What a year!
I´ve realized it has been a while since I shared how my time in Sweden has been going. Here is a little, “Life Update” post.
For those of us new to my life adventures, in April 2020 I accepted a middle school maths position at an international school in Uppsala, Sweden. This would be my 3rd international teaching experience in the last three years and my first time in Europe.
At the time I accepted my job and prepared to move, the Swedish government had a very limited response to Covid, with everyone still holding out hope that by summer things would clear up and cease. For the first few months that held strong. Restaurants and bars were open, museums and other public places didn't have reduced hours, and no masks were worn. Some countries did not allow tourists to visit, while others allowed EU citizens and residents in. Slowly things started to become more limited to what we see and are living in today.
Returning to Sweden after Christmas break is when I noticed things really changed. Today Sweden is in its “strictest lockdown.” The Swedish government does not regulate or enforce this lockdown, though, which is why I put it in quotes. Instead, everything they share is stated as a “recommendation” that people are asked to follow. Like you can imagine, everyone follows the recommendations to different degrees and have their own interpretation of what the government is recommending. Although things are more limited, it is nothing compared to other countries where the lockdown is more strictly enforced.
School (is almost) Out For the Summer!
Apart from Covid, life in Sweden has been going well! As a math lover, I have greatly enjoyed teaching Year 6 maths this year. I have 4 sections of 32, 6th Grade students. Like you can imagine with having 128 students, there are some big personalities. Of course, there are equally sweet students, too.
My favorite part of the job is the teachers I get to work with. Our maths department at the school consists of 6 teachers; 5 from the United States and 1 from Great Britain. We are a very sarcastic and fun bunch- my favorite coworkers I have had thus far! Apart from the maths department, there are about 80 other staff members at school. I do not see and interact with these coworkers as often, but enjoy the smile and “good morning” I get from time to time. Unfortunately, Covid has canceled several of our staff dinners and Fika. With these, I feel I would be closer to other members of the staff.
My favorite activity I have been a part of at my school is starting an “International Relations Club.” This club started when my cousin reached out asking if her class could Zoom me while they learned about Europe. Never one to turn down educational experiences, especially one that would encourage younger students to travel, we found a date to make it happen. As the date grew near, the idea of having my students join crossed my mind. With permission from my administration and the student´s parents, the “International Relations Club” was formed. The students had great fun coming up with questions for their peers halfway across the world, as well as answering and correcting the stereotypes American students had of them. We found that no one likes their school food and that 13 and 14-year-old students love to debate and ask critical thinking questions when given the chance. (We had long talks about the US election, universal health care, and the legal age to drive, buy energy drinks, and smoke.) My students fill me with so much joy and pride during these talks.
Revolving Door of Roommates
After living in a hostel for a week, and subleasing a student's room for the first month, I finally found my “home” in Sweden. The apartment I currently rent was listed as “student housing,” but due to the fact I was the age of most students, my landlord welcomed me in. I live in a quite old, but very Swedish, 4 bedroom/2 bathroom, apartment. When I first moved in I had just 1 roommate. We did very little together but made it work. She would have her boyfriend or friends over almost every day which got old real quick, though. I must be aging because by 10pm I was ready to have everyone leave and crawl into bed. Unfortunately, they found bedtime to be much later…
With 2 rooms still empty in the apartment, our landlord would come over with prospective roommates quite often, most times unannounced. Of the several that came by to look at the apartment, none of them actually rented the room. Our third roommate didn´t come along until the end of January, the same time my initial roommate also moved out.
Carolina, my new roommate, and I get along quite well. We have shared several weekend adventures, went on a couple trips together, and enjoy going on walks and hikes when the weather is warm. We also shared quite a few rants when roommates 3, 4, and 5 moved in…
Just 2 days after Carolina arrived, a new roommate moved in… who was in her 40s… and had 2 children. Yes, you read that correctly. A mom and her 2 very young were sharing a room in student housing. To make matters worse, our landlord never forewarned us of the situation and didn´t respond to our many calls and messages when asking what was going on. I simply came home from school on a Monday to see several little coats and shoes in the doorway, and toothbrushes and bath toys in the shower. After ignoring us for a week, he stopped by to show a potential tenant the 4th empty room. He claimed the family would be there only for a month and that the kids would not be home each day. It was a long month, to say the least…
March 1st slowly came and the family moved out… with a high school student moving in just a few hours later. Hopefully, she is our last roommate while I am in Sweden. I am definitely ready to have my own place!
