Something Swedish


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The Plundering of the Tree

Sounds dramatic, I know.

Up until yesterday I thought it was an old tradition of the past; some obscure thing I had read about while doing research on Christmas when I first moved here. Then when sitting around for morning fika on Friday, my co-worker mentioned she was going to a Julgransplundringsfest (“Christmas tree plundering party”) this weekend, which piqued my interest.

Tomorrow, the 13th of January, or the twentieth day of Christmas as we call it (“Tjugondedag” or “Tjugondedag jul” or “Tjugondag knut” or “Knutsdag”), is the last day of Christmas here in Sweden. Unlike the majority of other countries that put away their decorations on Epiphany, the 6th of January, we get one more whole week with ours! Its not that we don’t observe Epiphany here; we do (even though Sweden is a secular country with 55% of the population reporting as “nonreligious”). In fact, its a national holiday called “Trettonsdag” (“The thirteenth day” as in the 13th day of Christmas- not to be confused with the “twentieth day” which falls on the 13th of January…confused yet?) Instead of taking advantage of that national holiday (which means most have day off of work) to take down Christmas decorations, its tradition to wait a week until Knutsdag (Knut being the name of a Danish king, later declared a saint, who would notoriously ask farmers to help him wrap up holiday season).

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Image: Wikipedia “Knut’s dance or Dancing out Christmas, by Swedish artist Hugo Hamilton (1802–1871)”

So, what does one do on knutsdag or at a julgransplundring aside from putting away their decorations? It’s a little more special than that, because you are saying farewell to Christmas. In the old days, children would run to their neighbors to “ropa ut julen” (“To call out Christmas”) essentially declaring its over, and while doing so they would be asking for any left over food and drink from the festivities. It was a day where one would “Kasta ut granen” (“Throw out the tree”) quite literally throwing the trees from windows and balconies, littering the street. Nowadays, its a phrase still used but its done in a more organised manner (and more people own reusable artificial trees). If dumped correctly, some towns use the discarded trees for the bonfires at Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton) in the spring.

Image result for Pippi Longstocking's After-Christmas Party Image result for Pippi Longstocking's After-Christmas Party

So, what is Julgransplundring? And how does one plunder a tree? Its simple, it all depends on what you put on the tree to begin with. It’s where you get together and feast upon all the edible stuff you hung up on the tree a month ago, or decorated with in general. This is also known as Julgransskakning (“Shaking the Christmas tree”). Its time to eat all the candy canes (polkagris), apples, chocolates, caramels, candy ornaments, and of course the beloved gingerbread house! Some households might even cook Christmas food (again!) to enjoy one last time.

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The looting of everything edible left over from Christmas can also be accompanied by songs and games.

“Snart är glada julen slut, slut, slut.
Julegranen bäres ut, ut, ut.
Men till nästa år igen,
kommer han vår gamle vän –
ty det har han lovat.”

There’s also the tradition of Dansa ut julen “Dancing out Christmas” which means to dance around the Christmas tree before you toss it out the window (or store it in the attic) to say goodbye to the Christmas season. Some towns in Sweden even hold a public event for the occasion:

Julskakning

Join us dance out Christmas! Maud Mithande leads the dance around the tree, there will be free warm drink and gingerbread cookies and every child gets a candy bag to bring home”


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How do you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden?

I got a call a few minutes after midnight last night from my brother wishing me a Happy New Years. He left a voicemail and while doing so, perplexed himself – and me –  with the following realization “Hey Meg, just calling to wish you a Happy New Year! I know the ball just dropped by you….wait – do they drop a ball there? What drops? What do you do?”

ball

Honestly, I didn’t know. How DO you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden? I’ve been living in Sweden for 8 years and wasn’t really sure what constituted for being Swedish tradition since tradition is local to the cities or towns you live in and the households you grew up in, or shaped by the company you keep. Image result for queens denmark new years speechFor the past 5 years we’ve celebrated in Denmark with a group of friends– the tradition there being to watch the Danish Queen give her speech about the year that passed and the year to come (and a friendly drinking game to take a sip every time she messes up saying what she is trying to say). Every year I understand more (with subtitles on, of course) and enjoy the tradition more, not needing to wait for the cue but hearing/reading the subtleties myself. I always like listening to the speech, the drinking part is just a fun way to get the party started.

