Something Swedish


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Swedish Scrabble – Alfapet

Whenever I teach an English course I always suggest different ways to practice the second language casually at home:

1) Read books you have read before in your own language
2) Read magazines or blogs about topics you’re interested in
3) Read or watch the news in your second language
4) Watch TV or movies with subtitles
5) Listen to music or audio books
6) Play games

Since I’ve moved to Sweden and started learning Swedish I have tried to integrate the language into my day to day life by doing as many of these things as possible. I especially like to use my Swedish while playing games – it makes language learning more fun, social and casual:
(As a sidenote: board games in Sweden are way more expensive than in the U.S., 300-500kr in stores, depending on the game)
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I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble, so I figured: What better way to work on my vocabulary than playing scrabble in Swedish? After being here for 2 years and refusing to pay 400kr for a board game that I’ve bought for 100kr in the past, I finally found one at a fleamarket for 40kr. Score!
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Now, Scrabble does come in Swedish scrabble as well, but more popular is an almost identical game called Alfapet. (The Swedish spelling of “Alphabet” is actually “Alfabet”)
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As you can see, the board and premise are exactly the same, but there are a few differences:
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In Afapet, not only do you try to build on tiles that give you bonus points, but you try to avoid tiles that take away points. (Note the dark blue tiles)
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Naturally, there are a few new tiles due to the different letters in Swedish. I was surprised that there weren’t more of these, as they are commonly used letters in Swedish.
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Like in Scrabble there are blank tiles, that can be used as any letter without collecting value.
Now it gets interesting, as these next tiles don’t exist in Scrabble at all:

The black tiles represent stops. Once you use this tile you can spell a completely unconnected word next to or after another word: no common letters needed.

The arrows make it possible to turn your word another direction, making space constraints a thing of the past. This also allows you to turn your word so that you can collect bonus tiles that normally wouldn’t align.
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We played for the first time last week, and it was a lot of fun. We initially agreed to use both English and Swedish words, so that I would have a fighting chance, but we played 95% Swedish words, anyway. It was a really great way to practice my Swedish – and I thought this variant of Scrabble was a lot of fun.

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.

julbock


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Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

If you’ve ever spent the holidays in Sweden then you’d recognize this common Christmas decoration – the julbock. Usually made out of straw and sitting on a table, but sometimes as a candle holder, an ornament in the tree, depicted on Christmas cards or table clothes — goats are largely associated with Christmas here in Sweden.

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There is even a famously gigantic Julbock made of straw that has been built in a town called Gavle every year since 1966, which measures 13 meters tall (43 feet) and is  burnt down year after year. Although this is not the intention of the Julbock nor is it legal, it is an expected fate.

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There is a long history behind the Julbock which goes much deeper than the decorations we see today.

The origin of the Julbock dates back to before Christianity in Scandinavia, from the worship of the Norse God Thor and his two goats, Tanngnjost och Tanngrisner, that pulled his flying chariot.

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Later, the Julbock was depicted as a humanoid goat figure with horns and hooves, said to represent the devil, ensuring that people deserved their presents. This version of the julbock was altered into a scary prankster who caused trouble and demanded gifts.

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Julbocks being made of straw is nothing new, as it was always associated with the last harvest of the grain. It was once believed that the Julbock was only a spirit, and anything made of straw could be the Julbock. This spirit would check that the house was clean and the preparations were done correctly for the celebrations.

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For a long while the Julbock was the one who would deliver and hand out the Christmas presents – an original Scandinavian Santa. This is the most widely accepted and known version of the Julbock.

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Just as someone in Swedish families dress up as Santa to give out the gifts to the children nowadays, the same was done back then. Dressing up as the Julbock for Christmas also included singing, acting, and pranks while wearing something like this:

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During the 1800’s, people would throw the straw made Julbock back and forth, yelling “Take the Christmas goat!” The straw goat was also passed between neighbors, hiding it in each others houses without it being noticed, in an effort to get the Julbock out of their own house.