Swedish Weather Blues
Apart from Covid dampening my Swedish spirits, the weather here has also made me less than pleased. Sweden is a very Northern country- the same latitude as Alaska! With this in mind, I figured we would have some cold and wet months, much like what Minnesota prepared me for. Before Christmas, the weather was quite mild. It snowed on and off, but not enough to accumulate on the roads or make boots necessary. With 2021 came more snow, though. Thankfully when I went home for Christmas break I brought back my snow pants and winter boots. Walking to school in my teaching flats would no longer be possible without losing a toe.
Something different about Swedish winters compared to winter back home is how Swedes “remove” the snow and ice. “Salting” the roads and sidewalks here is something unheard of when it snows. Instead, they use gravel. Not nearly as effective I find, and the little rocks get everywhere. Then, come spring all of the sidewalks and roads are covered in gravel. (I'm starting to sound like an old crabby lady complaining about the smallest things!)
Along with having some cold weather, the latitude affects how much sunlight we get each day. In the winter the sun was coming up around 9am and setting by 3pm. There would be some days when I worked at school that I wouldn't see it at all! Now, during spring and the start of summer, the sun is starting to come up at 4:30 and setting around 9-10pm. Although I prefer it to the dark days of winter, as someone who wakes up with the sun, I have had some very early mornings. (I´m sounding more and more like an old lady as this post continues…)
One great benefit my school offers is offering teachers free food during lunchtime each day. It is called a “pedagogical lunch,” due to the fact we sit and interact with the students during that time. It has been a great way for me to try different Swedish foods, although blood sausage is still something I will not touch.
School lunches here vary quite differently from those in the US. Here everything is served in a buffet style. Children take as little or as much as they want, and have the choice between the meat/vegan/vegetarian options. In addition to the main options, there is always a “salad bar” which consists of carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, beans and olives, and pickled cabbage. There is also hard bread (think of the crust of a $3 frozen pizza). Their lunches vary each day, but most include either plain boiled potatoes or rice as a starch, with fish or curry as the meat. We also have lots of soup. My students hate it and complain daily. I would rate it better than the food we were served as children back home, but nothing too special to brag about. It's free, so I can't complain, plus it beats having to pack a lunch each morning!
Apart from lunch at school, I have not gone out to eat a lot of authentic Swedish foods. I have gone to a few lunches where they served fish and Swedish meatballs, but otherwise, when I eat out, I eat things I miss from back homes such as burgers and tacos. Swedish food, in my opinion, is quite bland and similar to what I grew up eating back home. Even their “spicy” flavored food is quite mild. For example, in the US I would get mild salsa back home. Here I had the “3 chili peppers, Hot Hot Hot!” kind, which is quite comparable, if not less spicy, than the mild back home. Clearly, the Swedes moved to Minnesota when they came to the US since the lack of seasoning and spice is common back home as well.
With just a few weeks left of the school year, it is beyond time for me to figure out my summer plans. To be exempted from paying US taxes on my Swedish income, I need to reside outside of the US for at least 330 of 365 days. Since I went home for Christmas, to be exempted I cannot return to the US until after July 21st. In a world with no Covid that would give me a month to travel around Europe, but with borders closed and testing needed, what I will be doing and where I will be is still in question.
After facing the fact that my summer travel plans likely won't be happening as I wish, I started to look into EU countries that offered summer camps. Due to Covid, most of these camps are not running, and the ones that are, are only hiring staff currently residing there. Crossing summer employment off of my June and July plans I am back to square 1 planning a trip. With many countries talking of opening their borders come mid-May or the beginning of June, I plan to book something at the last minute. Nomadic Megan at it again…
Megan´s Swedish Dictionary
I will be the first one to admit I did not put forth much effort to learn the Swedish language while living here. To my defense, English is available everywhere- menus, labels, everyone speaking it… I have picked up a few words during my time being here, though. Emphasis on the “few!”
Fika: Snack- Traditionally a coffee with a pastry of some kind
Tack: Thank You
And numerous math terms and words I use in class daily…
Although I do not have my summer figured out, I do have a contract for the 2021-2022 school year. We´ll keep that a secret for another post, though… :)
Here´s to the last month and half in Sweden. May it be filled with some trips, good food, and even better friends.