But alas, this year we were sick and had to stay home – so a last-minute Swedish New Year’s celebration it would be, just the two of us and a lot of tissues. So, what DOES drop in Sweden? I mean, I know we don’t have a giant glowing 700-pound disco ball descending down a huge flagpole like the one in Time Square, but what do we do instead? My first thought was that surely our royal family also has a speech on New Year’s Eve, but no, no they do not. This is instead done on Christmas, apparently. I’ve never actually watched it – or knew about it until writing this post. Something new to do next year.

And so, I reflected, I pondered, I asked, I googled, and I procured a little list – How DOES one celebrate New Year’s in Sweden?

The Watching of the Dinner

Image result for dinner for one

“Same procedure as every year”

It turns out that Sweden and Denmark DO have a New Year’s tradition in common: watching the short sketch “Dinner for One” about an upper-class Englishwoman having her 90th birthday party dinner with her now deceased friends, in which her butler pretends to be each of them – and thus drinking for four people. “Grevinnan och betjänten” (The countess and the butler) has been aired every year in Denmark since 1980 and in Sweden since 1969 (banned in Sweden from 1963-1969 due to the heavy alcohol consumption).  Our friends in Denmark were surprised that we were watching it so early here in Sweden, at 19:45 (7:45pm), while it is aired later there – making it easier to drink along with Miss Sophie and her four “friends”.

The Reciting of the Poem

New Year’s eve is a celebration, everyone knows that. There’s always live music and concerts being aired on television to kick off the upcoming year. A few minutes before the clock tolls midnight, we are met with a somber reading of a classic poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells” (called “Nyårsklockan” in Swedish). Written by a British poet in 1850, the text was translated and introduced as a Swedish New Year’s tradition in 1895. The translation is a lose one, having taken many liberties with the text, cadence, and structure – making it more it’s own.

From 1895-1955 the poem was almost exclusively read by the same actor, when he died the tradition was put on hold until 1977/1978 (when “Tolvslaget på skansen” first aired on SVT, Swedish Television). A total of four actors recited the poem from 1977-2014, when the tradition was changed to having a different actor each year instead.  Each person having their own way of reading, leaving something new to discuss each year (some omit certain lines, some time it perfectly with the bells tolling at midnight, others ending too early or too late – making the toast and countdown a wild card.

                                   2020 poem

The Lighting of the Sky

Around midnight is when the magic happens. Fireworks, that is. That’s the biggest way Swedes show that the New Year has arrived. Not confetti, not honking horns, not banging on pots and pans, not balloons. Just a ton of fireworks lighting up the night sky. It might not be unique, but it does mean bringing in the new year with a bright colorful bang. Come midnight you’ll see balconies filled with spectators waiting for a light show. Until recently, fireworks have been easily available to purchase in Sweden. Just this year (june 2019) certain types became more regulated, requiring obtaining permits and attending special training courses to be able to buy and use…but we didn’t notice a difference.

The Throwing of the Shoes

An old tradition that I’ve only read about. My husband confirmed that he has heard about it and maybe even done it as a child – so I don’t know how relevant this one is, but I’m gonna include it anyway! Come midnight everyone is to throw their shoe at the door and see how it lands. If your shoe falls facing the door it can mean moving or change.

The Listening of the Song

This is by no means an actual tradition, but it couldn’t go without mentioning because surely “Happy New Year” by Swedish pop band legends ABBA must get played more in Sweden than anywhere else on New Years Eve (I have no statistical data for this, as it is just for fun)

 

There are probably a hundred different ways to celebrate New Year’s eve, and there’s probably a lot of “traditional” things I am missing (one list mentioned ordering Kebab pizza and watching Ivanhoe, which has been aired on New Years Day for decades – but I was more interested in the eve). So, the question isn’t “How DO you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden” but, “How do YOU celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden?” Are your traditions inherently “Swedish” or created by your friends or family? Do you have anything to add to the list? Let’s hear it! And let’s have a great 2020!