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Hoping all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas and that I taught you a bit of Swedish Christmas trivia. If you’re interested in reading more about Swedish Christmas traditions – follow these links:

Julbord: Christmas table (Christmas food)
The first advent
Swedish Santa: Tomte


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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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Lessons Learned

If you’re wondering where I’ve been these last  two months, the answer is: LIVING LIFE! As terrible as I feel about not updating the blog, it feels great to be too busy to post!  When you first move to a new country you have so much free time because you have nothing to do: no job, no social life, no schedule. Now though, especially this past month, life has been filled with studying for tests, working here and there, fikas, writing papers, socializing, and everything in between.

In the spirit of enjoying working and studying a little bit more, I thought I would share some recent learning experiences since I’ve been away.

Lesson #1: “Det finns ingen dåligt väder, bara dåligt kläder.”

One of my part time/substitute jobs is at a daycare/preschool (2-6 year olds) a few times a month.  Working at a “dagis” in Sweden has opened up my eyes to many cultural differences about how we raise our children. A few weeks ago, one of these differences taught me a lesson that I will not soon forget.

Something we do with the kids everyday is go outside for an hour to a nearby clearing in the forest where the kids run around, play, and climb trees. It took me a while to adjust to this, but now it seems natural. What I didn’t think about is that we do this EVERYDAY, no matter the weather. Growing up, if the temperature is too cold or if it rains, or snows, or even looks like it might, we stayed indoors. A few weeks ago on a particularly cold, rainy, and windy winter day I went to work completely unprepared for this difference. While the kids were putting on their rain pants, rain boots, rain jackets, and rain hats, I realized that my jeans, sneakers, hat and jacket aren’t going to cut it here in Sweden.

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Another, sunnier, day outside with the kids.

For the next hour, I stood in the freezing rain – soaked – watching the kids splash in puddles and play in the mud and all I could think about was a well known Swedish saying to live by: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing

Lesson #2: You never know when, where, or how an opportunity can happen.

Moving to a new country often times means starting over. It also means a fresh slate. There are opportunities everywhere that you maybe wouldn’t have ever considered before because they aren’t in your interest or field. Moving can be a chance to expand.

Last month an opportunity was given to me that I never would have thought of pursuing on my own, offered by someone who I wouldn’t have suspected. One day I received an email from a classmate who, at the time, I’ve only spoken to once, who recommended me to a friend who was looking for an American voice for commercials. Sometimes opportunities are just that random and out of thin air.  I’ve recorded twice so far and it has been a lot of fun. It’s uplifting to know that new experiences are out there and that people try to help, even if they barely know you.

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Recording

Lesson #3: Volunteering is networking

Last week I went to a middle school to give some presentations to students aged 12-16 about my transition to Sweden, the differences between the two countries (size, population, animals, holidays, sports, food) and all about NYC. When my husband saw how many hours and how much work I put into my slideshow and found out that I committed to presenting for 5 hours without getting paid, he seemed concerned. Yes, it was a lot of work and I was exhausted afterwards, but I got to do something I love: teach. Best of all, I got to meet five wonderful classes of interested and curious students that were full of questions. I got to see how it is to teach this grade (I’m try to decide between pursuing middle school or high school) and got more of a feel for the school environment in Sweden. I met a lot of teachers and got a tour of the school. As a result of investing my own time into doing something for “free,” I’m now on the list of substitute teachers for that school. You have to put yourself out there to get something in return. Just the experience was rewarding enough, but you never know.

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Presenting

Lesson #4: Part time is okay

I can’t wait to get a steady full time job, but until then, I’m happy with what I have. It’s not easy getting started, and beggars can’t be choosers. Even if I only work once a week plus when someone is sick or on vacation, it is still experience and something to do. It’s still a way to stay in the loop and have a foot in the door. Nothing is too part time or too small when you relocate. For eight years I had the same job in NYC and this year alone I have: Tutored teenagers, prepped and served burritos, taught adult education classes, changed diapers, edited English research papers, done voice acting, helped kids with arts and crafts, spelling, puzzles and reading. I edit from home, tutor at the library, ride my bike 6 km/4 miles to get to the daycare/preschool,  walk to the office, and take the train to the next town over to teach – and sometimes a combination of those in one day. Even if it sounds chaotic and hectic – it’s better than last year when I had absolutely nothing to do. Part time jobs are a good start, especially if you are studying.

