Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Swedish College Experience

I’m starting to feel like I got jipped on the college experience. I should have earned my B.A. in Sweden.

Amanda started her first semester Tuesday and I tagged along for a couple days. At state school in California, your first day of class is devoted to perusing the syllabus and the professor answers questions about the course. There may even be a homework assignment due later in the week.

Jönköping University, on the other hand, holds a two-week “kickoff” party featuring school-sanctioned events like athletic challenges, scavenger hunts and other games throughout the city.

Students walk around town in organized groups chanting and singing songs, wearing parachute-like clothing in their school’s color — the business school wears green, school of engineering yellow, school of health sciences red and school of education and communication blue.

The students generally wear the outfits from the waist down. They spend the first week decorating them with patches and other fabric to give them personality. Amanda found the “pants pimping” to be a great activity to bond with her classmates.

I rushed Lambda Chi Alpha at Sacramento State and while it was far from the "true Greek experience" in many ways and for many reasons, Jönköping University really treats its four schools like fraternities.

Amanda’s communications class was divided into groups themed after movies ranging from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to Star Wars and Grease. Her James Bond classmates ended up drinking at the apartment of three of the group’s leaders not 12 hours into the semester. I can’t really imagine meeting my classmates in a Mendocino Hall lecture room on the first day of school and having every single one of them over to my place for beers that night.

And of course, the video game of choice was hockey. This is Sweden, after all.

Later in the week, the “Blue Crew” held a beer pong event at Akademien, a lakefront nightclub operated by students only for students of Jönköping University.

While I probably won’t be able to get into the club after kickoff activities conclude next week and a student I.D. becomes required, one of Amanda’s new girlfriends hooked me up with a wristband that will grant me access for another week.

The nightclub is obviously very popular with the university’s international students.

The back of the club overlooks Vättern.

It’s only a few hundred meters from the train station.

A couple thousand students from all four schools at the university descended upon Akademien that night, where a DJ played Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and other bad American disco on the main floor.

The back patio was busy, too.

The front patio was even more crowded.

I expected a student-only nightclub that excludes so many partiers to be a lame experience but we had a lot of fun. Akademien was filled well beyond capacity on a weeknight. It made me wonder, what’s Swedish for “fire marshal?”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First Week in Jönköping

We spent most of the last week in Jönköping, the city we hope to soon call home for the next few years.

With a population pushing 100,000, it’s actually one of the 10 most populous cities in Sweden. Jönköping sits at the southern tip of Vättern, a finger-shaped lake whose surface area of nearly 2,000 square kilometers makes it the second-largest lake in the country and sixth-largest in all of Europe.

I spent the last five winters thinking Lake Tahoe was a pretty big body of water. For comparison, its surface area is a little less than 500 square kilometers. Vättern is massive.

Jönköping has tons of restaurants and coffee shops and dozens of independent and chain stores. Jönköping University, where Amanda was accepted to study communications, is located in the center of the city, overlooking the lake.

The campus is home to 10,000 students. The University Foundation includes Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping School of Education and Communication, Jönköping School of Engineering and Jönköping School of Health Sciences. Amanda’s building is labeled ‘H’ on this diagram.

Due mainly to its desirable location in southern Sweden, apartments larger than studios are very hard to find in Jönköping. We’re on a few waiting lists and will continue to search for a place as Amanda begins her second week of school Monday and I start submitting resumes and CVs for employment.

We bought one-month train passes for the 45-minute trip from her mom’s house outside Falköping because the 120-kilometer roundtrip commute we’ve been doing by car isn’t very feasible when gas costs the equivalent of $1.80 USD per liter — that’s $7.20 USD per gallon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kräftskiva - Crayfish Party

After missing midsommar and the raucous celebrations that accompany the late June solstice, I couldn't wait to experience another popular Swedish summertime tradition last weekend - kräftskiva.

While many Swedes incorrectly refer to it as a “lobster party,” kräftskiva actually translates to “crayfish party.” And while crayfish may be part of the same shellfish family and resemble mini lobsters, slurping meat out of a salty crayfish is a much different experience than using a fork to dip a tender lobster tail into drawn butter.


Kräftskiva is a very popular Scandinavian tradition that originated in Sweden. Late every summer, at the beginning of crayfish season, families and friends gather to eat tons of crayfish and drink alcohol. A lot of alcohol. I wasn't the only one who woke the next morning with a pounding headache.

Party accessories are common, and Amanda decorated the tables with crayfish plates and napkins and spread crayfish confetti everywhere. At some parties, I'm told guests even wear crayfish hats.



More than a dozen members of Amanda’s extended family joined us as we sang special crayfish drinking songs.



For dessert, I made chocolateballs for only the second time ever. They quickly became my favorite no-bake sweet during my visit last winter and after another warm reception, I'm thinking about making them professionally soon.



Saturday, August 21, 2010


I’ve been very remiss in not writing sooner. The last month has been an absolute whirlwind and I should have posted a few times along the way. Consider my blog active now as I plan to update it at least a few times a week.

My self-addressed envelope with a Washington, D.C. postmark showed up in Arcata on August 3, only 113 days after I submitted the first paperwork in San Francisco. That’s less than four months when they warn it can take between six and eight, though it didn’t exactly feel that quick.

I booked my flight the next morning. Since one-way fares are inexplicably the same price as roundtrips with most major airlines I have a return flight scheduled for June 29, 2011. I’ll probably visit California for two weeks before returning to Sweden in mid-July.

The next two weeks were filled with difficult goodbyes and sorting through box after box of everything I accumulated in five years in Sacramento. I threw most of it away, repacked some to store in Arcata, filled two suitcases with clothes and shipped the rest of my personal effects from Oakland. Those boxes should arrive by the end of next month.

As challenging as it was sorting through everything I own, trying to see everyone one more time was harder. You leave hoping you can pick up right where you left off with everyone when you visit the United States or eventually move back, but you have to be realistic. Some people will change, and not always for the better. Others won’t make any effort to stay in touch. It’s a sad thing to accept.

I woke up in Anaheim early on my last morning as an American resident and took a quick walk past the Disneyland entrance. Seeing all the young kids lining up at the main gate with their excited smiles, I remembered how thrilled I was to meet Mickey Mouse the first time. I guess my definition of excitement has intensified a little over the years.

It’s only happened a handful of times in my life, but I couldn’t put my emotions into words on the way to LAX that evening. The gravity of this whole thing didn’t sink in when my passport arrived, when I bought my flight, when I packed my bags or when I said goodbye to friends. It finally hit me during dinner with my family, overlooking one of the runways at the airport. The fear, shock and sadness I felt as I boarded a plane in Los Angeles finally gave way to excitement when I landed in Gothenburg and saw Amanda waiting for me. Who needs Team Edward or Team Jacob?

The jetlag was short-lived but I’m still getting settled this weekend. I woke up to a delicious breakfast (with a taste of America) the first morning.

The next day I registered with the Swedish Tax Board yesterday and my Social Security Number will arrive in the mail soon. Next week’s tasks include obtaining a driver’s license and polishing my CV (curriculum vitae, basically an expansive résumé used in Europe). Amanda starts school in Jönköping on Tuesday and I may start a Swedish course that day, too.