Gott Nytt År Från Sverige! Happy New Year from Sweden

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SKÅL!


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Swedish Advent: A Christmas Countdown

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Today is the fourth advent, the last Sunday before Christmas, the day for lighting the fourth and final candle of the adventsljusstake. Christmas is almost here.

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Four Sundays before Christmas (somewhere between the 27 nov -3 dec) the long, dark, cold nights leading up to winter solstice are brightened by the appearance of glowing Christmas stars and advent decorations illuminating the windows of almost every store, office building and home. While walking down any street at all, the collective and uniform effect of all these lights creates the magical, warm coziness of Christmas.

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The electric advent decorations are typically five or seven lights instead of four, giving a symmetrical triangular shape, perfect for displaying in windows.

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And so, the first advent candle is lit – but not for too long, it has to last for four weeks. Glögg med russin och mandel (mulled wine  with raisins and almonds) is warmed on stove-tops and enjoyed with pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) and lussebullar (Saffron buns). Advent presents are stuffed into stockings each sunday leading up to Christmas, building to the anticipation.

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The well-known tradition of advent calendars is taken one step further than the joy of opening  cardboard windows to reveal a piece of chocolate everyday. On the first of December stores reveal their version – a julkalender (Christmas calendar) to showcase what super-deals they have to offer each of the 24 days. The local TV channel TV4 has a tradition of airing a different “Julkalender” every year – a mini series with a new episode each day at the same time (25 minutes) for the children (and adults) to enjoy while waiting for the big day to arrive.

ahlens-julkalender-2018

How do you celebrate the advents? We dedicate these sundays to christmas-y things: putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, going Christmas shopping (most stores are closed on Sundays in Sweden – but are open on the advents!), visiting julmarknad (Christmas markets), watching Christmas movies, having a plate of traditional Christmas food at home or going to a restaurant for julbord (Christmas table), wrapping Christmas presents. All while enjoying the coziness of the advent candle(s) and the tastiness of glögg.

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Jag önskar er en god jul och gott nytt år!


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Perspective/Perspektiv

Its been exactly 8 years (to the day) since I’ve moved to Sweden. What better way to celebrate than to resurrect a blog about Sweden that I haven’t updated in nearly 4 years?

Having felt like I had already written about everything, experienced everything, and not wanting to become repetitive and boring, I simply stopped. After so many years in a new place – it isn’t so new and exciting and romantic anymore. The quirky differences become normal. The food no longer tastes strange. The language is understandable. The traditions and holidays make sense. You adjust, little by little. You start to live life the best you can, even if it means making changes and stumbling along the way.

Being busy naturally played its role in my disappearance. The first year of my blogging, it was basically a full time job – I had no friends, no job, nothing to do – so, in 2012 with all of my free time I wrote 115 (long and detailed, I might add) blog entries. I knew I could never live up to that, so 40 posts in 2013 seemed a lot more reasonable and maintainable. It dwindled down to 13 posts in 2014 having been so concentrated on the last of my Swedish studies, and then in 2015 I got admitted into dental assistant school and suddenly 11 posts seemed like a lot. I don’t even count the two last half-hearted attempts in 2016. Despite a 4 year hiatus, I still have people reading old content, leaving comments, and even subscribing from time to time. Which must mean that Something Swedish is still relevant, even if I was feeling obsolete and uninspired.

So, I decided to change my perspective and take back something I loved doing. It’s important to look back and see how far you’ve come and how much you have managed to achieve (This goes for everyone, always). It’s not bragging, its taking inventory (and hopefully, inspiring others that are in the beginning of their journey). It’s easy to let the years go by and think you are standing still.