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Teaching

Read more about working in Sweden here.

Lesson #5: Don’t underestimate

Just because you have an education that doesn’t mean that starting school over again won’t be difficult. By the time I started my Swedish high school level adult education classes I was over the whole “back to school” thing and wanted no part of it. It felt repetitive, tedious and unnecessary to be back in school when I’ve gone to school my entire life. I just want to learn the language! Why do I have to do research and read books and hold speeches if I already know how to do these things? Because I don’t know how to do them in my new language. Little by little I’m learning to not underestimate how important these exercises are in order to improve my Swedish. Of course, I already understood this, but it’s about having the right attitude. Even if I feel like the assignments themselves are easy and below my level, it’s still good practice. Even if I am tired of studying and just want to start working, being in these classes are my best shot at getting a job. I complained of boredom when I first started my current classes, but in the end I had tons of challenging work to do. The level didn’t change, but I pushed myself harder – to read more difficult books and do deeper research to learn new words. It’s frustrating being back in school, especially high school, but it’s worth it.

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Learning

That was a little taste of what has been keeping me away from updating, more details to come!


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Navigating Sweden

I’ve been living in Sweden for nearly two years now and I have a confession: I still don’t know my own neighborhood. Outside of four major streets or highways, street names are an elusive mystery to me. Having grown up in Queens, NYC, where every street is perfectly aligned with a ruler and numbered in order, I’ve never been very great with named streets. Naturally, I thought that was the problem – until yesterday.

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Yesterday I had my first lone adventure in Sweden. I took the 8am train to Gothenburg all by myself so that I can get my fingerprints, photo, and signature taken for my new ID card (Permanent residence, yay!)

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Even though I’ve been to Gothenburg a dozen times before, I’ve never had to think about where I was because I wasn’t alone – especially not trying to find an address. Even though I’ve been to migrationsverket one time before (two years ago) and I was using Iphone maps, I was having a hard time. And that’s when it hit me:

Street signs in Sweden suck. Sorry to be so harsh (it was partially for alliterations sake… I couldn’t resist the 4th ‘s’ word) , but they are so different than what I’m used to, I’ve never even NOTICED street signs in Sweden before. No wonder I don’t recognize any street names. (thankfully, and obviously, I don’t drive)

Let me compare:

Street signs in NYC are ALWAYS posted in the same exact spot on every street corner – sticking out from a pole on the corner, away from the buildings in clear sight of pedestrians trying to find their way – spottable and readable from more than a half a block away. These signs are also always at the same height, not to be missed or confused with anything else.

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Street signs in Sweden can be anywhere. Yes, they are on the corner, but not always every corner. They are not always at the same height (from above store entrances/ signs to almost eye level). And worse of all, they are camouflaged into the surroundings – attached to the sides of buildings, sometimes nestled next to awnings or signs.

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BTW, stumbling upon street names named after Norse gods (Odin and Frigga) was pretty awesome, I have to say.

While the street sign system is not my favorite, I do give partial credit to the addresses. The sorting of addresses on each block reminds me of how books are sorted in a library: each book shelf (block/street sign) indicating which books (addresses) you’ll find there. While I don’t think it gives a good indication of where that address will actually be, if you’re looking at the sign (if you can find it) then you’ll know if that block has the address you need.

In Queens a three part address system is used (xx – xx- xxx street), which seems confusing, but helps understand where in the neighborhood the address is located in relation to other streets. The first number being the cross street, the second number being the house number, and the third number being the street that the address is actually on. Without using cross streets in the address, dependency on a map (or knowledge of the area) is more crucial in Sweden – or so it feels for me.

Of course street signs are different everywhere, and it’s easy reading what you’re used to. This is simply not something I expected to have to adjust to. Now that I’ve noted the difference, I can start paying more attention and forcing myself to look for them – on the sides of buildings.

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