So this is going to be a really rushed update, I have been really busy (and completely unmotivated on the side) but I am seized suddenly with the desire to update the blog… I don’t really want to think about how long it has been.
I think the last thing I talked about was Oslo, which was nice, despite the few setbacks.
Then the semester swept over, and I went off to winter break. First my sister visited, which was really a godsend and I am so grateful she could come. Whatever they say about the winter in Scandinavia, take it or leave it, but come December, it sucks. It really does. Especially when you are an exchange student, foreign student, expat, can’t go home, have nowhere to go, it really, really sucks. My heart goes out to everyone.
Basically, I was having terrible insomnia (which has since gotten much better, praise the lord), so basically, if you miss your window of sunlight, you start to live in the eternal abyss of darkness, silence, and just a dragging sensation towards your bed and away from the world. It can be cozy, or it can be miserable, depending on the cards in your hand.
But lucky for me my sister came, which was exhausting and great fun. My father bought her tickets, and booked them the day of my last exam, and she left the day before my Lappland trip. So it was a bit wild, and she got off on the wrong town before she got here, was hours late, etc. etc.
That day I ended up rushing a translation assignment, and it came out so terrible, I just cringe thinking about it. Lesson learned, don’t procrastinate. Do I still procrastinate, yes. (I have a test tomorrow, which I just started studying for today. More later.)
So then there were tears and such and my sister left, and I was off to Lappland. It was a magical adventure, and I enjoyed myself so much. Granted, I was freezing my ass off the entire time, except indoors, naturally, and most of the group activities were extremely awkward, stressful, and exhausting. Lucky for me, I could spend most of my time alone, reading, staving off the semester, and enjoying the winter wonderland of the Arctic circle. We went to Kiruna, Jukkasjärvi, Abisko, Narvik, and had a short stop in Rensjö. And I only threw up once, which was a nice accomplishment.
So Lappland was wonderful, and fucking cold during New Years. Then it was back to the races. And for the new semester, I had a number of issues.
Firstly, the Swedish grading system is so unlike the American. But let me preface this entire section with: my experience only, this does not make anything true or factual. It is very easy (more or less, depending on your courses) to make A’s and B’s. Those are good and ideal. Getting a C is pretty bad or pretty ok, depending on your background (e.g. a STEM or grad student might beg to differ), and a D is not so good, at all. I have pretty much gotten C’s in my classes here, where I get assignments back or feedback from my teachers, “You’re doing fine”, “Great work”, “Excellent points here”. I was really frustrated at first, mostly with myself. Growing up in a system where being standard is the equivalent of failure, this is a huge shock. To an extent, yes, Swedish society puts a very high value on equality. You don’t hear people saying “Awesome”, “Fantastic”, “Great”, when you ask them how they are doing. It’s something deep in the society, and more likely than not, reflects in the grading system. If you are going to get a perfect score, you are not going to be putting the same work that you did in American schools. And sometimes, it’s not your work that determines it. This a system where it is normal, and not at all a bad thing, to fail a final exam. Because you can take the exam over, and over, and over again. The good thing about this system is I feel like I am learning more by staying focused on the material, rather than getting the highest score possible. Because I know I am not going to get an awesome score, that’s not really what it’s about. But then these things transfer over to my american grades, and I have all of these horrible scores, which doesn’t do too much good for the GPA. I suppose I made a few sacrifices to get pretty good at Swedish, but it still kind of sucks.
But anyway, the other nice thing about this system, is there is virtually no competition between peers (at least in my experience). This is a society based on equality. No one is better than the other. You aren’t allowed to think that. Sure, it inhibits ambition, but what is the American ambition really based upon? I know it isn’t entirely based upon stepping on others to get to higher places, but I always grew up with my mother’s voice in my ear “You are so much better than X”, “You are so much better than the other Xs”, “She’s not as good as you are at X”. We are bred for competition, and that is not what studying should be about. It should be about teamwork, sharing knowledge, helping each other, understanding differences, working towards a common goal.
So this ties into me failing an exam, and I asked my teacher what I did wrong, and she said that there weren’t a lot of big mistakes. If there weren’t a lot of big mistakes, how did I fail the entire final exam jesus christ? I did pass it again, thank god, but how did I fail in the first place, if it wasn’t really that bad?
And that set the tone for the semester, and more grades have come in, and I have been getting used to seeing them so low. Is it just me? Is it the classes? Is it the system? Is it the cultures? I don’t know.
I do admit, this whole experience, as wonderful as it has been, has been extremely difficult. I would be lying if I said I was happy all the time. I would be lying if I have had days where I am filled with guilt, yet have no energy to do anything. It isn’t the place that is the problem. I am happy all the time that I am here. What I am not happy about is losing my motivation to do tasks, losing my sense of self-worth that has been based on the great olde ideas of hard-work, all the time, everyday, till you die, sell your soul, to the job, and being better than everyone else, and doing better than everyone else. I don’t like to remember that I have lost all of my American friends, that they have found me being gone so long has somehow made me irrelevant to their lives, and I don’t like the thought of having to start all over again when I get back. And then start all over again when I leave again. As much as I enjoy being around the people I have become friends with here, it gets hard. There is this very open sort of socialization style in the US, where people you barely know will tell you about their lives and their feelings, and generally, it is accepted for you to talk about your own experiences. But everything has been turned around, and I have to be really careful not to overshare or else everyone gets pretty uncomfortable. But honestly, the people I have met are so authentic and kind, this is just a small bump in the road. I have gotten much better. And I like how I don’t hear “Let’s have lunch sometime” anymore.
But in general, I could never think of regretting my experience here, and have learned so much about the world and myself. I still have time left, so let’s not go there.
Anyway, we passed my birthday, where I bought myself Den poetiska Eddan translated by Lars Lönnroth (2016), which my friend proceeded to call “The most [me] gift ever”. My friends gave me Medieval Scandinavia by Peter and Birgit Sawyer because they thought I would like a textbook kind of book, and there is bound to be something about witches in there. I also got Sandmannen by T.A. Hoffman.
My birthday was quite wonderful, and I am very grateful for the people that came. Although I was hardly able to endure class the next day. It was worth it.
So I am trying to organize myself, pull myself out of this rut, and study for my exam tomorrow. Wish me luck. I think I only have three classes this semester, which is nice, I can finally not stress myself out about not doing my work.
More posts eventually, goodbye for now.