Since moving to Sweden 8 years ago I have…

…gone through Svenska för invandare (SFI) /Svenska som Andra Språk (SAS)/Svenska 1+2 (high school level Swedish) (2012-2015)

…landed multiple part-time jobs – despite my lacking grasp of the Swedish language – such as English tutor, restaurant employee, preschool/kindergarten substitute teacher, text translator, transcriber, voice actor – moving to a new country is the perfect place to try new things!   (2013-2015)

…moved into our first (full-sized) apartment together and made it a home

…become a Swedish citizen (dual citizenship) (2015 – on my 30th birthday, how serendipitous!)

…gotten accepted into dental assistant school (finally using the Swedish language instead of just studying it, managing to keep up with a class of native speakers) (2015)

…finished my 1.5 year dental assistant education (dec 2016)

…gotten my first full-time job – needing to interact with coworkers and patients in proper and professional Swedish all day, every day. This improved my confidence and Swedish skills tremendously, both verbal and written.  (2017)

…voted for the first time in Sweden elections (2018)

…been promoted to clinic coordinator/manager  (2018)

…bought a house in the country-side to fix up and eventually spend weekends and summers (2019)

Within this time and throughout these milestones I have…

…met new people and made new friends (fellow expats and Swedes alike)

…become somewhat fluent in a second language

…acclimated to the Swedish work force

…learned Swedish laws

…eaten a ton of Swedish food…and learned how to cook some of it

…been to (and understood…and enjoyed!) Swedish concerts, theater, inspirational speakers, stand-up comedy

…celebrated Swedish holidays and embraced new traditions

…traveled to Denmark, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and Cyprus (all of which I would’ve probably never gone to if I hadn’t moved here)

It’s been quite a journey. A journey that I want to share with those about to embark on journeys of their own, those preparing a first visit or a picking up and moving, those curious because they are in a long distance relationships with someone Swedish, those with distant family from Sweden, those who accepted a job offer in a country they know nothing about, those who simply like to travel for the sake of seeing the world, those who are already here and can’t seem to fit in or figure it out.

I hope those who read this know that they aren’t alone, and it does get better. Moving to a new country (or state or town, for that matter) isn’t the easiest – but there are success stories to be inspired by (much bigger than my own). Open your mind and change your perspective – you can do it! Take the risk, you can learn something. The struggle only makes you stronger. No matter how bad your accent is or how much you dislike the taste of pickled herring or how you wish alcohol was sold in supermarkets or how stupid you think it is to dance like a frog on midsummer – there’s hope for you yet! You don’t have to like or enjoy every aspect of a place in order to find YOUR place there.

Take a step back and think about all YOU have achieved, how long you have come, what you want to do and how to make it become a reality. It’s easy to get stuck on being homesick and missing the way things were or the people you love, but if you never embrace your new life – it will never embrace you back.

 


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Winter in Sweden is SVÅR!

“Difficult,” that is. Other words that can be used to describe winter in Sweden:

Mörk. Lång. Kall. Deprimerande. Dark. Long. Cold. Depressing.

It’s easy to focus on these things, but it’s important not to.

The nice thing is that we, as humans, adapt and adjust – and over the past few years I can report that I’ve gotten used to the short days and long, dark winter nights…but that doesn’t mean I’m not ecstatic every time Spring (vår) comes along!

Even in the middle of February- Sitting outside no matter the temperature, just because it’s sunny:

lunchdejt i solen “Lunch date in the sun with vitamin D enrichment”

Being deceived by a few warm or sunny days, because it IS still only February and I got waay ahead of myself (rookie mistake):

snow

But finally, at long last it is here – at least here in Halmstad! Unlike in the U.S. there is no set date for Spring, but a meteorological standard of 7 days above freezing in a row. Of course it’s always more fun to look for other tell -tale signs, like:

Noticeably longer days: photo(15)

Seeing people sitting around, for no reason other than to soak in the sun…and then becoming one of those people, kind of like these lemurs:

Spotting the year’s first flowers in bloom (last week):

 

 

Hearing the ice cream truck for the first time (which was today for me – they sound like this):

Eating your first ice cream of the year …with gloves and a scarf on (this is a photo from almost exactly 3 years ago, to the day):

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Enjoying the premier of  uteservering [out door seating] (last week):

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And my personal favorite project this year, making the balcony ready for summer!IMG_20160404_190842

What do you do to enjoy the spring weather? How was your first Winter in Sweden?

