I took some great courses during my semester in Stockholm, but the things I learned in those courses don’t define my semester. I went to Sweden because I wanted to experience Swedish culture, and I learned silly things while abroad, like it’s really easy to just hard boil an egg. It doesn’t have to be a dozen eggs at a time, a whole process. It can be one egg boiled for six minutes before I catch the bus. I gained new perspectives, and not just on the possibilities of boiled eggs.
Throughout the semester, I was interested in Sweden’s fika culture. It’s not “let’s have a coffee,” it’s “let’s have a fika,” and somehow, this translates to more. Fika is important for how it creates balance—it gives community to the solitude and warmth to the cold—and shows intentionality, which reflects a broader collective attitude. Swedes work, and Swedes exercise. It’s hard to find a couple or partnership where there’s only one breadwinner, and people are out running and skiing and biking like it’s part of their job. After cold temperatures and hard work, a fika break is often well-deserved, or they need something warm to thaw them out. Having been in Sweden for the winter, I appreciate the way that a cold walk or a cold ski could always be followed by a warm up with a coffee and my family or friends. I love candlelight and cardamom. There is pressure to be outside and active, and yet there is a great appreciation for all things mysig (cozy). Sweden’s heart beats for balance.
In Sweden, there’s no guilt if you sit down with a coffee and pastry, and there shouldn’t be. Fika shows that socializing and breaks should be regular and routine, just like hard work. It coexists with meaningful social interaction and rest. (Plus, they’re usually biking home.)
While fika is ingrained in Swedish life, they don’t do excess. They stick to their lagom, where everything is not too much nor too little. It’s just enough. My host mom joked, “You don’t want the first twenty years of marriage to be lagom, but after…” she shrugged, and we laughed. Her husband of almost twenty years was sitting across from her. So, Swedes have their fika, they enjoy their cinnamon buns and their coffees, and they leave the Americans to indulge in excess. Swedes take care of their comfort with their candles and blankets and bullar, but they don’t let themselves get too comfy for too long. Sometimes, I need a little shove out the door.
Some other things that were put in perspective: commuting is not a big deal. As someone who has always lived in a small town, the city was a nice change. Also, walking feels so good. Sweden said to me, get on a bus and use your legs to take yourself somewhere you want to go. Forty-five minutes isn’t such a long time, but it’s plenty of time to create a change. To arrive somewhere new.
I learned to give people the opportunity to surprise me. The few times that I had to muster my courage to burst some people’s bubbles, I was rewarded with kindness and interest. I thought Swedes would hate to be bothered since they are stereotyped as stiff, independent, and dull, but that’s not really the case at all (of course). Although they aren’t as likely to say hi to you in a store, they aren’t unfriendly, and they are especially kind and generous when you know them. It is good to be friends with a Swede.
My friend and I talked about how we appreciated the intentionality of the Swedes we met (largely our host families thanks to the pandemic), and it was reflected in the city. I fell in love with walking the streets and seeing so many families out with strollers, people coming home with flowers, young and old enjoying a fika, groups of toddlers in their bright vests being led by caregivers, and as the sun shined warmly down, Swedes sticking their faces toward the su
To me, Stockholm was a novelty, and it was inspiring to be somewhere new. It was a great reset and refresh, and greatest of all was the opportunity to experience that the barriers and constraints I build into my life often don’t need to be there. I don’t need more time or a dozen hard-boiled eggs. I just need to do it—whatever that may be—and stop finding reasons not to. And, I need balance. I’m excited to return to Colby and dive deeper into my English major, and I hope to maintain the enthusiasm I found in Stockholm to discover something new every day. If I can apply the attitude with which I explored Sweden to the way I approach my academic learning, my senior year will be the best one yet.