly because of being tired of studying, being bored with the difficulty level, being busy working, and focusing on a more difficult class (civics/political science) I was taking at the same time. I got an overall grade of B in the class, as well as on the national exam (oral presentation = A, reading comprehension =A, essay = C)

I was excited to start SAS1 because I read that it would be challenging and center around literature, which I love. Finally I would be learning Swedish on a level where other Swedes study! I was a bit disappointed to find out that this first class is a mix between a repetition of SAS Grund and preparation for SAS2. I understand it’s purpose, but I was bored – and unlike all of the other classes I’ve taken, you don’t have the option to go through the material quicker: 20 weeks means 20 weeks. If I had known that, I would have taken a test to be places in SAS2. Thankfully I had a teacher I like and find easy to learn from and understand (and have had before) and was in a class with some people I knew from SAS. Even if it was a bit slower than I would have liked, it fit my schedule perfectly and still challenged me from time to time.

I’ll be updating the chart and writing more in depth about the national exam once I complete the whole course and have more insight – which feels like forever away.


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Celebrating St. Lucia with the kiddies

While everyone in the states is “celebrating” (or at least posting on facebook about) Friday the 13th, the atmosphere here in Sweden is very different. December the 13th (no matter what day it falls on) is St. Lucia – a day of candlelight and song when the winter nights are so dark and long.

Last year was my first St. Lucia and I celebrated by going to the church to see the traditional luciatåg – which was breathtakingly beautiful and magical. If you missed the post about it, see the photos and read all about the history and how it is celebrated here.

This year was a little different, this year it was a kiddie Lucia for me. Instead of going to the church after sunset, we gathered at “folkets hus” (The peoples house) before sunrise.

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photo from: http://fruerlandsson.blogspot.se/2010/04/sondrums-fokets-hus.html As I never got to see it during day time.

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The bulletin board invite

At 7:30am the kiddies started showing up dressed with their Lucia outfits on, ready to sing – at least most of them, naturally there were some tears and screaming when it was time to go on stage. If the traditional church Lucia I went to last year was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, this was the cutest. The outfits that kids wear for St.Lucia are adorable! Of course, the girls all dress up as Lucia with a crown of (electronic) candles on their heads and a red belt, while the boys all want to be tomte (santa), leaving my two favorites ignored: stjärngossar (Star boys – which look like little magicians with star wands and pointy wizard hats) and Peperkaksgubbar/pepperkaksgummar (gingerbread boys and girls).

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Gingerbread outfit – so cute you can eat it up!

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stjärngossar hat and star

And then of course there are tärnor, Lucia’s “handmaidens,” dressed in long white robes to match Lucia but without the crown of candles, but strings of silver garland around the head and waist. This is the best way to “dress up” for Lucia without really dressing up. All of us teachers sported our garland crowns as we walked with the kids and helped them muster up the courage to sing  on stage for so many parents.

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Celebrating St. Lucia

The kids did great! They were able to sing all the songs and had a great time. (and now I’ve learned some more Swedish songs myself!) I wasn’t able to get any good photos, but did record a little bit for your listening pleasure (Yes, it was very dark and yes, I cut away any parts where I was singing along.): 

After the songs everyone sat down and had fika that all the families brought from home. It was still dark out, so the room was still dim – illuminated with candles on the long tables. At the “teacher table” we enjoyed lussekatter (holiday saffron buns), ginger bread cookies, and clementines. Similar to a “lussefika” we had last Sunday to socialize outside of work and celebrate the holidays with a special secret santa game:

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Photo from afterwork fika, not Lucia.

After fika one of the parents made a speech to thank the school and teachers and then, with the help of the kids, handed out beautiful flowers and cookie tins with cards for each of us.

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And to think I was hesitant about having to wake up at 6am. So worth it to see this other, adorable, side of Lucia.


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Celebrating Cinnamon Rolls in Sweden

October 4th: a day to cherish and savor the beloved cinnamon roll (which originates from Sweden), or “Kanelbulle” a little more than normal.

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To celebrate last year I made Swedish and American Cinnamon rolls side by side to compare. Read about that experiment HERE.

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This year, however, I decided to do something different (AKA: less work) and compared cinnamon buns from different local bakeries.

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I used the same bakeries as when we tasted Semlor last year, in this post HERE (read about each bakery, and another delicious Swedish pastry there)

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At first I was unsure, a cinnamon roll is a cinnamon roll, right? Would they really be THAT different? Here’s our results:

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Traditional kanelbulle, perfect for fika. At only 7kr ($1), you can’t go wrong. A bit more cardemum flavoring, but overall a balanced bun.

