Upon leaving the aircraft, I knew it was the beginning of another new adventure. If you are an international student like me, who loves to travel the world and takes education partly as an excuse, then you know that the adrenaline rush of discovering another land is indescribable. The process of trying to resettle, readapt, familiarize and reconstruct life is undeniably satisfying. Swedish universities rank amongst the top and are therefore a popular choice for knowledge seekers. Once in Sweden, the next step is not only to dive into your studies but also try to assimilate into the culture. Here, we give advice for incoming wanderers on how to do this.
First, one should forget the stereotype that Swedes are extremely reserved and dislike making conversation. I agree that they might not initiate a talk, and you sometimes might get a passive vibe from them. You should not let that discourage you, because once you get the ball rolling, you will realize how friendly Swedes are. Only by getting to know the locals can you genuinely understand the social norms. My suggestion is to try to learn the Swedish language as soon as you arrive. Little by little, you will start to enjoy comprehending your environment and becoming almost a local.
Once you have Swedish friends, you will get to know their lifestyle as well. You will soon learn to be extremely punctual, so don’t forget to keep track of the time when you get those invitations for Fika meetings! Food, music and sports are the best mediums to get a true sense of an unfamiliar culture. It’s a way to connect without having to speak, so even if you are not a fan of communicating through a newly-learned language, try out Swedish food, listen to their top hit singles and get fit by doing some sports.
Fortunately, the international committee at Medicinska Föreningen (MF) has us covered by organising several programmes for the sake of integration. Language @ KI is for anyone interested to learn Swedish, with categories divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced. In the Tandem Project, students from different countries are matched to other applicants based on their language interests to connect and learn about each other’s language and culture. The Coffee Hour is a relaxed social gathering from 4 PM at KIB (Solna Campus) on Thursdays with a weekly theme to kickoff a conversation.
Cooking @ KI is a great initiative for foodies who want to connect with a culture through its flavour. This project organises several cooking events during the semester with themes based on cuisines, so keep an eye open for the Swedish evening. Idrottsutskottet (IdrU), the sport committee of MF, organises several sports events such as sports day, marathons and ski trips.
There are also many initiatives to meet people outside of KI, which is hard enough as it is, especially if you are stuck in the lab all day. An example is ‘Kulturkompis’ (literally ‘culture buddy’). This project with the slogan “Make friends through culture” couples newcomers and Swedes to go (for free) to cultural events together. Another platform is ‘MeetUp’, a great way to meet people who have the same interests as you. There are groups as specific as ‘French speakers who want to learn Swedish’.
The final tip will be to go shopping. You will soon notice that everyone dresses quite formally even for a casual day out. Swedes are known to have a modern, sophisticated style with dark monotone colours and basic patterns, perfectly matching the blessed Swedish weather. Wearing a similar outfit, you will at least look like the Swedes: fake it until you make it!
And if all else fails, at least learn to practice the concept of ‘lagom’, where everything is appropriate and not necessarily perfect. With that said, make the best out of your time whilst you are here, and take away an ‘experience’ with you rather than a short-term stay. •