 


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Voting Abroad

I’ve been living in Sweden for just over 4 years now, meaning that I was new to this whole living abroad thing and had no idea how to vote last election. Like everything when it comes to moving to a different country, it was a learning experience. Without bringing politics into the mix, I think it’s important for everyone to exercise their right to vote:

Living abroad shouldn’t be an excuse or reason not to. Living abroad doesn’t mean that our votes don’t matter. Let’s not miss our chance to be heard.

Why? What’s the big deal?

There are more than enough American citizens living abroad (see below) to make a difference. It might not feel that way but our votes do add up, no matter where we are residing or which state we are registered to.

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After living in Sweden for the past few years and learning about how politics and society work here I realized that we – Americans living abroad – have a very unique perspective on things:

  • We have a helpful and healthy amount of distance from some issues that other Americans don’t have.
  • At the same time, we have first hand experience with other issues (citizenship versus residency based taxation for example) that most Americans don’t even know exist.
  • We have seen and experienced first hand what works or doesn’t work in other countries and can make connections and comparisons that others aren’t able to make.
  • We don’t live in America’s bubble. Some of us can be more aware of international affairs, having access to more than one side of the story.

So, why vote this year? Why bother with the primaries? Isn’t it enough to wait until November? The race is so tight between candidates in each party this year that cards are being drawn and coins are being tossed to break ties. This is one of those times when absentee ballots from Americans abroad are making a real difference.

I became a Swedish citizen about a month after Swedish elections here last year, so I wasn’t able to vote, but I did tag along and see the process. When I did some research I was surprised to find that the majority of age-appropriate Swedes do make it to the polls and cast their vote – in fact it’s one of the countries with the highest voting turn out…while The United States has one of the lowest.

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Pewresearch.org

There’s a lot of reasons why The United States has a low percentage of voters that I’m not going to discuss, but citizens living abroad (for whatever reason) not bothering to or knowing how to vote is on that list. Just because we aren’t in the country we shouldn’t be dragging down the numbers shown above and making our democracy less effective.

The fact is that voting from outside the United States is a pain in the butt. There are forms to fill out and send out and extra dates to remember. In general an absentee ballot needs to be applied for (here) a few months in advance in order to send it in on time, meaning that by the time presidential elections in November or primaries (Feb-June depending on your state) come along, it’s already too late if you didn’t have enough forethought.

Thankfully, there are organizations that try to make it easier –  making it possible for Americans living abroad to vote IN PERSON for the primaries and provide on-the-spot help with registration  for the presidential election in 40 countries.

I’m not claiming to know all the details of voting abroad, but for those of you that read this blog because you’ve moved from The United States to Sweden and are interested in being heard, I thought this information would be helpful for you:

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Of course you can also vote in Stockholm, it’s just not on this flyer:

Stockholm: Tully’s Coffee, Götgatan 42, 11826 Stockholm

Thursday, March 3rd from 17:00 to 20:00

Saturday, March 5th from 12:00 to 17:00

I have no affiliations with Democrats Abroad, but was very happy to see that they have set up polling stations throughout Sweden and I wanted to make sure that as many people knew about it as possible. If you register and vote through them you will be influencing 17 delegates since American citizens abroad are counted as their own “state.”

If you are an American living anywhere else in the world or are interested in Republican options, I highly encourage you to look into your options.

Here are a few direct links to get you started (due to the time sensitivity I haven’t read up on more than I needed to in order to share this information):

votefromabroad.org

aaci.org.

overseasvotefoundation.org

americansabroad.org

justice.gov

Helpful facebook groups:

American Expatriates

Expats in Sweden

North Americans in Sweden


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Transcript Headache

It seems that every time I disappear for a while it’s due to being busy with school. This time the difference is that I’m finally done with studying Swedish, and am finally studying for a future career in Sweden…in Swedish.