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At 14 kr ($2), we were hoping that this would be a big step up, but it wasn’t. It was sweeter and a bit nicer – but not 7 kr worth. I liked this one more than the “benchmark” from Östras, but it was too pricey.

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Even though it looks sloppy, this cinnamon bun was surprisingly delicious. Discouraged by the 15kr price tag, I had my hesitations, but the addition of almond paste really made for an especially tasty treat.

RESULTS:

Paulssons is our choice when we want something a little more festive, like celebrating Kanelbullar dag.

Östras is our day-to-day take-away cinnamon bun.

Regnbågen is a nice treat if you’re having fika there and want to enjoy something sweet.

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I hope those of you in Halmstad find this helpful! Either way, no matter where you are – I hope you had a kanelbulle today!


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Nollning: Sweden’s School Hazing

A side effect of living near a university in Sweden this time of year is that for a few weeks it feels like living in a Dr. Seuss cartoon. Let me explain.

Mid-Late August means classes start back up, which means new students, which means “Nollning” takes place: a ten day “orientation.” The direct meaning  translation of “Nollning” is “Hazing” but it’s not exactly done the same way. Sure, it’s an “initiation” or “rite of passage” of new students, but there isn’t the same negative connotation to it like in the U.S. At least, not anymore, or as much as before – over the years most schools in Sweden have been making an effort to make it a more positive and fun experience.

The word “Hazing” in North America is associated to physical or sexual harassment, abuse, and humiliation to become an accepted member of a sorority or a fraternity, which is often illegal and not associated to the school.  In the worst spectrum of hazing can range from being kidnapped to being beaten, being abandoned to being forced to commit a crime. Swedish “Nollning” on the other hand means “Zeroing” because students are at the “zero” level: they have yet to start year 1 of college, they are new and don’t have friends. The idea of nollning doesn’t have the same cringe-factor as hazing, unless you consider singing and dancing competitions to be particularly cruel. There is of course a lot of being yelled at and doing somewhat embarrassing things, but from what I’ve read and seen it seems a lot more open and fun. Sure, sometimes some people take it too far like anywhere else, but the intentions are not as malicious.

Instead of being initiated into a sorority or a fraternity, Swedish students are being welcomed into the program they are studying. Nollning is an accepted tradition of the school culture in Sweden, even recognizing it as a student event: Check out photos and info HERE and HERE. Schools are organized with the official events and activities of nollning, making sure everything is safe by organizing student union pub nights, providing low % alcohol, and making sure there is crisis training in case of emergencies.

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In North America “hazing” is optional in the sense that the majority of students don’t care about being part of something extra like a sorority or fraternity, and not all of them have such rough hazing rituals. Nollning is something that many (About half) new Swedish students choose do to be a socially accepted part of the program, to have fun, make friends, and party before school begins.

In Halmstad this means seeing students walk around in overalls of all different colors, each color representing a major: Engineering, IT, Mathematics, Humanities, etc. You’ll usually spot them walking in large groups, like a flock of birds. The overalls are written on or covered with patches. Where does the Dr. Seuss part come in? It’s the colorful and huge wigs, crazy sunglasses, weird masks, animal hats, and the funny voices they have to use to talk  with (Sounds like a robotic voice). It’s a bit surreal around here for a while. There are activities and games that they play together, or competitions against other “teams” (other colors or programs) so that they become a community before school starts. If you miss Nollning it might be a little bit harder for you to make friends in your classes, having missed the “head start” bonding.

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There are “Zeros” (New Students) and Leaders (Second year students who lead the nollning) The leaders are the ones who speak with the robotic voices and wear the colorful overall outfits/masks/Wigs to hide their true identity from the zeros during the Nollning, which is revealed on the last day. Meanwhile the “zeros” wear colorful shirts, necklaces and headbands with their names written across so that everyone gets to know each other. Originally I thought it would be the opposite, since making new students dress in silly costumes seems like something under the idea of “hazing”, but it’s the other way around.

Video of some Nollning activities in Halmstad (No sound, sorry):

Having only observed Nollning from afar, if anyone would like to enlighten me a little more on the topic, feel free to share! I can’t figure out why some people have strips of different colors at the bottom of their overalls, for example. Have you seen any Nollning activities?