After four years of being here I’ve finally reached higher education and while I’m excited to share my experiences and explain how it all works,  I want to tell the story (from a year ago, that I never got around to posting) of my pre-application process to help someone from making my mistakes:

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photo(7).JPGApplying to certain college (högskolan) or university (universitet) programs, vocational/trade school  (yrkesutbildning), or specific job positions requires verifying your transcripts to make sure you’re qualified. If you have foreign transcripts because you aren’t from Sweden, there’s an extra step that can make this messy: simply sending them in isn’t enough. Your transcripts will  need to be translated (if not in English), reviewed, and converted to their equivalents acceptable in Sweden schools.

The problem is that this process can take anywhere from 6 – 10 months (to compare with my own personal experiences of getting things sorted in Sweden: marriage paperwork= 1 month, Permission to move to Sweden= 2 months, Swedish citizenship approval= 2 weeks, Swedish passport= 4 days Read about it here)

This means that it’s really important to do this as early as possible because this wait time can really delay your plans if you miss an application deadline while waiting for your transcripts to be evaluated.

Thankfully, I knew about the wait time so I got the process started almost 2 years before I needed to – which was good because everything that could go wrong, did.

Lesson one: You always need paperwork

The first thing I did was go to the “guidance center” that assists with adult education: vägledningscentrum (works together with the unemployment services arbetsförmedlingen in certain towns)

They were very helpful in answering all of my questions, told me that UHR (Universitets- och högskolerådet or “Swedish Council for Higher Education”) is where my transcripts need to be sent to get verified and gave me the address. Most importantly they made official copies (vidimerade kopior) of my transcripts; each page stamped, signed, and dated.

Knowing it could take up to 10 months, and not yet being in a rush because I was still studying Swedish, it wasn’t until almost a year later I decided to call for an update. UHR had no record of ever receiving my transcripts. At this point, I knew I would be applying to an education within the year so the pressure was on.

I went back to the guidance center to resend my transcripts and explain what happened. It wasn’t until I was handed a form I had never seen before  that I understood why my transcripts were never processed: I sent them with no paperwork. This form was not only something to fill out, but a checklist of everything you need to send ASIDE from your transcripts, like an official print out of Swedish grades and a personbevis (“civic registration certificate” – ordered online from skatteverket “tax agency”). This time I did it properly. Or so I thought.

Lesson Two: Read the fine print

A few days later I got a mail confirming that they received and are processing my transcripts. My deadline  was in 8 months, so I was relieved and worried at the same time. It should make it in time.

About a month later I get another mail: my transcripts are incomplete.

How!? It turns out that certain countries (USA included) require all transcripts to be sent officially aka directly from old school to new (UHR in this case). This means that the transcripts that I sent were invalid. I should have learned my lesson from the first mistake. I should have read the fine print – myself.

The good news was that my application is on file, so I didn’t have to do anymore paperwork. The bad news is that it is no easy task to get transcripts quickly sent to another country, from another country. While UHR was willing to receive everything electronically, my old schools were not so hip to the times. This involved needing to snail-mail an addressed envelope  with American stamps, a form filled out with my signature, and a money order from an American bank. Getting all of this sorted could take weeks, thankfully my brother helped as a middle man to speed up the process. The high school didn’t charge extra for sending internationally, but the college insisted on using Fed-Ex which costs an extra 60 bucks.

A few weeks later I received another letter confirming that everything was complete and ready to be processed. About 6 months later – the same week of the application deadline – it was finally done. I had proof of attending high school and having all the English and math prerequisites I needed to apply to the Certified Dental Assisting Program (Tandsköterskeutbildning). Phew.

Tips:

  •  The application itself available online – this saves a lot of time (and is an option I was unaware of at the time): https://utbildningsbedomning.uhr.se/
  • If you have the ability to scan your files (that don’t need to be mailed directly)and save them as PDFs they can also be sent in online.
  • For additional information: https://www.uhr.se/bedomning-av-utlandska-utbildningar/
  • Make sure that you actually need to have your transcripts/diplomas evaluated.  This depends on the education you are applying to or if you are applying to a job that has specific requirements.
  • For certain educations, this step is unnecessary or done by a different agency, such as:  https://www.antagning.se/se/start