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First time Shooting

Growing up in NYC, I never thought of going out to a shooting range for fun. The only ranges I ever knew about are the ones on TV that are in some building that the cops go to when they need to blow off some steam, shooting at a paper cut out of a body with a pistol.

A random last minute invitation in Swedish to go shooting (“Skjuter”…followed by hand gestures to explain) left me confused and unsure what to expect, but I’m glad I was told that I wanted to go :)

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The Swedish word for “guns” is “skjutvapen” (shootingweapon)

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Digital screens to show where your bullet hit, or “Träffar” (which means “meet” in Swedish, but also where the bullet “meets” the target). After unloading my first empty shell case I finally understood the phrase “the smoking gun”!

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Mind blowing that I can follow a gun instructional in Swedish and understand everything: how to position your body and why, how to adjust the scope, how to load/unload, and then a little competition called “GRIS” (Swine/pig) which would be equivalent to playing “HORSE” with basketball (who ever does the worst gets a letter, gain enough letters to spell the word and you’re out)

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It was three of us, all new to shooting, with two instructors. “LADDA!” (“Load!” which also means “to charge”, for example, your cell phone) “Tre, två, ett!”: 20 seconds to aim and shoot after the countdown. Soon the first “GRIS” was out of the game and our time went down to 15 seconds. Then it was tied “GRI – GRI” and it was down to the last shot: 10 seconds to aim and shoot… I was the second “GRIS” out of the game.

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Went through almost three boxes of ammunition myself. Before our screens were cleared to play “GRIS” I got a bulls-eye – I swear! I even kept the empty shell, but I didn’t think of taking a photo until the screen was erased!

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Hubby is a much better shot (From all the FPS games):

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So concentrated!

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I had a lot of scattered shots compared to him – it’s not too easy! Mostly because it is so darn uncomfortable! It’s hard to find that perfect position to get your shots to line up, and then you don’t want to move a muscle.

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Today I am so sore that I feel like I got punched really hard in the back and stomach along with general aches in the shoulders.

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But it was worth it for such a cool experience, along with meeting some nice new friends.

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Definitely something we would do again.

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My first 5k race and winning a trip to PORTUGAL!!!

It feels like just yesterday I learned about Vår Ruset (Spring Rush) and decided to make it a goal – my first 5k (3.1 miles).  Vår Ruset has been running for 25 years and is one of the biggest races in Sweden with thousands of participants in each of the 17 participating cities throughout the country, taking over a month to reach the last city. It’s only for women and raises money for a different cause each year.

I started training (jogging) three weeks before with absolutely no running experience to speak of,  horrible cardio, terrible feet, and really old sneakers. See my improvement below – the last one is my time for the actual race: 36:44. My goal was to finish it between 40 and 45 minutes. I think I was able to jog about 90% of the time, which felt pretty awesome – next step is improving my speed.

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Prepping for the race:

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After our group zumba-like warm up session with the instructors high up on scaffolding:

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The race is split up into six different start groups depending on if you are being timed, if you are running the 10k, if you are running, jogging, or taking it easy and walking.

This is our start line:

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Behind us at the start line (did I mention there was a lot of people? Imagine, our start group is second to last so most people are already gone):

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And we’re off! It was motivational to be running along side so many women:

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Hubby found me in the crowd about 2 km in:

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Afterwards everyone received metals:

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And a goody bag of stuff from the sponsors (and bananas and juice):

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I bought a bracelet to support children in Kosovo who need homes:

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The weather was perfect for the race and to sit down afterwards and enjoy a picnic.

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And as we were leaving an hour after the race, I heard my name in the distance being called over the load speaker. I went on stage and sat with 8 other women, all anxiously waiting to see what we could have won. Half way through the prizes got significantly better and my name was still not called. I’m told that I looked excited and terrified at the same time.

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With a microphone in my face I received my first place prize: a trip to Portugal for a whole week to attend Training Camp with Vår Ruset.

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I was shocked and didn’t know what to say, let alone in Swedish to thousands of people picnicking after the race.

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I explained that I’ve never won anything before and I’ve never traveled outside of New York and Sweden.

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I didn’t dare mention that I’ve only been training for three weeks… but now I’ll be sure to continue!

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Each day there will be activities to participate in such as running, “nordic walking(?)”, yoga, dancing, strength building, core exercises, and of course lots of fun in the sun!

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I can’t wait!!

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After an unbelievably exciting day I came home, collapsed, and dreamed of my next adventure.

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